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In-depth Feature:  Roland XV-5080
Roland XV-5080 Synthesis/Sample-playback module:
A worthy successor to the JV/XP synths?
David Hutchison writes: .

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Sounds Galore
The litany of features listed above suggests a module with a powerful synthesis engine, but how do the sounds themselves stack up? The short answer is: beautifully. There is nary a poor sound to be found on this instrument. [Nary, eh, David? - Ed] Not bad for a synth that ships with over 1,200 patches covering virtually every genre. The crack sound design team at Roland (headed by Eric Persing of Spectrasonics fame) has outdone itself.

As a new age artist, I was particularly impressed with the strings and acoustic guitars. The beautifully textured timbre of the string pads (smooth, with just a little bit of edge) will come as no surprise to long-time Roland fans; but the XV-5080 really shines when it comes to acoustic guitars, traditionally one of the poorest category of sounds on a synth. Here Roland has put the XV-5080's four-stage velocity switching functionality to good use. Depending on the velocity of each note played, a single acoustic guitar patch can trigger a pluck, slide, or scrape sound etc. Not that this synth will replace the acoustic guitar player in the recording session, but the XV-5080 does go further than any other synth I've played in reproducing the subtle nuances of the picked guitar.

Other notable sounds cover a wide range of genres. On the ethnic side of things, Taj Mahal (B:101) soaks an expressive Eastern flute sound in Roland's quality reverb. Far East (D:025) offers up an intriguing combination of organ and Asian flute. And my favourite patch, Andrea's Cave (U:049) combines the harp with what can only be described as an underwater bubbles extravaganza.

Also outstanding are the choir pads. Roland has generously included a variety of realistic voice timbres ranging from slow attack pads (St. Choir, U:046) to pop stacks (Pvox Oooze, C:019). And it wouldn't be a Roland synth without the classic JV synth pads, including ClassicJPad (U:080) and Vintage Orch (C:055). The Lunar Strings patch (U:017) comprises a slowly flanging pad, that is both eerie and haunting, perfect for setting a suspenseful tone in your next Scary Movie-screenplay.

Powerful filter sweeps (X-mod Sweep, U:086) and motion effects (Sands of Time, C:107) are also on board.

If you're auditioning the XV-5080 in a store, press the Patch Finder button to scroll through patches belonging to a particular category, and press the Volume button to audition a sound using a pre-programmed sequence. If you do decide to purchase an XV series synth, get in the habit of assigning one of the 38 available categories to your own patches. You can also add up to 64 patches to a Favourite List for quick access to the sounds you frequently use.

The XV-5080's sample playback functionality is equally impressive. By way of the included SCSI port, complete programs from Roland and Akai sample libraries can be imported, as can individual samples saved in AIFF or WAV format. (I have received a few user reports concerning the XV-5080's inability to recognize/format/save to some SCSI devices. The Micropolis external hard drive I tested experienced no problems however.) Roland has wisely included a SmartMedia card slot on the XV-5080 which allows sample data to be loaded much faster than the slower SCSI protocol allows. The generous limit of 128Mb of RAM (the unit ships with no RAM) rivals most standalone samplers. The XV-5080 ships with CD demos of samples from Roland, Ilio, and a few other distributors.

My only disappointment with the synthesis architecture of the XV-5080 is the lack of a built-in arpeggiator, such as that found on competing synths, most notably the Korg Triton. Don't get me wrong. There are several patches on the XV-5080 with excellent rhythm/motion sequence effects - perhaps most notably Raggatronic (B:051) and Blade Racer (B:052) - but an integrated arpeggiator feature would make the design of such sounds much easier. Perhaps this is a feature Roland might consider adding in a future OS update?

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