Home Music Recording Studio - HOME 
 Visit Quantum Mechanic

Roland U-220 Rack Mount Sound Module (1989)
Review and Description
Roland U-220 Rack Mount Sound Module (1989) - Review and Description
Find a Roland U-220 on Ebay

When buying a used Roland U-220 don't get carried away in a bidding war. Though these are still useful devices, the available tones are not nearly as good as what you will get on modern equipment. There are better value devices out there in terms of the number of available tones, number of simultaneous voices and general flexibility (like the XV3080).

If you are paying more than AUD $150 to $200 for a U220, then you are paying too much!

Roland U-220 RS-PCM Specifications

Sound Generator
  RS-PCM type
    (ReSynthesized PCM)
16 bit
4MB of ROM
2 Demo Songs
Rhythm Setups
128 Tones / Voices (Preset)
128 Timbres (Editable)
64 Patches (Editable)
4 (B2 to C7, 61 notes)
Multitimbral Parts
30 Notes / Voices
6 + Rhythm
DSP Chorus x 3
   Flanger / Short Delay
    Room / Hall / Delay
Output impedance: 1.2 kΩ
Front Panel
Controls VOLUME control knob
PART / INST <> buttons, CURSOR <> buttons
VALUE <> buttons
EXIT button, ENTER button, EDIT (REVERB) button
DATA (CHORUS) button, JUMP button, MARK button
PCM CARD Slots 2
PHONES Jack 6mm (1/4") Stereo
Phone Socket
MIDI MESSAGE Indicator Green LED (above Power Switch)
Flashes with Data Exchange
POWER Switch Push On/Off
Display 24 character, 21 Line LCD with backlight
Rear Panel  
MIDI Connectors Standard MIDI
Audio Output Terminals (6) MIX OUT L (Mono) / R
Power Consumption 20 Watts
Supply Voltage AC - 117V / 220V / 240V
Memory Battery Lithium CR2032
(Standard PC Battery)
5 years expected battery life
Physical Specs
Weight: 4.4 kg (9 lb 11 oz)
Dimensions: Width: 482mm (19")
Depth: 358mm (14-1/8")
Height: 45mm (1-3/4")
EIA - 1 U rack mount type
Originally Included Items:
  1 x Audio cable (2.5m)
  1 x MIDI cable (1m)
  Owner's manual
  Factory Settings
The Included MIDI cable Is for MIDI only.
It cannot be used for DIN SYNC or Audio.
Optional Items / Accessories:
  Sound Library
SN-U120 series
  Stereo headphone RH-100
  Audio cable PJ-t M
  MIDI / SYNC cable

Factory Preset Patch List
01 Acoust Piano 33 Soft Trumpet
02 Chorus Piano 34 Tromborn
03 E.Piano 35 Brass Section
04 Bright EP 36 Saxophone
05 Vibraphone 37 JP8.Brass
06 Marimba 38 Power Brass
07 Bell 39 Flute
08 Fanta Bell 40 Shakuhachi
09 A.Guitar 41 Fantasia
10 E.Guitar 42 Calliope
11 Heavy Guitar 43 Soundtrack
12 E.Organ 1 44 Atmosphere
13 E.Organ 3 45 Future Pad
14 E.Organ 7 46 Pomona
15 E.Organ 9 47 Melodigan
16 Mad Organ 48 Photogene
17 Strings 49 Endymion
18 Syn.Strings 50 Prelusion
19 JP8.Strings 51 Jupiters
20 Choir 52 Selene
21 Syn.Vox 1 53 Sacred Tree
22 Syn.Vox 2 54 Macho Lead
23 Syn.Choir 1 55 Lunar Lead
24 Syn.Choir 2 56 Harmonic Lead
25 Flanging Slap 57 Native Dance
26 Fretless Bass 58 Percs Hit
27 Synth Bass 7 59 Velo Combi
28 SynB-Bell Pad 60 Split Combi
29 A.Bass-PIano 61 Rotor Craft
30 Singing Piano 62 Emergency
31 Splits 63 Deepsea
32 Velo Trumpet 64 Catastrophe
Factory Preset Drum Sets
R-1 Standard Set R-3 Electric Set
R-2 Dry Set R-4 F.X. Set

for Home Music Recording Studio

Acoustic 450 - Vintage 170W Guitar / Bass Amplifier Head A sturdy workhorse solid state amp that still performs after years.

Fender Princeton Chorus 51W Compact Guitar Amplifier A small sturdy and versatile solid state amp.

Maton Guitars:
Maton EM125C - 6 String Acoustic Guitar - Review and Description A well made and great sounding Acoustic guitar that upholds the Maton tradition of superior guitar building craftsmanship.  Maton Mastersound MS500 - 6 String Electric Guitar - Review and Description A clasic well crafted and versatile Electric Guitar.

The Chronicles of Zoom:
ZOOM GFX-707 - Review and Description, ZOOM GFX-707 II - Review and Description &.ZOOM BFX-708 - Bass Guitar Multi Effects Pedal Review and Description, Surprisingly versatile year 2000 era Guitar/Bass Multi Effects processors with some great sounds. ZOOM G9.2tt - Guitar Multi Effects Review and Description - awesome.

ROLAND U-220 - Vintage Sound / Synthesizer Module - Review and Description A powerful Roland sound module from the 1980's, with an expandable Tone set using SN-U110 and SN-MV30-S1 Series PCM Cards.

Capabilities of the CASIO WK-7500 Workstation Keyboard A must-read if you are thinking of buying one.

[ Advertising ]

The 19" rack mount Roland U-220 RS-PCM Sound Module is derived from the Roland U-20 Keyboard  External Link , first released in 1989. The U-220 is also described by Roland as a "Multi-Timbral Synthesizer Module". The RS in the model name stands for Re-Synthesized, as the synthesizer engine can play back a modified version of stored PCM (Pulse Code Modulated) samples.

The U-220 is not however able to sample new and/or external sounds, hence it is sometimes referred to as a ROMpler as opposed to a Sampler.

(Important: This article is still a work in progress. It gets updated as I learn more about the U-220)
Please visit Keith's web site for further in-depth info on the Roland U-20 Keyboard / U-220, patches and more.

Sample playback can however be quite effectively customized via ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) envelope editing and also by applying DSP (Digital Signal Processing) effects. PCM Sound Sample Cards for the U-20/U-220 with additional voices can still be readily purchased online.

The Roland U-220 is a very basic sound/synth module with virtually no frills. But that may in fact be an advantage because it does what it does VERY well.

In its day the U-220 retailed for well over $1,200. The Roland web site lists the last retail price at $1,095. The current value (depending on condition) is likely to be between AUD $100 to $150. At any more than AUD $200 and you're just not getting value for money (though some eBay sellers might strongly disagree ;-)

Roland U-220 RS-PCM Sound Module

Roland U-220 Front & Rear Panel PDF

Roland U-220 Documents, Info and Work Sheets:

Documents are PDF unless stated otherwise.
•  A compilation of Info (4 pages) - U-220 Preset Tones / Drum Map / Patches
•  Timbres Work Sheet (5 pages) - U-220 Work Sheet - Timbres (5 pages, 4 Timbres per page)
•  Patches Work Sheet (8 pages) - U-220 Work Sheet - Patches (8 pages, 1 Patch per page)
•  A list of available PCM cards suitable for the U-220 is being compiled

More Related Documents and Info available online:

Unfortunately the links below are to PDFs made from some rather quick and dirty scans. But I guess it's better than nothing ... at least for now.

From Keith at Llama Music - U-20 / U110 / U220 Battery Replacement - Web Link External Link
    How to change the battery and more ...
•  From Roland - Roland U-220 RS-PCM Sound Module - Owners Manual PDF External Link
•  From Synfo.NL - Roland U-220 RS-PCM Sound Module - Service Manual PDF External Link
•  From SynthMania - MP3 examples of Roland U-220 Factory Preset Patches & more External Link

Sounds / Samples / Voices (8/10)

The Roland U-220 RS-PCM Sound Module comes with 128 Voices/Tones, plus 4 Drum Kits and 64 ready to use Factory Preset Patches that are ... well ... very reminiscent of the 80's. If you are into retro or nostalgia you'll love the U-220.

The quality of the samples is generally very good to excellent, which is perhaps a lot better than expected, given this technology is now years old. The piano sound was (in it's day) considered exemplary. At first I thought some of the tones were lacking when compared to the Tones available on some newer equipment. However the drum sounds are really quite good and tones like the sax, brass section and violin grow on you with use. Weird, but I find I've come to like them as I've used them more.

While some of the Factory Preset Patches are really quite excellent ... many patches are rather ordinary. If nothing else, the preset patches demonstrate the potential available with the U-220 and show that it is definitely worth spending the time to be creative in designing your own patches.That is where the real power of the U-220 lies.

For my purposes the U-220 will serve mainly as a simple synth for use with the MIDI Guitar software. As such patches will be designed accordingly. These will mostly be either atmospheric like the Future Pad (patch 45), to work behind finger picked chords ... or full-on 80's lead/synth sounds like Lunar Lead (patch 55). When it comes to synthesizer sounds the Roland U-220 can provide sounds that the Casio WK-7500 (with its 800 Tones) can't.

Rather than try to use the U-220 for things it won't do well, the focus will be on getting the most out of what it does best ... combining Tones and Timbres into great sounding Patches.

Editing / Creating Patches

There are 128 basic Voices or Tones that can be used to build Timbres which can then be combined in various ways to build Patches. With each of the 64 Patches able to support 6 Parts (Timbres) plus Drums, there are a lot of sophisticated sound layering possibilities at your fingertips.

This is where the 30 note Polyphony will be very useful. Most current keyboards have 64 note Polyphony, which indicates how impressive the Roland U-220 was years ago.

For those new to MIDI, Polyphony determines how many notes can be played at the same time. It also makes it possible to provide up to six (6) tones to be Layered (played at the same time) in a Patch.

From a MIDI Guitar perspective this means that I can layer up to 5 Tones/Voices and still strum a 6 note chord (30 notes in total) and have each note sound without any being cut off.

Generally, when you exceed 30 notes, the newest note replaces the oldest. Exactly how this works though will depend on Voice Reserve settings (available for each timbre) that can give preference to specific tones, preventing the unnatural ending of certain notes. With Voice Reserve you can allocate the minimum number of notes (essentially note priority) to any of the Timbres in a patch to make sure that selected Timbres will always sound.

Editing (the Factory Presets) and/or creating new User Patches with the Roland U-220 is somewhat tedious, even daunting at first. During the time that you still need to constantly refer to the rather cryptic instructions in the Owner's Manual, it can be slow going.

In fairness though, this process is essentially a reasonably sophisticated form of programming, with many things to tweak. So a short but relatively steep learning curve is to be expected.

Programming does however get easier as you gain familiarity of the Operating System. It is the U-220's ability to Edit / Create / Save Patches that opens up some awesome sound creation possibilities. One drawback of the U-series is that there are no filters to tweak, so there are limits to its capabilities for use as a 'real' Synthesizer.

This is partially compensated for by the onboard DSP which allows Reverb and Chorus to be added to a Patch (simultaneously). This severely understates what is actually available.

The Reverb section provides:

The Chorus section can provide:

Some more features that I've come to like are:

Please Note - There is only memory for 64 Patches. So any new Patches will have to be saved over existing ones. If necessary, Copy/Save any Patches you wish to keep to a new memory location before over-writing them.

PCM Expansion Cards for the Roland U-220

The U-series set of Tones can also be expanded via the two provided slots for the SN-U110 and SN-MV30-S1 series of PCM cards. The additional Tones can open up considerable possibilities for the Roland U-220. The cards are available online, but are certainly not cheap. Buying three or four expansion cards (in the range of $25 to $55 each) may readily exceed the value of a used U-220. (Last retail price of these cards was $85 new.)

Given that there are newer machines available that will do the same or even a better job, you'd need to be fairly keen on using a Roland U-220 to justify the additional expense. I would recommend getting no more than two cards that could permanently occupy the available PCM card slots ... a compromise of sorts.

A list of available PCM cards is being compiled.

Ease of Use (6/10)

From a practical / physical perspective, using the Roland U-220 RS-PCM Sound Module is relatively straight forward when connecting to other equipment that uses standard MIDI DIN connectors. It is essentially a case of Plug'n'Play ... just how it should be.

Hooking the Roland U-220 up to newer USB MIDI gear however can be a little more complicated and potentially expensive. Though current software synths and some DAWs will most likely provide software support for this ageing hardware (you would need to check), this comes at a cost and won't help if you want to use the U-220 as a standalone device (e.g. as I do for use with the MIDI Guitar software).

While there was once a collection of Free/Shareware PC/Mac based MIDI applications (e.g. for Win 3, Win95, Win XP, etc.) that could serve as Patch Librarians and more, these won't run under Win7/8.

The current commercial MIDI software that supports the U-220 may cost more than twice as much as a preloved Roland U-220. Worth keeping in mind before you lash out and buy one of these antiques.

At some point all U-220 owners will be faced with the annoying problem of a dead or failing U-220 system memory battery. I have found a cheap but workable solution under Windows 7 for Restoring Roland U-220 Factory Preset Patches after replacing the battery ... details to come.

Build Quality (9/10) - Durability & Reliability (9/10)

There are times when age is actually an advantage. This often appears to be the case when it comes to Build Quality and Durability. It's not so much a question of where it was made, but rather how it was made and in particular that old standard called 'Quality Control'. So after what is now years, how has the Roland U-220 held up?

Aside from the very few issues mentioned below, the Roland U-220 RS-PCM Sound Module is built like a tank. The chassis/case is steel, the Rack Mount points are reinforced, the circuit boards are good quality and well laid out (allowing for repairs or mods if required) ... and importantly, the power supply is more than adequate for the task.

The U-220 that I recently acquired had the following issues:

Of course it wasn't until I replaced said failing battery, that I found out that doing so causes a Total Loss of System Data (includes all User Data, Patches etc.). This now requires the system data to be reinstalled. Thanks to the ongoing evolution of technology, this process is no longer as straight forward as it once was.

At some point all U-220 owners will be faced with the annoying problem of a dead, failed or failing U-220 system memory battery. Keith at Llama Music has provided a useful battery replacement 'How To' page here - U-20 / U110 / U220 Battery Replacement - Web Link External Link

Some Additional Notes

Failed U-220 Battery
Once the CR 2032 battery has failed, any user patches will probably have been lost and the U-220 may well be rendered utterly unusable. At this point some people sell their U-220 as 'broken' or 'for parts'. Which is fair enough, since there is no way to test anything at all with the U-220 in this condition.

However, replacing the battery and performing a Factory Reset (which involves downloading the original factory Sysex file to the U-220), should restore full operational capacity. But of course, there is no way to be sure until this has been tried, at which time any other failings may become apparent.

Under Windows XP you can literally play the factory Sysex.mid (yes, just a midi file) in Media Player and (as long as your MIDI connections are set up properly) the data will be reloaded into your U-220.

Under Windows 7 and up, it all gets more complicated and the easiest and most reliable method I've come across, is to get a small app from Bome called SendSX  External Link   This makes sending and receiving sysex data about as simple as it gets. It means that in future you can also download and save your patches (without paying $300+ for a universal patch editor). An article for Restoring Roland U-220 Factory Preset Patches after replacing the battery coming soon ... ok, eventually. (Just FYI - SendSX works on XP as well.)

Dim U-220 LCD Display
Also worth noting. Make sure that the LCD display backlight can still achieve full brightness. These displays are hard enough to read when they are working properly.

Please note that this is not a setting like the display sharpness. A failing (dim) display will mean a costly repair / replacement. Once the display backlight is gone, it will be very difficult to read.

Buying A U-220 For Parts
Almost a pointless exercise, given that there are very few separate parts inside the box. Most of the business happens on the Main-board.
There are:

Unless you have a spare U-220 or can pick up a dead unit for next to nothing, repairs are probably not a very realistic option, as any professional repairs are likely to cost more than the value of the device. That's part of the joy of owning/buying 'old stuff' (just ask my X-wife ;-)

Review Ratings:

Was this page useful?

Rate This Page:   


Page Ratings so far ...
  Excellent 15
  Very Good 1
  Useful 0
  Not Useful 0
  TOTAL 16


Your Comments:

160000 - (-----) None so far.

Incept Date: Wizard - 140223
Last Update: Wizard - 16105

All web site assets are
Hosting Provided by Big Red Roo Internet Services - Concept, Web Design and Maintenance by Wizard Graphics Australia