PA Decoder's D50 ROM cartridge joins a selection of readers' own sounds in this month's Patchwork. If you're short of a sound, or simply short of inspiration, read on.
If you're still waiting to see your particular synth featured in these pages, then why not be the first to submit some sounds?
Don't forget that if your patch gets published, you'll receive a free year's subscription to MUSIC TECHNOLOGY with our compliments. So send us your favourite sounds on a photocopy of an owner's manual chart (coupled with a blank one for artwork purposes) accompanied by a short demo-tape (don't worry too much about classic performances and impeccable recording quality; just present your sounds simply and concisely - and convince us you're the best of the bunch). Include a decent-length description of your sound and its musical purpose in life, and write your full name and address on each chart. And remember, edited presets are all very well, but an original masterpiece is always preferable. OK?
The address to send sounds to: Patchwork, (Contact Details).
for the Roland D50
I STRUGGLED LONG and hard with the programming system of the Roland D50. I tried to obtain a rich (Minimoog) lead sounds, fat string ensembles, and rasping brass solos without too much success. I'm not claiming to be an expert programmer, but I wasn't making any headway at all - either the synth couldn't do the job or I was missing the point somewhere down the line. Which brings me neatly round to the subject of this review, the D50 Cartridge Volume 1 from PA Decoder. If at first you don't succeed - get someone else to do it for you.
The cartridge comes well packaged in a tough, foam-lined plastic case which seems strong enough to withstand most knocks. Unfortunately, the ROM itself (which is double-sided, giving a total of 128 voices) is less robust and has exposed terminals - so handle with care.
One thing that continually frustrates me about many synthesisers (and this cartridge is no better) is that the voices are not sensibly arranged into banks of related sounds. A little judicious juggling of the patches yields some kind of order but nevertheless, manufacturers please take note.
I can't describe all 128 voices comprising strings, brass, woodwind, percussion, organ, synthesis and "samples" in the space here but, regrettably, many of the voices on the cartridge are either poor or quickly forgettable (someone will have to try a lot harder than this to develop a usable piano patch).
On the positive side however, there are some genuinely high quality voices and others that respond well to a little modification - which yielded some remarkable results.
The gold awards for woodwind go to 'Clarina Solo' and 'Floeten Spiel' - programmed by an ARP ProSoloist owner for sure. For organs try 'Organ Deluxe', 'Elektron Organ', 'M100 Organ 1' (for all you Hammond fans) and 'Organ 16 Bass A' (snappy name, guys). Strings and Brass honours go to 'Prophet 2000 Brass', 'Spezial Horn Brass', 'Emulator II Strings' and 'Warm Supper Strings' (honest); and special commendations go to 'PPG Waveterm Choir', and 'PPG Waveterm Voice'. Those of you that still find orchestral strikes inspiring are catered for with 'Orchester Philamon' and 'Attack Orchester'. However, pride of place must go to 'VollenWeider Harp' and 'Short Harp Delay' - simply the best synthesised voices I have heard in years.
Now, bear with me while I make a point that is so often overlooked... FM sounds best from an FM synth, samples come from a sampler, and fat analogue sounds from an analogue synth. Too obvious? Perhaps not, because I am frequently amazed at the number of musicians (whose budgets are often extremely limited) buying the currently fashionable synthesiser with no thought about which machine would be best for the sounds that they wish to produce. PA Decoder can call their patches Kurzweil This, Prophet That, and Korg The Other, but to my ears they sound like a well-programmed D50. And if you don't want to sound like you're using a D50 you shouldn't be playing one. If you do want to be playing a D50 then a dozen of the voices on this cartridge clearly expand the limits of the synthesiser and, more importantly, show just what can be achieved within those limits. It's not cheap but if (like I did) you feel as if you're banging your head against a brick wall with your programming, this could be just what you need - to use "neat" or to give you new programming ideas.
Finally, a couple of these new voices go a long way to prove to me that the D50 is a musical instrument in its own right. Not a replacement for anyone's DX7 or JX10, but an important addition alongside either.
Price £99.95 including VAT
More from Executive Audio Ltd, (Contact Details)
Brian Cosgrove, Northumbria
Another string sound here, in a completely different vein but equally useful. Played over a distinctly new age backdrop on Brian's tape, this is a laid-back and mellow lead guitar sound "easily converted to any of the Roland SH series". SH2 owners take note that VCO2 should be tuned to a fifth above VCO1.
Joe Ortiz, Thurling Pockett
From an assortment of uniformly excellent patches, we've chosen this one; as Joe says, the sort of patch "that's better to have and not need, than to need and not have". Woven skilfully through a great rendition of 'St Louis Blues', this patch really is a testimony to the ESQ1 - and the programmer.
Gear in this article:
Feature by Gordon Reid
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