Seven Deadly Synths

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Seven Deadly Synths

By Geary Yelton

Exerpt from Electronic Musician, September 2003


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FIG. 6: The Roland V-Synth has a touch-sensitive pad and a touchscreen display that provide ample tactile control. This V-Synth harnesses VariPhrase technology to manipulate samples in real time.

You can always count on Roland to advance the state of electronic music technology. The V-Synth ($2,695) is the latest in a long line of inventive designs that have kept the company close to the forefront for decades. The V-Synth is Roland's first fully DSP-based synth, and it incorporates some of Roland's best ideas into an instrument with groundbreaking sound creation and performance capabilities. Outstanding features include user sampling, a user-programmable arpeggiator, and unique controllers for real-time expression.

The V-Synth is an analog-modeling and sample-playback synthesizer. It offers 16 multitimbral parts (under external sequencer control) and a maximum 24 notes of polyphony, a number that varies with the load placed on the sound engine. You can reconfigure the V-Synth's architecture by selecting among three Structure types that define the routing of two oscillators, two COSM (Composite Object Sound Modeling) processors, a modulator (a mixer that provides oscillator sync, FM, and ring modulation), and a time-variant amplifier (TVA). Reconfiguring synth voices is nothing new, but this is the first time that Roland has dedicated so many front-panel buttons to rearranging the building blocks of sound.

All the basics are covered, but their organization is a little unorthodox. For example, each oscillator encompasses four EGs and an LFO, and you can replace any of the 300 factory waveforms with user samples. The COSM processors provide various filters — lowpass, highpass, bandpass, notch, peak, sideband, and comb — as well as waveshapers, effects, and dynamics. The reverb, chorus, and multi-effects are separate from the effects provided by the COSM processors.

The V-Synth's front panel isn't particularly dense, but it is well organized. The first two things you'll notice about the V-Synth are its large touchscreen and its bull's-eye-like Time Trip pad (see Fig. 6). All the performance controls are to the left of the display, and Patch-programming controls are to its right. All analog and digital audio ins and outs are located on the back panel, along with a PC Card slot, IEC power socket, and ports for MIDI, USB, two footpedals, and a sustain switch (see Fig. 7).

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FIG. 7: The V-synth's audio ports include two 1/4-inch inputs with a mic/line switch, two 1/4-inch main outputs, a 1/4-inch stereo headphone output, and both optical and coaxial S/PDIF. In addition, two 1/4-inch Direct Outs carry the same signals as the two Main Out jacks, though untouched by the internal effects processor.

The V-Synth's backlit, 320-by-240-pixel display responds to the slightest touch (Roland recommends that you use only your finger). Whenever possible, V-Synth parameters are presented graphically. You can point to an onscreen object to select it and drag to change its value. If you'd rather, of course, you can use the front-panel cursor buttons and Value dial.

Like any x-y controller, the Time Trip pad can control a variety of assignable destinations. When you press its Time Trip button, you can use it to modify VariPhrase time parameters without affecting pitch. Press your finger on the pad to freeze a sound's playback in time, looping the portion you've selected, and then manually scrub backward or forward through its content. The effect of such manual control over wave content is hard to describe; suffice it to say that Time Trip is great for warping sounds as you play them.

Another noteworthy controller is the twin D Beam, which detects up, down, left, and right movements when you wave your hand over it. You can use the D Beam to control all the same parameters you can control with the Time Trip pad. In addition, two Assignable Control knobs are conveniently placed on the control panel's left side.

The V in V-Synth refers to Roland's VariPhrase technology. In 1999, Roland introduced VariPhrase with the VP-9000, an innovative sampler and sound processor that could manipulate audio data in new and exciting ways. Although the VP-9000 was a disappointment in the marketplace (owing to its high price), Roland knew the technology was a winner. Luckily, VariPhrase was passed down to subsequent instruments such as the V-Synth. VariPhrase lets you change any sound's pitch, time, and formant, independently and in real time. With the time-expansion and -compression capabilities of VariPhrase, you can easily adjust a sampled sound to fit tempo. Transposing formants lets you extend a sample's pitch range much farther than normal, without unwanted artifacts such as munchkinization.

The V-Synth can work its VariPhrase magic on your original samples, too. To that end, the V-Synth contains 50 MB of RAM, which is not user-expandable. You can delete any or all of the 30 MB of factory samples to make room for your own. If you store your samples in the 10 MB of onboard flash RAM, they can load instantly. The PC Card slot allows additional storage; with a CompactFlash adapter, you can store gigabytes of data.

The V-Synth's arpeggiator lets you create original patterns with a maximum length of 32 steps. You enter notes by step-time or real-time recording or by dragging your finger in the Pattern Edit window, in which you can also specify each note's duration and Velocity. Each Patch can store its own arpeggiator pattern.

Much like the Korg Karma, the V-Synth's Patch presets make good use of its unique real-time capabilities. All Patches and wave data are rewritable, but you can always restore the original data — even the preset waveforms — with the Factory Reset command. The largest chunk of memory is called a Project; it contains all the Patches, waves, and settings. Only one Project resides in the V-Synth at a time, but you can store additional Projects on PC cards. In addition, you can exchange data with your computer by means of the V-Synth's USB port.

The Roland V-Synth is one of the two most flexible synthesizers in the lineup. Most of the factory sounds are designed to show off its performance capabilities, and the V-Synth is all about real-time expression. As with most of the synthesizers in this article, acoustic emulations are in the minority; however, I was tremendously impressed by many of the V-Synth's electronic timbres. To download additional Patches, or just to check out the V-Synth in greater detail, visit