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
4MB of ROM
2 Demo Songs
| 128 Tones / Voices (Preset)
128 Timbres (Editable)
64 Patches (Editable)
4 (B2 to C7, 61 notes)
|30 Notes / Voices
6 + Rhythm
|DSP||Chorus x 3
Flanger / Short Delay
Room / Hall / Delay
|Output impedance:||1.2 kΩ|
|Controls||VOLUME control knob
PART / INST buttons, CURSOR 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
|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|
|MIDI Connectors|| Standard MIDI
IN / OUT / THRU
|Audio Output Terminals (6)|| MIX OUT L (Mono) / R
DIRECT OUT 1 L / R
DIRECT OUT 2 L / R
|FIXED / VARIABLE switch|
|Power Consumption||20 Watts|
|Supply Voltage||AC - 117V / 220V / 240V|
|Memory Battery||Lithium CR2032
(Standard PC Battery)
5 years expected battery life
|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)|
The Included MIDI cable Is for MIDI only.
It cannot be used for DIN SYNC or Audio.
|Optional Items / Accessories:|
|Stereo headphone RH-100|
|Audio cable PJ-t M|
|MIDI / SYNC cable
|Factory Preset Patch List|
|01||Acoust Piano||33||Soft Trumpet|
|13||E.Organ 3||45||Future Pad|
|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|
|Factory Preset Drum Sets|
|R-1||Standard Set||R-3||Electric Set|
|R-2||Dry Set||R-4||F.X. Set|
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The 19" rack mount Roland U-220 RS-PCM Sound Module is derived from the Roland U-20 Keyboard , 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 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
How to change the battery and more ...
• From Roland - Roland U-220 RS-PCM Sound Module - Owners Manual PDF
• From Synfo.NL - Roland U-220 RS-PCM Sound Module - Service Manual PDF
• From SynthMania - MP3 examples of Roland U-220 Factory Preset Patches & more
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:
- Reverb - Room1, 2 & 3 (Sharply defined Reverb with a broad spread)
- Hall 1 & 2 (Smooth Reverb with greater depth than Room)
- Gate (Gated or sharply muted Reverb with artificially fast decay)
- Delay (Standard Delay / Echo Effect)
- Cross Delay (Ping Pong from left to right, etc.)
Available control parameters are:
- Delay Time, Delay Level and Feedback
The Chorus section can provide:
- Chorus 1, Chorus 2
- FB - Chorus
- Short Delay
Available Chorus control parameters are:
- Output as Pre or Post Reverb
- Level, Delay Time, Rate, Depth and Feedback
Some more features that I've come to like are:
- Key Range (Part / MIDI):
The ability to allocate each of the Timbres in a Patch to a specific range of notes (or even a single note for special effects sounds). For example; this allows the controlling keyboard to be split into (up to) 6 distinct regions of any size, with or without overlap in the regions.
Particularly handy for use with MIDI Guitar, as it allows a guitar chord to be roughly divided into multiple instruments.
- Velocity Threshold (Part / MIDI):
This is set up on a per Part (1 to 6) basis and therefore applies to individual Timbres.
A simple example would be to set up Part 1 as a Fingered Bass which is triggered by Velocity settings Below 99 (1-99) and Part 2 as Slap Bass for Velocity settings Above 100 (100-127). Both Parts need to be set to Receive (Rx) on the same MIDI channel.
- Pitch Settings (Timbre / Pitch):
Of the several Pitch related controls available, I particularly like the ability to change the Pitch of a Timbre in both whole and partial notes (cents). This works great for creating harmonies between the Timbres used in a Patch and/or for Detune effects.
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:
- Missing / Broken Volume Control Knob - Apparently not an uncommon issue. The Volume Control is the only thing that protrudes from the front panel, so it will be the first thing to get hit if the U-220 is dropped or roughly handled in transit. A flat dial control (though not as easy to use) would have prevented this problem.
- Sleeve for the Power Switch (which also holds the Data Exchange Indicator LED) had come loose - Another common and not at all surprising problem given that this plastic bezel is held in place with a couple of dobs of Hot Glue. A couple of mounting screws would have avoided this issue ... some fresh Hot Glue will however quickly fix it again.
- Dead Battery for the System Memory - Given that the CR2032 Lithium Battery (same as those found in most PCs) was only ever expected to last 5 years at most, it's amazing that the U-220 that I now have was still functional at all.
The dead battery issue is mentioned here only because the basic System Data (includes factory defaults) could have been stored in a non-volatile ROM chip for only a modest additional per unit cost.
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
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 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.
LCD Display Panel
PCM Card Holder Board (just a mount for the card holders)
Power Supply Board.
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 ;-)
- Features - 7 / 10
- Sounds / Samples / Patches - 8 / 10 (very good considering their age)
- Ease of Use - Interface & Editing - 6 / 10
- Build Quality - 9 / 10
- Durability & Reliability - 9 / 10
- Value for Money - 5 /10 (due mainly to the cost of Expansion Cards and/or required MIDI Software)
- Overall Average Score ... 7 / 10
160000 - (-----) None so far.
Incept Date: Wizard - 140223
Last Update: Wizard - 160924