Synthesizer Module

A nice synthesizer module from the mid-80, this is the rack version of the Alpha-Juno 1 and 2 synthesizers.  The MKS-50 is a six-voice polyphonic programmable synthesizer module, featuring a poly mode and a solo mode (that at the time was in vogue to use with a MIDI guitar - so that each string had one voice and MIDI channel - this was before the current crop of MIDI guitar interfaces).

The MKS-50 can store up to 128 "tones", which in turn can combined with performance control functions into "patches".  There's also a useful "chord" function (when you press one key, a whole chord will sound) that techno/house artists of all kinds used and abused during the early 90s: there are 16 programmable spots for these chords although the factory-programmed ones are some of the most used.

The sound character of this series of synths is a cross between the Juno and MKS synthesizers - although I think it tends to sound more like a JX-8P, JX-10 or MKS-70 than a Juno-106, for example.  The tone is silky and lush, but with some programming it can definitely sound huge and nasty, as the most famous sound in these synth, the "What The" preset that was tweaked and used for the famous "Hoover" sound, demonstrates well.

Like the other MKS synthesizers, the 50 can be a bit slow to program via the front panel, and many users prefer having a dedicated computer editor, or the original PG-300 hardware editor.

I am rather amazed at how powerful and - most of all - versatile these synths are - even if this is in essence a single-oscilllator synth.  The on-board PWM and chorus definitely add a lot to the overall sound, but the waveforms are plentiful, and modulation, envelopes, velocity/aftertouch settings, and even portamento, make the MKS-50 a little gem to program.

Today, the factory presets sound a bit dated and remind us that in 1986, unless one had enough funds for a "serious" sampler, they had to make do with analog or FM synthesizers to emulate the sound of real instruments.  But with simple edits, this can be made into a techno/trance monster.


Roland MKS-50 factory patch audio demos in mp3

Stream all the patch examples below as an .m3u playlist

A pinch of reverb from a t.c. electronic M300 multieffect has been added to all examples below:


Patch name with audio example My comments
A11 PolySynth1 Solid polysynth patch, with slight detuning
A12 JazzGuitar Responds nicely to velocity
A13 Xylophone Realistic and happy!
A14 Low String Classic dark Roland analog strings, similar to JX-8P and JX-10/MKS-70
A15 LeadSynth1 Superb analog synth lead, very expressive.
A16 ChorusGuit Realistic, 80s-sounding
A17 SynthBass1 Fantastic liquid synth bass!!!
A18 ElectroDrm Typical electric drum set from the 80s
A21 HighString Another classic Roland mid-80s string sound.
A22 TeknoStrng Beefy, deep.
A23 StringOrgn Cross between strings and organ.
A24 FastString Nice and analog.
A25 LongString Classic MKS with long envelope release.
A26 Cello Realistic and full bodied.
A27 SoloViolin Excellent control via the aftertouch.
A28 Pizzicato Works also for synthpop ;-)
A31 Piano 1 Average analog grand piano of the era.
A32 E Piano 1 Plastic Rhodes.
A33 E Piano 2 Wurlitzery
A34 Piano 2 More plastic
A35 E Piano 3 Nice, expressive Rhodes.
A36 Clav Cool Clavinet!
A37 Harpsichrd Realistic
A38 PianoPad Characteristic mid 80s patch
A41 Organ 1 Nice Hammond with key click
A42 Organ 2 Rock B-3
A43 CheesyOrgn Farfisa
A44 PipeOrgan1 Deep church organ
A45 PipeOrgan2 Very somber and proper pipe organ patch.
A46 VoicePad Oustanding analog vox pad
A47 sinusoidal Clean waveform - perfect for your Aphex Twin moments
A48 Voices 1 More electro
A51 Brass 1 Classic Roland analog brass
A52 Syn Rise Nice showoff of the MKS-50's resonant filters.
A53 Spit Valve Cool analog trumpet
A54 Fat Synth Quintessential 1980s synth comp
A55 Arpeggiatr Nice envelope setting
A56 Velo-Reso1 Another classic 80s patch - very early Depeche Mode
A57 Big Brass Nice slide brass
A58 Pad 1 Charming dark analog pad
A61 LeadSynth2 Powerful 70s monosynth lead
A62 LeadSynth3 Variation on the above, this time it's fusion '80s
A63 Flute Realistic and warm.
A64 LeadSynth4 Another nice solo
A65 Sax OK
A66 E Bass 1 Excellent electric bass patch
A67 SynthBass2 Da Moog
A68 SequencrBs Perfect synth pop bass
A71 Bells 1 Crystalline bells - to compete with the DX7 of course.
A72 BellChime1 More DX7 impressions
A73 BellChime2 One more
A74 Syn-Bello A nice cross between synth and bell
A75 Marimba Gotta have our marimba in a respectable synth ;-)
A76 Syn Koto Splendid emulation of the famous Japanese instrument
A77 StlDrumBnd Very good steel drum patch
A78 Harp Nice gentle harp
A81 Tron Blast Superb sci-fi fx
A82 NoiseShots Another classic Roland sound
A83 TwiliteZne Spaceships and robots
A84 Scratchin Really, really good emulation!
A85 Syn Echo Very nice fluffy clouds pad
A86 PolePositn Typical Formula 1 sounds
A87 --U-F-O-- Perfect fx
A88 Timps Very ominous timpani sound
B11 Brass 2 Variations on synth brass
B12 Brass 3 More variation
B13 BrassHorns Cool and analog
B14 FatBrass 1 Classic 80s synth brass
B15 Trumpets Classical trumpets
B16 BrassSwell Outstanding synth brass that also works very well as classic 80s synth pad!
B17 PolySynth2 Nice poly
B18 PolySynth3 Very Prophet-5!
B21 BowdStrngs Small string orchestra
B22 RichStrngs Roland goodness - reminds of the Juno-106
B23 Orchestra Nice!
B24 SynOrchsta Different.
B25 StrngSweep Another outstanding polysynth.
B26 SoloVioln2 Very realistic!
B27 DblBasses Actually this is great as techno synth!
B28 Ominous Nice dark poly
B31 Piano 3 A nice classical analog piano
B32 E Piano 4 An intimate upright, very very good!
B33 Loud-Piano Classic rock piano
B34 Piano-FX Beautiful analog keyboard sound
B35 Clavichord A Clavinet variation
B36 Harpsi 2 A pop version of the harpsichord
B37 AccGuitar OK
B38 BassPiano OK
B41 Organ 3 An electric organ
B42 Organ 4 A puff organ
B43 ChowaOrgan A funky organ :-)
B44 PipeOrgan3 Powerful
B45 Accordion Realistic
B46 Vocorder Very cool electronic vocoder patch (without the "r"...)
B47 Voices 2 Typical vibrato vox synth of the 80s
B48 Harmonica Semi-realistic
B51 SynthSweep Outstanding analog resonant polysynth!!
B52 Poly Pulse Useful
B53 CosmoSweep Beautiful synthesizer filter sweep...
B54 ChrusPluck Nice, intimate hollow synth
B55 Bells 2 The perfect syn bell...
B56 Vibe So so vibraphone.
B57 Koto Another great Koto patch.
B58 BellChime3 Cool patch.
B61 Lead 5 Fusion lead
B62 Lead 6 Minimoog soft lead
B63 Inv-Solo Cool solo patch with inverted envelope
B64 Clarinet Incredible emulation...
B65 Oboe Also very nice.
B66 SynthBass3 Power Roland
B67 SynthBass4 Filter wide open
B68 UpriteBass Not bad
B71 Machines Androids
B72 EchoXplosn Killer sound fx
B73 ooops Funny
B74 Jet Chord Jaw-dropping emulation
B75 Take-Off Propeller airplane
B76 Whistle Samba, samba!
B77 Surprise Typical envelope stage trick
B78 Oct Jump Cool - reminds of the Korg Poly-800 for some reason.
B81 Jet Another great jet engine patch
B82 Helicopter Nice
B83 DogsBark Ok
B84 WET ;-)
B85 ooohSCARY Perfect!!!  There was also a patch like this on the Yamaha DX11 or 21 called "Ghosties".
B86 What the THE MOST FAMOUS PATCH on the Alpha-Juno/MKS-50 synth - the basis for the so-called HOOVER, staple of early 90s Techno.
B87 SynthToms Classic Simmons
B88 Kick Very nice 909 style.


A few other sounds obtainable from the Roland MKS-50:

Of course, just by tweaking the presets just a little bit, you can get more "modern" results -  I used the M300 to process the sounds a little.

You can get the Hoover sound very easily starting from the "What the" preset:


and this techno lead was created starting from the innocuous E Bass 1 patch:


This trancey lead I obtained from the a55 Arpeggiatr base sound:


And this is a New Wave type of synth that came from the oboe preset:

New Wave synth


Roland MKS-50 specifications


Features at a glance
Year of release: 1986
Polyphony: six-voice
Presets: 2 banks of 64 patches + individual tones
Rhythms: n/a
Keyboard: n/a
Responds to velocity: yes
Responds to aftertouch: yes
Sound generation method: analog/digital
MIDI: in, out, thru
Sound expansion capabilities: no
Effects: chorus
Controls: buttons only
Outputs: mono/stereo
Display: yes, backlit lcd


Roland MKS-50 pictures (click on thumbnails to enlarge)


Roland MKS-50 manual

available at




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