Deep Dive: A Look at Roland's Top Music & Sound Gear

Established in the land of the rising sun, Roland was founded by Ikutaro Kakehashi in Osaka on April 18, 1972. Currently, it has factories in Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, and the USA manufacturing Pianos, Organs, Synthesisers, Keyboards, Guitars, Drums, Professional Audio gear, Amplifiers and more. Roland made a name for itself with the Juno-106 Synthesiser back in the 1980s. This synth created a wave change in the synth market and was wanted by all music producers for its capability and competitive price point. Apart from the Juno, they were also renowned for their design and production of the TB303 synth, and TR909 drum machine. Roland was also instrumental in the development of MIDI.

Pianos

As with most Piano manufacturers, Roland also makes Grand and Upright, and Portable Pianos. They have stayed true to their electronic beginnings and are manufacturing only digital pianos. From the most affordable mini-grand RG3F to their most expensive GP609 and V-Piano Grand, all their Digital Grands use a sound engine by the name ‘SuperNATURAL’. As an added benefit to being digital, you get DAW connectivity, volume control, portability, and ease of maintenance. These are a viable option for pianists who want the simplicity of maintaining a digital piano without losing out on the tone, play feel, and looks of a Grand Piano.  

Roland’s Upright Pianos also follow a similar digital footprint but have a lot more options. At the lower end of this spectrum is the F-140R that goes up till the LX700 Series. All of Roland’s pianos are mainly designed for home use, but also can be used for live performances, busking, and studio recordings - the versatility of a digital instrument. The Kiyola KF10 makes for a great addition as a home décor unit and a digital piano with its hand-crafted wood exterior and bench-style legs. If functionality is more what you’re looking for, the HP700 is Roland’s high-end upright piano, only succeeded by their premium uprights - the LX700 series and two minor models, the LX17 and LX7. The premium uprights are significantly more expensive, but they’re the perfect fit for an artist who appreciates build and sound quality. 

Finally, their portable pianos are, as the name suggests, easy to transport and play with. Represented by the FP Series, they have five no-nonsense options - FP90, FP60, FP50, FP30, and FP10- that output great sound via the in-built speaker system. Moreover, these portable digital pianos also feature Roland’s SuperNATURAL sound engine, so audio output quality is not compromised. In addition to their portable lineup, they also have four Stage Piano options for artists looking to perform with their Rolands. These offer a lot more functionality than their larger piano counterparts. Apart from the V-Piano, the RD2000, RD300NX, and RD800 have a myriad of features onboard, powered by powerful electronics used in Roland’s award-winning synths. Some of the notable features are assignable knobs, faders, pitch and voice modulation, and pedal support, to name a few.

Synthesizer Keyboards

Since the introduction of the Juno Synth, Roland has gained respect in the industry as one of the best keyboard synthesisers ever made. Building on top of the Juno name came Roland’s newer synths - the XPS series, V-Combo series, FA series, and the Fantom Series - aimed at different user needs and price points. Roland’s original Juno is also upgraded and refined to catch up with today’s synthesisers. It still features its signature sound engine and retro control keys for those looking for a comfortable workstation. 

The XPS lineup has two versions, the XPS10 and XPS30. The XPS10 is the most affordable synth keyboard money can buy. It's the perfect buy for hobbyists and aspiring synth music producers. The XPS10 comes with six audio pads for loops, audio files, and sound effects, has dedicated buttons for split, layer, octave, and transpose, and an arpeggio function for easier sound production. The XPS30 has all the XPS10 features and a large graphic display, four assignable knobs and faders, and a mic input with effects (to name a few). 

The Roland V-Combo series features two keyboards, the VR09B and VR730, both of which are geared toward live performances. The lightweight VR-730 is essentially three instruments in one, all with instantaneous, real-time hands-on control. Roland's reputed Virtual Tone Wheel Organ engine with nine physical drawbars, nails the sound-generation process of vintage tonewheel organs in every way, while the instrument's 73 waterfall-style keys deliver authentic play feel. The VR09 is a combination of Roland’s reputed sounds, including the piano, organ, and synth sound engines—organised in three intuitive blocks on the front panel—providing all the essential tones you need. The robust real-time controls give you maximum expression capabilities with nine sliders for tone shaping and an array of knobs and buttons, in addition to a looper, drum section, and more.

The FA series is one of Roland’s highly optimised workstations that has made a positive impact in the synth workstation space. Launched in 2014, it remains as one of the most powerful synthesiser workstations for home studios and performances. It comes in three variants with different key counts - FA06 (61-key), FA07 (76-key), and FA08 (88-key weighted action). The sounds built into the FA system has been taken from Roland’s award-winning INTEGRA-7 sound module, including the SuperNATURAL sound engine. There’s a dedicated section with 16 performance pads, 4 banks, and direct recording and playback via SDHC cards. The 16-track sequencer with nonstop loop recording lets you build songs quickly, and has easy DAW integration.

The Fantom Series is Roland’s pride and joy, their most powerful, feature-packed, keyboard synthesiser ever built. With a massive LCD touchscreen adding simplicity to a well laid out user interface, the Fantom has the Expandable ZEN-Core sound engine delivers authentic acoustic and electronic instruments. It also has two XLR combo inputs, an onboard FX engine, DAW compatibility, and aftertouch. The keyboard also features a suite of knobs and faders to manipulate acoustic and electronic sounds without wanting for more. Roland’s flagship Fantom is an all-in-one package that is future-proofed and decked to the top with features.

Arranger Workstations

Roland also has you covered with their range of Arranger Workstations - small in count, but versatile in nature. Arranger Keyboards are musical instruments that have preset sounds, which can primarily be used in a one-person-band situation. It is the ideal tool for busking, and for beginner keyboardists. Arrangers usually come with a built-in speaker system and have a simple user interface to enable quick learning. The EX series is the most affordable of their selection and has three variants - the EX20, EX20A, and EX30. The sounds included in this range of Roland’s Arrangers are derived from some of their top sound engines. These are 61-key, synth-action keys that have between 150 and 300 voices and styles. 

Following the EX series is the E-09 and BK series - BK9, BK5 and BK3. These are slightly pricier than the EX series, but have a good range of additional features and add-ons. The E-09 is aimed at artists who want to explore Western, Middle Eastern and Asian styles of music. It has over 850 tones and 70 drum kits to choose from. As a bonus, the E-09 also comes with a 16-track recorder to produce your own sound. Apart from its loudspeaker system, it also has a handy LCD screen for displaying essential information. 

The BK series is a slightly more advanced version of the E-09, focussed on intermediate keyboardists. These have Roland’s SuperNATURAL sound engine behind the tones, and wireless connectivity for ease of use. The most versatile, BK9, is equipped with 76 keys, an innovative dual LCD system and intuitive panel layout make it easy to direct your virtual band, while powerful effects and assignable real-time controls let you select and shape sounds with ease. With numerous additional highlights such as USB song playback/recording, an onboard 16-track sequencer, Rhythm Composer, and much more, the BK-9 is a powerhouse music machine for professional performing and song composition. To help extend their product line to traditional, locally-inspired artists, they launched the E-A7 with a style similar to the BK9, but with the added advantage of 1,500 tones from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and South America. The board has over 150 buttons with dedicated functions and dual screens for ease of use. Impressively, they also managed to make the E-A7 portable without compromising on functionality. 

Electronic Drums

Roland has an electronic drum kit for everyone. From kits as low as AED 2,000 to professional setups worth AED 32,000, Roland has captured the electronic drum market with their quality offerings. Electronic drums generally use rubber, mesh, and aluminium parts in their cymbals, drum heads, and body respectively. In combination with a drum module (which stores the sound presets), these components work hand in hand to produce sound when struck. Owing to the materials used, there is little to no sound produced. A drum amplifier or monitor is required to perform with electronic drums. This is advantageous to artists living in close quarters.

As for Roland’s lineup, the TD1K and TD1KV is the smallest, most affordable drum kit in their range. It’s the perfect instrument for the younger kids who are still exploring their options and developing their musical talents. It's durable, doesn’t break the bank, and has the basic functionality of an electronic drum kit. It also comes with a coach function to reduce the learning curve. Another notable Roland drum kit is the TD1DMK which is the most optimal electronic drum set for beginners. It is slightly larger than the TD1K, but has utilised the extra space to orient the drum kit as seen on an acoustic set. After all, an acoustic drum kit is the industry standard on play feel and tone produced - which is beautifully replicated on the TD1DMK. This kit has double-mesh drum heads and responsive rubber cymbals, which are ideal to feel the kickback as on an acoustic set. It comes bundled with 15 of Roland’s preset drum kits, tunable drum heads, realistic head articulations, and MIDI compatibility. This is the kit of choice for a returning drummer or a young adult who’s an aspiring drummer.

The following most impressive kit is the TD17KV. Here, the TD17 drum module has seen a significant improvement with Bluetooth connectivity, a time check function, metronome, various coaching and exercise options to warm up and learn - all based on the signature TD50 sound engine. In addition to this, the TD17KV also has mesh heads and responsive rubber cymbals to replicate the play feel of an acoustic kit. Moreover, this version also has no noticeable latency issue. If you’re looking for a more advanced kit, look no further than the TD30K series. They sport Roland’s SuperNATURAL sound engine and behaviour modelling, which is a fancy way of saying that they react and learn from the way the drums are used. This is the perfect choice for intermediate and aspiring professional drummers. The build quality is sturdy and goes above and beyond the essential requirements for a professional electronic drum set. Finally, the TD50KVX is Roland’s signature creation; the pinnacle of what an electronic drum set can achieve. These are the go-to kits for professional studio musicians and live performers. The TD50 module is easily the industry standard drum engine to beat. And with the full-sized drum set made of layered mesh and rubber, the powerful TD50KVX is a drum set like no other. Each of the strike surfaces has multiple sensors to register every small stroke and its intensity, and reproduce the most accurate sound. Even the articulation of the cymbals are unlike any electronic drum ever made. All in all, the TD50KVX was designed for the professional drummer, without sacrificing any detail, and made with the highest quality materials.

All of Roland’s electronic drums come with a recording feature and MIDI compatibility. Roland also produces acoustic drums - VAD506, VAD503, and VAD306. These are simple, no-nonsense kits with a pronounced sound and signature Roland tone. 

Keyboard Controllers (MIDI)

Roland’s keyboard controllers are well designed, all-rounder MIDI devices that work with most DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations).Keyboard Controllers are piano or synth-styles keyboards that transmit MIDI data to a DAW. There are no built-in sounds or a sound engine on a MIDI Controller. It requires a DAW or other sound modules to function. The A49 is Roland’s budget controller with 49 velocity-sensitive keys, assignable knobs and switches, octave and transpose buttons, and the bend/mod level with D-beam. ‘D-Beam’ is a feature unique to Roland, which helps increase expression ability by waving your hand over an invisible beam, thereby manipulating the audio. There is also an 88-key version with weighted keys. Their next lineup is a little more functionaland versatile in terms of features - the A300, A500 and A800 Pro series. There are a total of 45 assignable knobs, sliders, and buttons with eight dynamic pads for drums, looping, and more. There’s also a dedicated pitch bend/modulation stick for audio manipulation. These features are reflected on all three Ax00 Pro models.

Guitar and Bass

Did you know: Roland own Boss (pedals) and Katana (guitar amplifiers)

Boss is one of the world’s best effect pedal manufacturers who have made a significant mark with electric guitarists. For years, Boss has made music equipment related to effects processing for guitars, including compact and twin effects pedals, multi-effect pedals, electronic tuners and pedalboards. However, they eventually expanded their product range by including digital studios, rhythm machines, samplers and other electronic music equipment. They also manufacture solid-state amplifiers and speaker heads such as the Waza and the Katana. Both feature multi-effects units meant to emulate Boss' classic effects pedals. 

The Pocket GT is a portable and compact effects processor for simple everyday playing, while a more advanced unit like the GT100 multi-effect processor is more versatile and with a greater number of options. Boss is famous for their simple, split product sound effects like - distortion/overdrive, delay/reverb, pitch/modulation, dynamics/filter, acoustic, and bass pedals. These pedals each serve a unique purpose for electric guitarists. Within each of these sound effects, Boss has managed to segregate the options even more. For instance, in the distortion range, they have the MT2W for metal, JB2 for an “angry” tone, BD2W for blues, and more. The DS1X is the most liked distortion pedal from Bose, though each choice is unique to the artist. Each of the sounds have further classifications and features like delay with the DD200, DM2W, and more, and Dynamics with the EQ200 (equalizer), CP1X (compressor), PW3 (wah pedal), and more. Bass guitarists can also opt for various effects like the BC1X (bass comp), CEB3 (chorus), GEB7 (equaliser), ODB3 (bass overdrive), and more. 

As for the Boss Katana guitar amps, they are some of the best modelling amps on the market. They have a notable multi-FX panel providing a quality experience with its signature sounds. The Katana amps have also got power scaling meaning you can change the headroom response and the wattage when you want to go from home practice to the rehearsal room to the stage. They have options from the Katana Artist MK2 with tone shaping, custom made Waza 12" speakers, parallel/series effect loop, power amp input for modelers, preamps, multi effects, and more. If portability is important, the Boss Katana Mini Compact is the perfect option. It has 3-Channels & Delay, works on battery, Cab Sim Output, among other features. However, lying between these models is the Boss Katana 50 MKII 1X12" Guitar Amp Combo is a bestseller offering a versatile sound experience without breaking the bank. The Boss Katana 50 MkII is a medium-sized combo amp packed full of modern features, and a lightweight and compact enclosure that's easy to transport to venues. It's also fitted with a custom 12" speaker that can push plenty of air in a live scenario or as a fantastic practice amp for the home.

Apart from the Katana electric guitar amp segment, they also produce a few acoustic guitar amps. Notably, the AC90 lies at the top of the lineup with a 90-watt stereo configuration, while the Mobile AC is the more affordable, portable option. The latter is battery powered and primarily designed for busking or small-sized events, and for practice. The AC40 is a mid-range acoustic guitar amp with stereo speakers and quality build. 

With nearly 50 years of experience as a musical instrument company, who have periodically put out quality equipment, you can't go wrong with investing in a Roland product. Their electronic drums and Synthesiser Workstations are some of the industry standard music devices. As for accessories and sound equipment, Boss pedals and Katana Amplifiers are the go-to gear for electric guitarists. 

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