If you've marvelled at the sounds of Roland's RD1000 but couldn't justify the asking price, this new, scaled-down version may answer your prayers.
WHEN A COMPANY produces a cheaper version of an existing instrument, the inevitable question is: what sacrifices have been made in pursuance of the lower price tag? Roland have come up with a version of their RD1000 SAS (Structured/Adaptive Synthesis) electronic piano - the RD300 - for around half the original instrument's new asking price. There's also an RD200 on its way: some £200 cheaper than the 300 and offering 12 fewer keys, but that's all we know at present.
The new piano is neither as heavy nor as rugged as the RD1000, but still has that bulky look which seems to be pretty much par for the course when it comes to electronic pianos. Good news is that you still get an 88-note keyboard for your money, and of course it's velocity-sensitive. The wooden keys have been replaced by plastic versions, but you still get a weighted action; if anything, the 300's keyboard has a heavier action than that of the 1000, which may or may not be to your taste.
Like the 1000, the RD300 has eight sounds onboard: three grand pianos (two acoustic and one electric), one harpsichord, one clavi, one vibraphone and two electric pianos. It also retains the 1000's 16-voice polyphony, but only for its piano and vibraphone sounds; mysteriously, the harpsichord, clavi and electric pianos are now each 10-note polyphonic.
But unlike the RD1000, the new piano has no memories for storing edited versions of its sounds, while the options for editing the existing sounds have been reduced. The RD1000's three-band EQ has been replaced by a single Brilliance control, and while the 300 retains both chorus and tremolo effects, it loses chorus rate and depth controls in favour of a simple on/off switch. However, the 300 has the virtue of front-panel sliders for tremolo rate and depth, so alterations to this effect can be made very quickly. Chorus and tremolo on/off settings are programmable for each of the 300's eight sounds, but settings are only stored while the instrument is powered up.
Also lacking from the 300 is the choice of four keyboard touch-response scales that the 1000 featured. In practice this is no major disadvantage - and of course no disadvantage at all if you're playing the harpsichord sound.
What is more useful is the inclusion of a sostenuto function (something lacking on the RD1000) along with the more familiar sustain. A single pedal input can be used either as a soft pedal or a sostenuto, the choice being made by holding (or not holding) down the pedal while switching on the instrument. A further alternative use for this pedal is as a remote switch for selecting such features as key transpose, split, chorus and tremolo.
MIDI channel, patch change and transposition settings are made by pressing the relevant button and then playing a key on the 300's keyboard. Recourse to such a procedure (shades of the OSCar) is made necessary because the RD300 has no LED display. Not an ideal state of affairs, perhaps, but not one which causes any great difficulties, either - particularly as the relevant keys all have their functions clearly marked.
The only major disappointment with the RD1000 was its poor showing on the MIDI front. However, Roland have seen fit to improve the new RD's lot as a MIDI controller by giving it two keyboard zones, each of which can be given its own MIDI transmit channel (1-16). Other parameters assignable to each zone are MIDI transmit on/off and internal sound on/off, while the split point can be set at any point on the keyboard.
These features do not mean that you can have two of the RD's sounds on the keyboard at once. However, you do have the flexibility to decide, for each keyboard zone, whether you want to layer RD300 and slave sounds, play an RD300 sound alone, or play a slave sound alone - and each zone can have its own layered sound. What is a shame is that, unlike the 1000, the 300 can't be put into MIDI local off mode - an irritation when using the keyboard as a master for sequencing. And there's still no means of transmitting aftertouch information to other MIDI instruments - as far as electronic pianos go, only Korg's new SG1D has this ability.
Roland have also provided two front-panel sliders (one for each zone) for controlling the volume of slaved MIDI instruments, while tremolo, chorus, sostenuto and sustain on/off settings can all be sent over MIDI.
The RD300's sounds are identical to those on the 1000. The acoustic grands are rich, vibrant, and very full, though there is a buzziness apparent when you sustain notes, especially in the bass register where it becomes more of a modulation effect. Higher up the sound is bright and clear and never thin, though there are signs that the SAS system is overcompensating on the hammer strike element, because it's more a noise "chiff" which can be irritating.
The harpsichord sound captures the characteristic high-frequency "gliss" of a harpsichord attack admirably, and though the buzziness of the piano sounds is also evident here, it's less obtrusive because it's more appropriate. The clavi is competent, but to these ears lacks that funky bite and warmth.
Not surprisingly, the electric piano sounds are a much easier nut for Roland's SAS to crack than their acoustic counterparts. Roland have opted for a tinkling Rhodes-type sound and a much harder sound which is nearer to a Wurlitzer. The chorus and tremolo can also be put to good use on the vibes sound, which has a wonderful shimmer and warmth to it.
So, the RD300 makes its sacrifices in the area of programming, while losing none of the sonic quality of its more expensive brother, and actually improving its lot as a MIDI controller. Indisputably, an excellent buy.
Price £1600 including VAT