Roland Dual Voice Piano
Twin channel three voice electronic piano with six band graphic
Roland have been working hard on the electronic piano front for the last year, dishing up the HP series in imitation teak that either fits into the home or on stage, depending which end of the range you take.
The Dual Voice is a different angle on the problem, and for me is a far more successful solution.
Dual Voice means there are two pianos in one case — two sets of oscillators, tone shapers, pitch controls, etc, all run from the same keyboard. This doubling gives the Dual Voice a much richer, fatter sound, especially if the two sets of oscillators are slightly out of tune with each other. It's an effect that chorus units try to reproduce, but good as they are, they can never be as powerful as the real thing.
The Roland also has a six band graphic eq that does a great job in filtering out the fizziness that often mars electronic pianos, as well as lifting the bass end, another frequent area of weakness.
The five octave C-to-C keyboard is artificially weighted and it feels strange. The keys are heavier than a normal synth keyboard, but they don't have the bounceback you'd get from a real piano. It's somewhere between the two.
The dark, grey metallic finish case is littered with the usual brightly tinted Roland controls. On this occasion there are three voice options for each half of the piano. The first is the smoothest of the presets and the most like a real piano—rounded, mellow, good for romantic background tinklings or something to hold a melody together. It's a little boxy in the middle of its range, but that can be tweaked out by trimming down the 800Hz slider on the graphic.
The next voice is probably the most useful. Still with the smooth bass end of the first sound, it now has more presence and bite, much like a good old rock 'n' roll piano. Playing with the graphic will lift the top end for solos, yet without making it buzzy and too artificial.
The final voice is more like a traditional electronic piano/harpsichord, with buckets of treble and a harsh tone I wasn't fond of. It's very penetrating and will slice through the rest of the band, but has a distinct artificial twang to it.
It's possible to cross mix the options, so piano A will be mellow, piano B will be fuzzy, and the Dual Voice is also built so two or more of the voices can be selected at once.
Trouble is, the switches Roland have used don't like staying in place and will often pop out when you try to push down two at once. Rethink here, chaps.
Each half has its own decay control and footage selector: 16 and 8 on one side, 16, 8 and 5⅓ on the other. This extra 5⅓ selection is sadly not as useful as it promises to be.
Perhaps because of the piano's already rich and thick tone, the extra blended in fifth confuses chords and makes a muddle of lead lines. It's better if the 5⅓ half of the Roland is kept to a short, percussive decay, while the other section has a longer sustain. This won't give you the typical harmonic bite of an organ but it can create some appealing, bell-like Chinese variations.
Now no one is going to faint with shock if I let on that the Dual Voice has an arpeggiator. It's virtually a passport — no keyboard gets past the gates of the Roland factory unless it has one.
But this is a bit different. Rather than a straight chord plucker, it uses the technology within Roland's drum machines in order to add rhythm to the arpeggio it's playing. There are four "shapes", some of which bounce off bass notes while others vamp from one half of the chord to another. There are also four beat patterns that provide four, eight or 12 strums to the bar, or even a variation that slots the arpeggio into three/four time.
It's an intriguing departure from the arpeggio system and well timed, just when the standard up-and-downers were starting to wear out their welcome. It's only sad that you have to split the keyboard in order to get them. This automatically raises the bottom two octaves by an octave — fine for chords, but this arpeggiator could make unbelievable bass lines, given the range to work with.
When the arpeggios are in play there's also a harmony facility which, much like the one finger organs that sit by the drinks cabinets in living rooms throughout the land, will analyse the left-hand chord and call up a matching harmony for any notes played in the right hand. In the right place it can really broaden your playing, and make you sound like a smart arse technoflasher.
In the wrong place it can come eerily adrift as the song and the analysis start having arguments and machines have a habit of winning.
The last accessory is a pitch transpose that will shift the key of anything you're playing into something nice and simple — gimme that C one more time — or extend the upper range of the keyboard past the 8 foot maximum on the controls.
There's tons of power in the graphic and even when all the sliders are up full, only a hint of distortion creeps in, and that can be quite attractive adding a fist to what you're doing. The sliders fall at 100, 200, 400, 800, 1.6k and 3.2kHz — neatly placed to reinforce treble or bass and weed out the raspier unwanted frequencies. Either or both piano halves can bypass the graphic and go untainted to the outputs.
Output sockets include a sustain footswitch, 'phones, signal out and a stop for the arpeggiator. It's a shame Roland couldn't have gone a little further and provided stereo outputs for the two piano voices.
It's pricier than many budget electronic pianos but the sound is far superior in body and versatility.
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