Roland U-20

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The U-20 synthesizer
Manufacturer Roland Corporation
Dates 1988 ~ 1991
Technical specifications
Polyphony 30 voices
Timbrality 6 parts + 1 drumpart
Synthesis type PCM-sample based
Filter None
Attenuator ADSR envelope
Aftertouch expression Yes
Velocity expression Yes
Storage memory 128 tones, 64 patches
Effects Reverb, chorus and delay
Keyboard 61 keys
Left-hand control MIDI + 2 data-sliders
External control Arpeggiator, Chord Play

The Roland U-20 is a PCM-sample synthesizer, released by Roland in 1988.[1]

The U-20 is described by Roland as a 'RS-PCM keyboard', where RS stands for ReSynthesized because the sound-engine can play back a modified version of stored PCM samples.[2]


The synthesizer engine itself merely plays back stored PCM samples. Such a synthesizer is known as a rompler, as opposed to a sampler, which lets you record and load in custom samples. Nevertheless, sample playback can be slightly customized via editing its ADSR envelope and applying DSP effects, like reverb or chorus. A drawback is the absence of filters.

The U-20 has standard 64 patches, and can be doubled with an optional RAM-card (the M-256E). Also there are 2 extra slots for ROM PCM-cards to expand the number of sounds.

There's a built-in arpeggiator, a Chord Play feature which plays back a full chord with only one finger, 2 assignable sliders, and the U-20 is compatible with the SN-U110 and SN-MV30-S1 series of soundcards.[3]

With one U-20 it's possible to produce a reasonably complete orchestration. The maximum number of voices is then limited by the device itself.

The U-20 has given certain Roland-sounds more publicity, like the shakuhachi, the bell, guitar-samples with distortion, and the typical Roland piano-sound, which can be found in later Roland models like the JV and XV series.

Editing sounds is limited and relatively complicated due to the small screen and menu layout. Thanks to its popularity, later on there was software made available to edit sounds on a computer via MIDI, or by adding new sounds to the device.[4] There are also hardware presets in programs like Cubase allowing easier communication.


The U-220 is a 1U (19-inch rackmount) module of the U-20. It was the successor of the U-110 that was released in 1988. The U-220 has the same LCD screen and expansion possibilities, but less knobs on the front panel than the U-20.


  • 128 different voices (additional may be supplied with ROM/RAM cards)
  • Programmable DSP unit offers reverb, delay, chorus
  • 3 demo songs
  • 61 keys with note velocity and aftertouch abilities
  • MIDI In/Out/Thru DIN connectors
  • Phones output, Mix Output (L/R) and Direct Output (L/R) jacks
  • Pedal switch and Expression pedal inputs
  • Powered by external 110-230 V AC source


The amount of force needed to trigger aftertouch is very impractical and thus unusable on this instrument. Another point of criticism was the poor readable manual. Besides that, the U-20 has structural problems with the key sensors, they need regular cleaning or replacement because certain keys malfunction over time.[5]

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