The Roland D50 synth was one of those products that re-defined the musical landscape as we know it.

Released in 1987, it went head-to-head with the market supremacy of the Yamaha DX7.... and won!

Boasting yet another form of synthesis - LA (Linear Arithmetic) - it offered a range of sounds previously unheard of in a commercially available synthesiser.

The principle behind LA Synthesis is basically that different sonic elements are combined to produce a composite sound. Up to four 'tones' could be layered and combined in different ways and each tone had its own sound generator, filter, amplifier, multi-stage envelopes, LFOs and so on. What Roland did was either genius or so bloody obvious, it's amazing no-one did this before on a commercially available instrument!

Obviously aware of the impact sampling was having in the market, Roland were aware that loading long multi-samples was inconvenient so what they did was to replace the standard sawtooth and square waveforms of their previous analogue synths with short samples of real instruments (albeit low resolution and 'crunchy') in ROM that could be recalled instantly. Memory at the time was horrendously expensive and so, to economise, the D50 offered two distinct types of sampled waveforms - one-shot and looped.

The idea was that you could mix a short, one-shot breathy 'chiff' of a flute attack with a short, sustained loop of a flute to produce a realistic composite simulation of the real thing. Similarly, you could combine a short, one-shot sample of the 'scrape' of a violin with a short, sustained loop of a violin to emulate the sound. In theory, it was an oustanding concept! In practice, however, it wasn't that effective. Yes - you could coax some decent simulations but constraints in available on-board memory meant that more often than not, just one sample was used for the entire keyboard range and so whilst something might have sounded good in a limited range, it didn't always sound good outside that range.

But in many ways, this was the D50's strength and many of the more distinctive sounds on the D50 were created by abusing these ranges - a flutey 'chiff' that sounded sweet (and even realistic) at, say, C3-C4 sounded menacing and eerie at C1 and the ability to layer up to four sounds (each with their own multi-stage envelope, multi-mode filter and LFOs) allowed massive, evolving sounds of enormous character to be created - in fact, preset #001 : "DIGITAL NATIVE DANCE" did much to establish the D50 as the new sonic flavour of the time. Almost a complete soundtrack in itself, the sound evolved over time as you held a note and different elements faded in and out - this is what the D50 excelled at along with glassy pads and breathy, vocal textures and earthy sounding woodwind and tuned percussion sounds that were once the territory of the Fairlight and Synclavier. And strangely enough, their lo-fi quality sounded fresh and original in a world awash with overtly sparkling FM sounds.

The D50 was also one of the first (if not THE first) commercially available synth to feature effects. Sure, they were basic (especially by today's standards) but they not only added a final gloss and sheen to a sound, they also masked some of the imperfections in the various samples' loops (and it has to be said, some of the loops were very dodgy!). Regardless of the effects' limitations, compared with other instruments of the time, the sounds emanating from the D50 sounded 'finished'.

But whilst the D50's sounds were immediately usable, it's user interface wasn't! Complex and tortuous, like the DX7, it wasn't for the feint hearted and even experienced programmers and sound designers flinched at the prospect of even attempting a minor tweak!

But this is not to dismiss the impact the D50 had at the time. It was a sensation and did much to not only eclipse the ubiqitous DX7 but was also to form the basis of all modern synths - look at any modern day Roland synth and you'll find that the principle of layering tones introduced in the D50 is still the basis of all their synth products since. The D50 was also to be the inspiration for a glut of S+S (sample and synthesis) clones not only from Roland but also Korg, Yamaha, Kawai and others.

Like many first generation products, the D50 wasn't perfect but it has a well-deserved place in musical history.

These impressive samples are very kindly donated by BamBam Studios who created this collection of D50 sounds exclusively for Hollow Sun.

Run by Marc van der Hurk, BamBam Studio is based in Eindhoven. This comprehensively equipped facility is used to produce, compose and arrange music for record labels and musicians who have great ideas in music but no gear. The style is mostly dance, R&B and Hiphop but the studio has also been used to produce a few pop and rock albums and is understandably one of the best and most popular studios in Holland - when you hear these samples, you'll know why!

The studio is also used to create Marc's own music for TV, movies, radio stations, web sites, cd and vinyl productions and also sound design. Marc also gives workshops in dj-ing, production, arrangement and composing techniques.

You can get more details of BamBam's activities and enviable vintage gear at their website: