The Roland D-50 is a synthesizer produced by Roland and released in April 1987. It quickly became the most popular digital synth of its era, pushing aside its main competitor, the Yamaha DX7. The D-50 introduced a new synthesis method called Linear Arithmetic (LA) Synthesis, which combined PCM waveforms and subtractive synthesis. Its unique sound and innovative synthesis method have left a lasting impression on the music industry, and the D-50 continues to be a sought-after instrument among musicians, producers, and sound designers.
The Roland D-50 was designed by a team of engineers and sound designers at Roland. One of the most celebrated accomplishments of this team was the programming of many of the factory patches for the popular D-50 synthesizer by Eric Persing, founder of Spectrasonics, and fellow sound designer Adrian Scott. In celebration of the D-50’s 30th anniversary in 2017, Roland rounded up all of the original designers and engineers to shed some light on how they produced the legendary synth.
Impact and Popularity
The Roland D-50 quickly became the most popular digital synth of its era, pushing aside its main competitor, the Yamaha DX7. The D-50’s unique sound defined the music scene in the late 80s and early 90s and was used in countless records across the world. Some notable artists who used the Roland D-50 include Prince, Jean-Michel Jarre, Enya, Vangelis, and Michael Jackson. The D-50’s popularity was due in part to its innovative synthesis method, which allowed for a wide range of unique and complex sounds.
Technical Specifications and Features
The Roland D-50 featured a 61-key keyboard with velocity and aftertouch sensitivity, 16-voice polyphony, and used LA Synthesis as its tone generator. It also included on-board effects, a joystick for data manipulation, and an analog synthesis-styled layout design. The external Roland PG-1000 (1987–1990) programmer could also be attached to the D-50 for more complex manipulation of its sounds. The D-50 was also produced in a rack-mount variant design, the D-550 (1987–1990), with almost 450 user-adjustable parameters.
Influence on Music Production
The Roland D-50’s unique sonic capabilities quickly caught the attention of numerous influential musicians and producers. Its innovative synthesis method allowed for a wide range of unique and complex sounds, which helped shape the music of its time. The D-50’s iconic sounds can still be heard in contemporary music, and its influence on the development of digital synthesis remains evident in many modern instruments. The synthesizer’s synthesis engine, in more or less updated forms, was used in Roland’s JV and XP series synths, among others. Furthermore, in 2004, Roland released a VC-1 expansion card for V-Synth and VariOS synthesizers, which emulated the D-50.