I love Roland dearly. But the $4,000 Roland E-80 keyboard looks like it might actually be capable of destroying the planet Alderaan.

There’s a breed of mega-arranger-keyboard-organ-appliances that seems spawned on some alien planet, on which giant cyborgs with eight arms play Sunday church music with fourteen-way splits and layers of thin preset sounds. These mysterious beings don’t own computers or speakers. They have banished all other equipment in their homes and replaced it with these behemoths of traditional music industry over-engineering.

Okay, actually, there are ordinary musicians who really love these kinds of devices. If you don’t believe me, check out this SynthZone forums, where aficionados cheerfully proclaim the E-80 will easily best its apparent rival, the Yamaha TYROS2. I agree — the Yamaha is not quite as fugly as the Roland. Now, you know CDM policy is never to knock someone who’s happy with their gear, because no two dream studios are alike. (Witness this week’s comments, in which some CDM readers apparently shudder at the sound of drum kits.) So, if you’re out there and covet an E-80, maybe you can explain this to me.

In the meantime, I’ll just chuckle over the feature list’s surreal wording:

  1. “…how about an attractive industrial design that is a pleasure to look at and use?” Yes, Roland. How about an attractive design?
  2. “A variety of â€Å“livelyâ€Â? sounds”

  3. “Breathtaking musical contents”
  4. Built-in “guitar mode” with fret sounds (not sure of the advantage over an actual guitar, at a third of the size and a tenth of the weight, but, okay)
  5. Built-in vocal harmonist mode
  6. LCD with automatic notation display
  7. Drawbars — no, make that “Virtual ToneWheel technology9 bars.” Or, er, drawbars.
  8. V-LINK for manipulating visuals/VJing! D-Beam infrared controller! Floppy disc! PCMCIA slot! Memory card storage! USB! Speakers! Separate metronome output! Vocoder! Touchscreen!

Here’s what I want to know: what got cut from the feature list? Bizarrely enough, with all this power, the keyboard is a basic, unweighted synth (keeping the weight under 50 lbs, but making me really wonder who would buy this), and Roland still manages to put their silly pitch/mod paddle on — dwarfed by the physical heft of the unit. Even though it’s the opposite of the kind of hardware I’d buy, I’m impressed by instruments like the Korg OASYS, which are designed through and through to be all-in-one workstations and have some very specific design goals in mind. The E-80, by contrast, is more like what happens if you mash together the specifications of all Roland’s cheaper keyboards.

Hey, for those of you who love your E-80, seriously, carry on. But it does illustrate how different the markets are to which companies like Roland must cater. My favorite keyboards are defined as much by what is left off by what is put on, like Roland’s cleverly-designed SH-201 synth, which is fun to play precisely because it’s limited to basic synthesis and keeps all its controls onboard. I just hope that the market for synths like the SH-201 grows, and I’m suspicious that part of the reason it hasn’t is because that market gets scared away from hardware synths entirely when they see monsters like the E-80. So, Roland, if you’re out there — like I said, I love you guys — but please don’t forget about the “minimalist” end of the market.

As for you E-80 owners, this battle station is operational. Continue with the operation; you may fire when ready.

Roland E-80 Product Page

Thanks to Music Gadgets.net for starting me on this rant; I missed the announcement at Musikmesse

  • It amazes me that roland still includes that crappy pitch/mod stick on their keyboards. Does anyone actually use that thing? I suppose it scores half a point for giving pitch and mod control in one unit, but isnt there some other design scheme that would accomplish the same goal and be USEABLE? Roland has had how many years to come up with a better design? Anyway, I really love the company for all the brilliant products they've released over the years, I just wish a greater proportion of their new products were great. Come on, be daring Roland! Lets see some more interesting 'risky', innovate desgins like v-synth or variphrase tech.

  • Perhaps this is an urban legend, but I've heard the reason Roland uses paddles is because arch-rival Yamaha patented the wheel. Given the number of other manufacturers that use wheels, that doesn't make sense, so maybe it's a pride thing.

    Here's an intriguing tidbit I found while searching for "Roland joystick Yamaha wheel":

    <code>Of course, this doesn't hold a candle to the single best design for left-handed control of a synthesizer ever, which was invented by Hugh LeCaine in the 1950s for his Electronic Sackbut. The left hand rested on a plate, with each of the four fingers controlling a slider that varied some component of the sound in realtime, so flexing the fingers caused a very smooth and natural evolution of acoustic-imitative sounds such as strings. And the thumb, not to be outdone, rested on a sliding pad that moved joystick–like across a circular plate that was divided into different waveform types, and allowed formants and waves to be blended in real time with a twitch of the thumb. Only LeCaine himself ever mastered this instrument, but the sound was, well, amazing. The imitation of a string quartet he did in 1958 was frighteningly real, not so much in sound but in articulation of the instruments' bowstrokes!</code> (source)

  • Its surprising that LeCaine's general idea of utilizing more than 2 fingers of the left hand for expression purposes hasn't caught on. Admittedly there would be quite a learning curve to surmount but, after all, we have spent a great deal of time working those mod wheel chops anyway, time that could have been used mastering a more complex but also more expressive device. Maybe its because I'm primarily a guitar player, but I think my other four fingers of my left hand get jealous when my index is working that wheel.

  • Tom

    Damn, that really is ugly. I'd like to see someone form a Star Wars evil empire themed band using this, the Kaoss Pad 3, and maybe a JD-800…

  • Shutup

    Roland suck.

    So do Akai.

  • Damon

    But you know, some day some amazing electronic electronic masterpiece is gonna hit the shelves, and someone will ask

    "How did you get that sound?"

    And the artist will respond

    "Oh, The Roland Arranger plus the Koss Pad and an old analog effects unit"

    All the most amazing albums come about that way. Someone tosses out the rule book of predictability and creates something we never saw coming, cause we all assumed such an "amazing sound" is supposed to come from extreme and outrageous gear.

    Though, it does look like the Sylvester Stallone costume from "Judge Dredd." But if you are working with an arranger, your audience is probably not a lot of leather and studs. Still, though, I am sure there is some serious sound built into that thing. You just have to learn how to properly program it wrong.

    Wish I could afford to be that different.

  • Alex

    thank god it has a floppy drive

  • GaryG

    I like how they've got the pitch bender on a raised 'mound' to try and make it look more impressive.

    I've a little pc160 midi keyboard with one of these benders and I do like it a lot for pitch control, whip it quickly all over the place. The mod control is just the worst ever though…

  • J Donald

    What happened to the understated black slabs of the late '80's/early '90's (D-20, D-50, etc)? It's high time for the Design Pendulum to swing the other way. Enough of the odd geometry, the tacky silverized plastic, the multicolored gewgaws etc. Give us a Monolith with keys!

  • inasilentway

    Re: wheels; I sincerely doubt that Yamaha has a patent on those wheels, considering they appeared on Moogs before Yamaha even started making synths.

    I think Clavia's pitch bender is far more comfortable than a wheel, but their mod wheel is so tiny and uncomfortable.

  • Sounds like legend to me. My guess is that the people who like the paddles (yes, they exist) actually use it for vibrato rather than modulation. (This keyboard has aftertouch, which is what would make more sense to me.)

    My favorite solution has become the Novation X/Y joystick, because if you disconnect the spring-loading on the Y axis, you can get the best of both worlds. Pitch to me is the most intuitive on the x-axis, but you can still set and leave the modulation where you want it, and you get the full range you'd get from a wheel.

    Anyway, if you're designing something as monstrous as this keyboard, what you really need is a paddle, AND wheels (go with four of them, just to be safe), a ribbon controller, and maybe an extra D-Beam or two, just for good measure.

    And cupholders.

    And call it The Homer.

    "Powerful like a gorilla, yet soft and yielding like a Nerf ball."

  • haha……. cupholders.

    This synthesizer looks like it could sell at sam's club alongside casio keyboards. I say the only reason roland makes these keyboards is to sell and make money, not to make good keyboards. Thats why they look like that. And yeah I bet some awesome music is made on these. You know… like… kids bop. Which is funny because I just saw last week on billboard.com that kids bop 9 went gold.

  • dave craycraft

    i had the roland va 7, va76 before this e series. i use to play roland rd series piano

    bass pedals with a drum machime and a synth

    added in to the mix. in 1998 i bought a

    korg i 5 s arranger keyboard. this 1 keyboard replaced all the older stuff with a all in one package keyboard. i'm retiring this year. i have

    about $175000 return on a 1300.00 keyboard

    investment, not bad. my point is that i have yet to

    see anything new from any manufacture. just the re package of the same ol stuff. i,m still

    using the korg along with an old yamaha psr 1000 toy and getting good results "sound and money" wise

  • FranCarango

    I can't wait to get my hands on that "monster"..and yes, the paddle design does everything I need to use…Roland rules….still.

    The keys may disappoint me though…I am use to the G1000 keybed.

    Even my DisCover5 keybed is not the best..although it is better than Yamaha PSR's and Tyros keybeds..At least they are the correct size..

  • bliss

    That feature list sounds like it was written by a southern Republican.

  • FranCarango, maybe I'm missing something, but what about the Roland G-70 if this is really what you want? It has what looks like a better keybed, sounds from the Fantom, a more attractive (and as near as I can figure, more compact) shell, and $3300 price tag. In fact, it looks like it has the guts of this keyboard minus the speakers, with a bigger ROM and a nicer case at a cheaper price, though I haven't exactly studied this end of the Roland line.

    It's also hard for me to see getting one of these workstations over the various, very capable workstations from Roland, Korg, and Yamaha at the sub-$3000 price point, with less of the frills but more serious core features in a more logical form. With those, I can at least see the appeal, even as (admittedly) a computer guy. These bigger models I just can't fathom; the mid-range workstations seem plenty deep and better thought-out. They've also evolved more over the past five years or so.

  • the clavia pitch bender is really sweet… it's made of wood and on a tight spring so you can do some crazy vibrato on it. on my nord lead 2 though the pitch bend is right next to a button that is really easy to hit accidently…

  • i always use the pitch/mod wheel on my Korg Delta, when doing solo synth.. as a guitar and wind player i find this joystick controller to be very useful .. other more innovative pad-style controllers are useful for more applications, but i think for 'solo' synth there is nothing that compares to something you can grab and fiddle with.

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  • maximegb

    There are just 2 or 3 useless things, like the floppy drive.

    If only the PSR-450 came with an USB stick host !

    The PSR-450 has a 3.5-inch disk drive with the ability to read and write Standard MIDI Files (SMF), which is still the choice of many professionals and teachers due to the low cost of data storage and exchange. MIDI files are small and one floppy disk can actually store many song files. In addition, floppy disks cost a fraction of what other forms of data storage, like SmartMedia or a thumb drive, cost. In addition, many professionally-made MIDI song files, education software with music, and style disks from the Internet are in floppy disk format.

    No floppy drive, please !

  • Ron

    The most important to me is not how it looks but how it sounds….. How is the sound? good piano???

  • Gerry

    Glad to read the above comments as we've been in the market for one of these newer 'Arranger Workstations'.

    My wife & I have performed as a Duo for the past 20 years with one of the 1st Roland Intelligent Keyboards, the E-30 as a basic band. It is quite limited by todays standards, but the settings we have chosen and put into one touch settings that are crowd pleasers. Happy they are with our 20 different theme shows like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. The crowd loves it when the Mad Hatter does Ray Chales' What'd I Say and 'Alice' wanders out to them with her cordless mic to make them duck, not to be caught in the act. I have got so used to the keyboard that playing it with my left hand is like driving the car, (sometimes there is an accident too..). The right hand plays a Roland D-50, again 1980's technology, but great sounds, especially the Screamin' B3 settings. I'm thinking, if we got so much mileage out of those 2 dinasaurs, updating now will be our last in a long history of keyboards dating back to the '60s.

    BUT, is it too late to teach an old dog new tricks???

    So I've today purchased a Yamaha PSR2000 at a modest price on eBay to see if we can update our show with some of it's features. The vocal harmony should fit into our comedy routine, as well as some improved styles & voices. (I hope they are better, 20 years later). I have a Roland R-8m that could do the drums triggered by the PSR if the drum sounds suck. If it doesn't fit, it can always go back on eBay so that shareholders make more money, over and over again.

    If it sounds good, we may try a 2007 model of some sort. A huge issue for us now is weight!!! At near 50 pounds with carrying case, the E-80 is far too heavy for us. 35 pounds is max for a cripple with a partially severed S-1 nerve gouged by heavy equipment. Gone are the days of straining with the B-3's and Leslies up and down fire escapes, without a roadie.

    Best regards,

    Gerry & Cathy

  • Adam

    According to an advertisement I got through in the mail, the design was by a "top Italian design studio". I wonder which one would own up to that?

  • The sounds are amazing I use a Roland G-70 in my studio but it doesn't have the easy play features that some home owners prefer. The E-80 seems to be all the G-70 is plus features that make it easier for more people to enjoy.

    I see no reason to get rid of the single joystick for pitch and modulation changes most type systems do the job at hand one just needs to practice a little more to become good at it.

  • Larry

    The original review was just plain dumb. If you reread it, Peter was trying very hard to rip the -80, without much success.

    Ugly is about all he could come up with? In my opinion, it looks like, well…surprise…an arranger keyboard! Imagine that?

    Who says they have to be 'pretty'? Who WANTS pretty?

    Synths and Arrangers have NEVER been pretty. Go back to the 70's and 80's and take a look at those synths…yikes talk about ugly.

    An advantage of having a guitar on board? mmmm, maybe it's an ARRANGER workstation, and that's what they do…have many sampled sounds, including…another surprise a Guitar! Who would have thought?!?!

    I could go on and on with his ridiculous review, but I suspect, he never even played an E-80, let alone seen one up close and personal.

    So if Peter ever inherits an E-80 keyboard, I'm sure he'll want to get rid of the ugly beast. Any takers?

    Anyway…Thanks for your review, and you asked for fireback.

    🙂

    Larry

  • I actually saw tyhis keyboard at the January 07 NAMM show in Anahiem CA .

    This this E80 is unbelievable. I watched the Demonstration and then got to get explanations in person.

    I'm in the sound business and the E80 is very impresive. Bob S.

  • ex roland va7

    i luv the bugger..its gonna earn me sum cash..i aint no bedroom guitarist lol

  • KeyPlayer

    Impressive , most impressiveThe force is with this young one, and soon the E-80 will rule the galaxy,both as father and son. It`s that big , if the key-bed is right, this could be the end for the Yamaha Empire.All hope now lie with the owning of one of these monsters.Well, at least we had Paris.

  • E20-E30-E70-E86-E80

    Roland have pretty much had the high end arranger market to themselves – in Europe, at any rate – since the debut of the E20 in the late eighties. Since then Yamaha, Technics, Ketron et al have all produced fine instruments in the segment, but none of them have ever had the "pro" feel of Roland's boards. The E80 is the latest in this long line, and shares many of the hallmarks of its progenitors, not least that genuinely giggable robustness and solidity their competitors either can't – or, being more focused on the home-user, won't – match. If you can find one, try one, and audition it without prejudice. You won't be disappointed.

  • Ole Evjen

    I do own a Roland G-70, and I never saw the need for the E-80. Of course I understand that this is the "follow-up" of the E-series with in-built speakers. But when I tried one at the local dealer I found it horrible to play on and too little intuitive compared to the G-70, which is a fantastic instrument with a wonderful feel on the keybed. The latest OS brought with it a great EQ-system that can be used on the parts in the sequencer. And I completed with the SRX-3 studio card. All together the drum, bass and piano sounds are far above what you will expect from an arranger keyboard. I´ve tried out all the Tyros generations, but never was tempted. Sounds too cheesy for my taste. Lately I checked out the Ketron Audya watching Youtube samples, and I loved what I heard. So natural accompaniments and far more dynamic sound. Roland, I think, has given up the top line products when it comes to arrangers. It never gained the same volume and popularity after outfacing the G-800 and G-1000.

  • SyldaveMusic

    Is this all you have to say ? that the keyboard is ugly ? and what do you mean by “This kind of device” with contempt ? This keyboard is a complete music studio. I continue to discover new things after 3 years. I’m completely satisfied of it. It includes a Vocoder that works perfectly. Please take the time to study it before criticize what you don’t understand.
    Syldave at SyldaveMusic

  • SyldaveMusic

    Is this all you have to say ? that the keyboard is ugly ? and what do you mean by “This kind of device” with contempt ? This keyboard is a complete music studio. I continue to discover new things after 3 years. I’m completely satisfied of it. It includes a Vocoder that works perfectly. Please take the time to study it before criticize what you don’t understand.
    Syldave at SyldaveMusic

  • SyldaveMusic

    Is this all you have to say ? that the keyboard is ugly ? and what do you mean by “This kind of device” with contempt ? This keyboard is a complete music studio. I continue to discover new things after 3 years. I’m completely satisfied of it. It includes a Vocoder that works perfectly. Please take the time to study it before criticize what you don’t understand.
    Syldave at SyldaveMusic