Our Roland RD-2000 review takes a look at the latest addition to the RD line up. The RD-2000 is now Roland’s flagship stage piano, and a very ambitious addition, indeed. As Roland’s most powerful stage piano to date, the RD-2000 promises truly advanced functionality. We want to find out if that comes at the expense of the much-loved RD playability. Hopefully, not, let’s find out.
We can’t begin without giving a nod to the RD series of stage pianos that came before it. Roland’s RD line-up has been a staple of the stage since 1986 when the RD-1000 was launched. The RD-1000 was the introduction of Structured Adaptive Synthesis, which was an innovative way to recreate a realistic piano sound (at the time). It worked by splitting the keyboard into 30 zones, increasing the ability to zone in on the brightness and harmonic string interactions at different pitches.
In 1994, several models on from the RD-1000, the RD-500 was released. The RD-500 is a very important model as a sign of the future for Roland. It was the start of the familiar styling of the modern RD range, and a considerable increase in live performance features. The onboard voices went from 8 (RD-1000) to 121, and it also came with the ability to be a fantastic master keyboard via MIDI. As a master keyboard, the RD-500 let you control up to 4 different voices at once, which was a big deal in 1994.
Further down the line, the RD-700 and even more so, the RD-700NX were game-changing additions to the range. Each generation of RD stage piano was a significant step forward in technology and realism. Now, the RD-2000 is carrying the flag as the most advanced to date. That’s a very, very brief overview of the RD series, but please do check them out, or even better, play some if you get the chance.
Roland’s RD-2000 is the culmination of the past 30 plus years, creating stage pianos. It’s essentially a stage piano like all other RD models, but it’s purpose-built to cater to the modern performer’s needs.
Two sound engines
One thing that separates the RD-2000 from previous models is that it runs with 2 fully independent sound engines. Roland has received a lot of praise for its V-Instrument technology, which included the V-Piano, V-Drums, and so on. These V-Instruments innovated in the world of modeling technology, virtual analog synthesis when it was still very new. The SuperNATURAL sound engine powers some of the most iconic modern synths and pianos from Roland.
The two engines’ importance is that they highlight Roland’s intent to make the RD-2000 the most premium stage piano available, not just the best all-rounder.
When Roland’s V-Piano hit the market, it was the very first physically modeled hardware piano. Since the introduction of modeling technology, primarily credited to Yamaha’s VL1 synth (1994), only software had attempted to recreate acoustic pianos this way. As you can imagine, the V-Piano was highly anticipated and met with almost unanimous praise.
The thing that makes the V-Piano engine so special is that the sound isn’t dependent on samples. Instead, the modeling engine relies on mathematics to generate the appropriate sound. The sampling versus modeling discussion is far too in-depth to cover, so here’s a brief explanation.
Sample-based sounds involve triggering snapshots of the selected voice by pressing a key. Of course, these snapshots cover lots of varying expression levels, articulation, and velocity, to give you the most realistic response however you play. That’s why the best sample libraries are often massive due to the immense number of samples recorded.
Physical modeling attempts to recreate the entire process using complex equations. For example, the V-Piano engine would calculate how hard the hammer would hit the string and how it would resonate, as well as how the surrounding strings would vibrate, based on how you strike the key. Without getting into the technical side of it, in theory, physical modeling allows for more natural imperfections and creates a more realistic instrument. The idea is that by reproducing each step of the process (digitally), you get a more accurate sound than a pre-recorded snapshot.
The V-Piano engine has been arguably the most realistic and responsive hardware replication of an acoustic piano for many years. Roland consistently improves upon their technology, and today, the V-Piano is still arguably the best.
The SuperNATURAL sound engine will be more familiar to anyone who has played modern Roland keyboards. There are over 1100 voices beyond the acoustic and electric piano sounds. The number of voices would rival some of the best-rated workstations, let alone stage pianos.
As modern as the RD-2000 is, it features a couple of lovely nostalgic touches. These include the iconic RD-1000 electric piano sound that can be heard in lots of 80s/90s hits. It also features a recreation of the classic MKS-20 module. All SuperNATURAL sounds have 128-note max polyphony.
How does it sound?
It’s rare to hear too many complaints about the sound of any RD stage piano. If anything, it tends to be that the acoustic piano is too warm or not warm enough, depending on taste. Nothing is inherently poor quality, far from it.
As we mentioned, there are over 1100 voices, which means you probably won’t ever use many of them. It also means that you won’t ever be stuck for options.
The sounds are split into 3 sections, the first of which is the V-Piano acoustic pianos. The second section contains electric pianos, tonewheel organs, clavs, and SuperNATURAL acoustic pianos. It’s important to note that for anyone who isn’t keen on the V-Piano sound, you still get the brilliant SuperNATURAL acoustic pianos. Finally, the third section contains everything else from guitars and basses to drums, synths, and strings.
We have already talked a little about how the two sound engines function, but we can now look a bit closer at the sound quality.
A big part of enjoying the V-Piano sound is how it feels to play. The relationship between your fingers and the dynamics/expression is excellent. Each of the 10 V-Piano presets offer different characteristics, but generally, they are really strong in the low-mid range. A minor complaint is that some will find the tone a little too warm, this is down to your taste. At first sound, the V-Piano might not strike you as very different from other high-end piano tones, but it’s in the subtle nuances that it shines. It’s not the fact that it accounts for things like pedal noise and string vibration; it’s that it produces the right amount at the right times. The V-Piano engine has full polyphony, too.
If you don’t hear your ideal tone within the V-Piano presets, the SuperNATURAL acoustic pianos offer a more customizable selection. These pianos already provide a lot of versatility in terms of tonal color, but you can take it further with the Tone Designer. The Tone Designer lets you adjust pretty much every aspect of your piano from lid position to key-off noise and resonance. Adjustments can be made on a per-key basis so that you can create something truly unique.
The electric piano voices don’t need attention; the RD-2000 comes with a collection of stunning vintage electric piano sounds. Amongst them, the Rhodes sounds are great, and the 70s tine voices are particularly nice. Although there are some modern sounds, the electric pianos do seem to have a 70s/80s feel across the board.
The quality of the electric pianos is very high, but there are no surprises. It covers all of the usual suspects from basic Rhodes, Wurlitzer tones with lots of bite to lush, and phased EP’s.
As mentioned, the partly-modeled recreation of the RD-1000 is also available.
The organ tones are very impressive, and much like the V-Piano sounds, the feeling of playing them adds so much. What we mean by that is that Roland’s excellent interface lets you get the best out of sounds that are already awesome. There are 9 assignable sliders, which we will get into shortly, that can be used as physical drawbars for the tonewheel organs.
The drawbars allow you to alter the organ’s sound on the fly, making for a more realistic performance. You don’t have to stick to one single sound or switch between patches during playing. The sliders are LED-lit, so you can always see exactly where you are with them. The coolest thing about using them as drawbars is that they work in reverse, so you pull it towards you to increase, much like pulling out a real drawbar.
The preset organ tones cover everything from your Green Onions sound, to Jimmy Smith, right through to a Sunday service stomp. But, if you really want to take it to church, it’s the drawbars that make all the difference.
The clavs are similar to the electric pianos, in that there are no real surprises. They were very good way back on the RD-700; they are still very good if not better now.
Outside of owning a vintage Clavinet with a Castlebar, you won’t find much better than these.
The other sounds
As we already said, with so many sounds, it’s more than likely that you will never use all of them. The sounds that are found in this third section are not as customizable as the earlier SuperNATURAL sounds, but there are some killer voices here.
Starting with the more traditional instruments, you have guitars, basses, and mandolins that sound pretty good. There are variations of each, but they probably aren’t going to blow you away any more than Korg or Yamaha sounds would. It’s always the same with these kind os voices, they sound very nice, but it’s never truly realistic when using a wheel to bend the notes (strings). Something like the Roli Seaboard would come closer, but with traditional keyboards, it’s tough.
There are also orchestral sounds featuring string sections, individual instruments, brass, and woodwind. Depending on what you do most, these sounds might fall into the rarely used category. However, if you perform with a band or compose for media, the string sounds will be very handy. Not to mention the somewhat cheesy brass sounds are always great for the right gig.
The best of the other sounds, in my opinion, can be found amongst the synths. I have long been a fan of Roland’s Fantom keyboards, and some of these synth sounds give you that Fantom feeling. There are pads, synth-bass, leads, and all sorts of crazy textures.
How does it feel?
Before we get into the keybed, we should mention the build quality of the RD-2000. Like all other RD stage pianos before it, the RD-2000 feels remarkably well built. The metal body looks and feels slick but solid, and weighs close to 50 lbs. While it’s lighter than some previous models, it’s still a heavy keyboard to carry around. But, you won’t find the same quality in a much lighter stage piano.
The RD-2000 houses Roland’s PHA-50 keybed, which stands for progressive hammer action. If you haven’t seen it in any of our other reviews, PHA is when the keys get progressively heavier from top to bottom. It mimics the feel of a real acoustic piano much better as the hammers on a real piano get heavier in the lower notes.
The keys also feature a synthetic ivory feel like a real piano, so your fingers won’t slip so easily while playing. Roland always does very well when it comes to a realistic hammer action feel, and they say this is the best the RD range has seen to date.
The great thing about the PHA-50 keybed is that is doesn’t feel like dead weight; it’s full of life. Too many stage pianos have keys that just feel heavy without the push and pull expression that you expect from a real piano. The realism of the keyboard compliments the sound engines so well.
If you are familiar with any previous RD stage pianos, you will know that the interface tends to be pretty bare. When you first see the RD-2000 with all of its LEDs, you might assume it’s a departure from the traditionally simple layout. Thankfully, it’s not.
The most significant difference here is that you have more assignable knobs and sliders than ever before. They make the panel look much busier than older models, but it’s extremely functional.
The 8 knobs with LED status indicators have different preset functions depending on the sound that you are using. What they do is give you an intuitive way to shape your sound as you go by adjusting parameters. For example, it could be as simple as adjusting the reverb size or get deeper into EQ and effects. The knobs can be assigned to any adjustable parameter on both preset and custom patches; that layout can then be stored as a user program.
The same can be said for the 9 assignable sliders, which offer better visual feedback via LED than you’ll find on any stage piano. The sliders are multi-functional; they can be used as tonewheel organ drawbars, as mentioned before, or as a mixer for layered patches. The level of instant control that you get from the RD-2000 is a dream for any performer.
Selecting sounds is as simple as ever, large buttons sect the type of sound, while variations can then be selected via the main dial and display screen. This system is precisely the same as the more familiar older models, and it makes it super fast and easy to navigate sounds.
It features the standard pitch lever, but it has two mod wheels, both of which are assignable. Once you get past the lights and busy appearance, the RD-2000 layout is straightforward, functional, and intuitive.
Layering and splitting sounds
Layering sounds is nothing new for any decent stage piano, but the RD-2000 does bring some new life to the idea.
The RD-2000 has eight assignable zones that can be used as layers or unique key ranges. That means you can split or layer up to 8 sounds at one time. These sounds can be a combination of RD-2000 sounds and sounds from external software or hardware. You can save up to 100 variations of keyboard custom layout for instant recall when needed.
The really great thing about layering sounds is that the sliders show built-in sounds as red channels and external sounds as green. So you have complete control over every layer via this mixer-style setup. You can turn channels off/on and adjust the levels, which is great for performance as well as sound design. For example, you might want a strings layer at specific points but not others, so you can fade it in/out as you like. Building layered patches is quick and easy, especially with RD-2000 sounds.
The RD-2000 has two internal wave expansion slots, and if you previously used the RD-800, all of your live sets will be compatible.
Everything we just mentioned about the eight assignable zones makes the RD-2000 a great master controller for performing, too. Many performers want to have the option to take sounds from different sources, but going between so many instruments isn’t ideal. The RD-2000 gives you the perfect controller to bring all of your sounds/gear together onto one keyboard.
It also has an onboard 24-bit USB/MIDI audio interface for easy integration with your DAW, virtual instruments, and other software. Again, this makes controlling an expanding setup much easier.
Connectivity is plentiful, sporting 5-pin MIDI in/out/thru, USB, four Audio outs (two XLR, two 1/4-inch jack), and headphone out. There is a single 1/8-inch AUX audio input.
You have lots of routing options for monitoring and/or sending audio to external effects, etc. The MIDI ports let you take advantage of any external gear you might want to add to your live setup. Four pedal inputs are available for sustain, damper, and external effects pedals.
Roland is usually pretty good with its built-in effects; they never overdo it. Instead, they focus on giving you high-quality basics, and that’s what matters in a stage piano.
The RD-2000 does surpass some previous models in this area, though with effects like the tremolo/amp simulator. Other effects include reverbs, delays, resonance, compression, and a 5-band EQ. Roland seems to have been nostalgic when creating this keyboard with the vintage touches found throughout. They have included recreations of some vintage effects like the BOSS CE-1 Chorus and Roland Dimension D. Both the BOSS CE-1 and Dimension D rack chorus have been used on some iconic recordings.
Effects can be split into zones; just sounds can. Any program can save up to four effects zones, so you aren’t limited to a master effect across all zones. It also feels much more like a synth than a typical stage piano when it comes to the effects.
The best thing about the effects is that they are so easy to use. The LED-lit knobs and sliders make it so easy to take full advantage of everything RD-2000 offers.
At any point, if you go too far with effects and just want to get back to square one, just hit the one-touch piano button. It will instantly take you back to default settings on the first acoustic piano voice.
|Image credit: Roland Check Sweetwater||
From the very first look, I knew the RD-2000 was a high-quality stage piano. I know the RD range very well, so I understood what it had to offer. But, I have to say, despite being very good, I was one of the people who didn’t give it enough credit initially. The appearance made me think that it had lost some of that RD simplicity and that maybe it wasn’t a direct continuation. When you get deeper into it, everything about this stage piano screams Roland RD!
Yes, it’s got more going on, more knobs, more sliders, and more lights, but it’s the most functional RD ever. It’s hard to imagine playing the gorgeous pianos and organs without the intuitive control you get from the knobs and sliders. It doesn’t take long to get used to navigating through sounds, effects, layers, even if you haven’t used an RD stage piano before.
An instrument should be an extension of the musician, and with many stage pianos, that gets lost in menu-diving and convoluted workflow. The RD-2000 is a step in the right direction allowing the performer to express themselves without being held back by poor design.
If we had to look for faults, we could maybe ask for some CV/Gate connectivity, or wish that it was lighter. But, we could say the same of any good stage piano. It sounds incredible, feels fantastic, it’s unbelievable on stage (as a controller, too), it’s brilliant.