Roland D50 is a famous synth from 1987
The D50 linear arithmetic synthesis synthesizer is a famous and unique retro synthesizer from 1987 is 33 years old i April 2020. Rolands first classic digital synthesizer with an impressive architecture for its age. Still an icon among synths.
The hardware was sturdy build and the keyboard was ok though a bit spongy compared to other keyboards.
Today 33 years it is still a working unit. Aftertouch and some keys typically need cleaning or replacement but that goes for most vintage synths.
D-50 is retro synth with its iconic buttons and green display
This retro Synthesizer has a trail of iconic albums for artists from the 80's.
Some famous D-50 users and albums
- Enya used a lot of D-50 presets out of the box
- Sail Away and over anything she ever did
- Jean Michel Jarre
- All over the revolutions album. Clever programming.
- A defining Michael Jackson sound
- Phil Collins
- George Michael
- New Order
- Duran Duran
Famous D-50 sounds programmed by Eric Persing.
- Staccato Heaven
- This was an impressive patch back in 1987 making it stand out from any other synths back then.
The presets from this unit is also implemented in later Roland synths like:
- VC-1 Card for V Synth and the XT version
- Integra 7
- System 8
- Boutique D-05
- Roland Cloud
what sounds does D-50 do best
Velocity and aftertouch sensitivity is well built into to amp and filters for very expressive sounds. The amp- and filter envelopes can be modulated with velocity range and aftertouch.
The D-50 synthesizer is best for the following
- Soft Strings
- Attacky sounds played with Arpeggiator
- Airy textures from outer space
The 80´s artist Enya used D-50 for its human-like Ahh, Uhh, Ohh, and pluck samples. The attack and airy top-end on ArcoStrings and Pizzagogo was her trademark.
The unit itself is not really suited for programming. Roland made an external programming unit named PG1000.
Today there are several software editors for programming the unit from a computer though MIDI sends SysEx commands.
D-50 Librarian is a fine editor for programming D-50 without a PG1000. D-50 Librarian makes it easy to understand and program. With a software, editor programming is fairly easy without an original PG1000 box.
Attack samples with PCM
The PCM oscillators have 49 attack samples and some loop samples for looping. A mix of string picks/plucks, breath, and human voices.
Combined with the oscillators saw and square D-50 can produce interesting sounds with impact.
D-50 has an Upper and a lower part with 2 oscillators on each that gives it 4 sound generators.
The 4 sound generators can be set to PCM, Saw, or Square.
It has 4 filters. One per oscillator but only when Saw or Square oscillators are selected.
One filter envelope per part
PCM oscillator does not have filters and has no filter envelope
Librarian software. D-50 Filter envelope with 6 Stages and velocity range.
With the filter envelope depth and velocity range the synth can do expressive sounds beyond the factory presets.
One amp envelope per part
All 4 oscillators have a 6 stage amp envelope.
It has 3 LFOs for upper and 3 LFOs for the lower part. 6 LFOs in all were a lot in 1987.
D-50 software editor. The 3 Roland D-50 LFOs with Waveform, sync, rate and delay time
In 1987 features like LFO sync to host or tempo-sync were not an option but it can be programmed manually.
Velocity- and aftertouch modulation is interesting on this synth and can have a great impact on sounds. 3 LFOs per part makes it versatile for modulation filters and amp envelopes.
- Chorus 1
- Chorus 2
- Flanger 1
- Flanger 2
- Feedback Chorus
- Chorus Tremolo
It has one Chorus effect for upper, one for lower and one reverb for the whole sound.
The reverb is an 8 bit reverb with 32 presets. It was probably good in 1987 but a bit grainy for today standard. It has a D-50 character but can not compete with plugins like Valhalla DSP reverb and other reverb plugins.
D-50 Reverb list
- Small Hall
- Medium Hall
- Large Hall
- Small Metal Room
- Small Room
- Medium Room
- Medium Large Room
- Large Room
- Single Delay (102 ms)
- Cross Delay (180 ms)
- Cross Delay (223 ms)
- Cross Delay (140 - 296 ms)
- Short Gate (200 ms)
- Long Gate (480 ms)
- Bright Hall
- Large Cave
- Steel Pan
- Delay (248 ms)
- Delay (338 ms)
- Cross Delay (157 ms)
- Cross Delay (252 ms)
- Cross Delay (274 - 137 ms)
- Gate Reverb
- Reverse Gate (360 ms)
- Reverse Gate (480 ms)
- Slap Back 1
- Slap Back 2
- Slap Back 3
- Twisted Space
Using the Roland D-50 sampling ideas in modern synth plugins
The idea of using samples only for the attack part of the sound combined with synthesis or long/looped samples can be used in modern synthesizers and samplers like Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2, Arturia Pigments 2, Steinberg Padshop 2, Izotope Iris 2, Native Instruments Kontakt or Steinberg Halion 6.
The attack is a very defining part of a synth sound and especially in arpeggiated with a frequent note on the attack samples will play more.
You can sample your own attacks to use in interesting presets like the D-50 retro synth. Sounds like E Piano is basically an attack sound and a not pure sine wave.
A synthesizer like Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 also has 4 parts and Hardware Integration to the real D-50 synthesizer.
Omnisphere 2 also has sample- or synth engines in the oscillators
Omnisphere 2 sample- or synth engine x 4 A,B,C,D
Steinberg's Padshop 2 has 2 engines. A and B. A can be a short sample and be the body of the sound.
Arturia Pigments 2 has a new sample engine making it useful for this. It has 2 engines and one can be a short sample for the attack part and one a longer or looped sample, analog- or wavetable engine. The sample engine has start end points making it perfect for finding good attack parts in short samples.