Short Synth History Lesson: The Roland D-50

Roland D-50


The Roland D-50 is a synthesizer produced by Roland and released in April 1987[13]. It quickly became the most popular digital synth of its era, pushing aside its main competitor, the Yamaha DX7[16]. The D-50 introduced a new synthesis method called Linear Arithmetic (LA) Synthesis, which combined PCM waveforms and subtractive synthesis[1]. 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[12].


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[15]. 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[16].

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[16]. 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[16]. Some notable artists who used the Roland D-50 include Prince, Jean-Michel Jarre, Enya, Vangelis, and Michael Jackson[12]. 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[13].

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[13][17]. It also included on-board effects, a joystick for data manipulation, and an analog synthesis-styled layout design[13]. The external Roland PG-1000 (1987–1990) programmer could also be attached to the D-50 for more complex manipulation of its sounds[13]. The D-50 was also produced in a rack-mount variant design, the D-550 (1987–1990), with almost 450 user-adjustable parameters[13].

Influence on Music Production

The Roland D-50’s unique sonic capabilities quickly caught the attention of numerous influential musicians and producers[12]. Its innovative synthesis method allowed for a wide range of unique and complex sounds, which helped shape the music of its time[13]. 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[12]. The synthesizer’s synthesis engine, in more or less updated forms, was used in Roland’s JV and XP series synths, among others[13]. Furthermore, in 2004, Roland released a VC-1 expansion card for V-Synth and VariOS synthesizers, which emulated the D-50[13].


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