Keyboard: 61 keys (with velocity)
Maximum Polyphony: 64 voices
Tones: 614 + 256 (GM2), Drum Sets: 61 + 9 (GM2) => can’t be either modified or edited
Effects: Multi-FX: 47 types, Reverb: 8 types, Chorus: 8 types => fx quantity can be set
Transpose: -12 to + 12 (in semitones) with direct octave transpose for each part (main, dual, split)
130 styles – 3-type Band Orchestrator: Drum & Bass, Combo, Full Band
«One Touch» setting: 2 settings/style
User Program: 100 programs
16-track Recorder Mode: 4 easy modes (ALL, Keyboard, Single, Punch In/Out) => 1 single song!
Rated Power Output: 7.5 W + 7.5 W – Speaker Dimension: 10cm
Connectors: Output Jacks (L/MONO, R), 2x Headphone Jack, MIDI Connectors (IN, OUT), Foot Switch Jack
Dimensions: 1045 (W) x 320 (D) x 128 (H) mm / 41-3/16 (W) x 12-5/8 (D) x 5-1/16 (H) in
Weight : 7.3 kg/16 lbs. 2 oz.
My main criticism aims at the recorder mode: why 16 tracks? To record a rhythmic patters??? Well, a mere 2-3 tracks would have been enough to study. Or, they could have equipped it with a memory card reader or USB connector for MIDI files playing: this would have made the 16 tracks useful.
Just a little something regarding the amplification (which I won’t criticize in itself as it sounds awesome): with a device that heavy, a stronger amplification would have been appreciated. I believe 2*10W wouldn’t have made the whole much heavier, while I found it lacked a little power.
All elements are easy and quick to access : you choose the instrument mode if need be, then a controller for each part: main, dual or split. Attention: you can’t have main+dual+split, onli EITHER main/dual OR main/split.
Choosing a tone is quickly done (using its number) provided you know all 600 of them by heart; otherwise, it’s ranked in categories, ala Roland!
You can program your own sound setting and record them inperformance files (well, in user programs). By the way, it would have been even better if all these user programs had been accessible through their categories, while to recall one you have to dial its number; making it accessible through a single button would have been more convenient!
The keys lack depth compared with other keyboards (which is surprising but you get used to it) and its touch is rather firm.
The included user manual is in English only, for other languages you’ll have to go download the corresponding version from Roland’s website.
The grade I gave it takes the playing mode into account: you can’t get Main, Dual AND Split… Granted, I’m not using it everyday, but in this price range other keyboards allow this.
It also takes into account the lack of subtelty of the way user programs are managed. Frankly, allowing to access it through category folders with a single button instead of entering the program number (which you additionally have to enter at the exact right moment) would have been more than welcome!
As for the styles, a quick access to the “Auto Bass” or “Bass to Lowest” functions (allowing to play bass chords according to the chord’s lowest note) would have been a nice addition. If you’re lazy like me and often change chords, you’ll get lost as chord recognition is pitiless: playing F9 with a C as first note generates a C6/4 on this keyboard!
In order to put my review in perspective, I must precise that I’ve used this keyboard for slightly over a week now and I also own a GEM PK7. I needed another keyboard with new sounds to play with a band: no sequencer, great rhythms and so on were needed, I only wanted a keyboard to be played! As far as that is concerned, I’m more than happy. I like its touch, which is both soft and firm. You can feel a resistance, the keys aren’t pressed “passively”. Yet, I still have trouble finding the right amount of pressure to apply for the exact right velocity I’m after.
Recalling user programs can be a problem for live performance if you happen to switch instruments a lot during a same song: you need to take the time to enter the program number. You can’t get from 12 to 18 in a single click! Even if dedicated buttons allow to switch with the previous/next program, you’ll need to program everything carefully!
First, the way sounds are organised per “category” is really fine, except for the fact I don’t understand how come harpsichords & co (clavinets, xylophones…) are considered “Organs” while they’re actually “Keyboards”. The same goes for the harp which is located in the “World” folder instead of “Strings”, and so on… Some instruments are out of place.
All in all, you get:
- pianos: no comment, all are excellent with a great, long-lasting sustain, a real depth, a lively sound reproduction.
- electric pianos: I’m not convinced by the Rhodes (except for #15: “Wurly”), otherwise they’re pretty correct.
- organs : a very versatile collection, you’ll find whatever you’re after ! (with a special mention for the “puff organ”).
- accordion: nice musette ahead with the adequate instrument, with a rather realistic result.
- chromatic percussions: marimba, xylophone. No objection, very nice carillons and harpsichords (by “nice” I mean “realistic compared with a real-life instrument”!).
- acoustic guitars: well… it’s much less convincing. For a classical (nylon string) guitar sound, it sounds “short” and lacks resonance. Chords vanish very quickly, even with a sustain pedal… 12-string guitar is average, and the steel guitars are fine but nothing special, both regarding its realism and sustain – still short. Not convincing…
- electric guitars: the clean guitar sounds are really good. Using effects, you can get convincing renditions of famous rock songs. As for electric saturations, they’re… saturated, sometimes too much (avoid long-sustained notes…).
- basses: great! Acoustic, electric, all are really good! Plus, the keyboard’s internal, “mini” (10cm) amplification system renders them very well! With a bit of pitch bend, you get stunning slides!
- strings: well… avoid solo strings (violins, viola…), they’re really not good-sounding… all the opposite compared with ensemble strings…
- choirs: “Aah”s son’t sound too good (my GEM really does MUCH better), yet soft (MellowChr,humming) and special (VoiceDoos) choirs are really nice!
- Sax/Brass: just DON’T! except for the 2-3 first on the list, they really lack realism (I have a sax playing brother, so I can all the more judge).
- woodwinds are a nice surprise: very good flute (a nice, well-placed vibrato), others (clarinets…) are standard, nothing special.
- acoustic brass: somewhat realistic, better avoided for solo sounds, better get through MIDI sequences or another playing system…
- synth brass: good brass sounds. You get rather realistic ensemble sounds, provided they’re played correctly. You even get that “Jump” sound!!
- synth lead/pad: up to everyone’s taste. I managed to find what I was after, with a certain disappointment for the GM norm standards (halopad, sweeppad…) compared with my GEM: it lacks flavour, dynamics, warmth…
- world ½: ethnic sounds (with a special mention for the sitar), Asian and so on. I don’t use them, but they seem pretty well done (banjo, santur...).
I come from a 4intro/variations/fill-in/ending arranger with drums+bass+3 instruments, and this one provides 2intro/2variations/1Fill-in/2endings including drums+bass+2 instruments (if I heard well, I can’t tell for sure if it’s 2 or 3).
I lost in variations and number of backing instruments.
Variations are less numerous, almost empty with empty patterns, they don’t fill in!!!
The backing tracks themselves lack variety, not rich enough, no “impro-style” things.
It reminds me of Casios and other low-end keyboards that boast to feature hundreds of rhythms with a single variation each… Hardly good enough for self-accompanying on a single song. I’m not criticizing the quality of the sounds or adequacy of the rhythms, only their contents. In brief:
First, the feeling left after browsing all rhythms is how “electronic” they sound. Many of them have an “electronic” variation – what I mean by “electronic” is electronic sounds (see the drumkit), electronic-style that immediately remind of some R’n’B, hip hop, soul, electro, house tracks. Not much here is folk/traditional, anyway – influences are mainly US/UK. Still, Roland also included Eastern & Asian rhythms, and even if we (Western users) won’t necessarily use them, they prove really immersive! I’ll get back to it after reviewing all kinds of styles:
Rock: for all 6: a great ballad and a great, punchy rock. All the rest is about electronic rock version and a (bad imo) “Power Rock”: not really well done, hard to make a good rock song on it…
Dance: Err… 15 rhythms to be chosen from: difficult to really find nothing suitable!!! Hats off! Everything’s here with great electronic sounds, from 70s disco to modern house music. I’ll admit I’m satisfied, you definitely will find a rhythms for such or such style!!!!
8Beat: 12 settings. A little less diversity: you really feel that “electro/pop” style I mentioned before. Except for 2 rhythms that match what you’d expect, you get guitars when you’d expect pianos, or a way too percussive drumset for a would-be “romantic” ballad…
16Beat: 10 rhythms for a nice pop sound. You’ll get what it takes to reproduce many UK tracks!
Jazz:6 possibilities and not much originality. It remains standard, classic, sounds almost empty in the end: the patterns just seem to loop, with nothing original compared to what other keybords offer.
Latin: 9 choices. A bit like for Jazz, it’s all standard with no innovation. You let it take you to Latin land, but with no real exaltation.
Traditional: 15 rhythms from polka to reggae to country, 6/8th and ska! The latter is slow (125) but nice, while the blues don’t sound that bluesy (one is electric, the other is gospel-style and lacks energy). I was disappointed by the 6/8. What about ternary ballads???
Ballroom : the 17 different rhythms offered include the classic mambo, beguine and cha-cha, which are of standard quality, and waltz which lacks… a bit of… practice? I’m a little disappointed by rumba and its guitar that lacks character.
World: in a nutshell: 11 Eastern rhythms, 4 Indonesian, 3 Thai, 3 Russian, 4 Chinese and 2 Koreans. They conform to their origins. Unless I change style, I’m not likely to use them.
This leads me to add something on these World rhythms. I can’t see the interest of including them in a “for all” synth: I wish different versions had been available, one general and the other specifically Eastern. Hence, with a normal version you’d get 32 new rhythms to expand your choices, like, say, 2 bossa, 2 Vienna waltz… (plus a gospel?). As for the Eastern version it would feature Eastern (including Asian) styles PLUS controls for quarter tones, “Arabic scale”. This would justify the whole (GEM has done that for years, Yamaha and others are starting to follow).
Regarding chord recognition, everything’s alright. By the way, be careful about your chord positions! As I said in the previous section, playing a reversed F9 chord with C – F – G – A won’t give you an F9 but a C6/4! No way to get a F9/C, I changed the Bass inversion parameter but that’s how it works. I’ll have to change the way I’m used to work.
Regarding the “One Touch” mode which allows to have 2 sound presets in relation with the chosen style, I haven’t tried them all but yhose I tried seem to me a bit off. Like, you expect it to provide you with the kind of sounds you’s expect, but it really doesn’t work and you’ll have to make a “user program”…
The lack of variations can be compensated by the “band orchestrator” system: you can select the number of accompanying instruments. Quite useful for lighter passages in a song. Plus, when you get into “Combo” mode you get the same result: you keep the drums alone (not the other instruments) when you take your fingers off the keyboard.
All in all regarding those rhythms: you get standard, classic, with heavy “pop/electro” influences. For an “entry level” product, it’s correct, just the least to be expected. Except for some rhythms that could suit me, I can’t find what I want. So it can suit you if you tried and liked it or if it’s your pick as a first keyboard ever, but it may not if you’re more demanding!
I’ve compared before buying (I know what I’m “leaving”, but don’t know yet what’s ahead of me), the choice was long to be made but here’s what I have to say:
Regarding sound quality, my GEM has been faithful and reliable for 10 years now and I’ll use it for as long as it works! Back then, it offered an awesome value-for-money at around 900€: use it to read a MIDI file and you get a good sound, while these days use a Yamaha/Roland/Kork and use it for same, you’ll get low-end sounds that don’t even sound good at all… Nowadays, unless you use all kind of effects and/or the keyboard’s specific instruments (so make specific use of the XG, GS), the result sounds a catastrophe. GM(2) compatibility seems to have run its course, and one now has to stick to THE norm of ONE’s manufacturer…
Still, the E-09’s sounds are great for live playing, and/or with a band… But for MIDI sequences and/or use with a PC, you’ll have to edit the file(s)!!!!
Still, I’d gladly go with Roland again as its sounds are warmer and more lively, fill more space and don’t sound compressed or confined in a reduced space (the entire frequency range is rendered correctly). Even if most sounds don’t sound European, the result is more than acceptable, better than with a Yamaha or Korg (very synthetic and nor exactly realistic on some points). Even after testing Yamaha’s new range (S500 => S900) and Korg’s Pas, I wasn’t convinced by those: excessive vibrato, too much effects… Most often there was a “but”, why the Roland drives me to “fine sound”, “waow, nice fx”, “good rendition”, “so, I can play it that way”, and so on.
All in all, I’m completing my “old” yet high-quality music gear with a keyboard that offers a vast array of sounds that are a feast to my ears !
One last thing, regarding its 500€ price tag: I’m not a specialist but I believe Roland could do better, I would have preferred it closer to the 400€ mark…
So, I’ll adapt and moderate my rating considering how I really need to use it, as that the cons I found won’t interfere much with my needs (except for the user programs) and that it remains an entry-level keyboard with very sound arguments!