It has been almost a year since the release of the software version of Roland’s iconic synthesizer, the Roland D50 VST. We decided to reconsider this release and address all the controversy it has sparked. While the original D50 was best known for having defined the sounds of the late 80’s, the software version of the latter has received its fair share of criticisms.

The main reasons behind the disapproval of the software synth are both the fact that the emulation will never be able to equal the original hardware synthesizer’s performance and the new subscription service of Roland, Roland cloud. In this article, we will try to deliver a truthful representation of the strengths and weakness of the new version of this legendary synthesizer.

Why is the reputation of the original D50 still indelible today ?

In the 1980s, electronic music is still rather underdeveloped. A few brands are only starting to create synthesizers and electronic instruments. Roland is one of them. 1987 sounds as a revolution in the music world, with the release of Roland’s D50 Linear Arithmetic Synthesizers which will remain as one of the most influential synthesizers ever made.

As with other products such as the Juno, or the TR-808, Roland will define itself as a leading brand in the electronic music industry for years to come. In this case, the particularities of the Roland D50 VST were its instantly distinguishable sampled attacks and synthesized sustaining waveforms. Another element of the synthesizer’s initial popularity was the incorporation of some very realistic chorus, reverb and EQ effects.

In fact, the popularity and quality of the product became so spoken off, that many professional artists used its iconic sounds. As an example, the introductory organ in George Michael’s famous track, “Faith”, is nothing more than a sound generated by the D50. In the 1980’s and the decades that will follow, the synthesizers’s sound-generating capabilities will be displayed in numerous classic tracks in a wide range of genres including Synth Pop, New Wave, New Jack or R&B. Following upon successes in the music industry, film scores will also implement some of the D50’s sounds in their scores. For modern-day musicians, the aura of the D50 remains.

What are the key features of the Roland D50 VST ?

On its website, Roland mentions that the Roland D50 VST software emulation is supposed to perfectly recreate the original D50. In order to make this possible, the company has used a Digital Circuit Behavior (DCB) to faithfully represent every detail. Copying the interface of the D50, the software version provides the user with an authentic interface with the same controls and parameters that were found on the original.

Whilst being computer-generated, all the original presets of the D-50 are present in this version. Roland has also tried to incorporate some refreshing new sounds. There are several versions which were made available last year. These include 64-bit VST2, VST3 and AU. Moreover, an import function has been enabled, allowing you to import SYSEX (*.syx) files and use your previously created D50 Linear Synthesizer patches. Creative possibilities are great because of this feature if you are a  Roland D05 Linear Synthesizer user.

In terms of content, we wanted to underline 3 main qualities of the Roland D50 VST which it has inherited from its predecessor. In no particular order, these are:

1. The incorporation and conversion of a vintage synthesizer to a digital one:

Before the 1980s, there were only analog machines with an enormous quantity of knobs and sliders. After the 1980s, the electronic music world witnessed the introduction of highly user-friendly vintage synthesizers. These were much more accessible for the ordinary user.  The sounds provided with these were also much more exciting and previously unheard of. As mentioned previously, most famous tracks of the 1980s made good use of the Roland D50 sound banks. With the the D50 software version, you will experience this unique and beautiful sound, and it will provide you with an additional touch that will instantly make your tracks sound more unique.

2. An exact replication of the LA synthesis which combined sample waveforms with digitally-synthesized sustaining sounds:

With the software synthesizer of the D-50 you will also get this innovative mixture of short and sampled “attack transients” waveforms which are combined with digitally-synthesized sustaining sounds. Named “LA Synthesis”, Roland offers the realism of digital samples, the expressiveness of a synth and the polish of a high-end studio with its extensive and quality onboard digital effects. While, not providing the original keyboard and device, the Roland D50 VST will really fool you into thinking that you are using the “real thing”.

3. An extensive and rich sound palette, which accurately translates the sound of the 1980s with additional new and refreshing sounds:

For any user, sound banks are an undeniable asset. The presets on a synthesizer (such as the one in Sylenth1) can be criticized for the fact that they don’t encourage real creativity. However, when presets include “real-life” samples such as the ones featured on the D50 synthesizer, we would strongly encourage you to use them in order to give an organic touch to your tracks. At the time, the D-50 revolutionized pop music. It introduced new sounds, which allowed to forge new genres. In most recording studios of the time you would find D50s. Influential artists such as George Michael or Jean-Michel Jarre beautifully incorporated the D-50s sounds in their international hits. Through the controversial Roland Cloud format Roland recently put in place, the brand is proud to announce that you can have access to the legendary features of the D50 in a DCB software synthesizer format.

Inadequate subscription service and mere emulation, a non-starter for many ?

If the process described by Roland is simple and straightforward through the “Roland Cloud”, some users have complained about this new platform. The public even believes that Roland is behind the times in terms of software development since they have invested a lot of money in hardware. Therefore, the Cloud is said only be a way to test the software market to see if longterm involvement would be worth a go. In that sense, Roland Cloud would be only a test-platform where the brand is providing VST versions of its most famous hardware through subscription.

The temptation is there for many, since the subscription to this new platform would allow them to access to many classic synths at an affordable cost. However, Roland’s plugin have a reputation for being incredibly CPU hungry and this is also the case with the D50 software synthesizer. As a comparison even U-He’s plugins aren’t as CPU hungry as Roland’s. Nonetheless, the point of the Roland Cloud is that you don’t only get one VST but the entire Roland Collection.

That being said, if you are only interested in the Roland D50 VST it doesn’t really make sense to go for the Roland Cloud since you would pay $240 for a single synth. Furthermore, there are tons of other VST’s out there that are capable of equally good results for a much fairer price. Last but not least, some users will always prefer a hands-on synthesizer over a computer-generated on.

Conclusion

There are, of course, many criticisms that can be expressed regarding Roland’s new Cloud platform. Moreover, the Roland D50 VST software might never exactly replicate the original model. The simple fact that it is a software version can’t possible translate the original feel you would have when employing the original synthesizer. Besides, in the current era of plugins and virtual instruments, Roland is behind. The Japanese brand is facing heavy competition against very capable synthesizers such as XferRecords’s Serum, Lennar Digital’s Spire or even granular synthesis synthesizers which take sampling a step further. With that being said, the D-50 software synthesizer is what it is, a truthful representation of the iconic synth of the 1980s and that is probably already enough to satisfy the nostalgics.

See also: Roland D-05 Review