Roland D-50

From Academic Kids

The polyphonic, 61-key, Roland D50 was released in 1987 to compete with the Yamaha DX7 market. The D-50 has become a user favorite over the years, and is hailed as being easier to use and producing better sound than the DX7. Some of its features include nice onboard effects, an innovative joystick for data manipulation, and an intuitive layout design. The external Roland PG-1000 Programmer could also be attached to the D-50 for better and more complex control over sound manipulations. The D-50 was also produced as a rack-mount unit called the D-550. Programming was not trivial however, with nearly 450 user-adjustable parameters. The D-50 could be modified through the addition of a 3rd-party product (the Musitronics M-EX) to make it multitimbral.

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The D-50 was the first synthesizer to combine sample playback with digital synthesis. The engineers at Roland determined the most difficult component of a realistic instrument to simulate is the attack, so the D-50 included almost 100 sampled attacks in ROM. The synthesizer played back an attack and used the synthesizer section to create the sustain of the sound. This dual-use method was required in 1987 since RAM was so expensive.

It was not before long that every synthesizer on the market used a similar method to create sounds. In fact, this scheme was the primary method of digital keyboard sound creation well until the early 21st century, when ROM and Flash RAM were finally cheap enough to store entire samples or multisamples.

The presets of the D-50 were, typical for Roland, extremely good, and nearly every one of them can be heard on commercial albums of the late 80s. Tracks like "Digital Native Dance" and "Living Caliope" can be heard everywhere.

The D-50 entered the market again in 2004 as the VC-1 expansion card for Roland's V-Synth keyboard and VariOS rackmount synth. The VC-1 is no mere emulation -- it is the D-50 operating system, with all the pros and cons of the old version. One can either use the improved DACs to get a cleaner sound or strip back to the "classic" sound; 28 additional waveforms are provided beyond the ones that were on the D-50, along with all the patches from the D-50 and all 4 Roland expansion


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