Roland MKS-20 Digital Piano Module


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Roland hit a purple patch with the MKS series. The MKS 50, 70 and 80 (Super Jupiter) were the go-to keyboards for well-paid session musicians throughout the 1980s and helped define the sound of synthesisers in that period

The MKS 20 Digital Piano Module was part of the MKS series but it wasn’t a synth or a sample player. It used a new form of synthesis, Structured Adaptive Synthesis (SAS) to take timbres from real instruments and map them across the keyboard. Roland did this by creating a touch-sensitive instrument with a huge dynamic range that played like a real piano. The keyboard version was the RD-1000 digital piano and the module, the MKS-20. In the right hands, this is as expressive a keyboard as you will find

Here’s a big quote from Planet Botch, a website I’ve not come across before. It sums up the genesis of the MKS20 and describes the technology:

“Roland didn’t think the idea of off-the-shelf synthesis, even digital synthesis, was good enough for replicating acoustic pianos, but neither were they convinced by the static nature of straight samples. They therefore set about creating a much more sophisticated system of dynamic modelling. Known as Sturctured Adaptive synthesis, or just SA (or sometimes SAS), Roland’s new concept completely abandoned existing techniques. Instead of taking a synthesis method and saying: “Okay, let’s see if this can replicate a piano…”, they took a piano and said: “Okay, let’s see if we can recreate this with digital technology”

SA synthesis acknowledged that samples were easily the most reliable way to accurately replicate the sound of something as complex as a piano. But it also acknowledged that the piano was a dynamically rich instrument which flew in the face of a sample’s static nature. You could obviously make a recorded sample of a piano sound like a piano, but you couldn’t make it play like one. Roland got round this by fighting complexity with complexity. They started by sampling real, high quality pianos over the range of their keyboards and at different velocities. Then they digitally analysed the samples to determine their harmonic makeup. Then they digitally synthesised the results to create flexible, workable building blocks

Recreating the characteristics of samples with synthesis meant Roland could smooth out all of the transitions which would, on an ordinary sample player or an early S&S (Sample and Synthesis) device be blighted with irregulatities. They could eliminate the note-to-note inconsistencies of multisampling, as well as transitioning the timbral response much more naturally over the velocity range. Roland did heavily zone the keyboard as was the case with a multisampler, so the characteristics of the acoustic piano’s various zones could be reproduced. But importantly, the Roland SA re-synthesis system sounded unlike multisampling, and didn’t respond with the abruptness of multisampling, because the dynamics and timbral changes were much more regularly and gradually controlled”

Not content with creating the definitive electric piano and electronic Rhodes , Clavinet and Vibes sounds, Roland added their signature chorus and vibrato system, inspired by the Boss CE-1, to create a wonderfully wide, rich stereo signal

A few quotes from the web:

“Still one of the best electric pianos around, even after 20 years. The chorus is fantastic”

“I had been looking for a certain electric piano sound for years and I come to find out that It was not in the DX7 but in the MKS-20”

“gotta chime in here with more support of the MKS20 – the vibes are the best I have ever heard – the ep is great too – I did many a gig MKS20 and DX-7 – The piano’s are more like cp 70 type sounds – it’s a keeper”

“Nothing comes close to the MKS-20; a very unique product! Every now and then Roland releases a product that has that “timeless” appeal: Super Jupiter, MKS-80, MKS-20, JD-990, etc”

“I adore my MKS-20! It’s a wonderful-sounding instrument. In addition to the killer EPs, the SA vibes are the best I’ve ever heard anywhere…”
“Since I heard the piano preset 1 I was blown away, really a great sound and awesome respond to velocity”

“Here’s a run-down on its sounds:

  • Piano 1 – 80s ‘Elton John’ digital piano
  • Piano 2 – a bit darker than Piano 1.
  • Piano 3 – a decent bright ‘rocker’ piano, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the CP-70/80
  • EP 1 – a mellow, warm Rhodes sound with a bit of bark when played hard. Sometimes, I think it sounds a bit Wurli-ish
  • EP 2 – a more modern ‘bell’ like piano – NOT the DX7 piano, though!
  • Harpsichord – usable enough
  • Clavinet – again, usable
  • Vibe – fantastic, especially with the on-board tremolo”

“I shopped both the 330 and the MKS back around ’88 during the brief period that both were available. The MKS had a markedly richer sound that went far beyond its chorus, so I ended up buying it. I’d go for the classic and get the MKS”

“Just for that sound, I believe it’s elec. piano 1, it’s worth every penny”

The MKS20 is a very deep & heavy 2U module. Outputs are on jacks & balanced on XLRs. 220 Volt AC power input, mains cable with UK mains plug supplied

Deep, heavy, 2U device suitable for mounting in a standard 19" rack. 220 Volt AC input is via 2-pin socket

Owners manual Audiofanzine 5 Star ★★★★★ Review Analogue Heaven Discussion Music Player Network Discussion What was the first Digital Piano? Synthmania Review Sonic State 4.8 Star ★★★★★ Review MKS20 Service Notes DITY Audio Notes Synthmania Demos Youtube Demo Youtube Demo


Excellent used condition with minor rack rash & marks. Tested & working 100%.