What is SuperNATURAL Technology?

Discover Digital Realism

SuperNATURAL Technology Logo

SuperNATURAL Technology Logo

Author: Roland UK Features Team

Welcome to the sublime and beautiful world of SuperNATURAL. This is the inside story of one of the most profound music technology breakthroughs for electronic instruments.

Things which seem simple are often complex, and this is especially true when applied to musical instruments. To recreate the sound of an acoustic instrument, you can’t just sample it – you have to understand how the sound is made, how it’s played and even how it behaves. Our SuperNATURAL technology is found in our digital pianos, synths, sound modules and electronic drums. It’s an essential part of our goal of creating instruments which are realistic. Before we go forward, let’s take a trip back in time to see how things used to be. For decades, the industry standard for reproducing the sound of traditional instruments was PCM sampling. The challenge with sampling is that most acoustic instruments respond differently to how hard they are struck, blown, or bowed – most acoustic instruments grow brighter as they get louder, for example.

Before SuperNATURAL Technology…

Recording a sample of an instrument captures a one-dimensional rendition of the sound. To work around this, manufacturers often used velocity-driven filters with ‘bright’ samples. Some use multiple samples of a given note at multiple ‘energy’ levels. It sounds complicated, but all it means is that you hear a different ‘previously recorded’ sound depending on how hard you hit the keys. A step in the right direction, but still far from perfect. During these experiments, it became clear that the piano was the ultimate challenge to recreate, due to a broad dynamic range, extreme pitch range, exceptionally long decay times and the sympathetic resonance of all the components. Previous attempts to digitally reproduce the piano with gigabytes of multiple samples still fell short in realism.

JUPITER-50 Roland Synthesizer

JUPITER-50 Synthesizer With SuperNATURAL Technology

There are many performance nuances inherent in instruments, which further complicates the realistic use of sampling technology. Consider orchestral string players using a variety of bowing styles. With traditional sample-based instruments, an array of samples for each of these styles must be captured distinctly from the other styles and typically assembled into entirely separate sets. Then to alternate between legato and staccato violins, the player of a sample-based keyboard would have to switch patches, play different keyboard zones or develop a unique playing style to accommodate different sets on different velocity layers. A tall order when you’re in the zone.

FP-80 Digital Piano With SuperNATURAL Technology

FP-80 Digital Piano With SuperNATURAL Technology

A SuperNATURAL Era…

Roland instruments with SuperNATURAL technology adds powerful sound modeling to the equation. Each SuperNATURAL instrument— piano, violin, trumpet, etc.—has its own specialized sound engine because, just as the sounds of a piano, flute and timpani are very different, so are their related modeling needs. Each SuperNATURAL engine is based on pristine studio samples of the original instrument, however; that’s where the similarities to PCM-based gear end.

INTEGRA-7 With SuperNATURAL Technology

INTEGRA-7 With SuperNATURAL Technology

First, SuperNATURAL doesn’t use sample looping. We’ve also developed technology that creates models of the characteristics and responsive aspects of each instrument. The SuperNATURAL engine handles how those parameters react to performance dynamics and nuances from a controller such as a keyboard, just as they would in the original instrument. As a simple example, volume and brightness in SuperNATURAL instruments respond to nuances in playing force without any velocity switching and inherent stepping sounds between sample layers. SuperNATURAL goes much deeper. Looking at the orchestral strings scenario mentioned earlier, SuperNATURAL modeling translates the player’s natural use of playing styles such as legato and staccato into appropriate variations in bowing technique and associated sound. Further, use of a pedal or switch will seamlessly invoke tremolo or pizzicato styles.

Roland TD-30 drum kit

TD-30KV Electronic Drums With SuperNATURAL Technology

Transparent Technology…

All this power is useless if it gets in the way, which is why SuperNATURAL technology is transparent, for a natural playing experience that requires no thinking, programming or changes to playing style. For those who wish to delve deeper, most SuperNATURAL instrument engines provide access to key parameters such as how much growl and noise brass instruments have. Another example is the SuperNATURAL piano engine in the JUPITER-80, which allows players to adjust the desired amount of string resonance, key-off noise, hammer noise, stereo width, the tonal character and more. The modelled (and continuously variable) characteristics in SuperNATURAL engines are a sharp contrast to what are largely snapshots of timbres in electronic instruments relying solely on samples. The benefit is a leap forward in realism, sound and responsiveness.

Where SuperNATURAL technology models the natural sound qualities and expressiveness of traditional instruments, Roland’s new Behavior Modeling technology goes a step further by intelligently recreating – on demand – the articulations that happen when those instruments are in the hands of seasoned players. Behavior Modeling acts as an interpreter between a keyboard player’s phrasing and the performance technique of the original instrument. As a simple example, when a trumpet player performs a half-valve trill, the initial transient attacks inherent in playing isolated single notes are absent. Behavior Modeling not only reproduces authentic sounds, it integrates it into the SuperNATURAL trumpet engine so that a keyboard player can invoke those trills naturally. No playing adjustments or compromises needed.

Share your thoughts with us, in the meantime here’s a video with SuperNATURAL technology in action.

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