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electronic MUSICIAN


By Geary Yelton | October 1, 2005

In 2003, Roland applied decades of synth-design chops to an all-new DSP-based keyboard instrument, the V-Synth ($2,499). Its highlights were a unique and flexible architecture, user sampling, and the ability to process external audio (see EM's January 2004 review at The V-Synth's innovative Time Trip pad lets you stretch and freeze sample playback and control other parameters in real time.

The Roland V-Synth XT delivers features that the V-Synth keyboard lacks, including a color touch screen, a mic preamp with phantom power, classic D-50 emulation, and vocal-modeling capabilities.

The V-Synth XT ($2,599) is a 3U rackmount version an XLR mic input with phantom power, a vocal modeling, and D-50 emulation. It works as a MIDI interface and as a 44.1 kHz audio interface when connected to your computer by USB. You can use the XT on a tabletop or mount it in a rack. When rackmounted, it will tilt and lock at an angle that you determine.

This Year's Model

Like the V-Synth keyboard, the XT has coaxial and optical S/PDIF I/O and lots of analog audio ins and outs, as well as onboard USB 1.1, three MIDI ports, and a PC Card slot for storing additional data. The XT is missing some of the keyboard's buttons and knobs, all its sliders, and its twin D Beams, replacing them with a color touch screen and eight reassignable knobs. Rather than supplying a separate Time Trip pad, pressing a button turns the XT's touch screen into a virtual Time Trip pad. Regrettably, you still can't expand the sampling RAM without deleting factory samples.

Like its predecessor, the XT makes good use of Roland's outstanding VariPhrase Elastic Audio Synthesis engine, which stretches time and pitch further and with fewer artifacts than other techniques. Version 2 of the V-Synth operating system adds new waveforms, Sound Shaper, Multi Step Modulator, and Rhythm Kits, which let you assign a different sound to each of 61 notes. XT ships with version 2 installed, and previous V-Synth owners can download the upgrade for free. The XT also comes with V-Synth Librarian (Mac/Win) for transferring synth data to your computer, where you can rename, reorganize, and save it offline.

Sound Shaper offers new techniques for creating timbres — you select from a list of 18 groups such as Synth Bass or SFX Hits, and then select from a short list of templates. From there, you can alter synthesis and effects parameters manually and then save your creation as you would any other timbre. Sound Shaper is an enormous time-saver and a useful source of inspiration.

The Multi Step Modulator is a 16-step sequencer that works as a function generator you can apply to a long list of parameters. Four simultaneous tracks can modulate four destinations. Enter each step graphically by drawing with your fingertip, by turning a knob, or by entering a keypad value. You can also loop with sequence, change its direction, or create smooth transitions between steps.

V for Victory

The two installed V-Cards make the XT three synthesizers in one. (If you already have a V-Synth or a VariOS, you can buy either V-Card separately.) Pressing the V-Card button lets you choose from three completely different sound sets: V-Synth, VC-1 (D-50), and VC-2 (Vocal Designer).

VC-1 perfectly duplicates the linear arithmetic (LA) synthesis that made the D-50 one of Roland's most popular synthesizers ever, giving you complete access to all parameters. The sound is spot-on, if somewhat more sparkling than a real D-50. The 64 original factory presets are on hand, along with 64 new ones and all 256 from Roland's series of D-50 expansion cards. Twenty-eight cool new waveforms supplement the D-50's original 100 samples. The XT makes editing LA timbres much easier than previously, and its reverb is a vast improvement. If you're a D-50 fan, you'll love Roland's implementation of an old favorite.

Vocal Designer furnishes a dozen algorithms divided into five groups. The Modeling group synthesizes choirs, solo voices, and analog synth waveforms. The Vocoder group produces vocal sounds using the mic input as the modulator; its timbres range from traditional vocoded synthesizer to solo and choir voices that sing along with your vocal input (see Web Clip 1). Poly Pitch Shift uses MIDI notes you play to transpose and harmonize your audio input's pitch. The Keyboard group plays sampled vocals, and the Processor group imparts effects to your audio input and ignores any MIDI input.

Have Another Hit

Most of the XT's factory timbres are striking and playable, running the gamut from fresh instrument simulations and one-finger grooves (see Web Clip 2) to outrageous sound effects and ethnic vocal melismata (see Web Clip 3). Nonetheless, the XT is well suited to creating your own sounds. The user interface is easy to navigate and provides plenty of motivation to explore and experiment. In most modes, color graphics always make it obvious which soft knob controls what parameter.

Although the XT costs $100 more than the keyboard version, its color touch screen, XLR input, and two standard V-Cards make it well worth the difference. It brings together the best of hardware-based DSP and computer-based editing.

Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4
Roland U.S.

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