Linear Synthesizer


I LOVE THE D-50.  After my Casio CZ-1000, it's the first "professional" synth I ever bought, and it still ranks as my favorite synthesizer ever.

It's the work of genius:  at the time (1987), ROM was still expensive, and samplers were a lot more expensive than synthesizers (at least those samplers in the 'high' leagues, such as Emulator, Fairlight, Synclavier).  The solution from Roland was to incorporate in ROM small snippets, very short "attacks" of real and classic instrument waveforms, place theme at the beginning of a sound, and finish off with standard, oscillator-based analog/digital synthesis.  Since the first portion of a sound is the one that strikes us with a first impression of realism, L.A. (Linear Arithmetic) synthesis was very successful because allowed incredibly realistic results with very little ROM.  The Korg M1 followed the year later with an improved ROM set, and was even more successful than the D-50 ever was.  Short loops very also incorporated in the D-50's 100-block ROM.  Famous "snippets", or transients as they are called include PCM 33 - Steam  - useful to build wind instrument patches; PCM39 - Lips1 - used in many great trumpet and trombone patches; PCM 47 - Pizz - from which the great "Pizzagogo" patch is built upon; PCM 68 - Spect1 - classic example of LA synthesis, many patches use the Spectrum waveforms; PCM 95 - Loop19 - you'll recognize this as being used in the famous "DigitalNativeDance" patch; PCM 98 - Loop22 - a complete, cool loop; and finally, the two "regular", old style analog waveforms on board, used to "finish off" the patches (and sometimes, depending on the structure used, they are by themselves), WaveSAW - typical saw-tooth waveform, and WaveSQU , typical square waveform.

The D-50 is - in my opinion - together with the Yamaha DX7 and Korg M1, one of the three classic digital synthesizers of the '80s.  I fell in love with this synth the moment I heard the factory patch "Staccato Heaven" at the store, and had to have it.  The sonic characteristics of this wonderful-sounding synthesizer are very particular:  digital, with short loops that remind of early samplers, and analog-warm at the same time.  A marriage made in synth-heaven.

The first patch one hears when powering up the synth is the very famous "Fantasia", an amalgam of digital bells and warm synths, with a slightly detuned flavor.  This patch is a perfect example of the sonic character of the D-50.  Other famous patches include "DigitalNativeDance", "Soundtrack", "Pizzagogo", and "Glass Voices".

Also there were four factory sound expansion cards, that observed the following guidelines: _______ (i.e., mallets, drums, reeds etc.)  Go to the four Factory Sound Expansion Cards pages

New Age great Enya's use of the "Pizzagogo" patch is an example of how well-suited to ambient/new-age (but not only, of course!) this synth is.

The D-50 was also the first synth to incorporate an on-board reverb/multi-fx unit, a fact that contributed to its legendary sound.  Previous manufacturers (i.e., ARP with spring reverb on the 2600; Korg with Chorus/Ensemble/Phaser on the PolySix, Flanger on the Trident, DDL delay on DW-8000; Yamaha with _____ )   had started implementing effects to some extent, but Roland went full out - and Korg actually outdid them the year after with the best-selling M1.

The character of the D-50 sounds is one of richness, analog mixed with crystalline digital perfection, warmth, and an overall aural beauty that's hard to follow.  Recently, Roland's own V-Synth reminded of the D-50 thanks to (in a few cases) the low-grade samples, the sonic character, and the amazing editing possibilities it offers -and now even includes a virtual D-50 in a card that you can boot off, to transform the V-Synth in a complete D-50.

Roland D-50 audio demos in mp3


Stream all audio examples below:

Preset name with audio demo My comments
11 Fantasia A beautiful, beautiful synthesizer patch composed by a soft pad and a twinkly bell.  Very famous patch that has been incorporated in every major workstation since...
12 Metal Harp Excellent for New Age!
13 Jazz Guitar Duo Extremely realistic split with a jazz acoustic bass on the left and a jazz guitar on the right hand.
14 Arco Strings Excellent and realistic orchestral strings
15 Horn Section Nicely brassy
16 Living Calliope Classic late-80s / early 90s solo synth patch.  The Korg M1 also had plenty of these types of sounds.
17 D-50 Voices Classy early sampled choir. 
18 Slow Rotor Excellent Hammond organ sound with percussion.  Slow Leslie (rotor)
21 DigitalNativeDance Very famous D-50 patch - an ominous resonant synth - hold the note and the Natives go wild.
22 Bass Marimba Clean reproduction of a marimba.
23 Flute-Piano Duo Classy el. piano and flute split.
24 Combie Strings Gorgeous string ensemble.  Just the right mix between realistic and synthesized.
25 Harpsichord Stabs Powerful fusion sound.
26 Griitttarr Cool!  An electric guitar with 'grit'.
27 Nylon Atmosphere Typical L.A. synthesis sound.  A beautiful and classic 1980s pad patch.
28 Synthetic Electric Very nice FM style electric piano.
31 Breathy Chiffer Typical LA solo synth.
32 Gamelan Bell Incredibly beautiful and realistic emulation of asian bells
33 Slap Brass Cross between slap bass and brass
34 PressureMe Strings Aftertouch-based synth strings.
35 Rich Brass Nice synthetic brass.
36 Pipe Solo Another excellent flute solo synth.  Good patch to show the D-50's "chase" function (in the second part of the audio example).
37 Soundtrack B E A U T Y  - a very, very famous patch that is perfectly crafted.  The perfect pad.
38 Cathedral Organ Still incredibly valid pipe organ preset!
41 Shamus Theme Effective fusion solo synthesizer.
42 Vibraphone Charming and deliciously retro-60s vibraphone sound.
43 Basin Strat Blues Realistic and classic bass + Stratocaster combo.
44 Pizzagogo One of the most recognizable D-50 patches.  Used by Enya in her '80s hit "Orinoco Flow", this a great-sounding string pizzicato patch.
45 Flutish Brass Nice solo synth.
46 Pressure Me Lead Aftertouch-based solo synthesizer lead.
47 Spacious Sweep Beautiful and majestic synthesizer with huge filter sweep.  I love it!
48 Piano-Fifty At the time of its release, I remember everybody complaining about the D-50 piano (especially compared to the piano on the Korg M1 that came one year later).  Today, this is still a valid house piano patch.
51 Glass Voices Another classic D-50 pad sound.  Beautiful.
52 Hollowed Harp Happy fusion solo synth
53 Ethnic Session Nice log drum / flute split.
54 Jete Strings Strings with extremely fast attack.
55 Stereo Polysynth Punchy, "meaty" polysynth patch.
56 Tine Wave Digital sound.
57 Syn-Harmonium Hypnotic organ sound.
58 Rock Organ Classic "drawbars all out" Hammond sound!
61 Staccato Heaven Pure Heaven.  This is my favorite patch ever, and the perfect pad.
62 Oriental Bells Another excellent ethic bell patch.
63 E-Bass and E-Piano Standard split.
64 Legato Strings Excellent for film-scoring.
65 JX Horns-Strings Obviously inspired by Roland's own JX-series
66 Shakuhachi Classic D-50 patch, similar to the E-mu Emulator II's famous sample used in Peter Gabriel's  "Sledgehammer".  Very realistic and useful.
67 Choir Reminds me of a certain sound used by Wendy Carlos in the soundtrack of "The Clockwork Orange"
68 Picked Guitar Duo Guitar-like patch.
71 Nightmare Powerful digital patch.
72 Syn Marimba Classic '80s sound.
73 Slap Bass n Brass Useful split.  Note how powerful the synth brass is, using only two partials.
74 String Ensemble Lovely Baroque-style string ensemble.
75 Velo-Brass Perfect syn-brass.
76 Digital Cello Digital but with a nice character and realistic attack.
77 O K Chorale Very nice and typically LA breathy pad.
78 Pianissimo Synthesized piano that's strangely more realistic than the "Piano Fifty" patch.
81 Intruder FX Another very famous D-50 patch.  Incredible special FX, alien-like sound.
82 Steel Pick Spiky synth.
83 Synth Bass Mega-powerful synthesizer bass.  Very digital in nature.  Watch your woofers...
84 Afterthought Pensive, electronic spacey pad.
85 Bones Realistic trombone patch.
86 Bottle Blower Another excellent New Age sound.
87 Future Pad Beautiful character.
88 PCM E-Piano Clean electric piano.


Additional Roland D-50 audio demos

Green Crystals (Nov-2-2004)  - an ambient demo I created utilizing a D-50 only.


Roland D-50 pictures (click on the thumbnails to enlarge them)



Roland D-50 manuals

available at www.roland.com and www.rolandus.com

Roland D-50 factory patches

at Roland sites:

Roland D-50 tips, suggestions and tricks

Initializing the D-50:  turn on while pressing "DATA TRANSFER" and "0" at the same time.  This will clear the internal cache and solve MIDI problems.

LOADING SYSEX BULK DUMPS FROM CAKEWALK SONAR:  The Roland D-50 is an older generation machine, so I found that when I'm sending sysex data from modern sequencers such as the one I use, Cakewalk Sonar, I get the "MIDI transmission error" message, because the synth cannot handle the speed at which the sequencer is sending the sysex data.  The solution, found on Sonar's sysex Help section, is to tweak the "TTSEQ.ini" file in the Sonar folder - basically setting the "SysxSendPacketSize" to 64 as shown in the screen print below.  This makes the flow slow enough that the D-50 will be able to handle it.

ALSO IMPORTANT:  When setting up the D-50 to receive the sysex data:  MAKE SURE YOU HOLD DOWN THE "DATA TRANSFER" button when you press "(B.LOAD)".  Then you can release the two buttons and finally press "ENTER".  If you don't keep the "DATA TRANSFER" button pressed at the same time, the bulk load won't work.  Finally, sometimes the D-50 will freeze after completing the data transfer.  Not to worry.  Just turn it off and on again, and it will go back to normal, with the new patches you just loaded in memory ready to play.

ALSO NOTE:  SOME MIDI INTERFACES DON'T SEEM TO WORK WITH THE D-50 - This had me scratching my head!  I was trying to load patches from Sonar to the D-50 via an M-Audio "MIDISport Uno" interface:  I have used this handy little interface extensively with my laptop and never had any problem.  BUT, with the D-50, THE "UNO" DOES NOT WORK, no matter what settings on the ttseq.ini file.  After an hour of trying and getting MIDI errors, I switched to my older M-Audio USB MIDISport 1x1, and that WORKS FINE.  In the past, I used an Opcode MIDI Translator that also worked fine.  And I will try with the MIDI on the M-Audio FireWire 1814 and will report about that one.

  • Review in "Keyboard magazine" Janfebmarch 198___
  • L.A. synthesis
Features at a glance
Year of release: 1987
Polyphony: 32 (but realistically 8, since a typical patch is made of 4 partials).
Sound generation method: Linear Arithmetic
Preset memories 64 + 64 on card
MIDI: in, out, thru
Sound expansion capabilities: cards
Sequencer no
Arpeggiator no
Effects yes
Velocity yes
Aftertouch yes
Display yes


Patch analysis: recreating the "Soundtrack" sound

It's not an easy task... as usual with a lot of D-50 patches, it uses 4 partials, so it can be complex to recreate perfectly, but I'll write down the most important parameters and most of all - provide audio examples (single note at useful range for this patch - C3, C4, C5, C6) - so you can try to emulate it on another synth.

Keep in mind that this is just an approximation, because there are several other parameters that would take forever to analyze... for instance, the envelopes of Lower and Upper Partial 1 changes dramatically by velocity release... Pitch envelope and pitch modulation... slightly different tunings per tone... there are different LFO rates... there are EQ and Chorus settings... there is slight filter aftertouch etc. etc... AND there is the on-board reverb processor, which modern processors or plug-ins are way too hi-fi to reproduce... I'd suggest getting a $50 older unit such as the [url=http://www.synthmania.com/rex50.htm]Yamaha REX50[/url] - You'll have to 'eyeball' these parameters by ear as best as you can - and you really are going to need to see the patch on an editor to see what's really going on. Anyway, here it is - To help a bit more, I recorded dry and reverbed versions.

Patch: 37 Soundtrack (without reverb: Soundtrack no rvb)

Key Mode: Dual
Split: C4
Output mode: 1 (Upper and Lower in stereo passing through reverb)

Reverb balance: 63%

Upper Tone name: MelloTones
Lower Tone name: BriteFifth

Balance (between Lower and Upper tones): 50%

Lower Tone Structure: 1 (S + S) (synthesis only)
Lower Tone Balance: 70

Upper Tone Structure: 1 (S + S) (synthesis only)
Upper Tone Balance: 70

Lower Tone Partial 1 waveform: Square (these are a fifth apart)
Lower Tone Partial 2 waveform: Square

Upper Tone Partial 1 waveform: Square
Upper Tone Partial 2 waveform: Square

Roland D-50 SQUARE waveform (first at 60% TVF {initialized}, then 100%)



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