Modern Roland System 500 Meets Vintage Roland System 100M

Synthesist and DiN record label head Ian Boddy shared this synth jam that pairs a modern Roland System 500 Eurorack modular synthesizer with a Roland System 100M.

The System 100M is a vintage modular, made from the late 70’s to the early 80’s. The system features close to two dozen module designs.

The System 500 modular synthesizer, introduced in 2016, is the 100M’s modern counterpart. The System 500 builds on classic System 700 and System 100M designs, but uses the popular Eurorack form factor.

Patch Notes:

Old meets new….

We asked Boddy for some details about his unique pairing of the two systems, and he shared these patch notes:

The Roland System 500 is being sequenced by the 182 module from the Roland System 100M.

All the sound is from the System 500, except for echo & reverb from the Echo plug in Ableton Live.

There are three voices in this patch:

1) The bass line is from 2 x VCO (one on the 512 module & the other from the 510) both going through one of the filters on the 521 module.

2) The high sequence is a third VCO (also on the 512 module) which is not being sequenced but set to hard sync from the bass VCO on the 512. This is going through the second filter on the 521.

3) White noise percussion using both the phaser in the 572 module and the 505 filter.

The System 500 555 module provides the master clock from the S&H Clock Out. This clocks the 100M 182 sequencer as well as both envelopes on the 540 module.

Improvising with the 182 sequencer live involves changing the sequence length as well as switching the 3V/10V switch. The higher voltage really stretches the tuning for some sonic madness.

Pairing Vintage Roland 100M modules With System 500 Modules

Synthesist & DiN label head Ian Boddy.

Boddy’s pairing of modern & vintage Roland modules is unique, so we asked him if he could share his impressions and thoughts on the modules, and he generously agreed:

I got my first rack of 5 100M modules way back in 1982 and used this on my first vinyl release, The Climb. In the 1980’s, I accumulated another 2 191-J racks, giving me 15 modules in total, as well as the 184 4-voice polyphonic keyboard.

‘At that time, the 100M was just about the only reasonably affordable. fully-modular synth available. I’ve used it on countless projects and I’ve always enjoyed its rich sound, as well as its ease of patching.

It’s really got it’s own form factor, neither being a 4U or 5U system, and has a very ergonomic design, with most of the inputs/outputs along the top of each module and the CV inputs along the bottom, leaving the middle of each module relatively uncluttered.

Using the System 500 alongside this venerable system was a lot of fun. Of course, a lot of people have asked me “Do they sound the same?”

Well, this is a rather pointless question, to be honest, as I don’t think Roland ever intended the System 500 to be an exact clone of the 100M and, indeed, the newer sibling has many added features over it’s older brethren. I did do an A/B audio test on both system’s basic oscillators and to my ears they sounded pretty much the same. But once you start to patch each. up you’re going to get some differences.

But what is important is that as a veteran 100M user, the new System 500 does feel very 100M-like. It’s got more cramped real estate, but that’s the nature of the Eurorack format, and the vast majority of Eurorack modules feel like that, due to space constraints

But at the end of the day for me as a composer, it’s the sound that matters. And, as I hope this video shows, the System 500 has a fabulous, rich & analogue sound.

A favorite little trick I picked up was flipping the self cycling envelope mode (something not present on the 100M) during playback. With a little bit of tweaking you could get the regular envelope mode to do nice tight contours and then switching in the self-cycling mode, if tuned correctly, brought in a sort of ratcheting effect. You can hear this at various points on the video with the white noise percussion voice.

The complete set is a really great self-contained system that would be a nice starting point for someone getting into modular, as well as a simple but great sounding compact live rig.

There’s a lot going on in the Eurorack world at the moment and there’s some super-sophisticated modules coming out. But these are often the icing on the cake, sometimes you just want good, flexible building blocks and the System 500 certainly offers that.

Check out the video and, if you’ve got experience with any of Roland’s modular gear, share your thoughts on it in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Modern Roland System 500 Meets Vintage Roland System 100M

  1. Great work, and I’m impressed with the sound of the System 500 analog modules.

    I’ve got set of Roland’s earlier Aira Eurorack effects modules, and I think that they’d pair well with the 500 modules. The Demora is especially nice, because it’s a really powerful delay module (10 second delay time) and the Scooper, too, because it does stuff you just can’t do with analog.

    The Aira Euro modules are out of production, but their prices are starting to go up, because they’re such good modules. Roland killed them off before people had a chance to understand what they can do.

  2. I was really lusting over this, I think the 500 series could do great percussions with those envelopes, but for 90 % of the sounds I wouldn’t need anything modular, any better compact synths does all of this, has a less cluttered interface and can save sounds.
    Shoot me now. 😉

  3. The Euro format is a fad that won’t last.

    Boddy makes it sound good, but the larger 100M format looks so much more fun to use.

    Larger formats, esp 5U, beat Euro on everything except portability and module variety, but even that’s changing as more and more companies make 5U modules.

    So anymore us mostly a trade off of better portability vs usability, and more people are moving to 5U as a result.

    1. I’m not sure about that prediction. It’s true you get larger knobs and more wiggling space between them in 5U, in addition to sturdier jacks, but it’s in forgoing these advantages that makes Euro cheaper to produce and distribute. Not to mention that the majority of people simply don’t have room for an expansive 5U setup. I agree that there will likely be more people moving to 5U, many who having been introduced to modular through Euro begin to seek the advantages you mention, but I don’t think it’s enough evidence to say Euro is ‘a fad that won’t last’ to be honest.

      1. Remember when rackmount synths were the de facto standard? And now nobody makes them?

        The fact is, 5U synths don’t cost much more than Euro synths anymore, since there’s a lot of competition. And companies are making skiff-friendly modules – which eliminates the back-breaking bulk of traditional Moog-style systems. I see a lot of people trying Euro then switching to 5U, just because the usability is so much nicer.

        What’s driving Euro right now is noobs getting started with all-in-one synths, like the Behringer D. There isn’t anything comparable in 5U, and stuff like that completely undercuts the competition in both Euro and 5U. So you have a huge influx of people that know nothing about modular getting in because of a handful of dirt cheap modules.

        When Behringer actually unleashes their System 500 knockoffs in Eurorack format, it’s going to up the number of noobs getting in, but it’s going to deliver the KO punch to a lot of Euro manufacturers. So I’m not sure this trend is going to be a good one for the platform.

    2. I think you are wrong on that. But I don’t think the Roland will sell much more after the Behringer system comes out.

  4. Eurorack has been manufactured since 1997. Not sure how that’s a fad. Rackmount was around for about that long too, before postal shipping categories made that format too expensive to ship.

    If everyone stopped making euro today, it still had a good run. The best manufacturers know how to make modules ergonomically pleasurable to use at any size. I am all for every permutation of format in musical devices. I personally have MU in my studio simply because I have a lot of Moog floating around. My roland stuff is mostly poly stuff from the 80s, but I’d love a system 500. At first I didn’t like it for its cramped factor, but my second try warmed me up to it. This is a nice video. Bravo, Mr. Boddy!

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