Roland brings its Zen-core synth engine to your computer

Terrence O'Brien
Managing Editor
Roland Zenology

Back in January Roland launched Zen-Core, its next generation synth engine that combined samples and virtual analog software to power the Fantom 6, 7 and 8 workstations, the Jupiter-X line of synths and the RD-88 stage pianos. It even eventually came to the MC-101 and MC-707 grooveboxes. The big selling point was supposed to be that all these devices could basically share sounds. So you could, theoretically, do all of your sound design on a Jupiter-X, then load that patch on to your MC-101 and take it to a jam session at a friends house. (Remember when you could go to jam sessions?)

Obviously if all of these devices can share a core synth engine, there’s nothing hardware specific about it. So it was only a matter of time before Roland brought it to PCs. Zenology is the face of those efforts.

As part of its revamped Roland Cloud service, it’s also launching Zenology as a standalone VST instrument that can be used in your DAW of choice. The full version comes packed with over 3,500 different synth sounds and 80 drum kits. If you don’t want to shell out the $29.99 a year, or $2.99 a month for a Roland Cloud Core membership, there is still a free version of Zenology you can get has 176 tones and 6 drum kits.

The sounds offered range from classic analog style pads to crazy EDM noise blasts and fuzzy bass. Obviously, not all of them are going to be winners, but there’s plenty of solid choices here. They all have a distinctly modern Roland character.

One thing Zenology is not right now though, is a sound designer’s dream. The current version has only limited controls available for you to tweak sounds and a single master effect unit. If you want to some serious work building sounds from scratch, you’ll need to wait for Zenology Pro which is rolling out this fall. Zenology Pro will also require a Roland Cloud Pro account, which will cost you $99 a year or $9.99 per month. So, it ain’t cheap.

The Windows version also exhibits some weird behavior right now, where the interface doesn’t respect the actual placement of the mouse at times. It doesn’t make the synth unusable, but it’s a little annoying.

Zenology definitely has potential and there’s something incredibly compelling about a platform agnostic synth engine that’s equally at home on a desktop computer, as it is a portable groovebox, or a giant 88-key stage piano. It’s clear though that Roland still has a lot of work to do for this synth to reach its full potential.