V-Synth XT: what’s in a name?

Best for: fuzzy buzzy grainy and granular


Roland loves to make up new names. The least change brings on the most flamboyant wording, in those special ‘space’ fonts that Roland and SONY adore. If you took every technology that Roland had announced in the 00’s, shook them up and put them all in the one show bag you’d get the V-Synth XT. That confection gets a new name: Elastic Audio Synthesis.


The V stands for Variphrase, a time stretching algorithm that first appeared in 2000 on the VP9000 sampler. To a decent extent it lets you play sounds up and down the keyboard without chipmunks, but more fun is that you can position your sample playback at will throughout the duration of a sound. It’s entirely possible to bow through sounds with a LFO and get some sweet cacophony, smoother than the old ASR-10 glitch. That’s about a year before Ableton Live was released and perhaps a bit too early for the punters – the VP9000 was not a success.


Back they came in 2003 with the original V-synth keyboard, still a sampler, which added COSM in place of the filter stage. So yes you can have filters, but instead choose from wide range of ‘foot pedals’ for fuzz, comb, side-band filters and so on, with the usual envelopes. Alongside the sample playback you now find virtual analogue oscillators taken from earlier Roland keys – a D50 saw, a Juno square, the feedback and supersaw from the 8080 and so on. To connect up the signal flow – a touch screen. The whole shebang goes through the familiar MFX effects at the end of it all.


Apparently again the punters were confused by this thing that looked a bit like a Fantom and made weird shit noises. Spurned, unrequited, Roland went in for a third glut of technology.


In 2005 the XT introduced a new operating system with new oscillators. Where before it was possible to buy (expensive) plug in cards that changed the machine into a D-50 or a VP-330, these are now built in, live switching, ready at the touch of the screen – which is now in living colour. All the old weird sounds are replaced with good old techno and crowd pleasers. IF YOU DO NOT LOVE THIS SYNTHESISER WE WILL MAKE YOU.


I’m not sure the one man bands and accordion guys loved this synthesiser. One more model after this announced yet another new technology called A-P Synthesis which I suspect then became Supernatural and on it goes.




Still, the V-Synth XT is a prized antique and I went through no end of fuss to get a hold of one from Japan (soon after there was one cheaper in Australia, kill me). Mine comes in a bag which has a bum flap, so that you can hook up the cables and leave it in the bag, which is adorable. It’s built hard but not too heavy, it was an expensive toy in 2005 (about $3500 in current USD).


The presets are the usual half shit and half show off the features. You can kill them all. I keep the first one ‘The V CODE’ which has a Latin recitation that can be played in chords without speed changes or re-starting the sample, as mnemonic of what Variphrase is all about. (You might also want to keep 'Comet' so you can knock out Kraftwerk's Tour De France Soundtracks LP.) You can then also kill the audio samples to regain some of the RAM, so out go all the shitty drum loops.


To be honest the time stretching is the least exotic feature from a 201x perspective. We’ve oohed and aaahed quite a lot at that in the last few years. Variphrase is not too dissimilar to the warps in Live in that it has algorithms and modes which are appropriate for different sources. I am having some trouble with loop points. Even tiniest click get time stretched into a solid clunk and you won’t know it’s there until you run the variphrase process. Better that you stick to single shot sounds


I’m spending most time with the virtual synthesis. An example – on a real JP8080 you get only one feedback oscillator at a time, in mono. No such problem here and it sounds encouragingly awful when you try chords. The COSM filters are very musical, for example there’s a patch that gives you an upper and lower filter pair that make a bandpass – when I turned that on I was worried to see the resonance at 100 percent. On an XV that means instant death through howling flatulence. But as with the D50, the filters aren’t trying to be real, and the effect is very sweet.


Speaking of D50’s, yes the emulation is spot on and saves me some rack space.


Actually come to think of it, if I had to describe the V-Synth I’d say it’s a bit like a latter day  D-50 and I can see why they bundled the older machine. It has its own unique sound, not much like a ‘real’ analogue, but the same kind of sound design involved. The sound is crisp, buzzy, a bit like a electric organ at times.


I hazard the guess that the XT was one of the last times a hardware manufacturer took on VST software in a direct fight, only to lose that unfair battle. Like the RADIAS which is from around the same period, being too much like a VST, well it just reminds you how much easier VSTs can be. Better to claim the elitist territory where a few simple physical controls work a simple and harsh subtractive synthesis.








It was either this or a red car and I think I chose wisely.