PA DECODER D50 ROM Vol III
If you're looking to expand your sampler's vocabulary of drum sounds or your D50 library, Patchworks' Drumtrax sample tape and PA Decoder's D50 Rom Volume III should be worth checking out - start here.
In the last three years a whole industry has sprung up around the Roland D50 - editors, librarians, multitimbral upgrades, RAM cards and ROM libraries. While many players have moved on since investing in their D50s, many more have stuck with the L/A flagship because of its quality and playability, and for the range of distinctive sounds that it produces.
When it comes to producing ROMs for the Roland LA synths, no-one has been more prominent than German company PA Decoder who, in addition to those produced for the D50, also supply ROM cards for the D10, D20 and D110. But with a four-year old synth and two previous ROM cards, just how innovative can the Vol III sounds be? And can anyone still justify shelling out £100 for 128 voices?
Externally, PA Decoder ROMs are easily identifiable in their sturdy black plastic boxes. Internal packaging, however, isn't PA's strong point - crumbling expanded polystyrene, plastic bags, and a photocopied voice sheet. The ROM itself comes in a neat plastic wallet but this is the only protection it gets - PA don't cover the terminals of their cards. As a consequence, there could soon be a lot of blown ROMs with the PA name on them. There's simply no excuse for risking electronic armaggedon by leaving the contacts so exposed.
The voices are arranged into two banks of 64 voices - one on each side of the card. Side one is primarily comprised of "pop" sounds (my description not PA's) and side two, "electronic instruments". Side one is definitely the more impressive of the two with a wide range of strong, and occasionally attention-grabbing, sounds. 'Toto Afrika' and 'Gabriel's Hammer' provide ethnic interest; 'Mezzoforte' 1, 2 and 3 offer analogue-style brass and flutes; 'W. Houston 1' is a real M1 beater, while 'Chicago Background1' and 'Grace Jones Back1' are strong pads. Basses are represented by 'King' and 'Pastorius' and there are dozens of other patches worthy of note - 'Level 42', 'Foster', 'J Jackson', 'Franky Goes to..'. You get the general idea.
Side two is, in comparison, a disappointment. A few voices stand out ('Carol' 1 and 2, 'Horror Background', 'Synclavier Orch1' ), but in general, the range of pianos, effects, and attempts to emulate classic digital and analogue timbres fail to inspire. That's not to say that the patches aren't useable, but I can't see them becoming classic D50 sounds.
The real winners of this collection (all from side one) have to be 'Fairlight 2' (arguably the richest string ensemble yet heard from a D50), the range of 'Bach' organs and choirs (will the real Mr Wakeman...), and (at last) an electric piano worth considering in preference to your favourite DX7 patch - 'Matt Bianco 1', which captures the essence of the latin/salsa Bianco groove.
Getting the best from this ROM requires time. I found myself warming to the voices as I experimented with Chase, Portamento, and the full MIDI key range. In addition, a little judicious manipulation of choruses and reverbs was starting to get rather interesting when I ran out of playtime and had to put pen to word processor. However, in these days of falling prices, and with the D70 just around the corner, a hundred smackers is starting to look steep for 128 D50 patches, no matter how good some of them are. All in all, it's a qualified (rather than unqualified) hit. Check it out.
Price £99.95 including VAT.
Feature by Gordon Reid
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