Roland D-70

Roland D-70 Image

Billed as the next in line to the Roland "LA" synthesis crown, the D70 is an odd keyboard. It actually has more in common with the U-20/220 series ROMplers than with the D-50/550, which it was "kind-of meant" to replace. In fact, if you open it up, you''ll find the circuit boards are labelled "U50". Unfortunately, the D70 / U50 was rushed into production, to compete with the likes of the Korg M1 and T1/T2/T3ex series machines, and this lack of design care shows when navigating the user-interface, which could be politely described as "challenging".

So, given the similarities to the rather mediocre U-series sample ROMplers, and the "Super-LA" name....what to make of it?

The D-70 has a sample playback engine married to D50 style TVF filters, together with on-board effects, and a percussion soundset. The filters are resonant, and add some much needed "welly". This is the D-70's redeeming feature, because the filters are actually pretty damn good. It's a shame that (to this reviewer's knowledge) it doesn't seem possible to filter the drum samples though.

Performance wise, the D70 has a good quality 76 note keyboard in a sleek housing, and given its size, it's remarkably light. It is equipped with a large LCD display, to the left of which are 4 assignable faders. There is a fifth controller fader, labelled "C1" just above the pitch bender, in between the volume and brightness (filter cutoff) faders. The faders can be assigned in real-time to the following parameters: Level, Pan, Tuning, Cutoff, Resonance, Attack, and Release, using the keypad to the left of fader 1. The four faders equate to the four tones that can be used to make up a patch, rather like the D50's "upper / lower partials" although the more tones you apply, the lower the polyphony. This gives the performer real-time tweakability for doing filter sweeps, changing the relative levels of tones (for drawbar-style effects), etc. As an added bonus, the faders send MIDI data...

...which makes the D70 an excellent master keyboard for MIDI setups. It has keyboard splitting and zoning options that you'd expect to find on master keyboards. That's if you can decipher the midi implementation and work your way round an interface that redefines the word "awkward". Couple that with a 220 page manual, and it's not something you really want to do on stage, unless you've got it all worked out in advance. The D70 is one of those synths that you'll find yourself both enjoying and cursing in fairly equal measure.

Sound-wise, the D70 raw samples are your typical U20/220 faire. In fact the D70 reads U220 series PCM cards, and has two PCM card slots on the rear of the unit, together with a RAM slot. This may not sound too appealing - if you're looking for genuine acoustic instruments, then it's not for you. But, the D70 has some remarkably good Rhodes and Organ patches, and some fantastic synth bass and lead sounds. Couple this with the on board fx, and it is a bit like a souped-up D50 with much better filters, which provide both squelchy resonance and knob-twiddlyness.

To summarize, it's a nice ROMpler, albeit a little schizophrenic, capable of some wonderful classic Roland synth-noises, and makes a decent performance / live / master keyboard as well. It sounds better than the U220. If you're looking for a "proper synthesizer" you may be disappointed. Real shame actually; a bit more effort on Roland's part and this could have been a right little stomper. Due to the fact that it was never really a success, the D70 can prove very hard to find on the used market. But once you've got one, you probably won't want to let it go - it has JUST enough features in several different departments to redeem itself, and the warmth of the synth sounds belies their digital origin.

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60 Visitor comments
December 12, 2012 @ 6:54 am
Bought one secondhand and had it for 10 years. Some awesome performance presets, a few clangers, and many possibilities both sound- and midi-wise if you had the patience of a saint! And yes, I had the whining display issue too. The major problem was frequent keyboard faults: lost notes, no velocity control, or false triggering due to contamination of the conductive switches and the PCB. I had it apart several times to clean it, and the culprit was runny glue from the key weights literally dripping down onto the keybed. I ended up removing all the weights. It was love/hate - a flawed classic.
December 11, 2012 @ 6:33 am
I bought a D-70 with a blown-up display and replaced it with a Newhaven Display p/n NHD-24064WG-ATMI-VZ which is a blue/white LCD unit. Looks great and gets rid of the inverter whine. The backlight transformer comes out and a 200 ohm trimmer pot gets wired in across the IN/OUT pins previously occupied by the inverter. Adjust to 3.5 VDC. The display does stick out from the synth face about 1/8" more due to the increased thickness. The contrast works with no modifications. Great sounding synth with nice resonant filters. Lots of classic '80's synth goodness in there!
November 20, 2012 @ 11:33 pm
Mosbrickan, that whine you hear is a characteristic of the d70's display. Sad. Roland should have figured out a way to cancel that, but put the board out as is, which is why it didn't replace the d50 in the studio, as planned. The whine was audible in recording sessions. That does not detract from the incredible sounds it draws. To this day, it's still an amazing piano on stage. In a live situation, you don't hear that whine, either. I've had one for over 15 years, and love it today as much as when I got it.
September 23, 2012 @ 12:08 am
The "whine" is definately the display... I'm listening to it now and have been for 20 plus years.. it's damn annoying!
This keyboard offered a lot for me back in the 80's. First of all it's size... we were looking for a bigger keyboard and there werent a ton of 76 ers let alone 88 note keys on the market.. PLus it had decent sounding samples(attack transients) combined with good filters and synth sounds. It was our workhorse!! :)
September 21, 2012 @ 12:44 pm
mosbrickan, without having your D-70 in front of me to take apart and diganose it's impossible to say but most likely it is the backlight for the display. If you are brave you can pull it apart and simply cut the power line for the backlight, the display will still work it will just need an external light (I use a small led reading light velcro'd to the back of the case). From the work I have done on mine over the years there really does not seem to be a way to get rid of that hum besides killing the light...
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User Rating

Rated 3.69 (345 Votes)

  • Check Price
  • The link above will take you to an eBay search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - 30 voices
  • Oscillators - Digital ROM samples and DLM ("Differential Loop Modulation")
  • LFO - YES
  • Filter - TVF FILTER: low-pass-resonant (like D50).
  • VCA - TVA (like D50).
  • Effects - Reverb, Chorus, Flanger (like D50)
  • #Instruments - 5-parts + 1-percussion
  • Keyboard - 76 note keyboard with velocity and aftertouch
  • Arpeg/Seq - None
  • Memory - 10 user sets, 64 performances, 128 patches, 128 tones.
  • Control - MIDI
  • Date Produced - 1990-91
  • Resources & Credits
  • Images from

    Review by Jonathan McDougall.

    Reviewed December 2007.

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