xv5080: Big Man on Campus

Best for: late 90's chase scenes


Behold, resplendent in grey trim, the big walla of 2000. Roland’s Luxury Yacht. It arrives as the pinnacle of the XV series and has a twinkle in the eye that says it will soon breed a lot of Fantoms. Any interest in Sword and Sandals will lead here, as it leads to the D-50 at the other end: the Great Men at the sides of A History. Sensible review.


It is a haughty machine, it has some reason to be, but also some some surprising failings. Let’s start with the good.


It has 128 voices, most patches having 2 voices you are seeing about 64 notes at any time coming out multiple stereo pairs and digital interfaces. It’s a film score machine, it has the breadth and the facility to make any reasonable Hollywood score by itself. Helicopter gunships, romantic interludes, dwarf parties – no problem for the 5080. The interface is very much about calling up a class of sound quickly. It feels different to the earlier JVs, although it’s not that different really, somehow the weirder material is masked by endless pianos and string sections. It feels more like a ROMpler that will pay for itself at a studio.


There’s plenty of performance modes and three MFX sections before you get to the chorus and reverb. That is, you could stack three sounds each with their own dedicated treatments before hitting the mixer and its two send effects. Unlike the Fantom, you can’t pass sounds through the three MFX units in series. MFX includes some pretty wack effects – the tape delay is great and the 3D panning is curious. The COSM sections are surprisingly fun – they can be utterly filthy, like busted smashed up piece of crap you found at a hock shop filthy. Although it’s not represented in the presets the 5080 can sound like the most evil wreckage.


Because frankly (and this where we slip over to the failings) the sound of this thing is not really an advance on the JVs. I pulled out my JV1010, a little mouse of thing, and set it against this elephant, playing the same patches. The 5080 is supposed to have more clarity but frankly any clarity from a sound source that’s been companded into 8-bits is a special kind of aliasing. To sum it up the 5080 is a warm dignified sound, perhaps aware that it will be used for masses of film music where too much bottom end coming from too many sounds at once will not do well on a theatre system.


You can add an EQ bump to each of the output channels individually (that in itself shows how much thought went into this thing) but it starts at 200Hz, so not much point.


The 5080 has sample memory, and it can play back AKAI and Roland sample CDs. At the time it made excellent sense, as sound designers had a stack of these and an AKAI sampler on the way to the skip. Right now its an obscurity; who has CDs? Who has a SCSI CD drive? A Zip drive? How do you save your patches with samples? The way Roland has set this up is very much of-the-moment and it is difficult to make work 14 years later.


Update – now added a SCSI Zip Disc. It’s still a bit of a chore to load up samples but is actually faster than a Compact Flash. The Zip is definitely the right fit for this period.


So apart from Collector’s Disease, why buy a XV5080? I would not. The   Fantom XR is probably a better idea altogether if you don’t need to install JV-80 cards described to the right.









Pick a card.


Now that I have a new pet XV5080 I must feed it. Fishtanks need a model deep sea diver with bubbles coming out the arse. Obese Roland ROMplers need a ROMple or two. Or up to 8 in this case. The Luxury Yacht includes more built in waves than all the previous models – 1,152 of them, although many of them are individual drum sounds, and some are those sounds played backwards which is a dreadful cheat. There’s nearly everything from banjos to sousaphones, and right there you see the problem – no one needs either of those damn things. There are some nice waveforms from the old JD990 and a few Jupiter 8 saws and suchlike. But you’ll want some specialist sounds.

ROMplers rely on the waveforms to hold most of the character, and then use mostly vanilla filters and so on to make changes to the sound. (Actually I’ve noticed that the filters are quite different on JDs and XVs. On this the filter goes ape at the halfway point – and not in a good way. I don’t know why they lost the old type which was more musical.)


The ROMs come in two types – newer SRX cards which are stupidly expensive, as much as some smaller synthesisers and so no thanks – and smaller and cheaper JV-80 types which are more at the hell-I’ll-give-it-chance level.


There’s an awful lot of orchestral and country and western and other genres. Not really interested. I’d rather try the oddballs.


Sound FX.


So this is based on a CD-ROM by Eric Pershing called Distorted Reality. It would probably have been cheaper to buy the CD if it was still around, and would also mean 640MB of samples, not a cut down 128MB. That was apparently a best selling sample library at one point. The good thing is a collection of complex textures with lots of harmonic movement. The bad thing is that you always get the whole sample – with the XV you can’t do the obvious thing of starting a loop somewhere in the middle and so every note is the same complex texture. The cure would have been to to provide multiple variations, and they didn’t. You instead get sound effects from Roland – an English train station for example – which are completely useless.


So it’s good for a few presets that come with the best samples, and they are very nice presets. Then you may try merge them faintly into the more static waveforms that come from the other ROMs. The percussive bangs and whooshes and clanks are OK for radio I guess but are going to be hard to use musically. That in a way is going to be the interest in this card, how much I can drag out of it.




This is one of those small-small-world numbers that could be really crap, but actually works out great. More than half the sounds here are people bashing bits of metal, gongs, bells and pots – all kinds of inharmonic sources. Which mix nicely with the basic samples to make ‘wavetable’ like sounds. Then you have some nice drones, odd plucks, and things like the ‘rain stick’ which is going to go places I can tell you.


In fact you will do best to care nothing about where the sound originated – just go ahead and use it. To hell with the world.


Vintage Synth


Includes waveforms from the famous KG, MG and OB synthesisers! Yes, most of these sound very similar -  a saw is a saw is a saw. But the ones that are unique do make an audible difference in the final sound. You will not get anything that sounds like 'the real thing', but 128 stacked Moog saws is worth a listen. Some people get particularly excited about this card installed in a JD990 - where you get different presets. Who the hell cares about presets? Works just fine in the XV.




Again cut down from a Spectrasonics CD-ROM. Plenty of choirs that aren't up to the ones you probably have on your laptop. Some Dahs and Doos plus the famous Greg Orian. I thought it was a nice way to round out the four XV slots available in the box. You're not going to use the sounds as they were intended, but as extra sauce on some of those KG and MG saws.

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