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Roland Zenology review

The Jupiter X’s Zen-Core engine comes to your DAW. Is this generous collection of sounds a Roland Cloud-buster?

  • $29.99+ per year
Roland Zenology
(Image: © Roland)

Our Verdict

In its basic form, Zenology is simple but certainly effective; a convenient source of classic sounds. It’s future looks bright too.

Pros

  • Convenient source of classic sounds.
  • Generous selection of effects.
  • Expandable and hardware compatible.

Cons

  • Not masses of sound design control.
  • UI style looks a little dated.

What is it?

Roland has unveiled a significant update to it how their Cloud subscription service, introducing a new three-tiered pricing structure largely modelled around a single new instrument – Zenology. 

Rather than just offering an emulation of a single classic from the brand’s past, as most current Roland Cloud instruments do, the Zenology plugin is an expandable sound engine capable of creating everything from pianos and organs to drums and percussion. 

While the plugin itself is new, the tech behind it – Roland’s ZEN-Core engine – first appeared last year, in several instruments including the MC-707 and Jupiter X. Zenology is effectively a straight port of that same sound engine, making use of a mix of PCM samples and virtual analogue synthesis in order to generate sounds.

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Performance and verdict

The Zenology interface is quite simplistic and – to be honest – dated-looking. It’s certainly easy to navigate through, with a straightforward sound browser up top and parameter edit section below. This edit section has controls for polyphony and portamento to the left – the latter being a simple on/off affair – joined by five virtual rotaries for adjusting the cutoff and resonance of a low-pass filter, amp attack and release, and vibrato.

The one variant to this set up comes when working with drum sounds. Here, the controls are replaced by a bank of 16 rotaries, allowing users to adjust level, pan, attack, decay and release individually for each sound in Zenology’s 16-voice drum kits.

The only other significant element is a multi-effect slot, accessed via a hideable UI panel that sits below the main interface. This allows each sound to be paired with one effect processor, chosen from a comprehensive list of over 90 effects covering multiple types of delay, modulation effects, filters, EQs, compressors and several modelled on vintage gear. While only one effect can be assigned per sound, there are 20+ Combination processors, offering multi-effect options such as an amp sim leading into a delay, or enhancer into chorus. These effects impressed us when we reviewed the ZEN-Core hardware and they’re equally-well equipped here.

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On the whole, though, Zenology isn’t particularly flashy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Although it’s essentially little more than a preset player with an effect unit attached, the 3000 patches are generally excellent, leaning heavily on sounds sampled from Roland’s classic synths and drum machines, which hit all the obvious bases – 808 and 909 kits, Juno arps, Jupiter pads, 101 basses, etc. For a convenient and relatively cheap source of bread-and-butter sounds, this has a lot going for it. It can work in tandem with ZEN-Core hardware too, sharing patches to and from compatible instruments.

More interesting are the ways Roland promise to develop Zenology in the coming months. 'Analogue Behavior Modeling' expansions based on Roland’s classic machines are set to be added, with retro-styled interfaces built into the Zenology UI. A pro version is promised too, which looks to include multi-layered synthesis along with complex modulation tool. Coupled with a few more smart choices – such as the decision to let users buy Lifetime Keys for their favourite Cloud plugins, it spells a bright future for the Roland Cloud project.

MusicRadar verdict: In its basic form, Zenology is simple but certainly effective; a convenient source of classic sounds.

Hands-on demos

Roland

Doctor Mix

Specifications

  • Type: An expandable plugin version of the Roland ZEN-Core synthesis system
  • Key Features: 3,597 tones, 80 drum kits, 90 multi-effects, 2,048 tones per bank
  • System Requirements: VSTi 3.6 (64 bit), AU, AAX Mac and PC
  • Contact: Roland