Archives for : zenology

Cult of 990 – special JD-990 soundset for Roland Zenology

I made this soundset for all of you who don’t have actual JD-990, yet want to get to the original hardware sound as close as possible. This is not another “Hey let’s make a bank that sounds like a JD-990!”. Quite the contrary. This is a bank created on the actual JD-990 and then patch by patch recreated on Zenology Pro. Normally when I program for Roland I program banks directly on their Zenology and Cloud instruments, which makes perfect sense. However this was completely different story and completely different approach. If you have passion for synths and especially in this case authenticity, you will understand exactly why I did what I did, the reasons behind this and how it came out. And will be glad to share my little story. I guarantee this is the closest you can get to the actual JD-990 sound, if you don’t have a hardware.

Stage 1 – This is impossible
The Roland JD-990 synthesizer, a classic in the world of electronic music, has garnered significant interest among musicians and producers for its rich, intricate sounds. This iconic status has led to various attempts to emulate its distinctive tones in modern software. Inspired by this trend, I embarked on a project to recreate my custom soundset for hardware JD-990 within Roland’s Zenology Pro software. This was the initial idea. For start, the TVF in Zenology and on hardware JD-990 sound different at extreme settings, hence these types of patches were avoided from the start. These is also Effects Block B on Zenology, just a part of it (ie either delay, or a reverb, never both, and no chorus if Block A is used), so these patches had to be avoided as well. So after a couple of weeks of work of building the bank on JD-990 it was now time to transfer these patches to Zenology. At leats that’s what I thought was the next step. Big mistake! To my horror I’ve realised the waveforms in Zenology Pro are in completely different order. On top of that, there are thousands of them, the envelope times are in totally different ranges, depths for values are different (LFO’s, envelopes, modulations) and so many other things. Had I known all this I doubt I would do this project. So initially I gave up. Eventually after a some time when I cooled down decided to take a second look into this thing.

Stage 2 – Maybe it is possible
The task was to transfer each patch manually to the ZEN engine. This involved detailed adjustments to ensure authenticity, particularly with regard to pitch, filters, and effects settings. My goal was to make the patches indistinguishable from those produced by the original JD-990. So the first step was to find out where is each JD-990 waveform located inside Zenology’s waveform ROM. After several days of dedicated effort, the initial results were promising. I had mapped the entire JD-990’s wave ROM to the much larger ROM of Zenology Pro. Once this foundational step was complete, the rest should be easy, that’s what I thought. In theory this was all sounding promising but after a while new problems came up, some patches just didn’t sound right. Eventually found the source of the problem. Some of the inharmonic waveforms of Zenology are set to a different root key than their counterpart in JD-990. This was unpleasant surprise. Another issue were the envelopes. You can not just copy paste the numbers, since the envelopes in JD-990 are in 7 bit resolution while the envelopes in Zenology are 10 bit depth. So you can’t copy ie T2 75 -> T2 75, that just doesn’t work. Further more, envelope slope shapes seem to be slightly different between the two. You literally end up A/B testing one against the other while adjusting the value on the fly which is time consuming and can be extremely frustrating at times as the number scale itself in both units outputs logarithmic(!) results, which means you can forget about the rule of a thumb and similar “guesstimate” tricks. It just doesn’t work.

Zenology ROM map -> JD-990 ROM map – conversion table, Don Solaris 2023

Stage 3 – Trying the first patches side by side
The process of converting patches was labor-intensive. Each patch was evaluated by comparing the sound from the JD-990 with the recreated sound in Zenology Pro. Through a methodical A/B testing approach, I adjusted the Zenology patches until they matched the JD-990’s output as closely as possible. This meticulous attention to detail ensured that the recreated sounds retained the unique characteristics that made the JD-990 so beloved.

I believe the end result of this effort is a highly faithful emulation of the JD-990 within Zenology Pro. The patches, now converted and refined, provide a near-identical sonic experience to the original hardware. I am confident enough in the accuracy of my work that I would challenge listeners to distinguish between the two in a blind test. This project underscores the potential of modern software to replicate classic hardware sounds with remarkable fidelity, preserving the legacy of vintage synthesizers for contemporary music production.

This process requires a lot of time and a lot of passion. It depends upon people whether they will recognise this dedication or not. In average takes 3-4 times more to build such a soundset than a regular one directly in the Zenology (or any Cloud instrument). Because you are building the soundset on a hardware synthesizer first, then you are manually recreating it on a totally different syntheizer.

Stage 4 – It’s finished!
You can find this soundset on Roland Cloud, titled simply as: “Cult of 990”. I am not allowed to comment about future products (possible followup of this bank) due to NDA with Roland, but if there will ever be one, I am sure it will be called Cult of 990 Part 2. 😉 Here is the link to the demo in uncompressed .wav format:

Cult of 990 Audio Demo (copyright, Roland Corporation)

Soundset is available from the Roland Cloud and can be found here: ZEZ011 Cult of 990

It takes too much time and I wonder is it worth it in the end. We will see what the end users have to say, especially those with the hardware JD-990 who know its sound, and who have tried this set. Since there is no software version of JD-990 yet, this is the best we have at the present time. I will be glad to hear from you folks, down in the comments section. The critic is welcome as well. Thank you!