Roland D5

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Roland D5

The Roland D5 is a 5 Octave full size multi-timbral keyboard with MIDI.It is part of the D series which had the enormously successful D10 and D20 which were much used by pop bands of yore. Standing on its edge you it could be mistaken for the obelisk from 2001 and creates the same awe-inducing effect by its presence.


The D5 uses Roland’s PARTIAL synthesis which operates in a similar manner to the Yamaha 4 operator DX keyboards – combining sounds from units which are switched in or out to generate the final sound. This takes some getting used to and as a user of the DX series I so far prefer the DX to the Roland method,though it has to be said that the end sound of the D5 perhaps has the edge over the DX.


The D5 has memories for both performance and multi-timbral modes. These comprise 8 banks of 8 and then sections A/B giving 128 in all. There is the facility for an external card to add on more memory,and the same keys that switch tones are also utilised to program and select the partials when constructing a tone.

Tones are made within the multi-timbral section and saved to the "i" [internal] bank and then used in combination in the performance memory to make layered or split sounds. There is also an "r" memory where the drum noises are stored.

The performance memories allow pitch shifting and harmony,arpeggio,chase and chord play.

This allows fifths to be played on one key or entire chords which are formed on the lower keyboard and triggered with the upper. The arpeggio is great for sequencer effects and chase allows echo and pitching effects.

The ROM sounds are fairly standard GM types- though some- such as "soundtrack" stand out. Some of the drum sounds are quite punchy and all are able to be pitch bent – which means you can get some very deep bass drums and massive sounding snares.


There is a further "manual drum" mode which allows all the drums to be played from the keyboard –this is rather ineffectual,since there is no drum programmer and the only way to get a rhythm is to listen to the 3 demo tunes.There are copious drum sounds though and all are eminently useable with the possible exception of the triangle which seems a little more like the metronome sound used by some keyboards to keep track of the timing signal.


The D5 supports 8 "parts" which can be set to any of the MIDI channels and the keyboard can transmit on any channel and have local control switched off making the keyboard a separate entity from the voicing unit. It has In/Out and the often missed Thru for chaining other keyboards, and some of the MIDI functions can be individually controlled,such as program change and breath control – which this machine amazingly supports. I tried it with my DX100 and although it works – it is not as an efficient response as the Yamaha.

System Exclusive is supported – and once switched on, a depression of one of the performance memory keys will cause a dump of all the parameters for that sound. Receiving is a sheer matter of sending the dump back to the IN port.The DATA TRANSFER button is used to do total memory dumps of tones and patches.


The D5 has 3 outputs –headphones and L/R stereo – L doubling as the MONO output. The pitch bender is centre détente and has the added benefit of the modulation control built in so that a push upwards adds vibrato. There is a sustain pedal input for control and the whole machine can be tuned in Hz from the front panel LCD display which is bright and well laid out,that is if you can follow the menu system. The whole keyboard can be transposed and the pitch bender range set- typically over 2 octaves.

Power is 9v –centre at 800ma.

Good points: What strikes you about the D5 is the weight.The whole machine is wrapped in metal and built to gig,I found out how rugged it was the hard way – I dropped it on my foot and nearly broke my toe! I suspect it might survive WWIII along with the cockroaches.The sound is precise and clear and there are a full set of features culminating in the multi-timbrality which means it can playback all the multi-track MIDI files from your PC.

The rhythm can be set to be on any channel making it compatible with Ch10 or Ch16 systems.

Niggles: Surprisingly, for such a top notch machine I found quite a few niggles.The weight although lending ruggedness makes it a pain to move around,if you don’t intend moving around then that’s okay,but the case is built to gig,so if you intend going on the road you will have to bear the weight.

There is no rhythm programmer and this seems mad considering the number of drums.The problem can be bypassed of course by using a sequencer or PC.

When using the effects such as Chord play,you need three hands in order to pitch bend – but this may be the case with all such keyboards.

The LCD menu system is rather bizarre in its layout – although it is logical it can be confusing.The change of modes changes what appears in the menus – this takes some getting used to.

The keyboard is rather clunky for a velocity sensitive type and I rather prefer my CTK631 –which even beats the PSR420 for sensitivity.

Programming the partials is not intuitive and although the basic layout covers filtering, amplification, pitch changes,ADSR,it is sometimes hard to workout why a sound is produced as it is. The Casio CZ series is hard – this is harder – seemingly in principle capable of outdoing the DX,in practice it is difficult to make this happen.

The front facia control keys on mine were one of the reasons the machine was sold as spares/repair as a few of them had broken off into the inside of the machine - having looked at why this happens by opening the case,it seems that Roland have used a relatively cheap mechanism for the facia controls,which in principle is liable to break. The upside is that such is the nature of the method,it is also easily replaced,using as it does a moulded frame which can simply be replaced,but that area does seem to be a weak point in the D and possibly U series.

Niggles apart, this is a great machine and if I was choosing which ones to take on a ride – then this would have to partner the DX100 – MIDIed together they are a class act.

NB: The internal memories seem to be contained after power off by an internal CR2032.If you find the internal RAM is corrupted,removing or replacing this battery maybe the cause. Doing this requires removal of most of the internal circuit boards which contain static sensitive semiconductors.If you attempt this make sure you are earthed and avoid touching the silicon chips.

Expect to Pay: I picked mine up cheap as it was slightly faulty - but the D series are well sought after and can fetch £40 upwards depending on the model.The higher the model number the higher the price. D10s can fetch £80+.

Size and weight: 97.8 x 27.9 x 8.4 cm [38.5 x 11 x 3.3 in]  6.6kg [14 lb 8oz]

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