Celebrating One of the Most Influential Electronic Musical Instruments of All Time
Way back in 1987, Roland unleashed its very first all-digital synthesizer onto the world. That instrument was the D-50 Linear Synthesizer, and its massive impact on the music industry is still felt to this day. Powered by the groundbreaking Linear Arithmetic (LA) synthesis approach and onboard digital effects, the D-50 produced breathtaking sounds that no one had ever heard before, and musicians everywhere lined up to get their hands on this amazing new instrument. The D-50’s bold voice dominated the popular music, film soundtracks, and commercial jingles of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and its iconic, highly recognizable preset patches still sound as fresh and inspiring today as they did 30 years ago.
Starting on 909 Day (September 9, 2017), Roland is kicking off a yearlong celebration to honor the 30th anniversary of this giant in the history of synthesis. The festivities begin with the launch of the dedicated D-50 30th Anniversary web page, which features interviews with the original D-50 engineers, the sound programmers who developed the D-50’s presets, and the artists and producers who made such influential music with the legendary synth. At the same time, we’re also introducing the new D-05 Roland Boutique module, a spot-on D-50 recreation that brings the genuine D-50 experience to the music creators of today and beyond.
Video: D-50 Celebration Moments with Adrian Scott and Eric Persing
The D-50: A Landmark Instrument in Modern Music History
From the moment the D-50 was first unveiled to the public, the industry was buzzing about this incredible new instrument. While analog synths were common at the time, digital samplers were rare and very expensive. Roland’s unique new digital LA synthesis method featured a mix of short sampled attacks and analog-style sustaining waveforms, producing an extraordinary hybrid sound that was completely fresh and new.
“When I first heard the D-50, I—like a lot of people—reacted so strongly,” said GRAMMY-nominated producer, songwriter, musician, and mix engineer Greg Wells. “The concept of putting a sample at the top of a synthesizer patch…it was such a cleverly designed, zeitgeist-y thing, where it was very much of its time, but it was really ahead of its time.”
Roland also included a powerful digital effects engine in the D-50, another revolutionary concept that’s now commonplace on today’s keyboards. This allowed players to enhance sounds right inside the instrument, providing record-ready audio quality that was unheard of at the time.
“The D-50 was the dividing line,” said multiple GRAMMY-winning mix engineer Chris Lord-Alge. “There was everything before the D-50, and then everything after it. Before the D-50, every synthesizer was a dry output—it didn’t have any atmosphere whatsoever. The D-50 was the first synth ever to come with EQ, chorusing, reverb, delays. Most of them were built into [the patches], and became the fabric of the sound.”
Iconic Preset Patches That Defined a Musical Era
A hallmark of the D-50 was its stunning preset patches, which were created by sound designers Eric Persing and Adrian Scott. “Our goal for creating the sounds of the D-50 was really to create something new,” Eric remembers. “We wanted to create a new kind of hybrid sound where you had the motion of the synthesis, but with really unique PCM sounds that you could combine to create these hybrid textures that didn’t exist before. It was incredibly gratifying to have been able to work on this, and to see the reaction that people had [to the sounds].”
The D-50’s presets were so beautifully crafted that they were often used in completely unchanged form on the biggest hit recordings of the day. Patches like “Fantasia,” “DigitalNativeDance,” “Pizzagogo,” “Nylon Atmosphere,” “Soundtrack,” “Bottle Blower,” and numerous others are featured in countless classic tunes and movie soundtracks from the late ‘80s onward. Many quite literally defined the sounds of complete music genres at the time, from R&B and synth pop to new wave and new age.
“The D-50, man, that was such a game changer, the way that it sounded,” said GRAMMY-winning songwriter and producer Jimmy Jam. One of the standout attributes for Jimmy was how inspiring the sounds were without having to do extensive programming. “I want the keyboard to have great [preset] sounds in it,” Jimmy relates. “I don’t really have time to tweak; I want to hear a sound, and have that sound instantly make a song pop in my head. And this was one of those keyboards that did that. It was so different. It’s like you immediately just want to start recording.”
Visit the D-50 30th Anniversary Web Page
We’ve created a special home for our anniversary celebration that includes more D-50 history, extended comments from the artists and programmers mentioned here, and lots more. Check it all out at the D-50 30th Anniversary web page.
The D-50 Reborn for a New Generation: Introducing the D-05 Linear Synthesizer
The D-05 Linear Synthesizer is a faithful sonic recreation of the D-50 in the compact and affordable Roland Boutique module format. Combining Roland’s newly developed Digital Circuit Behavior (DCB) sound generator with the actual samples used in the original instrument, the D-05 delivers the D-50’s famous sounds with complete authenticity. The panel interface is completely authentic as well, right down to the joystick control for real-time tone mixing and more.
Learn more about this must-have new instrument at the D-05 product page.
Access the D-50 and Other Roland Legends on Roland Cloud
Roland Cloud is the ultimate cloud-based suite of high-resolution instruments, connected services, and software for modern music creators and producers. For a low monthly subscription, you have complete access to a growing collection of classic synths and newly developed software instruments from Roland.
With the Legendary Series instrument collection on Roland Cloud, you can now use plug-in versions of Roland’s most historic synthesizers in your computer-based music productions and live performances. A full recreation of the D-50 Linear Synthesizer is available, as well as the JUPITER-8, JUNO-106, SH-101, and more.
Sign up today for a free 30-day trial and bring the world of Roland into your computer music environment!