Roland S-50 Vintage Sampler Workstation

Roland S-50 Sampler
Roland S-50 Sampler

Happy New Year everyone!

I was very busy over the New Year Holidays, but found a spare moment to run into one of my favorite used music shops called “Hard Off” here in Nagano-city, Japan. To my surprise, I found a bundled Roland S-50 for $10 bucks! Geez, I’ve been tinkering with my other one for ages with the Static Output problem and so I thought Wow! Might I get lucky and find a Roland S-50 in perfect working order? Well, not quite. I actually found the Roland S-50 to have “almost” the same static output problem as my other one. However, what’s different is that it outputs static across the entire polyphony range instead of just a couple of voices on the my other one.

What came with the Roland S-50 became a bit more rewarding after I found the Roland S-50 to be a bit flawed with the distorted output. Bundled along with it was the original Roland stand sold with the S-50 long ago in Japan. It also had the Roland DT-100 with Stylus pen in perfect condition. Plus the SYS-503 Sequencer dongle along with disks and manual thrown into the mix. Finally, I snagged an RGB cable, but still requires an old monitor which I don’t have. I didn’t think to look for it in the store so I might go back just in case. These days, any vintage GK, RGB, RC cable is valuable in the Roland world.

The Roland S-50 itself is in mint shape. So I also figure I have a spare display, floppy drive, joystick, and other spare part inventory now for the Roland S-50. As I reported back in my earlier articles about the Roland S-50, there is a major static or distorted output issue on many units. What exactly is the cause I am not 100%, but I can say that cleaning the Relay has pretty much reduced if not negated all static output for a short while. There also is a 3-way toggle switch on the back that adjusts the L/M/H level output of the S-50 which when wiggled can cause instability as well. However, I found the toggle switch had no direct connection to the static output as it appears to be a “post” audio leveler adjustment. Something tells me, the issue is likely very simple, but unfortunately I’m not quite at the level of expertise nor do I have all the tools to diagnose the problem. Until then, I feel the S-50 will not see the stage until I can get it more stable.

Beware for anyone looking to buy a used Roland S-50. In my research, I have encountered a significant number of Roland S-50 Samplers with the Static/Distorted output issue. Be careful when buying one because the problem is becoming more of a common one and there is no 100% fix yet. Cleaning the relay helps. I also found turning down the volume and raising the gain on the mixer to help quite a bit as well. I play hard on the keys so the distorted output really stands out when the pressure is on the keys more. If you play softly there is almost no issue at all. Of course it’s rather difficult to jam playing softly…laugh.

With that said, the addition of the DT-100 and SYS-503 dongle are wonderful. If one day I get the Roland S-50 static issue solved, I no doubt will go gang busters with it because I simply LOVE the sound it produces.

Here is a recent video uploaded to Youtube that I found to be an excellent demo of the Roland S-50.

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20 thoughts on “Roland S-50 Vintage Sampler Workstation

  1. Roy

    Great find Jim! I’m still looking to pick up a DT-100 but they can go for a pretty penny on ebay. I’m still having the static issue but I haven’t gotten around to cleaning it like you mentioned. I did pick up another S-50 for $20 but it also had the same issue. I’d love to see what they stand looks likes. Maybe you could post some pics?

    1. Yeah, isn’t that something that static? Boy, I sure wish I could find the solution. It’s high on my “bug me” list and hope to find a cure in 2013 … laugh. I now have two Roland S-50 samplers and would LOVE to get them both stable for live use. Right now I’ve been using the Roland S-330 and W-30 in place of the S-50, but I like the S-50 the best. The W-30 has a transformer whine noise of some sort that bothers me when playing it in my quiet studio. The S-330 has to be tethered to a monitor and mouse all the time. The S-50 is just so easy to setup and play live. I’ll keep you posted if I find a solution Roy. Thanks again and have a great New Year!

  2. Hi Jim! The S50 schematics are on the web. Maybe you can find the static error cause via schematics analysis. The price is of course very hot. I paid 50$ for each of my two DT100 alone… As monitor solution you could have a look at Andrew Cieleckis and my development “Roland Sampler Tool S-xxx” that replpaces the monitor, mouse and RC-100 control via a PC and eventually wireless device. More info on http://rc100-usb.at.tt
    I don’t know if it also works for the S50. It should work if the controller mode can be set to RC100 instead of mouse mode.
    Ciao
    Peter

    1. Hello Peter! Thanks very much for the info. I found a nice Service Manual on the web and am checking it out now. I had one before but the quality was terrible so I couldn’t get much info from it. This new one is crystal clear so I might have a chance. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll check out the info you listed for the monitor as well. I currently use my computer monitor which works great although it’s monochrome of course. Hope you’re having a great New Year! I’ve been quiet on the comment replies and hope to keep up to date in 2013. I actually get quite a few emails from this blog… chuckle. Thanks again.

  3. Louis

    The “static” (I would opt for “distortion” as static would be present all the time) is caused by oxidization of the relay contacts. So cleaning or replacing the relay isn’t a temporary work-around, it’s the solution. Re-soldering the relay to the board might also help if cleaning doesn’t fully fix it. Mine got noticeably better just by pressing down the relay on the PCB… You might even pull it out and hard-wire the “on” state (watch out for DC offset on the outputs on power up though).

    The relay switches the outputs on power up, and as the S50 has a fixed voice-output mapping, this explains why you might have distortion on only some of the voices if not all the contacts are equally affected. Mine had it on halve the voices. Re-soldered and cleaned and it has been distortion free for three years now.

    As to the monitor, I use a cheap TFT TV with SCART input. Just use series resistors of about 330-470 ohm on the R, G, B and HSYNC. The pin Roland labeled as HSYNC is in fact a composite sync so there is no need for a sync combiner, and just level shifting it from TTL to SCART is enough.

    http://www.synthforum.nl/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=84847&d=1356860727

    1. Thanks very much Louis for the valuable info regarding the S-50 static. Today I plan to de-solder my relay and give it a good cleaning. Cleaning with the relay soldered seems to eliminate about 75% of the static, but there are some contacts pretty buried it seems under the top row that I can’t get cleaned very well. My hope is to get a better angle and perhaps along with fresh solder will help rejuvenate the relay to near 100% or at least to remove the remaining static. I have two S-50 samplers and an extra jack board, so it will be interesting if I can get any of them back on track. Your experience has given me hope that I might be able to get farther with the static issue. Again I greatly appreciate your comments. I’ll update this article after I complete the work. Thanks!

      1. Mark

        Jim,

        You may want to use a scope to trace the noise/static source. There is a free sound card scope software that you can download. All you need is to make a probe to plugin to the mic input of your mic or line input of your pc/laptop.

        I had a distortion, static, and loud popping problem with my K2VX. I traced the problem to a bad SRAM. The K2vx uses SRAMs to store instructions and data for the onboard DOD FX unit. The S-50 may utilizes SRAM in the similar manner.

        I bought a S-50 with bad VFD/LCD last summer for $50. I reflowed the solder on all VFD pins to revive it. Some of the tactile switches are on its way out as well. It is my to do list. The sounds are clean. No static here.

      2. Mark

        Jim,

        Just looked at the S-50 schematic. To troubleshoot your S-50 static/distortion problem, I would place the probe on the output and trace it back LPF, and to the output of DAC(IC14) to see if the static is there. The SRAM IC63 contains the data for the Wave table. A corrupted data can also cause the problem. If the static appears at IC14 then your problem is in the digital part (i.e. SRAM) not analog.

        Hope this help.

  4. Mark

    Jim,

    I am in the process of analyzing the S-50 BIOS code to add SCSI support. In addition, I am working on removing the dongle check from SYS503. Currently, I have access to the W-30 code, which contains the SCSI driver. The S-550 should contains the same SCSI driver since they all use MB89352. I would prefer porting the driver from S-550 vs W-30. Since I do not have access to the S-550 BIOS ROMs, the W-30’s SCSI driver will suffice unless I can find a copy the S-550’s rom images.

    It should be easy to modify the S-550 BIOS to boot in the S-50. However, the S-550 lacks keyscan and mod wheels code. I noticed that both the S-50 and S-550 ROMs are 32KB instead of 16KB as in the W30’s. The reduce ROM size is probably due to the added gate array IC in the W30.

    Regarding the SYS503 dongle, would it be possible if you can post some pics of the inside of the dongle? It would help in analyzing the code. I don’t really need it… just wonder how advance Roland were back in the 80’s or it is just a passive dongle.

    Thx.

      1. Mark

        Jim.
        Where are those pics? Just kidding. I don’t need them any more. I was able to remove the dongle protection. I am working on replacing the floppy drive and perhaps adding a LCD to the display vs using an external LCD.

      2. p3orion

        Hello Mark:
        Can you please let me know how you solve the problem to bypass the dongle?
        Best regards
        Jose
        Portugal

      3. Mark

        I patched the software to not check for the dongle. I have the patched for both the A and B disks. I could email them to you. What is you email address?

      4. Hi 🙂 Does the un-dongle’d version also work with the S-550 or would the software versions for the S-550 and S-330 have to be patched individually? I’m asking because I own both of them, but no S-50 😉

  5. Carlo

    Hi, i think i was lucky since my old but good S50 never had thise statics issue, i also have used it in studio and on stage and never had troubles with it!
    Is a very good machine and still use it 🙂

  6. José Pereira

    Hello:
    Got a S50, DT100 and SYS-503 sequencer package without the dongle…
    Any chance to get a dongle or make a clone?
    Thanks!
    Best regards
    José
    Portugal

  7. Hello,
    I know this is quite an old post, but I’d really like to get in touch with “Mark” because of his statements regarding scsi and the sys-505 software. So Mark, if you read this please contact me: claudio.ehr@gmail.com – thank you!
    Or if anybody else here ever heard of Mark, please forward me his email address.
    Thank you,
    best regards
    Claudio

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