EDIROL SD-80: A Trapped Beast

#device-review #midi #music #hands-on

This article is about my hands on of the EDIROL STUDIO Canvas SD-80. Even though I’m a newcomer to the STUDIO Canvas owners community, veterans may still find something interesting here.

UPDATE: links to board shots are fixed.

UPDATE: A sequel to this article has been posted. The sequel contains new updates, discoveries and corrections to this article.

UPDATE (2022-06-30): the sequel is now actually published.

STUDIO Canvas acquired

Ever since I learned that ZUN uses a SD-90 as one of his major synthesizers here, I’ve always been dreaming to get my hands on one of those. But these things are not particularly easy to find in China. There are plenty of deals on ebay though. However, after a failed purchase attempt made in 2016 which also led to the ridiculous suspension of my ebay account, I left the idea alone for multiple years. Things changed earlier this month, when owner203 helped me acquire my very own SD-80 and kindly delivered it from Japan.

I did not go for a SD-90 since they are all ridiculously priced in 2019. The deal I tried to make back in 2016 would cost me around $300 (shipping included). Now they are all way beyond $400. This forced me to resort to lower-end models, namely the SD-80 and SD-20. There’s also the SD-50 which I almost bought back in 2014, before I found out it is essentially a stripped-down version of Roland SonicCell without the SRX expandability. Therefore although the SD-50 retains the compatibility with the synth engine found in SD-90 (both are from models supporting SRX, namely the XV-5080 and SonicCell), it comes with a complete new set of waveforms and patches which makes it sounds totally different. So the SD-50 is definitely a no go.

The only choices left are SD-80 and SD-20. SD-20 can be found very cheap online (from $59). However SD-20 does have half of the polyphony and most editability of other STUDIO Canvas’ axed. Also gone are 3 entire sound banks (and presumably some waveforms). On the other hand, SD-80 costs a lot more (starting from ~$200), but is capable of generating everything the SD-90 can (the only missing part in SD-80 compared to SD-90 is the audio interface). After deciding no more compromise should be made, I went straight for the SD-80.

The module arrived two weeks after the order was placed. It certainly wasn’t the happiest SD-80 in the world: the chassis bears quite a lot of scratches all around. The value knob takes a lot of force to turn and has a good amount of friction on it, to which I found a quick solution by simply pushing the knob downwards a little bit while turning it. Aside from the looks, the module itself is in perfect working order. It came with a power cord and its rack mount ears, but without any of its original paperwork or the CD-ROM. As most of the documentation and drivers can be found online, the only things I’ve lost are the demo midi files, which is still a shame.

Top cover

Label with S/N removed. Visible on top left corner is a foot pad that seems to be a slice of cork.

Left half of the front panel. Buttons yellowed out, showing the module’s age. Scratches and dents are visible.

Wow! Such Optical! Much MIDI!

The configuration

Connection to the computer

Without the audio interface portion, it’s impossible to use the SD-80 with only a USB connection: you need something for it to connect to in order to make a recording.

To begin with, I wanted to get something that accepts S/PDIF input for the audio interface. But those kind of things are scarce today. The closet model I could find in Chinese market was from an unknown vendor and comes with a very sketchy chip, whose official driver only supports up to Windows 7 32-bit. As a crappy digital interface may sound worse than a more decent analog one, I went for one of the cheapest audio interfaces available: a Focusrite Scarlett Solo (which is more than 5 times the price of the weird digital interface and probably still better than the one comes with SD-90 as it supports up to 192 KHz sampling rate).

For a audio equipment novice, connecting things up wasn’t that straightforward: I tried connecting the phone output on the SD-80 to the line in of the audio interface and it kind of works. There is just one tiny problem: the left and right channels got mixed up into one, and is only on the right channel in a stereo recording. At first I thought it was my cable. But after a couple minutes of researching, I found out that every input on an audio interface is actually mono. WHY? Guess I’ll never know.

So I got another TRS to XLR connector. After connecting the left channel of output 1 on the SD-80 to the microphone input on the audio interface and the right channel to line level input, it produces stereo recordings as expected. The resulting audio is very unbalanced though, due to the microphone input being much more sensitive than the line level input. In order to balance them I played a sine wave on the SD-80 and adjust the input level of each channel so that while turning down the volume knob on the SD-80, the level indicators on all channels stop blinking at the same time.

The ‘direct monitor’ switch on Scarlett Solo enables live monitoring of the input without operating system intervention and therefore, without latency. However the direct monitor feature on Scarlett Solo is limited to mono only, so in order to get stereo monitoring, a round-trip through the computer is required.

Settings things up in Linux

If you are absolutely insane and using Gentoo Linux just like me, make sure you’ve already got working audio and have the following kernel configuration items enabled:

Device Drivers --->
    <*> Sound card support
        <*> Advanced Linux Sound Architecture --->
            [*] USB sound devices
                <*> USB Audio/MIDI driver

Both SD-80 and Scarlett Solo should then just work out of box (if you are using pulseaudio [1]).

At first I thought only the ‘generic’ USB mode of SD-80 is supported by this kernel module, however it turns out the ‘vendor’ USB mode works just fine as well. It also suffers a lot less stuttering.

The USB vendor ID and product ID is 0582:0029. Changing the USB mode to generic makes it 0582:002a.

In order to monitor the input, load the loopback module first:

pactl load-module module-loopback latency_msec=1

(latency_msec means exactly what the name suggests)

then move it to the audio input of the audio interface:

pacmd move-source-output 7 alsa_input.usb-Focusrite_Scarlett_Solo_USB-00.analog-stereo

where 7 is the index of the loopback followed by the name of the input of your audio interface. Usually you can use tab completion, however if you are still unsure, you may also use a GUI utility such as pavucontrol.

I haven’t tried JACK yet. But using QjackCtl should make everything a breeze.

The editor for SD-80 works perfectly using wine.

Setting things up in Windows

Setting things up in Windows is somehow more tedious than it should be. Roland didn’t bother releasing a driver for Windows 10, but a web search indicates the driver for Windows 8/8.1 works on Windows 10 with a minor tweak. As the device works with a generic driver on Linux even when the USB mode is set to ‘vendor’, it will probably work on Windows without the Roland driver too. Although I’d rather install the official driver for Windows 8/8.1 because there is one.

The tweak is simple. Open up RDIF1023.INF in a text editor, copy everything under section [Roland.NTamd64.6.2] to section [Roland.NTamd64.7] and you are good to go. Driver signature enforcement has to be disabled as stated in the quick start manual.

Settings up monitoring is as simple as clicking on a checkbox in the control panel or a button in your DAW. You just don’t see one use the command prompt for this purpose on Windows.

What does it sound like?

Well, it sounds super ‘ZUNish’, if you’ve ever listened to Touhou music. It’s definitely the best sounding module back in 2002 (barring those extendable modules such as XV-5080).

SD-80’s take on clouds.mid (an easter egg thing in Windows 95)

All instruments are from the ‘solo’ set. The trumpet is ‘Tp.Dark vib’, which is the famous ‘Romantic Tp’ with a significant lower filter cutoff. Everything else is the basic variant.

SD-80’s take on th06_02.mid

In general the STUDIO Canvas sounds more expressive than most other tone generators, virtual or not. This is probably related to its default non-zero modulation level (10) on every part. [2] Technically this makes it GM2-incompatible as section 3.3.2 of the GM2 specification says the default value for modulation depth should be 0.

Also the STUDIO Canvas has a bunch of waveforms of instruments played with vibrato, which is absent on some expandable modules such as the XV-5080 [3], making vibrato sounds much more natural than simulating with LFO modulating the pitch and other parameters.

Relation to EDIROL HyperCanvas and the Cakewalk TTS-1

There’s a rumor saying HyperCanvas and TTS-1 is essentially the ‘classical’ set from the STUDIO Canvas. And I believed the rumor has been around for quite some time. Finally I can check it out myself.

flourish.mid on SD-80 with every instrument from the ‘classical’ set and basic variant selected.

flourish.mid on Cakewalk TTS-1, everything also from bank 0.

The first impression is they do sound quite alike. But as soon as the drums kick in, you’ll find out they actually sound different.

SD-80 TTS-1
Nylon Guitar
Fingered Bass
Soprano Sax
Sweep Pad

It’s quite obvious that the drums set of TTS-1 is actually taken from SC-88Pro (except Elec. Snare, which is taken from Electric Set). The piano sounds almost identical[4]. Sax, marimba and sweep pad also sounds identical. Bass seems to heve different velocity curves and guitar in TTS-1 sounds more bright.

Further more, if you have Super Quartet, which is also made by Edirol, you may find out they also share many similar sounds, namely ‘Rockabilly’, ‘Jazz Bass’, ‘Rock Bass’ and ‘Acoustic Set’, which correspond to ‘Rockabilly’, ‘Jazz Bass’, ‘Fingered Bs2’ and ‘St.Standard’[5].

These old Edirol software synthesizers might have a very different engine compared to the XV engine found in the STUDIO Canvasses considering the DSP power of PCs of that time period. So it’s normal that the TTS-1 produces subtly different sound even when the same samples are used.

bonus clip: flourish.mid on SOUND Canvas VA (SC-88Pro Map)

bonus clip: Drums from flourish.mid on SOUND Canvas VA (SC-88Pro Map)

SOUND Canvas VA doesn’t simulate anything it claims to perfectly, but it’s the best result someone who doesn’t physically own a SC-88Pro can achieve I guess.

All audio files above were recorded using Cakewalk by Bandlab. The Cubase Pro purchase was just for more instruments to be added to my HALion library.

Here are more bonus clips recorded using arecord on Linux.


th06_15.mid (I didn’t bother adjusting fade in value for the vibrato LFO.)

And finally SD-80 in a mix, featuring two signature instruments ZUN used a lot in recent games (‘Romantic Tp’ and ‘Reed Romance’) and also ‘St.Sm Choir’.

深海七花~Forgotten Benefit_extended_remix
(Theme of stage 6 boss of Touhou Kaikeidou, arranged a bit. Originally by Crystalwings)

UPDATE: 2019-10-12

Now that I’ve been using my SD-80 for some time, I could say more about the sounds built into it.

Piano sounds in the SD-80 are not super compelling, mainly because it’s too bright and thin. Sure it has improved a lot since the early days, but it’s still nowhere near the real thing.

Guitars and basses are in a similar situation. Most of these are also nowhere near realistic. However there is something worth of noting in this category, which is distortion guitar. Dist guitar presets with MFX pre-applied are much more better sounding than the old plain sample-based sounds.

Orchestral sounds are expressive, sometimes overly expressive. There are not much variations either: no spiccato or solo pizzicato sounds. With a bit of tweaking though, symphony tracks do sound decent on the SD-80.

Lead sounds and pads are superb, especially those from the special sets. With the editor a lot more nice sounds could be created. A lot of presets with step modulation typical of that days could be found both built-in and on the Internet (as midi system exclusive messages).

Drums are half decent. Somehow I don’t really like Roland’s choice of their acoustic drum sets. I would always turn to other virtual drums for acoustic drums. Electric drum sounds are pretty good, but there are simply not enough electric drum sounds inside the SD-80.

Also I don’t really like how Roland arranges the sounds into 4 GM2 sound sets. This severely limits the number of different kind of instruments. For example, rather than a lot of different vocal sounds that can be found in the SC-8850, in the SD-80 we only have Voice Oohs, Voices Oohs 2, St. Vox Oohs and Enh.Vox Oohs.

The GS and XG lite modes don’t sound very good, which contain sounds that are more like stripped down version of its native presets than a genuine GS or XG lite synthesizer. The GS sounds are almost pathetic: it only come with the same instrument map as the SC-55, and sounds really cheap. Compatibility wise, however, the SD-80 does a nice job. It does seem to support all NRPNs and control messages of these standards (even though it sometimes screw up parameter scaling). But due to the fact that there aren’t really a lot of usable sounds in these modes, I don’t find these modes particularly useful.

The SD-80 has 32MB of sample content [6], which is on par with both SC-8850 and XV-5080. This is quite surprising because some of the sounds in XV-5080 are so much more realistic than those in SD-80 or SC-8850. The XV-5080 managed to squeeze 1083 samples into the 32MB wave ROM while the SD-80 only comes with 589 samples, which are often of lower quality. I don’t quite get why Roland did this.

Working with the SD-80

Fighting against latency

Even though Scarlett Solo can achieve a very low latency, there’s no way I can squeeze out enough processing power out of my ULV dual core i7 to handle it. Therefore I was forced to live with ~11 ms latency, which is not that high, but still a quite significant amount to deal with.

Cakewalk’s glitchy latency compensation makes things even worse: it works in some projects but completely out of order for the others. In order to listen to a full mix, I have to make a short recording, which is really annoying. As this is much more expensive time-wise, I started using more guesswork before trying a full mix and it’s probably not good.


Recording is simple and works as expected. However I seem to suffer from quite a high SNR value, which hovers around ~90 dB. Perhaps it’s my crappy cables making me pay.

Editing the sounds

The best thing about SD-80 is its editability. Neither SD-90 nor SD-20 came with the same level of editability upon launch. [7]

As claimed by the Sound On Sound review, the editor for SD-80 is very similar to the one for XV-2020. The editor exposes a generic sample-based synthesis engine quite comparable to the one found in HALion (with more restrictions, of course). It lets you take full control of the synthesis engine and even create new patches not found anywhere else.

The synthesis engine consists of four layers (with up to two samples [8] for each layer, plus frequency modulation), four filters (one for each layer), eight envelope generators (amplitude EG and filter EG for each layer), two LFOs [9] and a 4*4 modulation matrix. There are also 90 post-processing effects (some of which are combinations of multiple simple effects, hence the name ‘MFX’) to choose from for each channel.

Restrictions aforementioned include inability to use external samples so you are essentially locked in to 589 built-in waveforms (which is probably fine because it’s not what the STUDIO Canvas line is aimed at), limited number of envelope nodes, limited modulation routing, restricted number of different MFX’s that can be used at the same time (3).

The editor has quite terrible user experience. Guess it’s common for such decades-old software. It comes with a twenty-page pdf manual (which contains a lot of excerpts from the XV-5080 owner’s manual), which focus on the internals of the synthesizer, and a html manual, which focus on the interface of the editor.

I’ve also tried editor software for other STUDIO Canvas modules using the same generation of XV engine. The SD-20 editor works seamlessly with SD-80, and it only offers basic parameters editing just like TTS-1. The SD-90 editor, despite being extremely similar to the SD-20 editor, doesn’t work at all, which is not surprising as it’s essentially the SD-20 editor plus an editor for the audio mixer and audio effects processor found in the SD-90, which the SD-80 lacks.

By the way, if you have hi-dpi display and use Windows 10, be sure to use ‘System (Enhanced)’ scaling behavior for the SD-80 Editor. It scales perfectly that way.

I’m not going to scatter the post with even more pictures, so please follow the links for selected screenshots of the editor:

main screen / ‘part survey’ / layers / amp EG / LFO / layers mapping / modulation matrix / patch options / ‘part all’ / MFX editing / Rhythm layers editor / Rhythm amp EG

Impact on the workflow

First of all I’ve to record and thus, deal with latency, noise and clipping. It’s pretty annoying as already mentioned above.

Also the SD-80 doesn’t integrate very well with any DAW. There’s no way your settings of this hardware synth get saved automatically with your project like a virtual synth. Also forget about automation and all sort of things. You have to use MIDI events and system exclusive messages (especially tuning some obscure parameters) for this purpose, and DAW software doesn’t have great support for system exclusive messages in general.


The SD-80 is GM2 compatible. However many midi files you randomly find may not play on it even when the device is in GM2 mode. If the midi file being played has any sort of bank selection event not recognized by the SD-80, the corresponding part will produce no sound at all.

If your midi file has NRPN messages, things will get even worse. These things are essentially undocumented for the SD-80. All I could say is good luck keeping your eardrum intact. [10]

The manual says ‘This set (“classical” set) is also used when GM2 data compatibility is important’. However upon receiving the GM2 on message, the module automatically selects ‘contemporary’ set for every part. It seems impossible to change this behavior.

The XG Lite mode has way more instruments available than what the manual has listed. Bank 18 patch 1 gives you ‘Piano 1d’ (presumably ‘Mellow Grand Piano’ in XG specification), which is not listed in the manual. It actually has 489 normal patches, 49 sfx patches, 2 sfx kits and 9 drum kits [11]. It’s quite irony to find out that they have more patches for their competitor’s standard than their own legacy standard. However these sounds are relatively lame when compared with authentic YAMAHA XG synthesizers of the same period. Particularly some sounds in different variant slot of the same patch number sounds almost identical. Roland obvious put less effort in these sounds in terms of sound designing.

MIDI timing messes up if events flood in within a demisemiquaver worth of time. This quirk resembles the problem QMidiPlayer for Windows suffered from in its early days. But I’m pretty sure the cause is completely different. [12] Also this could be a common issue of old MIDI devices, as my old YAMAHA keyboards does the exact same thing.

The sound generated by the SD-80/90 is phasey as could be heard in ZUN’s early works. If unsure, take a look at the spectrogram.

The module, as all electric appliances do, generates heat. The manual says “A small amount of heat will radiate from the unit during normal operation”, and the chassis do get quite warm even when it is completely idle. This didn’t become an issue until later.

Finally there are a couple of quirks in Roland’s former partner Cakewalk. Whenever the input signal level exceeds 0dB, instead of clipping the audio, it produces a loud cracking or popping sound in the record. Cubase and arecord have no such problem.

Another quirk with Cakewalk is its metronome. Metronome settings in Cakewalk is saved on a per-project basis and there’s no way to change the default value (unless creating a template, which is useless for existing projects). By default it sends the metronome to the default MIDI device, which result in records with metronome clicks in them.

Beneath the chassis

Although I cherish the module quite a lot and there are warning text on top of it (which I can’t read because it’s in Japanese and … well, English), I disassembled the unit.

CAUTION!! 注意!! ATTENTION!! (/a.tɑ̃.sjɔ̃/)

As most other vendors does, Roland build their audio equipment ‘like a tank’. The entire chassis is made out of aluminium and steel, and has an absolutely crazy amount of screws on it. The front panel came off after taking out 5 screws on top and bottom, after which I took out the value knob and the rubber button sheet for a cleanup.

The top cover was freed after taking out 11 screws. Under the top cover lies the guts of SD-80. All boards except the power supply board uses SMD components extensively. The main board is made exclusively using SMD components, which is probably quite impressive back in the early 2000s.

The power supply module is surrounded with thick plastic sheet presumably for insulation. Rated voltage for the module seems to be changeable by using different pin layouts on the input side. The power supply module is made of two separate boards. The two boards are connected with two wide connectors that only have a few pins on them. I would guess the pin layout on the connectors sets the rated voltage of the module but I’m not sure. I would definitely test that out someday.

I took note of the engravment of every chip on the main board, which could be found in chart B below.

What the manual doesn’t tell

A very sensible thing to do after the disassembly is to search the engravment on the chips online. Searching ‘RA08-503’ found on the largest Roland-labled chips [13] brings up a whole new world to me: service manuals for Roland synths. Sadly there are no manuals for any STUDIO Canvas models, nevertheless, they are very useful for learning more about the insides of a Roland synthesizer.

There are a couple of models bearing the ‘RA08-503’ chip found in the SD-80. Examples include XV-5080 and MC-909. This chip is referred to as ‘XV’ in their service manuals (also in the SD-80, as you will find out later). It’s safe to guess they handle the most important work of a sound module – tone generation. Also I observed that all modules supporting 32 parts and 128 polyphony have two of these chips in them, while the ones with only one chip only supports up to 16 parts and 64 polyphony. Maybe that’s the limitation of the single chip. Also one can tell the chip also handles some weird job such as LED indicators from the circuit board schematic.

A very lonely chip on the right side has ‘6417706’ on it. Turns out this is a microprocessor implementing the SuperH architecture. It’s the same CPU as found in MC-909 (which makes sense as they are produced around the same time). Linux kernel has support for this processor[14]. The processor has a maximum clock speed of 133 MHz and is underclocked to 128MHz in the MC-909. It’s probably underclocked even more in the SD-80. There’s an unpopulated D-sub connector presumably for debugging near the CPU.

Testing mode

According to the service manuals available for other models, they all have a hidden test mode. Some also have the ability to update system firmware. Entering testing mode often involves turning the power on with a combination of keys pressed. Every model have its own way to enter testing mode and there’s no obvious pattern. At that point, I was desperate to dive into it. So I simply tried all button combinations consisting of one to three buttons. The result didn’t let me down. I found three combinations that make the SD-80 boot into special modes.

  • INST + SHIFT + PART▶ = Test Mode
  • INST + PAGE◀ + PREVIEW = Program Updater
  • SYSTEM + PAGE◀ + PREVIEW = Program Updater

Below is everything I found about these modes.

Test Mode

00 Version Check
1.03 0022 2002/07/29

(Preview blinks, pressing it doesn’t seem to do anything)

01 Device Check
      ALL OK!!

(I got NG:XV2 shortly after heavily using the module for a while. MFX in test 7 produces no sound at all, system delay only has the dry sound, everything else was normal. More on this later.)

02 MIDI Check
MID1:x MID2:x THRU:x

(No MIDI cable for me until I’m home… Input from USB does not count.)

03 LCD Check
PAGE:Sel / ENC: Contr

(PAGE buttons switch among the following four patterns: none, full, chequerboard 0, reversed chequerboard. Contr=Contrast)

04 SW/LED Check
    ooooo ooooo

(All buttons and indicators light up. Transparent buttons turns off its light, opaque buttons turns off LED above or below it, ENTER button turns off nothing. The five o’s on the left corresponds to the upper row, others corresponds to the lower row. Pressing a button turns its character to #, releasing it causes it to change to ..)

05 Encoder Check
  Value(0-23) = xx

(+ Plays C3, - Plays E3, both using the piano voice. Value starts at 00. Interestingly if the encoder is turned too fast, the value on screen does not change until you stop.)

06 Sound Check
Push button to check
   Left channel
   Center channel
   Right channel

(INST/EFFECTS/SYSTEM blink, pushing one makes it constantly on while others still blinking and plays the corresponding check. Plays sine wave on the selected channel(s))

07 Effect Check
Push button to check
    System Delay
    System Reverb

(Same as test 06. The sounds used for these checks are snare, castanets and side stick respectively.)

08 Factory Reset
   Push [PREVIEW]

(PREVIEW blinks, pressing it really resets!)

The SD-80 still works as a sound module in test mode – it will play any incoming midi stream. The module is in native mode regardless of your settings. MFX doesn’t seem to be working normally (likely due to it’s reserved for test 07). Switching between tests resets some (if not all, depending on the test switching to) of the synthesizer’s states. Switching to test 05 sets some of the instrumental parts to piano and others to a certain synth lead patch. Switching to test 06 sets sine wave and piano on all instrumental parts just like test 05. Switching to test 07 sets certain instrument parts to a drum patch, the patch ‘Xtremities’ could also be heard. Other parts are set to piano.

Program Updater

Program Updater
Version: 1.03
Program Updater
Program Updater
Program Updater
Update by MIDI
Update by USB
  • INST = Program version (INST lights up)
  • EFFECTS = Updater version (EFFECTS lights up)
  • SYSTEM = Boot version (SYSTEM lights up)
  • SHIFT = Returns to initial screen of the updater
  • PART◀ = Update by MIDI
  • PART▶ = Update by USB

MIDI and USB indicators blink on any screen with the top row saying Program Updater. Selecting a source makes the corresponding indicator constantly lit and the other go out.

If this mode is entered with the combination SYSTEM + PAGE◀ + PREVIEW, INST, EFFECTS, SYSTEM will do nothing instead. This combination is probably reserved for consumers.

Sound generation does not work in the program updater.

Presumably the update MIDI files are similar to earlier models: stream of system exclusive events containing firmware blobs. No program update could be found for the SD-80 on the Internet. There are update files for the SD-90 however, which updates its system software to version 1.03.

Messing around sans the chassis

As the two XV chips are arranged in a master-slave manner, I tried figuring out which one is acting as the master. I threw a bunch of midi files at it while measuring the temperature of the XV chips… with my fingers. Both chips turn quite toasty but IC19 is always warmer than IC27, sometimes it’s even a little difficult to keep my finger stay on that chip.

When the action gets more intense, IC27 starts to warm up. Before I was just going to conclude that IC27 is acting as the master, I realized that I will never come into a meaningful conclusion without further reverse engineering: I have absolutely no idea how the load is distributed between the two XV’s!

Frustrated, I entered testing mode to find out whether there’s anything interesting if it’s run with chassis removed. To my surprise, the device check failed with NG:XV2 and a bunch of other errors in the following tests. I thought I was doomed, but a reboot of the module solved the problem completely and it never show any trace of abnormality that day.

The other day, however, the problem returned. After messing with the SD-80 editor and creating random complex patches for an hour, I randomly decided to check out the testing mode again, where I was greeted by the NG:XV2 failure the second time. Again, a reboot solved the problem for the day. No amount of hardwork will put the SD-80 into a buggy state if it boot straight into normal mode. At this point I thought it could be a bug in the test or the device check could be quite sensitive to temperature, which is probably not a very good thing as there are no vent holes for airflow on the module whatsoever.

A few more days, I found my SD-80 frozen after keeping it on doing almost nothing for a day. In yet another case, it just randomly froze during playback after half day of usage. I’m unsure these instability are specific to my machine.

Chart A


Model Tone Generator CPU Storage # of parts # of polyphony (‘voices’)
SC-55 TC24SC201AF-002 (PCM Custom) H8/532 256K SRAM*2, Wave ROM*3, EPROM, CPU has RAM and ROM built-in 16 24
SC-88 MBCS30109 (Custom Sound Generator) ‘XP’ H8/510 EPROM/Mask ROM, SRAM*2, Wave ROM*4, DRAM*2 32 64
SC-88Pro RA01-005 (Custom Sound Generator) ‘XP3’ H8/510 EPROM, SRAM*2, Wave ROM*5, DRAM*3 32 64
SC-8850 2*RA09-002 (Custom) ‘XP6’ SH7017 64KB System ROM, 8M System Flash, 256K SRAM (USB controller), 2*4M DRAM (EFX effects + System), 16M Data ROM or Flash, 2*128Mbit Wave ROM, 2*4M DRAM (XP effects), 256k SRAM (framebuffer) 64 128
SC-8820 RA09-002 (Custom) ‘XP6’ SH7017 64KB System ROM, 256K SRAM (USB controller), 16M Data ROM or Flash, 2*4M DRAM (EFX effects + System), 128Mbit+164Mbit Wave Rom, 4M DRAM (XP effects) 32 64
JV-1080 MBCS30109B (XP Chip) ‘XP’ SH7034 CPU has 64KB Program Flash + 4KB SRAM built-in, 512kbit SRAM, 1Mbit DRAM, 8Mbit Data ROM, 2*1M DRAM (XP effects), 4*Wave ROM 16 64
JV-2080 TC170C200AF-005 (TG) ‘XP’ SH7034 CPU has 64KB Program Flash + 4KB SRAM built-in, 2*DRAM, DRAM (XP effects), DRAM (LCD framebuffer), DRAM, SRAM, ROM or Flash 16 64
XV-5080 2*TC223C660CF-503 (RA08-503) ‘XV’ SH7042 2*1Mbit SRAM, 256kbit (LCD framebuffer), 2*16Mbit (DRAM), 16Mbit Flash, 2*16Mbit DRAM (XV effects), 2*128Mbit Wave ROM 32 128
XV-5050 TC223C660CF-503 (RA08-503) ‘XV’ SH7016 8Kbit EEPROM, 32Mbit Flash, 16Mbit DRAM, 16Mbit DRAM (XV effects), 2*128Mbit Wave ROM 16 64
MC-909 TC223C660CF-503 (RA08-503) ‘XV’ SH7706 @ 128MHz 2*64Mbit SDRAM (system), 16Mbit Flash (program), 256Mbit Flash (program, user), 16Mbit DRAM (external effects RAM), 4Mbit DRAM (XV effects), 2*64Mbit Wave SDRAM, 128Mbit Wave ROM 16 64
SD-80 2*TC223C660CF-503 (RA08-503) ‘XV’ SH7706 16Mbit Flash, 2*16Mbit SDRAM, 2*16Mbit EDO DRAM, 2*Wave ROM 32 128

Chart B

Follow the link in the first column for a board photo with that chip visible. Sorry for the shaky photo and poor depth of field.

Label Engravment Remark
IC 1 62292 361 (8-pin) Unknown
IC 2 6417706 SH3 BC13008 133 0413 176-pin QFP, SH7706 CPU
IC 3 LH28F 160BJE-BTL80 SHARP JAPAN 0428 7xN Flash Memory (16Mbit)
IC 4, 6 SANYO LC381616IET-70 KZA7G0CD1 0042 SDRAM (16Mbit)
IC 5 ‘H5’ or ‘115’ (illegible) (5-pin) Unknown
IC 7 4D46 LV 00A NAND Gate
IC 8, 20, 22~25 4C1Y LV 245A Bus Transceiver
IC 9, 11 F P42AB VT245A 8-bit Transceiver
IC 10, 12 0431H LVXC3245 Configurable 8-bit Transceiver
IC 13 VHC T139A 4 23 Dual 2/4 Decoder
IC 14 ‘H12’ or ‘H2’ (illegible) (5-pin) Unknown
IC 15 4D36 LV 04A Hex Inverter
IC 16 4D16 LV 14A Hex Schmitt-Trigger Inverter
IC 17 Roland R02902867 137 352B100 I/O Processor? USB controller?
IC 18 VH3 139 4 24 Dual 2/4 Decoder
IC 19, 27 Roland R01455956 RA08-503 JAPAN 0330EAI F0032ZAC Voice Generator + LED & LCD Controller etc. (‘XV’)
IC 21 7WU04 4.F Inverter (CMOS)
IC 26, 30 HYUNDAI GM71C18163CJ6 0040 AG1 KOREA EDO DRAM (16Mbit)
IC 28 Roland R02678601 23C128L-529J 0224E7007 Wave ROM (128Mbit?) [16]
IC 29 Roland R02678612 23C128L-535K 0222E7005 Wave ROM (128Mbit?)
IC 31, 35 4570 431 Regulator
IC 32, 34 PCM1716E 27ZDHFM DAC
IC 33 04 16H TC9271FS Digital Audio Modulator/Transmitter
IC 36 A E (3-pin) Unknown


The SD-80, a product in Roland’s more budget-friendly Sound Canvas (Studio Canvas) line up, is a great sound module mainly focused at standards compliance at its time. In my opinion it’s the direct successor of the SC-8850, while the SD-90 is the direct successor of the SC-D70 (both are audio interfaces with a sound module integrated).

The Studio Canvas family is Roland’s first and last line up of sound modules that map nearly all instruments to the GM2 instrument map. While making the instrument mapping less confusing, this instrument mapping has its limitations. No later Roland sound module does the same thing.

Hardware wise, the SD-80 is extremely close to the XV-5080. But the SD-80 being a ‘Rompler’, its hardware capability is severely limited by Roland by matching them with worse wave ROM contents than its professional counterpart. This seems to be true across almost all professional and budget-friendly Roland synths in the 90s. (SC-88 has the same tone generator as JP-1080 (‘XP’), SC-88Pro has the same tone generator as JP-2080 (‘XP3’). SC-8850 and SC-8820 use a newer revision of the ‘XP’ chip (‘XP6’), which seems to be unused in a professional product.)

Roland no longer makes ‘romplers’ today. Due to their unique sounds, these canvases might become a collector’s item in the future.

Things to do besides imitating ZUN

The SD-80 does not like QMidiPlayer very much. So the first thing to do is quite clear.

Giving it a total makeup is the second thing on my bucket list. I’ll probably ditch the original top cover and front panel altogether and make some custom acrylic glass parts for it.

Porting Linux to it might be a very fun (also atrocious) thing to do. The internals of the SD-80 is capable of doing much more than what it does as a STUDIO Canvas. It’s got the same main processor as the MC-909, just think about the possibility out there (this is also the reason why I call it a ‘trapped beast’ in the title of this post). The only thing against this is that I am shy of any experience with this level of hardware hacking.

Setting up a web service where people upload their midi files and have them rendered with the SD-80 also sounds pretty cool. But I’m afraid I’ll receive something from Roland by then and it wouldn’t be fine for me. Is it really illegal to use a instrument on a time-sharing basis?

Seriously though if I could pull it off, I’ll probably add a donation button and buy more classic sound modules for the site. Eventually it will turn into an online museum for sound modules… screw it I’m talking utter nonsense again.

Also somehow extracting the waveforms and creating a instrument bank for HALion or Kontact is tempting. But the odds of being sued by Roland is even higher even though they did not explicitly disallow sampling their early products. To be honest I found it disturbing about the sampling restriction on these ‘unconventional’ instruments.

Newer Roland sound modules?

Newer Roland sound modules such as SonicCell and the latest INTEGRA-7 seems to maintain the compatibility with their original ‘XP’ synthesis engine to some extent – as they all support SRX expansion in a certain way. The synthesis engines are obviously improving over the years as Roland says the SRX expansion sounds built into INTEGRA-7 will sound a little different compared to earlier modules.

However, disappointment strikes as soon as I saw the ‘READ’ button on screenshots of the editor software for the INTEGRA-7. I felt Roland really need to make more use of the USB bandwidth: the presence of that button implies the editor software still can’t reflect the realtime status of the synthesizer. [17] This is a huge drawback of using a hardware synthesizer that Roland still fails to fix to this day.

Also, the INTEGRA-7 is super expensive for an amateur and Roland ended their budget [18] SOUND Canvas / STUDIO Canvas product line years ago. So no more Roland sound modules for me I guess.


  • A XML file in the SD-80 editor (Script/SD-80EditorScript.xml) contains patch list and wave list for all SRX expansion cards, confirming the fact that the editor is based on an editor for some other sound module with expansion slots.

  • There are two crystal oscillators on the main board of SD-80. X1 is a 24 MHz one and X2 is a 16.934 MHz one. Both are out of range of SH7706’s allowed external clock frequency (clock mode 0 has a input range of 25 MHz to 66.67 MHz, clock mode 1 has a input range 6.25 MHz to 16.67 MHz). MC-909, which has the same CPU as the SD-80, has a 16 MHz crystal as the CPU clock source and the CPU operates at 128 MHz. There’s also a 16.934 MHz crystal in the MC-909, which is tied to its tone generator (the same tone generator as the one inside SD-80, RA08-503 or ‘XV’). X2 in SD-80 is also very close to one of its tone generator chip. My blind guess is that the output from X1 in SD-80 goes through a frequency divider and the CPU operates at 96 MHz. XV-5050 also has a 16.934 MHz clock source tied to its XV chip. XV-5080 however doesn’t have a 16.935 MHz crystal directly tied to its XV chip, but rather a 11.2886 MHz one going through a 3:2 PLL producing a 16.9329 MHz clock.

If you want to learn more …

  • Gigadenza, owns multiple sound modules, including the latest INTEGRA-7.
  • Romantique Tp, a Touhou music addict that I came across on Steinberg user forum.
If you spot a mistake or have anything you wish to share on this topic, please do not hesitate to drop me a message.

[1]: Pulseaudio sucks a lot less compared to the old days, it even switch automatically between built in Intel HD Audio and external USB audio device when it’s plugged in / unplugged.
[2]: SD-90 doesn’t seem to have a non-zero modulation level according to its manual. Interesting.
[3]: You can find the waveform list of SD-90/80 and XV-5080 online and do the comparison yourself.
[4]: ‘Piano 1 st.’ in TTS-1 is actually ‘St.Piano 1’ from STUDIO Canvas’ ‘solo’ set. TTS-1 doesn’t have a ‘key scale panning’ (this is XG terminology, which means ‘wide’ in Roland’s wordbook) piano preset.
[5]: The drum set mapping of Super Quartet is not GM compatible. It comes with a couple of sounds the STUDIO Canvas lacks.
[6]: This is a reasonable guess, see chart B below for details.
[7]: The SD-90 do have almost the same level of editability as the SD-80, which can be achieved with the use of an updated version of SD-80’s editor, however it seems that SD-90 can’t save user patches. The SD-20, on the other hand, never enjoy the same level of editability. (The SD-20 is probably still editable by sending system exclusive messages directly?)
[8]: One on each stereo channel.
[9]: Vibrato uses a separate LFO, so technically it’s three.
[10]: NRPN message setting expression to 100% on one device may set filter resonance to 100% on another. Imagine that.
[11]: I counted the instruments by turning the knob. The knob sometimes skips forward and backward, so there’s no way I count them accurately in a rush. I will probably make a complete patch list another day. UPDATE: the complete patch list could be found here
[12]: The problem found in QMidiPlayer can be solved by simply lowering buffer size.
[13]: In case you haven’t yet noticed, there are two of those chips on the board.
[14]: https://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/torvalds/linux.git/tree/arch/sh/kernel/cpu/sh3/clock-sh7706.c
[15]: Data for all models except the SD-80 are from their service notes.
[16]: The text on this chip together with the next one suspiciously resembles the part number of XV-5080’s wave ROM chips, plus the 128 Mbit wave ROM chips found in SC-8850 and SC-8820. (SC-8850 has 2*128Mbit wave ROM, while SC-8820 has 128Mbit + 64Mbit. The part number of the 64Mbit wave ROM chip has a completely different naming scheme.)
[17]: I did not do much research on this and I could be completely wrong on this topic.
[18]: compared to their JV/XV products.