Now they’ve done it. Roland has broken free of the confines of their history and takes everything forward into the world of ZENOLOGY and it could be very exciting.
It’s the latest innovation from Roland which pulls the technology out of their still-not-quite-with-us Jupiter-X and realises it in software form. What starts off as a rather dull-looking hyper-preset virtual instrument quickly gathers pace into something very different. I didn’t get it at first, but I think I get what they’re doing. They are taking all their old synths and virtual versions and pushing them onto a new synthesis platform that will push them into deliciously unrecognisable places. It’s a triumph or a tragedy depending on how you feel about the purity of their back catalogue.
What is ZENOLOGY?
ZENOLOGY is an expandable plug-in version of the ZEN-Core Synthesis System. ZEN-Core is based on discrete synth voices—each containing a flexible oscillator, filter, amplifier, dual step-LFOs, and lush effects. It mixes multiple synthesis types, combining vintage Roland oscillators and filters with PCM waves capable of PCM-SYNC and cross-modulation. Layer up to four voices in a single tone for rich, complex sounds, both classic and modern.
So it’s a huge synthesis engine, right? Yes, and it’s already an immense source of sounds. But over time they are releasing new synthesis algorithms and expansions that will expand its potential in all sorts of directions.
This will include all their fabulous old synths like the Jupiter-8, Juno-106, SH-101 and JX-8P, but here’s the crucial bit – they are not arriving in the traditional GUI. They are being reworked into a new unified interface which in one fell swoop ditches the confines of the historical interface and releases them into a new evolution of sound design and possibility. That is completely genius…. and possibly heartbreaking.
And I almost forgot to mention that any patches you make with ZENOLOGY are compatible and transferable to any of the ZEN-Core hardware products like the Jupiter-Xm, MC-707 and Fantom. That’s pretty wizard.
ZENOLOGY is part of the Roland Cloud subscription which gives you access to a huge array of sounds including all the plug-in versions of their historical synths. But the big news is that there’s a free version of this software called ZENOLOGY Lite which allows you to run a bunch of sounds and have an active Roland Cloud account without having to sign up to a monthly charge. It’s exactly what Roland needed to do to pull people into the ecosystem. Because once you open that Roland Cloud Manager and see all of that content gleaming at you you start to feel that perhaps a few dollars a month might well be worth it.
Although the first option after Free is “Core” and all that gets you is the sound packs and expansions for ZENOLOGY but without the historical synth expansions. Core is $2.99 a month or $29.99 a year and it looks like a pretty pointless option to me. The next one is “Pro” which jumps to $99.00 a year but for that you get all the ZENOLOGY plus the sample based instruments like Drum Studio, Anthology Collection and the D-50 but from the vintage collection you only get the TR-808. Which brings us to Ultimate for $199 which gives you the lot which really is a huge collection of sounds and instruments.
I guess the question is that if ZENOLOGY is going to provide models, and arguably better models than the ACB based models that form the current plug-ins, of their old gear then would you need the individual plug-ins that Ultimate offers? What I can say is the sounds in the Lite version are excellent – really strong in the pad department, lots of great leads, basses and synth noises along with sampled sounds, choirs, strings, flutes and a bunch of drum kits including an excellent 808 and 909. It’s 182 free sounds from Roland – yes please.
All versions also let you now purchase individual lifetime licenses for instruments, sounds and patterns. So you don’t have to subscribe to get those one or two instruments that really appeal to you. So, for instance the Jupiter-8 or Juno-106 is $149 as a one-time purchase. It soon adds up.
So am I going to try the Ultimate? Well, I think I might go for the Pro version and take some time to check out the 30-day free access to Ultimate and see what I can live without. Well done Roland, you got me.
- Roland ZENOLOGY webpage.