The groundbreaking D-50 synthesizer turned 30 years old this year and to commentate that influential instruments milestone, Roland have chosen to recreate it accurately albeit in a miniature form as the D-05 Boutique.
It's all here, the evocative but overused presets, the joystick that doesn't always seem to do anything, the awkward programming method. Yes, this is a recreation of the D-50 warts and all!
There are, however, loads of good things about the D-05 though. With the same LA (Linear Arithmetic) synthesis of the original, all of the original 64 presets are here along with the complete collection of extra PCM samples and sounds Roland released on the (then very expensive) expansion cards. These are all accessed via the presets button changing the 64 presets at a time and accessible via 8 banks of 8 presets. Strangely though the unit defaults to the second preset bank which is chock full of brand new patches which are of a more contemporary flavour. It seems a bit of a shame from nostalgists not to be greeted with Fantasia as the original did.
The sound of the D-05 is very pleasing with a familiar warmth and to my ears is very close indeed to the original.
The entire programming sub system of the D-50 is here and it's great that Roland have implemented it. This makes this diminutive synth much more than simply a preset player (although I suspect this is likely it's most common usage), but a very powerful synth constructed of essentially four layers, Upper and Lower tones each consisting of two partials.
Partials can either be generated waveforms or PCM samples. There are many quirks in the synth engines by today's standards but it is most certainly an education in patience to delve in to the edit menu and create a patch from scratch, although there are a few shortcuts to working including partial mute and select.
But inevitably there is much menu diving going on here on a tiny LCD screen the type we thought we had successfully escaped from. Apparently although I couldn't try this, the original PG-1000 hardware editor that Roland released as a programming aid to the D-50 does function correctly with the D-05 though I suspect the already rare model will become increasingly sort after. Patchbase, the free, third party iOS MIDI controller app does support it, though as an in app purchase of £19.99.
It's nice that Roland have kept to the MIDI DIN standard that many other makers have dropped off smaller synths. However they have resorted, as on all Boutiques, to mini jacks for all audio ports.
Used as a USB audio interface, the D-05 shows up as a 2 in 2 out affair but has very limited monitoring options. Best probably used as an aggregate device on your computer. This isn't a class compliant device and like all Roland gear, it requires drivers to be installed.
So in summary, Roland have created a very decent tribute to their legendary synth and it is most deserved. The D-05 proves to be both a history lesson (in both sound and programming) and an up to date modern machine (USB audio, super compact), the MIDI implementation is very deep so those of you not brave enough to venture through the letterbox can find other means of manipulating this surprising and fun little box.