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