Roland S-50 / S-550

Roland S-50 Image

Roland S-50

Among Roland's line of early keyboard samplers—the S-series—the S-50 can be thought of as the professional model. Still, by today's standards it would be considered limited and lo-fi. However for its time it was a powerful instrument which can still prove useful for many music applications today. It offered a full 61 note keyboard with velocity and aftertouch sensitivity and 16 voice polyphony which was great for live and studio performances. It's easy to use, has an external CRT monitor support for large graphic editing and disk-loadable samples and operating systems (version 2.0 or later is best).

Though editing is a breeze, it is quite sophisticated and can be much easier when using an external CRT monitor and the DT-100 Digitizer Tablet. You get to draw waveforms, auto-loop, tune, edit the multi-stage envelopes, edit digital filters and quickly adjust loops and samples. There is also a SYS-503 sequencer package software which offers basic drum machine type sequencing. Of course most edit parameters, excluding the sequencer, can be modified and tweaked via the Alpha-Juno type alpha-dial.

It's too bad that such a nice looking and well designed synthesizer is home to a tiny 512k-WORD sample memory (756k-byte sample memory). And with 15 to 30kHz variable sampling rates at a 12-bit resolution, the sound quality is almost nice. Roland has a vast sample library of sounds ready to be loaded via the built in 3.5 inch disk drive. Samples of your own (up to 28.8 seconds at 15kHz) can also be saved to disk. The S-50 version 1.0 allowed for 16 samples or "tones". Version 2.0 expanded to 32 samples or "tones". Sampling modes include manual, auto and previous.

Roland S-550 Image

Roland S-550

A rack-mounted version of the S-50 came in the form of the S-550, which also had double the sample memory (1.5 Mb) and more importantly, real-time filters (called time-variant filters) derived from LAS-type synthesizers like the D-50. A slimmed down, consumer friendly version of the S-550 was also available as the S-330. Both rack-mounts support the DT-100 Digitizer Tablet and an external CRT monitor. The S-50/S-550 has been used by Vangelis, Duran Duran and Jimi Tenor.

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32 Visitor comments
October 22, 2010 @ 6:58 pm
I'd like to renounce every bad thing I have ever said about this sampler! Upon hearing one again recently for the first time in years, I LOVE it's gritty sound. Best of all, sound disk are easily available online! VERY cool sound. I will have to pick one up real soon!
September 15, 2010 @ 3:14 am
This was a great top notch sampler of the late 80's early 90's for sure! The only thing that [beep] ed about it was the lack of disk space and loading the samples in a live setting. You can hear the S50 on every track in my old band here:
We never could find a good vocalist but when in Rome.....
August 7, 2010 @ 3:21 am
Had my S-50 since the 80's. Very easy to work with when connected to a tv (composite) or monitor (rgb). Limited sampling capacity with todays standards, but hey it's +20 years old. The unit must be booted from disk and there's different boot disks depedning on functionality (sampling vs sequencing). Used the S-50 live with the onboard sequencer. The sequencer could be played with or without the monitor, but it looked really cool with the monitor attached (a poor mans Fairlight). Slow loading times from disk could be annoying during live performances. I have a nearly complete S-50/S-550 Roland sample library to my unit.
January 3, 2010 @ 1:21 pm
The Scottish band The Blue Nile used this synth.
December 20, 2009 @ 1:07 pm
Just picked this Keyboard up. I'm not tech savy at all and the keyboard only has 1 disk with 3 piano tones on it. Where can I get more tones? Nothing too fancy just basic library. Thanks!!!
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  • Check Prices on eBay
  • The link above will take you to a 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 - 16 voices
  • Sampler - 12-bit, 30kHz, variable
  • Multitimbral - 4-parts, 4 outputs
  • Memory - 756kb, 28.8 seconds total sample time
  • Filter - Hi-pass, Low-pass digital filters
  • Arpeg/Seq - SYS503 sequencing software
  • Keyboard - 61 keys with velocity and aftertouch
  • Control - MIDI
  • Date Produced - 1986 - 1987

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