My first thought on receiving this organ-string machine was: "Here's an easy one to write about". How wrong I was!
The subjectivity of sound appreciation, the instrument's well-defined musical role, and its simplicity make the reviewer's task a nightmare without thousands of knobs, combinations and patch bays to explain.
Technical stuff first: the RS09 keyboard spans three-and-a-half octaves, and the front panel controls from left to right are power switch, an output volume control and a set of controls for the entire instrument, both organ and strings halves. There's the single tone, a vibrato section with three faders — delay time, rate and depth — and a switch to transpose the keyboard down an octave.
The organ section comes next with three on/off tabs and four faders. Two yellow tabs select either organ I (a mellow sound) and/or organ II (brighter), and a white tab switches the chorus ensemble on or off. The four faders work basically as drawbars and adjust the relative volumes of the 8, 4, 2 and 1 footages.
The string section has two blue tabs selecting 8 and 4 footages, a white one to switch on the ensemble and a fader to control the attack time. The rest of the front panel controls the whole instrument, including an envelope release fader, a release mode switch, ensemble mode switch and a tuning knob.
When release mode I is selected, any additional notes played during the release time cut out previously held notes, but in mode II they add to the previously held notes and in fact give these notes a fresh attack.
The ensemble has two modes: one is a chorus and the other more of a light phaser. The RS09 is styled to match other Roland products like the Saturn, SH2 and SH09 synths, and is very neat and low in profile.
The jack sockets on the back have mono or stereo outputs, plus a sensitivity switch, headphone socket, organ raw signal output, gate out, a sustain pedal socket and an external audio signal input with sensitivity switch to take advantage of the ensemble section.
And now for the sounds. Roland have always produced good string machines and this section of the instrument is well up to scratch. No such machine can really sound like a true string orchestra, and even if you have knowledge of string orchestration, they can only copy a very limited area of string writing possibilities.
If it's a string machine you want, then this follows in the footsteps of Roland's previous, good quality instruments.
However, it's the organ section that lets the RS09 down. I know price is always a necessary factor in making an instrument, but I feel there are some important omissions here.
The 8, 4, 2 and 1 footages are inadequate on their own. There should have been a 5⅓ or 2⅔ as well, because it's these additional fifths that make a good organ sound. The absence of percussion controls seriously flaws the sound as well. There's no attack at all, and if Roland transferred some of the controls from the more sophisticated VK1 to this machine, they would improve the RS09 immeasurably.
Another small point — the only way the string and organ volumes can be balanced is by adjusting the organ footage setting, annoying if you've got the organ sound set up.
It's the inevitable role of this type of instrument that does not endear them to me. They work very well as fillers when other instruments are playing, but they should be able to stand up well when exposed, or as a solo instrument, and that's not always the case with the RS09.
To sum up, the strings are good, the price is cheap and the organ can be used to bolster the string sound, but the organ's not much use on its own. The RS09 is a well-made instrument, light and easy to handle and operate, and well-priced, but I fear it's not one of Roland's strongest.