Roland's D5 is the latest addition to their range of LA synthesizers. Paul Ireson takes a look at a budget keyboard with some great features.
New hi-tech products generally fall into one of two categories: either they offer something new and unusual, and hopefully even desirable in their field, or they offer something familiar but at half the price you might have paid for it a year previously. That's a bit of generalisation of course, but on the whole if a product doesn't fall into one of these categories, then it's a lemon of the first order.
Roland's new D5 synthesizer can be easily categorised in this manner, for it is now the cheapest LA keyboard in Roland's product range, and is competing in price terms directly with the Kawai K1 in the budget synth market. Like the K1, the D5 offers 8-part multitimbrality, though it also has a dedicated rhythm section on board to provide a further drum part in multitimbral operation.
The D5 is essentially a cut-down version of the D10 LA keyboard, though some features have been added as others have been removed. One rather unwelcome change is the substitution of an external AC adaptor for the internal power supply. The instrument gives the impression of being unusually small and light, though in fact it is not that much smaller than many other comparable synths. A five-octave velocity sensitive keyboard is provided, and to its left is a standard Roland pitch bender/modulation lever.
Internally, the sound architecture of the D5 is almost identical to that of the D10 and D20 - I refer you to my review of the D20 (SOS September 1988) for details - apart from the fact that the D5 does not include the digital effects section of those instruments. Up to 32 LA Partials can sound simultaneously, which means that the D5 is up to 32-note polyphonic, rather less if the sounds played use more than one Partial each. A combination of up to four Partials, processed by amplitude and filter envelopes, and a ring modulator, is called a Tone, which is the basic element of sound on the D5. Up to 256 different Tones are available on the D5 simultaneously. 128 of these are in two preset, non-editable banks, 64 are in a user-programmable internal bank, and a further 64 can be stored on an optional RAM card. 63 preset Rhythm tones (drum samples) are provided to create the Rhythm Part - these are essentially the same, rather excellent, drum sounds as those on the D10/20.
The D5 has four basic modes of operation: Performance, Multitimbral, Manual Drums and ROM Play. In Performance mode you can play two Tones from the keyboard - the Tones can be split or layered on the keyboard, or only one of the Tones played. New features found on the D5 that are not on the D10 are the Chord Play, Harmony, Chase and Arpeggio functions, all used in Performance mode. Chase creates a repeating series of notes, decaying in volume, from a single key, and Harmony creates an inversion of any chord played on the bottom half of the keyboard, and plays it beneath whatever single note is played on the top of the keyboard. Only one of the effects can be used at any one time, and effects settings are stored as a Patch along with Tone selection, Split Point, Tone Balance, Key Shift (transpose), Fine Tune, Bender Range and Key Mode (Whole, Split, Dual), Assign Mode and Name, which are the Performance mode's highest level of organisation for sounds. 128 Patches, in two banks of 64, are available. Both Tones and Patches can be edited from within Performance mode.
The second mode of operation is Multitimbral, in which the D5's Tones can be played in 8-part multitimbrality. A Rhythm Part is also available, using the 63 Rhythm Tones. Each of the eight Parts plays a different Tone, and has its own MIDI Receive Channel, Pan and Level settings. Voices are dynamically assigned between the Parts, but a Partial Reserve function is also available to ensure that notes are not robbed from important Parts when the polyphony is exceeded.
The other two modes of operation are a little less useful. Manual Drums lets you play the Rhythm Part directly from the D5's keyboard, which you could do in Multitimbral mode anyway. More importantly though, it lets you edit the Rhythm Part. A different Tone - either a Rhythm Tone or user Tone - can be assigned to each key, and a Level and Pan position set for each one. The ROM Play mode exists only to play back four demo tunes, which seems a bit of a waste to me.
The sound of the D5 is the important thing, of course - no-one will buy even cheap keyboards if they sound dreadful. I had half-expected the D5 to be a rather poor relative of the D10 and D20 in terms of its sound quality, but I was pleased to find that this is not the case. The sounds produced by the D5 are every bit as good as I recall those of the D20 being (given the absence of reverb), and not surprisingly cover the same sort of tonal ground. There are plenty of atmospheric pads and sweeps, koto and guitar style acoustic sounds, and so on. When it comes to creating your own sounds, the synthesis facilities of the D5 are as versatile as those of the D10/20, but are slightly hampered by the lack of a data entry slider - you have to do a lot of button pushing.
All in all, the D5 seems to offer very good value for money. I still haven't got bored of LA sounds, and therefore I like the sound that the D5 produces. In anyone's books, 8-part multitimbrality plus 63 excellent drum sounds in a keyboard for under £600 must be value for money, and anyone looking for a good first synthesizer who's on a tight budget would be a fool not to consider the D5.
Roland UK, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul Ireson
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