Roland S-50 Sampling Tips and Tricks

Roland S-50 Tips and Tricks
Roland S-50 Tips and Tricks

I have been working with my newly rejuvenated Roland S-50 sampler lately and thought I would create an article here about things I’ve encountered while sampling. These may or may not be tips or techniques of a special nature, but they may help those in trying to figure out a good workflow when using the Roland S-50 Sampler. I’ll start by writing some random thoughts about my experiences thus far with Sampling on the S-50. Please comment if you have any tips or experiences of your own that may be of use for either practice or in thought.

Lately, I have been skipping the WAV import using the computer directly to the Roland S-50. I find this to be time consuming and there doesn’t seem to be any software that works all that great. What works for me is to use one of my old Roland SP-808 samplers to store “one shot” sounds of various analog synths. For example, I have one 100MB Zip disk divided in banks with MOOG sounds. Each bank is title something like A-B-F#-G# where each letter represents a row of SP-808 pads with MOOG one shot key samples. This helps me to set the correct root key on the S-50. I then run the SP-808 out to the input of the S-50 and record direct. You could use virtually any sampler, but I have found my trusty old SP-808 to work well. Of course I have to use the WAV converter for the SP-808 to initially store samples, but then I can really fast play a pad and record onto the S-50. Note I don’t wish to tether a computer to the S-50 at this time.

Another thing I do a lot is record with 15kHz instead of 30. Beside getting more sampling time, I find the sound difference to be minimal quite frankly. This allows me to record lots of samples into the S-50 no problem. Of course I can use 30kHz or vary the sample lengths but I have found lowering the frequency to be very helpful. Also, since I mainly record one shots I don’t have to worry about looping or recording longer samples that much.

I usually set the gain and rec level as high as possible. When I dedicate my SP-808 to the S-50 I can keep all the volume settings the same which allows me to keep the samples similar in volume. I then just pop out the zip disk run to the computer and load more samples for recording if need be. I also find I like to record and create construction kits on the S-50. Thus I may have a series of zip disks categorized by drums, basses, guitars, synths, etc and then record the instruments I want to use for a particular construction kit or song. Basically I prefer S-50 disks to contain construction kits and my SP-808 zip disks to contain specific instruments. I find it takes me about 30 minutes to fully sample a new construction kit for creating a new song. I then save that kit onto a floppy disk for later use if needed.

I have found setting loop points on the S-50 to be rather difficult. I do find the auto loop function can work pretty well at times, but it’s often time consuming to bang out perfect loops so I mainly use the S-50 for one shots and then use the envelopes for tweaking. I first figure out whether a song instrument will require a long decay or not and then sample accordingly. If my Moog sound will be short and staccato like then I’ll sample 0.4 or 0.8 (x2 @15) and then just play my bass line. If I require a long decay I’ll simply record at .8 or 1.6 (x2 @15 ) instead of looping the sound. I have found that looping the end of a sound can also lower the tone or quality of the main sample for some reason. Thus if I don’t tamper with the sample and just play it, the sound is awesome. I do like to layer or use envelopes which works very well.

Sometimes I get the message “Not Execute” which took me a while to figure out that I was either missing a parameter under record or had an incorrect value. I found my sampling time was most often written incorrectly. If you get this error it simply means “carefully” check your entered values and correct the one that is not right.

All in all, I find sampling directly to the Roland S-50 to be rather painless and quite fun. If you sample to create a song construction kit then likely you’ll be able to enjoy the S-50 right away after you finished sampling your initial samples for the song. You can then quickly create your patches and then use Director-S to record the song. Then save the song and sound kit onto an S-50 disk and you can later use it for other songs. As mentioned I also find using an external sampler for storing samples to be very useful. You can then just hit record on the S-50 and press a pad on your external sampler with tons of samples available at your fingertips. On the computer I find myself “thinking” in terms of construction kits rather than filling up an S-50 disk with MOOG bass samples. It then becomes a fun and a rewarding challenge to use that sample construction kit to create a song.

I remember back in the day people having contests where a each person would have a floppy with the same construction kit on it. They then had a month to create a song and then everyone would vote on the song they liked. That used to be really fun because it put the song writing back into music rather than nowadays where people seem to want massive sample collections. The Roland S-50 is limited by today’s standard samplers, but I personally find these limitations inspire me more to create and play songs. The Roland S-50 “can” have plenty of polyphony and memory if you accept the limitations and just get down to writing a song with what you have. The old cliche “Simple is Best” can be true sometimes.

Soon I’ll be creating some videos based on constructions kits that I sampled for the S-50 and how I use these to create fun songs or sketchpad ideas. The Roland S-50 sounds fantastic and is really fun to play. I also find that any sound I sample into the Roland S-50, I can easily convert to any other format such as the S-550, S-330, W-30, or S-760. That’s not always the case the other way around.

Stay tuned for more thoughts and updates as I dive deeper into the Roland S-50.


10 thoughts on “Roland S-50 Sampling Tips and Tricks

  1. Some useful sample programs.

    Free editor that cuts audio sample CDs into separate WAV files. I use this for older audio sample CDs that require splitting.

    Free Batch Resampling – Resamples Wav files into 44.1Khz 16bit for use with the Roland SP-808 which I use as an external audio source to play samples into the Roland S-50.

    Extremely useful program that I use for fast auditioning of a large number of samples. You just use the arrow key and it zips right through them. It’s not free, but well worth the price. Extreme Sample Converter

  2. This week I managed to get most of my favorite sample CDs onto Roland SP-808 zips for sampling into the S-50.

    Zero-G Datafile 1
    Zero-G Datafile 2
    Zero-G Datafile 3

    E-MU Mo Phatt
    E-Mu Orbit
    E-Mu Proteous

    E-MU Formula 4000 Series vol.3 – Analog Odyssey

    X-Static Goldmine 1
    X-Static Goldmine 2
    X-Static Goldmine 3
    X-Static Goldmine 4
    X-Static Goldmine 5

    Plus most of my Emax and Ensoniq Samples.

    It’s going to be fun recording and sequencing 80’s and early 90’s stuff with the S-50 now.

  3. Ralf Busch

    Hi Jim,

    it´s very nice to hear about users staying in touch with the Roland S-Samplers. I still own an early S-50, I havn´t used for more than 20 years. in 1989 I bought a W-30 that became my favorite Workstation until 1998. After reading your article about the S 50 I will turn it on again as soon as possible. There´s also a DT 100 Tablett and a RC 100 Remote in the case. Maybe it will still working as in the first days. I will let you know. Just one question: Do you have any ideas how to convert the old Roland S 50 or W 30 Patches (Floppy) into exs Instruments with the loop, patch and tone data?

    Best Regards Ralf (Velbert, Germany)

    1. Hi Ralf! Thanks for visiting my blog.

      I’m not exactly sure about the answer to your question, but lately I’ve had lots of success with both AWAVE Studio and Extreme Sample Converter for sample conversions. If you haven’t tried those, I would recommend those for starters. The tool SMFW30 can also extract WAVs, but I don’t think it keeps the loop intact. Not sure. As I mentioned in my notes here I don’t usually loop the samples but rather use envelopes to get the sound I need. Thus I’m not that much “in the know” about it unfortunately.

      The DT100 is great by the way for drawing synth wavs in the S-50 if correct. I’m currently considering picking one up. The RC-100 is great for attaching the DT100 to for use with the S-330. Both the DT-100 and RC-100 are hard to find items so I recommend hanging on to those. The Mouse is the most highly sought after accessory though so hopefully you have one of those.

      Thanks again!


  4. Here’s an update of my Roland S-50 workflow. I’ve been ironing out a few kinks along the way and I think I finally have a system that is both fast and “musically” useful for me.

    First a few preferences for my sample style.

    1. I am only interested in “one shot” samples for the S-50. I have found “looping” by and large to be quite tedious and time consuming with the S-50.

    2. By using the “envelope” editing section of the S-50 I can great enhance the one shot samples to make them a little easier to play without looping if required.

    3. If I require sustained notes, I’ll simply sample longer times or perhaps I “may” try to loop one sample but not all of them.

    4. My style of playing is 80’s and early 90’s so one shot samples work well in this case.

    Now, here’s my flow:

    1. I first get the samples I want to have in the Roland S-50. In this case the entire preset bank for E-MU’s Mo Phatt.

    2. I use Extreme Sampler Converter to audition the samples which is awesome because it’s very fast for this job. I then remove all the auto loops as I’m only interested in “one shots”. I then quickly audition the loops one by one paying special attention to bass samples. The Bass Samples usually have excessive clicks and pops at the end which I then process with “fade out” in ESC. The bass samples then sound perfect.

    3. I Convert the Samples to WAV files with all the edits in place us ESC.

    4. I then run all of the samples through SOX using a batch file ( supplied with the program ) that effectively converts all the samples into nice 44.1kHz 16 bit files ( Required for the Roland SP-808 Wav Import Program ).

    5. I then batch drag and drop these to the Roland SP-808 converter program that allows me to load all 480 of the Mo Phatt samples in this case onto a 100MB zip disk. This takes about 5 minutes after which I then have the entire Mo Phatt sample set on the zip disk.

    6. Finally I throw the zip disk into my Roland SP-808 for trigger playback using the pads. I connect the SP-808 outs to the Roland S-50 ins and Sample away!

    With a .04 @ 30kHz or 0.4×2@15kHz I can “easily” sample 32 samples into all 32 tone slots in both A and B banks of the Roland S-50. I simply go through the SP-808 banks and when I find a sample I want, I simply sample it into the S-50. I usually have to set my gain, rec volume, etc beforehand and then just keep things the same. I can usually sample all 32 tones in a matter of minutes if I know exactly what samples I want. Otherwise, it’s mainly going through the samples and quickly sampling them as I find them. This can take longer, but the point is I’m having fun sampling and playing music rather than being in front a computer editing all day long.

    TIP: I also usually try to find 32 samples that could be collectively used in a “construction kit” or a song. I don’t want to be flipping around floppy disks so when I do a sample session I try to keep things simple and work on a song by song basis. Thus when I search for samples on the SP-808 it’s keeping one song in mind rather than just sampling all bass sounds.

    When I’m all done, I then boot up Director-S for the S-50 and start recording some songs or groove tracks. Before that I have to make patches of course. I usually split 4 samples in one patch at one octave a piece. With 4 tracks to record on, that gives me 16 tones to work with. I can add more of course if required to even use all 32 tones. Layering tones is also easy to if so desired along with velocity switching.

    When I’m done I save the data to a floppy and label it Song Kit #1 or whatever number I’m up to.

    I have found the BIGGEST problem people have with the Roland S-50 is that they don’t know how to get all the samples they want on the machine. By working with one shots and using an external sampler for auditioning and sampling into the S-50, I find the process is much faster. I remember watching some Paul Hardcastle videos where he used the Roland S-10. He had great samples coming out of that thing and they pretty much were all short one shot oriented sounds. I have nothing against looping the sounds but I do find it time consuming and it does degrade the “root” sound a little bit. A lot of 80’s and early 90’s music was kind of staccato based. For example the patch “Lately Bass” was used extensively on 90’s records from the Yamaha TX81z sound module. That “Lately Bass” sound is very short and “one shot” oriented which fit perfectly into that genre of music. The S-50 is wonderful for this sort of thing. It’s when you do more ambient or long drawn out sample work that the S-50 becomes more of a challenge.

    As a kid who grew up in the 80’s during the Yamaha DX-7 boom, the Roland S-50 is awesome for that “Pop Goes the World” synthpop stuff. If I stick to that, I have loads of fun with the Roland S-50.


  5. Here a few more pointers about the Roland S-50 that I’ve encountered while sampling a construction kit for song building.

    Initial Root Key sampling
    1. Make sure you sample on different octaves or keys. With drums you might want to sample the bass drum onto the C0, C1, or C2 for example, then the snare could be on D2, and so on. If you sample on the same key then when you create the drum patch you won’t be able to use both samples on the same key. You would then have to re-pitch the sample which is fine but you can avoid that step by simply planning your sampled keys beforehand. Likewise with instrument samples. If you want to have several split instruments in one patch, then you should sample accordingly so that when you assign samples to keys it’s much easier. Thus you can sample your bass octave from C2, strings from C3, and then orchestra hits from C4 for example.

    Deleting Split Patch Tone Assignments
    2. If you keep one tone blank ( I use tone 48 ) you can easily delete sample key assignments in split mode. That seems to be the only way I can find to remove the sample assigned to a particular key other than using another sample. If I select tone 48 which is blank it will create a silent key when allocated. I believe if you start with an initialized patch or template this will not be a problem as all key assignments will be silent.

    Evenlope Usage and Loop Points
    3. Making use of the tone envelopes really helps to smooth out samples and make them sound better. I usually set the last envelope from 127 to something between 65-85. Adjusting the attack also helps which I set to 110 on the very first envelope sometimes. You can also adjust the beginning and end of the loop time to erase clicks if they sneak in as well.

    Using one bank for drum tones
    4. Another organizational tip is to allocate bank A or B for your Drum Samples. You have 16 tone slots there that you can use for drums, percussion, and hits. Try to sample on different keys and then you can use the entire bank B for one patch split across the keys. Then use Bank A for sampling in your bass, guitar, keys, vocals, and any other sounds that you will be using for different patches. Keep in mind that if you use the Director-S sequencer that allocating Bank B to one patch will leave you with 3 other patches to lay down tracks. The Director-S sequencer only allows recording from 4 patches at a time. Thus I use Bank B for my drum and percussion track, while Bank A is used to cover the other three available tracks using an additional 16 tones. Of course you could reverse that as well.

    Overall creating patches is very easy and quite fun, but you need to carefully consider what keys you sample to originally in order to better organize your samples on a split patch. Remember that split patches are extremely useful when using the Director-S Sequencer because you can only use four tracks at a time. If you want to use all 32 tones you will need to spread them out across your keyboard using splits. If the original keys are not well thought out, then you could be spending a lot of extra time doing additional pitch work with your samples that could be prevented doing your initial sampling.


  6. UDPATE:

    After much success with the Roland SP-808 I’ve opted to switch to the Roland S-760 for sample import and playback for getting sounds into the Roland S-50. It much much easier to import wav samples into the Roland S-760 and then in turn sample them into the Roland S-50. It’s also much faster.

    I now working on getting everything onto MO disks for feeding the Roland S-760. As you can see I’ve been collecting for quite a long time.

    Zero-G Datafile 1
    Zero-G Datafile 2
    Zero-G Datafile 3

    E-MU Mo Phatt
    E-Mu Orbit
    E-Mu Proteous

    OMI E-MU Emulator II Universe of Sounds Volume 1
    OMI E-MU Emulator II Universe of Sounds Volume 2
    Northstar E-MU Emulator II Universe of Sounds Volume 3

    E-MU Formula 4000 Series vol.1 – Hip Hop Nation
    E-MU Formula 4000 Series vol.3 – Techno Trance
    E-MU Formula 4000 Series vol.3 – Analog Odyssey
    E-MU Formula 4000 Series vol.3 – Earth Tones

    E-MU Emulator II 1984 Collection Volume 1
    E-MU Emulator II 1984 Collection Volume 2
    E-MU Emulator II 1984 Collection Volume 3
    E-MU Emulator II 1984 Collection Volume 4
    E-MU Emulator II 1984 Collection Volume 5

    Roland S-550 Universe of Sounds Volume 1
    Roland S-550 Universe of Sounds Volume 2
    Roland S-55 L-CD1 Collection

    X-Static Goldmine 1
    X-Static Goldmine 2
    X-Static Goldmine 3
    X-Static Goldmine 4
    X-Static Goldmine 5

    Emax II Elements of Sound Volume 1
    Emax II Elements of Sound Volume 2
    Emax II Elements of Sound Volume 3
    Emax II Elements of Sound Volume 4

    Emax II Universe of Sounds Volume 1 – Sound Effects
    Emax II Universe of SoundsVolume 2 – Sound Effects
    Emax II Universe of SoundsVolume 3 – Percussion, Rock & Ethnic
    Emax II Universe of SoundsVolume 4 – Orchestra Plus

    Emax II Sonic Images Volume 1 – Percussion & Musical Effects
    Emax II Sonic Images Volume 2 – Stack Sounds

    Fairlight CMI II Factory Presets
    E-MU Emulator II Presets
    Ensoniq EPS Classic Presets
    Roland S-50, S-550, S-330, W-30, and S-760 Presets

    Syntec Wall of Sounds vol.1 – General Purpose
    Syntec Wall of Sounds vol.2 – World of E-mu Morpheus & Roland JV-1080
    Syntec Wall Of Sounds vol.3 – General Purpose for EMU
    Syntec Wall of Sounds vol.4 – Precious Synthy Sounds
    Syntec Wall of Sounds vol.5 – World of Oberheim Matrix 12
    Syntec Wall of Sounds vol.6 – Super Strings
    Syntec Wall of Sounds vol.7 – World of FM
    Syntec Wall Of Sounds vol.8 – General Purpose

    E-MU Classic Series Volume 1 – Emulator Standards
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 2 – More Emulator Standards
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 3 – Orchestral
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 4 – SFX
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 5 – World Instruments
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 6 – World Percussion Ensembles
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 7 – E-MU Classics
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 8 – Vintage
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 9 – Psychic Horns
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 10 – Elements of Sound
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 11 – Elements of Sound
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 12 – ESI-32 Production Soundset
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 13 – Dance 2000
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 14 – General Midi
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 15 – Dan Dean Bass Collection
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 16 – Studio Drum Kits and Percussion
    E-MU Classic Series Volume 17 – Heavy Guitars

  7. M

    Hey Jim,
    I recently fixed my s50, I bought a hxc emulator drive for it, amazing bit of gear, I’m so glad someones made something so great bits of gear like this can be usable again, now I just gotta hope my monitor holds up.

    You dont happen to have an image of the Director-S software or know of any place to get it?

    Thanks muchly,

  8. Jason

    Great article, and a big help with my “new” (to me, anyway) S-550, which took some repair to get working, but I’m loving it. You mention working better/more creatively when options are limited — I concur, and it’s an approach that has resolved the “option paralysis” I tended to suffer when looking at the dozens of VSTs and sample libraries I (mostly) impulse-bought and now rarely use! The relatively extreme limitations of these old samplers and other gear have (ironically, I suppose) reawakened the muse for me in many ways. Thanks again, this and many of your articles have been a big help, and all the best to you.

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