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. The S-50 supports the DT-100 Digitizer Tablet and an external CRT monitor, but if you would like to connect the DT-100 to the S-550 (or a S-330) you will need a RC-100 first. The S-50/S-550 has been used by Vangelis, Duran Duran and Jimi Tenor.

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35 Visitor comments
August 26, 2012 @ 11:05 pm
For anyone with disk drive issues, I was able to use a modern floppy as a replacement by doing an Amiga mod to a Sony MFP 920, the instructions are here:

It's a bit tricky because the components on the pcb are tiny, but even after screwing up the RDY signal on pin 2 by ruining a trace, it works like a champ, and it has a black bezel too.

I also tried a similar mod on the very common Samsung SDF-321B but it wasn't recognized at all (and that mod when perfectly), so your mileage may vary depending on the drive.
August 26, 2012 @ 10:55 pm
I picked one of these up from a junk shop for cheap and after some repair I have it mostly working. Along with disk drive and relay issues that are under control, I have an output under/overload issue on the top 8 voices. 1-8 work fine, 9-14 a quiet and 15-16 are very loud. After warming up sometimes 13-14 also go loud. I've read about the issues with the relay and resin coated chip, but those fixes were specific to distorted/static output. Does anyone know the cause of the overloading?
d wolf
July 1, 2012 @ 6:57 pm
as far as formatting a floppy 720 DD in xp, just open a command prompt. If the disk you are trying to write to is 1.4mb then you will l have to put tape over the extra corner hole, and in either case disable write protect on the floppy. at the command prompt type
format a: /t:80 /n:9
this is assuming your floppy drive is drive A otherwise use the appropriate drive letter
as it pertains to your floppy drive. SDISK will not be able to manage the disk.
Ken Hymes
May 31, 2012 @ 1:47 pm
I used this one in the late 80's. It had frustrations, and eventually died, but the sound was great for the time. Used it for many scoring projects, including "Night of the Living Bread," an award winning parody film. Here's the link if you want to hear this puppy in action (with everything over 8k shelved off due to limits of ten film stock used for edit)
March 14, 2012 @ 8:00 am
Sad, this came out about the same time as the EPS, But the EPS makes its memory look very very small. how did we fit samples on such a small file. We have come a long way!
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  • 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 - 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
  • Resources & Credits
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