Roland D50

The Roland D50 has earned its place in history as one of the most influential synthesizers of all time. Its innovative Linear Arithmetic (LA) synthesis and unique sound sculpting capabilities paved the way for a new era of music production in the late 80s and early 90s. But what is it about the D50 that made it so special, and how did it shape the music of its time? Let’s dive into the world of the Roland D50 and explore its impact on the music industry.

History of the Roland D50 – The Birth of the D50

Released in 1987, the Roland D50 was designed to compete with Yamaha’s dominant DX7, which had taken the music world by storm with its revolutionary FM synthesis. Roland’s engineers sought to create an instrument that would offer a more accessible alternative to FM synthesis while still providing a fresh and innovative sound.

Technical Innovations

The Roland D50 introduced a new form of synthesis called Linear Arithmetic (LA) synthesis. LA synthesis combined sampled attacks from real instruments with synthesized waveforms, resulting in a more realistic and expressive sound. This innovative approach allowed musicians to create complex and organic sounds, which were difficult to achieve with other synthesizers at the time.

Linear Arithmetic Synthesis

PCM Samples

The Roland D50 was one of the first synthesizers to utilize PCM samples, which are short, digitally recorded snippets of real instruments. These samples were used primarily for the attack portion of the sound, giving the D50 its distinctive, punchy character.

Synthesized Waveforms

In addition to PCM samples, the D50 also featured synthesized waveforms. These waveforms were generated using subtractive synthesis, which involves filtering and shaping raw waveforms to create new sounds. By combining the sampled attacks with synthesized waveforms, the D50 could produce a vast range of unique and expressive sounds.

Combining Samples and Waveforms

The real magic of the D50’s LA synthesis came from the ability to blend PCM samples and synthesized waveforms. By layering and modulating these elements, musicians could create intricate and evolving sounds that were simply not possible with other synthesis methods of the time.

Notable Features

Effects and Processing

The Roland D50 was equipped with an advanced effects processor, offering a wide range of high-quality effects, such as reverb, chorus, and delay. These effects allowed musicians to further sculpt their sounds and add depth and character to their creations.

Joystick Controller

One of the D50’s most recognizable features was its joystick controller. This intuitive control allowed users to manipulate multiple parameters simultaneously, making it easy to explore new sound possibilities and create dynamic performances.

Patch Memory

The D50 was also notable for its extensive patch memory, which allowed users to store and recall up to 64 user-created sounds. This feature made it easier for musicians to develop their own unique soundscapes and switch between them during live performances or studio sessions.

Influential Artists and Albums

The Roland D50’s unique sonic capabilities quickly caught the attention of numerous influential musicians and producers. Artists such as Prince, Jean-Michel Jarre, Enya, and Vangelis embraced the D50, using it extensively on their albums and live performances. The iconic “L.A. Sound” of the D50 can be heard on countless hit records, including Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” and  many more.

Impact on Music Production

Evolution of Synthesis

The introduction of the Roland D50 and its Linear Arithmetic synthesis marked a significant milestone in the evolution of synthesis. The innovative combination of PCM samples and synthesized waveforms opened up new sonic possibilities, allowing musicians to create more complex and expressive sounds than ever before. This innovative approach to sound design paved the way for future synthesizers and shaped the development of digital synthesis for years to come.

The Roland D550: The Rack Version of the D50

In 1987, shortly after the release of the D50, Roland introduced the D550, a rack-mount version of the iconic synthesizer. The D550 shared the same innovative Linear Arithmetic synthesis engine as its keyboard counterpart, offering musicians and producers the same unique sound and capabilities in a more compact and studio-friendly format.

Design and Interface

The Roland D550 featured a 2U rack-mount design, making it an ideal choice for musicians with limited space or those looking to integrate it into an existing studio setup. Although the D550 lacked the keyboard and joystick controller found on the D50, it retained all of its synthesis capabilities and patch memory.

The user interface of the D550 was more streamlined compared to the D50, with a smaller LCD screen and fewer buttons. This made programming the synthesizer slightly more challenging, but many users opted to use external editors or controllers to overcome this limitation.

Expanded Memory and Compatibility

One notable advantage of the D550 over the D50 was its expanded patch memory. The D550 allowed users to store and recall up to 128 user-created sounds, compared to the 64 available on the D50. This increased storage capacity was a welcome addition for musicians looking to develop an extensive library of custom sounds.

The D550 also maintained full compatibility with the D50’s patch data, allowing users to transfer patches between the two synthesizers with ease. This made the D550 a popular choice for D50 enthusiasts looking to expand their sound palette or incorporate the iconic D50 sounds into their studio setup without taking up additional space.

Legacy of the Roland D550

Although the D550 might not have garnered as much attention as its keyboard sibling, it remains an important part of the Roland D50’s legacy. The rack-mount version of the D50 allowed more musicians and producers to access the innovative Linear Arithmetic synthesis and unique sounds that shaped electronic music during the late 80s and early 90s. Today, the D550 continues to be a sought-after piece of gear for its distinctive sound and historical significance.

The Roland D50 VST: A Virtual Recreation by Roland Cloud

In 2017, Roland introduced a virtual recreation of the iconic D50 synthesizer as part of their Roland Cloud subscription service. The Roland D50 VST plugin, also known as the D-50 Linear Synthesizer, brings the legendary sounds and synthesis capabilities of the original hardware instrument into the digital realm, allowing musicians and producers to access the D50’s unique sonic character within their favorite DAW.

Roland D50 Famous Songs

To fully appreciate the impact of the Roland D50 on the music industry,  I posted two Spotify playlists below featuring some of the most iconic songs that prominently feature this legendary synthesizer. This playlists showcase the unique and distinctive sounds of the D50 across various genres and demonstrates how influential artists have harnessed the power of Linear Arithmetic synthesis to create timeless masterpieces. From the ethereal tones of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” to the lush textures in Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” immerse yourself in the sonic landscape of the Roland D50 and relive the moments when this groundbreaking synthesizer shaped the sound of a generation.

Roland D50 Playlist 1:
Roland D50 Playlist 2:

Influence on Other Synths

The success and impact of the D50 led to the development of other synthesizers that incorporated similar technologies and ideas. Roland’s own D-series synths, such as the D10, D20, and D70, expanded on the concepts introduced by the D50. Other manufacturers, like Korg and Alesis, also adopted elements of Linear Arithmetic synthesis in their instruments, further spreading the influence of the D50 throughout the music industry.

Legacy of the Roland D50

The Roland D50’s unique sound and innovative synthesis method have left a lasting impression on the music industry. Decades after its release, the D50 continues to be a sought-after instrument among musicians, producers, and sound designers. The synthesizer’s iconic sounds can still be heard in contemporary music, and its influence on the development of digital synthesis remains evident in many modern instruments.


The Roland D50 is a true icon in the world of synthesizers. Its innovative Linear Arithmetic synthesis and groundbreaking sound design capabilities transformed the landscape of electronic music production, inspiring a new generation of musicians and influencing the development of countless synthesizers that followed. The D50’s unique sound and lasting impact on the music industry make it a landmark instrument that continues to be celebrated and cherished by musicians and enthusiasts alike.