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Roland XP 50 and VG8

Article from The Mix, April 1995

Preview of Roland's latest products

Roland are currently on tour with their VG8 Guitar system, MS-1 sampler and XP50 workstation, under the banner Technology for Creativity 95. They broke their whistle-stop tour of pubs and colleges to give the mix a special preview of these new products. Rob Green was there to give his first hand impressions.

Polyphonic playmate

Riding on the reputation of the popular JV-1080 rack synthesizer, the new XP 50 is Roland's latest expandable 61 key Music Workstation. With 64-voice polyphony, 16-part multitimbrality, aftertouch, 8 system-common effects plus 40 insert effects, and a full 8 Mbytes of internal Wave ROM, the XP-50 can handle up to four 8Mb SR-JV80 expansion boards simultaneously.

There is also a new addition to Roland's expansion arsenal, in the "Dance" expansion board. This joins the "Pop", "Orchestral", "Piano" and the popular "Vintage Synth" and "World" boards. As if this wasn't enough, the XP-50 can also take an additional 2Mb SO-PCM 1 waveform card. At its highest state of expansion, the XP-50 gives the user access to 42Mb of solid waveform power.

The XP-50 is neither short on waveform power, nor deprived of power in the sequencing area. Roland have taken a few leaves out of the book of computer based sequencers, and come up with the MRC Pro, capable of instant loop recording, shuffle quantize, groove quantize, and realtime phrase sequencing. This takes place across 16 primary tracks at speed, using just a few button presses.

The XP-50 also allows the user to play songs directly off its 3.5" disk drive, in real time (thus avoiding the wait usually associated with loading songs into RAM). This, and its robust construction make the XP-50 ideal for confident live performance. The MRC Pro's memory can hold up to 100 patterns or one song, with all 16 MIDI channels available to any track. Patterns can be anything up to 30,000 notes or alternatively, you can save up to 180,000 notes on the disk drive. The MRC reads both Standard MIDI Files, as well as existing S-MRC formats.

Unexpanded, the XP-50 gives you 512 preset patches, 64 preset performances, and eight preset rhythm set-ups. There are also 128, 32 and 2 respective user locations. At full expansion, the XP-50 can offer access to over 2000 patches on-board, accessible from the front panel or via the sequencer.

Secret of the shadow

Earlier this year, there were sinister security leaks from Japan, supplied by agents of the subversive organisation that we know as R.O.L.A.N.D.. This information concerned a terrifying sonic weapon, code-named 'V'. Shaped rather like a Stealth Bomber, V's matt black finish provided an appropriate mask for this shadowy example of the state of the guitar art. Revealed as Roland's new VG-8 guitar processor, you know this substantial unit means business, the minute you clap eyes on it.

In basic terms, the VG-8 uses sophisticated sound modelling technology: Namely, Composite Object Sound Modelling, or COSM. It can reproduce the sort of incredible guitar sounds, that in the past were the province of one man and his Marshall amp. In fact, the VG-8 can emulate almost any type of guitar and amp configuration, with any effect, in any order with surprising accuracy. I would even defy you to identify any significant difference of timbre or phrasing.

But that's not all! The VG-8 has more tricks up its sleeve. Other realistic voices are also available, including a variety of stringed instruments, wind instruments and synths. Don't get the wrong impression. This is not just another guitar synthesiser. These sounds are almost as rich and expressive as the guitar patches themselves. So how does it work?

There are two distinctive modes for the VG-8: Variable Guitar Modelling (VGM) and Harmonic Restructure Modelling (HRM). The VG-8 is unlike any other guitar synth or processor previously seen, in that it actually allows you to 'virtually' change the guitar shape, pick-up type, and place the pick-up anywhere on the body (even on the fretboard). The VG-8 can accurately reproduce the sound of any number of popular pick-ups and configurations, including humbuckers, single coils, piezo, and any conceivable combinations.

To allow maximum sound quality and expression, the system relies on a Roland GK-2A divided pickup, which can be placed on any electric guitar. This detects the vibration of each individual string, allowing the VG-8 a better representation when processing the sound. This is where the VG-8 is different to a guitar synthesiser, as it takes the original waveform and re-models it into any desired guitar (or other) sound.

Roland's DSP technology enables the high-speed processing of each string's waveform independently and in real-time. The signal is then processed and manipulated into a completely new (but horrifyingly realistic) sound. The post-processing audio output signal is indeed completely different from the original waveform, yet it retains all the expressiveness and subtle player nuances, which are inherent to the guitar player. Most incredible of all, this complicated process takes place instantaneously! This means, as Roland assure us, that there is absolutely no time delay, contrary to the quirky, unnatural feel of previous MIDI guitar synths.

The HRM mode is interesting, as the original waveform is processed in real-time and re-modelled into a completely new one. Since the signal is restructured without losing any of the playing characteristics, the individual player's feel is retained. Versatile results are available here, putting the power of a synthesiser in a guitarist's hands, with full, superior player expression.

The VG-8 also offers excellent polyphonic effects capabilities. Since the GK-2A sends each string individually, signal processing can be performed 'per string'. For example, pitch shifting can be applied individually to each string for instant open tunings, bass guitar or authentic 12-string effects. You can also pan each string individually, anywhere in the stereo field. Electronic models are also included for many Boss pedal effects, in addition to the VG-8's global reverb, delay and chorus.

This is certainly a massive step forward for guitar technology, and promises to rekindle interest in an instrument many have regarded as moribund. Thank goodness someone has seen fit to give the guitarist something new. It may ruffle a few feathers, but what the hell! Who dares, wins!

The essentials...

Prices inc VAT: XP-50 £1399, VG-8/GK-2A £1999
More from: Roland UK, (Contact Details)

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

Mixing up the motor city

Next article in this issue

Economy upgrade

Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...


The Mix - Apr 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Chris Needham

Control Room

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer > Roland > XP-50

Guitar Synthesizer > Roland > VG-8

Review by Rob Green

Previous article in this issue:

> Mixing up the motor city

Next article in this issue:

> Economy upgrade

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