In the meantime, Roland Cloud has been taking off in recent months. Those of you unfamiliar with the service, Roland has essentially begun to both pursue software development and take the East West approach of having people subscribe to the products available instead of a one-time purchase. While I'm not fond of the latter, their recent offering of recreations of their classic analog synths, such as the Jupiter 8 and the Juno 106, made it tempting for me.
Then yesterday happened: read from a tweet by unTIL BEN, another retro musician, that Roland finally buckled down and did it: Roland Cloud is now offering a near-perfect D-50 clone in their VST catalog!
Needless to say, I buckled down and took advantage of my free trial period of Roland Cloud in order to download this VST. Unlike every other attempt to recreate the D-50 (possibly including the Binary Music LA-50 equivalent), this VST comes across as Korg's M1 VST over a mere sample library: all of the circuitry seems to have been near perfectly recreated. Anyone who downloads this VST will get not only the classic 64 presets, but also all of the presets from Roland's four preset expansion cards (the PN-D50 series), plus, an extra bank of patches that, as far as I know, is exclusive to this software release. Again, much like the official Korg M1 VST.
Everything can also be edited, whether you wish to isolate certain waveforms in a preset, change the chorus or reverb effects applied, or even tweak the amount of keytracking applied to the timing of the envelopes! The interface for editing is a little confusing and subtle to find at first, in my opinion, but once you get the hang of it, you have access to all of the sound possibilities of the D-50 and its PG-1000 programmer! That being said, one plus I can find over the M1 VST is that the D-50 also remembers what user presets you've made between sessions, a pleasant contrast to needing to load any user sounds I made in the M1 every time it started up.
Since I am a D-550 user who now has the VST version, it was natural of me to compare the sound of the VST to that of the original hardware (the D-550 was exactly the same as the D-50 except it was a rackmount). Much to my pleasant surprise, the only difference I noticed was the amount of aliasing with the higher notes in the "Fantasia" preset, and even that may have just been the result of a possibly lower samplerate in the hardware than, say, 44.1 kHz. Beyond that, it sounds practically identical! Even the fractional keytracking for DigitalNativeDance (which alone makes the preset impossible to emulate with a single sample) is surprisingly faithful to the real deal.
My only real gripe with the D-50 is the subtle hiss that comes from the digital encoding of the sound. In Roland's defense, the original hardware was 8-bit (Roland even openly marketed this fact when it came to the included PCM waveforms), but still, it would've been cool to see how the darker sounds would sound in 16-bit without needing to use a third-party filter or equalizer. Still, even that is bearable, especially since some of the presets seem much brighter in timbre than even I feel I could need for my own music, not to mention that the 8-bit noise probably has a lot of appeal to the most die-hard of retro and chiptune musicians.
The Roland D-50 VST is available only from Roland Cloud, and consequently, it requires a subscription-based purchase. Fortunately, aside from being able to download all of their other offerings (including VST's based on their analog classics, but also their SoundCanvas ROMplers from the 90s), there is currently a promotional offer being free the first month and then only $20 a month afterwards, whereas apparently the price will increase for those late to the game, so if you wish to check it out without draining too much of your wallet, now is definitely the time!
The D-50 VST's product page is here: https://www.rolandcloud.com/catalog/legendary/d-50-linear-synthesizer