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Roland D-70

Created by nick. Last edited by nick, 11 years and 295 days ago. Viewed 19,303 times. #5
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This is an article culled from archive material, circa 1997.


This is a keyboard synthesiser for which I have to admit a great fondness, although there are times when I wonder why. The D-70 "Super LA" synthesiser was advertised as the natural successor to the hugely successful "Linear Arithmetic" Roland D-50; in fact, the two instruments have very little in common. Physically the D-70 looks like a 76-note U-20. It also takes the same PCM cards. And sure enough, a cursory glance inside an early-rev D-70 reveals the emblem U-50 inscribed onto most of the circuit boards. Score one for the marketing department, I suppose.

Regarded as the top of the range of the U-series sample players, the D-70 has a lot going for it. It's the sleekest and lightest 76-note board I've ever come across. It combines the U-20's features with multimode resonant filters, a tone editing palette, large graphical LCD and dedicated MIDI controller functions. It is six-part multitimbral (5 patches plus 1 programmable rhythm setup), with a randomising "analogue feel" parameter on the patches.

On the other hand, its faults stick out a mile. The processing hardware is under-powered, so much so that the LFO's slow down when you play chords. The heirarchical voice architecture isn't too bad in itself, but couple it with the worst aspects of Roland user interface design and it becomes close to impenetrable: many parameters appear on several pages, in different formats, sometimes editable, sometimes not. The buttons do not roll over. In certain edit pages the keyboard stops transmitting MIDI; in others, the palette faders cease to work. And the master keyboard functions are essentially impenetrable to anyone without a degree in Japanese. There is a logic to the MIDI output functionality, but the output parameters are so bizarrely and half-heartedly tied in with the performance parameters that making any sense of the machine's behaviour is a total non-starter.

The catalogue of firmware releases is even less illuminating. There are two distinct processor/motherboard releases (Step A and Step B), requiring different operating system versions; there is no clear consensus (even from Roland) on which combinations are supposed to work. There are hidden power-up key sequences which alter the keyboard transmission behaviour (the legend [KY] in the system page is a sort-of half-hint). Some machines with old firmware work perfectly with editor/librarians; others with newer firmware do not. And finally, enough of the operating system is configured in RAM that a total reset of the machine is likely to result in screen displays in Japanese, as the ASCII character set is volatile.

Such a catalogue of misfortunes warrant a Government health warning and an extended quarantine; and yet, I absolutely love my D-70 and would hate to sell it, since most of my best music makes heavy use of it. The main reason is the sound: "classic" Roland orchestral and synth samples, including a lovely piano and some beautifully silky strings, controlled by some solid resonant filters. The machine has a wonderful bottom-end; a sharply filtered choir sample transposed down a couple of octaves becomes a deep, organic bass drone which rattles windows. And unlike the later do-everything Roland synthesisers with hundreds of samples and thousands of presets, the D-70 provides just enough samples for a decent sound palette, and easy-enough access via the tone palette to the filters, to make it a disciplined and focussed tool for composition.

If you can put up with the confusing MIDI behaviour and Roland-style user interface, I recommend the D-70 as a very nice sample player. If you want simplicity and obedience, look elsewhere.

Epilogue

I've had numerous requests about the various hardware revisions and firmware versions for the D-70, and the situation seems to be even more complicated and counter-intuitive than might be anticipated with a Roland product. Here's the most accurate information I've managed to come across:

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  D-70 Rom Version List 1.10-1.16 (not complete)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Version 1.10
************
BUGS:
  1. When a key was pressed just after performance change on user program change,
the head of that sound will be collapsed - Fixed

2. When receiving bulk data from a sequencer etc.. and overflowed the buffer, D-70 will display "MIDI BUFFER FULL!" and then not recognize the following data until "EXIT" key is pressed - Modified so D-70 will recoginize following data.

3. When a keyboard part was set to "OFF" or "RHYTHM", a hold data has not been sent out from the "MIDI PALETTE" of on the "CONTROL CHANNEL" - Fixed

4. When a pedal switch was assigned to "CONT. MAP" in system setup, the specified information in CONT. MAP has not been sent out from MIDI PALETTE. Also when a pedal switch was assigned to "EFFECTOR" or "PERFORMANCE UP/DOWN" , that information has not been sent out on the control channel. - Fixed

5. When a pedal switch was set to "PERFORMANCE UP/DOWN" and a performance was changed, the program change number specified in MIDI PALETTE has not been sent out - Fixed

ADDITIONS:

  1. Ability to turn on/off key event messages on the control channel. (Power on
while holding number 4 button down)

Version 1.11 ************ BUGS:

  1. When playing D-70 with the data of multi-timbre including rhythm part from a
sequencer, sometimes there are some missed tone - Fixed

2. When executing "STORE ALL", a number key doesn't work properly - Fixed

3. When editing "CONTROLLER MAP", a indicator (*) doesn't display - Fixed

4. Modulation pressure doesn't reach 127 when fully pressed down a key - Fixed

5. Original tone for rhythm doesn't change by Sys Ex - Fixed

6. Original tone will be corrupted, when temporary area was accessed by Sys Ex - Fixed

ADDITIONS:

  1. When selecting "PERFORMANCE", "PROGRAM CHANGE" doesn't send from midi palette
(Power on with bank 2 button held)

2. Exclusive use of expression pedal/C1 slider for a keyboard part level. In this mode, a controller ma for the internal sound module will ignore.

CHANGE OF HARDWARE:

  1. Changed CPU from one wait to no wait -> improved processing speed
Version 1.12 ************

HARDWARE CHANGE:

  1. Changed CPU from A STEP to B STEP. Compatibility of software:
A STEP CPU: Ver 1.00~ B STEP CPU: Ver 1.12~ NOTE: when using A STEP CPU in Ver 1.00~1.11 the hangup problem may occur. For example; after power on, the unit does not work.

Version 1.13 ************ BUGS:

  1. When in user set display, if the function button was changed rapidly ->
no sound, no response - Fixed

Version 1.14 ************ BUGS:

  1. When setting reverb mode to delay and delay time to maximum, periodically a
pop noise may be heard - Fixed

2. When a card for parameter is inserted into PCM card slot by mistake, LCD indicates strangely - Fixed

Version 1.15 ************ BUGS:

  1. When selecting C:11(CARD), and entering performance edit, 1:11 is displayed
in the first line - Fixed

2. When the data is transferred I->M in hand shake dump mode with librarian such as MRB etc. TIME OUT ERROR may occur. It will happen when selecting ALL in handshake dump, and never happen when transferring each data one by one.

Version 1.16 ************ BUGS:

**************** End of my FAX ***************** ================================================================================

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