Just when you thought it was safe to be blasé about L/A synthesis, Roland introduce a mighty synth sure to re-establish L/A as a current source of sounds. Simon Trask previews Roland's new flagship.
THE D70 IS the first synth from Roland which can be said to replace the D50 as the company's flagship synth. As its "Super L/A" designation suggests, the D70 represents a continuation of, rather than a break with, the line of L/A instruments which has followed in the wake of the D50. During the past three years, the D50's innovations (the combination of samples and synthesis and the inclusion of onboard digital effects) have been taken to heart by other synth manufacturers, who have in turn taken them a step further overshadowing the original in the process.
Similarly, the idea of a dedicated "drumkit" section as introduced on Roland's MT32 multitimbral L/A expander has been adopted by other manufacturers, to the extent that it's become a staple of the "workstation" synth. Yes, we've seen the rise of the "workstation", and perhaps now we're starting to see its fall. Roland's contribution to this particular species was the D20, and they could easily have included a sequencer onboard the D70 - but they haven't.
However, Roland's new flagship does incorporate many of the synthesiser developments which have occurred since the D50's introduction. Thus you'll find that the attack samples and sample loops of the D50 and subsequent L/A instruments have been joined by whole instrumental multisamples, and the previously closed sample world of L/A synthesis has been opened out with the introduction of two PCM ROM sample card slots. In addition to dedicated D70 sample cards, the new synth can read SN-U110 Series sample cards, ensuring that it has a sizeable library of samples to draw on from the outset.
The D70 is six-Part multitimbral (five synth parts and one dedicated Rhythm part) and includes 13 24-bit digital reverb, chorus and delay effects. Roland haven't gone as far as fitting individual audio outs, but they have provided both dry and effected stereo outs - a feature previously found on the company's U20 sample player.
Probably the most immediately noticeable thing about the D70 is its 76-note keyboard, for which Roland deserve at least a gold star. So many synth keyboards stop at the five-octave mark that I was beginning to wonder if God had added an 11th commandment: "thou shalt not give any synth a keyboard exceeding 61 notes". The D70's synth-style keyboard is weighted, and is sensitive to both attack and release velocity along with channel aftertouch (the instrument's sounds can also respond to poly aftertouch via MIDI).
Also fairly noticeable is the sizeable 8 x 40-character LCD window which occupies centre stage on the D70's front panel, accompanied by the usual array of function, cursor and inc/dec buttons. What's less usual - and all the more welcome for it - is the inclusion of four front-panel edit sliders and accompanying on/off buttons. In Play mode the sliders allow you to adjust the volume levels of the four Tones which make up a D70 Patch, while the buttons allow you to switch individual Tones in and out. Once you're in Edit mode you can use the sliders to edit such parameters as level, pan, key shift, TVF cutoff frequency, TVF resonance, attack time and release time for the four Tones concurrently, or alternatively edit up to four parameters of a single Tone at the same time. This is what I call moving in the right direction: back to the immediacy of the analogue synth panel.
Talking of analogue synths, the D70 has an Analogue Feel function which seeks to rediscover some of that old analogue warmth by emulating the fluctuating pitch of an analogue oscillator. I kid you not. Rest assured this is something I'll be checking out as soon as I get my hands on a D70 for longer than the typical Frankfurt tryout.
Now, this is all very interesting, you're probably thinking, but does the D70 justify its "Super L/A" tag? Hey, we're talking Advanced L/A Synthesis here, people. The above-mentioned inclusion of whole instrumental multisamples and ability to read further samples off PCM ROM sample cards provide a good starting point. One of the most important differences between the common-or-garden and Advanced varieties of L/A synthesis is that the latter doesn't make the former's distinction between synthesiser and PCM sample sound sources - with the result that you can now pass sampled sounds through the synth's filter section. OK, this is something you take for granted on an M1 or a VFX, but Roland have had a spot of catching up to do (though filtering samples is nothing new to the company's samplers). A newly-developed digital filter provides a choice of low-pass, band-pass and high-pass filtering for each Tone, with resonance, cutoff enveloping and dynamic control of cutoff via velocity and aftertouch. In fact, the Tone architecture follows the traditional oscillator-filter-amplifier model, with each component having its own dedicated envelope while a single LFO is routed to all three components. In expanding the "oscillator" concept to take in entire PCM samples along with waveforms and short PCM loops, the D70 is only catching up with developments which were set in motion by the D50, but this isn't all that Roland have done. They've also introduced something called Differential Loop Modulation, which allows you to define the start point and loop length of a PCM waveform and then, er, modulate it (differentially, presumably) in such a way as to produce integral or non-integral harmonics. The idea is that you can dramatically increase the diversity of your source sounds before passing them through the more familiar manipulations of the digital filter.
There are a number of other features on the D70 which suggest that it will make a good performance instrument and MIDI controller keyboard. Initial impressions of Roland's latest synth suggest that the company have done all they needed to do in order to bring it into line with current expectations of what a top-of-the-range synth should offer. Whether they've also done enough to make it stand out from the crowd remains to be seen.
Price £1799 including VAT.
Review by Simon Trask
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