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
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!
jim atwood
January 19, 2012 @ 9:02 pm
@louis Thanks for the great info. In my case it was not the relay rather it was the CPU board that needed replacing. The IC14 chip was bad. My original Jack board which houses the relay is still intact. I recently fixed my Casio CZ5000 with a similar problem and that turned out to be the relay so indeed the relays can cause problems. The CPU board was ultimately the problem with the voices dropping out and the static distortion. Thanks again for the info.
January 18, 2012 @ 7:08 am
@ted/jim; output distortion on the S50 can be caused by dirty contacts of the relay that switches the outputs on power up. Due to the outputs being hard wired to voices, it will then only appear on certain voice groups. In my S50 the first 8 voices where fine but the second 8 sounded distorted. If your relay is slightly better it can also be the upper 4 or 2 voices that are affected.
This was fixed by cleaning the relay and resoldering its contacts to the board.
January 11, 2012 @ 12:11 pm
If anyone needs S50 - S330 or S550 disk library here can find them, included the utilisy Sdisk necessary to build the diskettes. Not sure if Sdisk would work on WinXP or needs earlier operatinf systems but you can try.

Have fun! Carlo
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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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