Need a realistic engine sound for your electric car? Call a synth maker!

Roland and GLM creating neo-futuristic driving sound system using world-leading synthesizer technology.
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Above: The Japanese GLM ZZ electric roadster, equipped with an engine-sound simulation unit featuring Roland SuperNATURAL synth technology.

It’s natural for a keyboard player to want an electric sports car. Stomach-dropping torque on demand, starship-like cabin tech, and never stopping at a gas pump. Plus, Dave Smith drives a Tesla and pretty much everyone in the synth world wouldn’t mind being him right about now. Plus, the things are stinkin’ quiet. The slight buzz with which they sneak up on you sounds like the future.

For some, that’s too quiet. Especially when you’re driving for driving’s sake, part of the fun is all of the noises the engine and exhaust make in response to your acceleration, deceleration, and shifts. It has also been pointed out that cars that are too quiet pose a possible hazard to pedestrians. Some EVs have incorporated engine-sound simulators, but most sound rather static and simplistic.

GLM, a Japanese electric car maker affiliated with Kyoto University, wanted to go one better and create the most sonically realistic driving experience ever for their ZZ roadster. They turned to Roland, who created a custom sound generator based on their “SuperNATURAL” sound technology. We’ve encountered it in such synths as the Jupiter-80, Integra-7, and most recently, the tiny JD-Xi. In the car, a black box with its own adjustable volume reads your driving and synthesizes the appropriate sounds in real time. (We’ve asked Roland whether it also pumps sound outside the car for pedestrian safety.) Best of all, like patches on a synth, there will be different sound sets for different driver preferences--even “neo-futuristic” options, which I take to mean you can feel like you’re trying to outrun a giant robot in some sci-fi animé world.

As both a synth and a car nerd, I’m personally gratified to see music technology put into this sort of service, and a company like Roland getting exposed to an audience who might otherwise have never knew about them. I just have one question: Will it also include a MIDI input and instrument sounds, so your front seat passenger can improvise car chase music? 

Learn more in the official press release below.


Hamamatsu, Japan, August 18, 2015 — Roland Corporation and GLM Co., Ltd., have announced an agreement to co-develop a neo-futuristic driving sound generation system for GLM’s electric sports car. In this unprecedented collaboration between the world’s leading electronic musical instrument maker and the manufacturer of Japan’s first mass-marketed electric sports car, the driving sound system will be designed using Roland’s renowned SuperNATURAL® synthesizer technology.

Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Page, George Duke and many more of the world’s most talented musicians have relied on Roland synthesizers to create music. The new driving sound system for GLM’s ZZ model will use this same professional synthesizer technology to produce sonically rich, studio-quality sounds. In addition to refined sound quality, the system will have the ability to change with each driver’s real-time driving experiences. GLM and Roland are committed to creating a driving sound generation system that provides a one-of-a-kind driving experience that rivals anything currently on the market. 

Roland’s innovative SuperNATURAL* synthesizer technology will power the ZZ model’s sound generation system with dynamic and dramatic sounds that seamlessly change depending on real-time driving situations like acceleration, deceleration, and motor load variances on sloping roads. This exclusive technology is based on responsiveness, which is especially important when recreating the subtleties of acoustic musical instruments electronically. That same technology will be used to create ingenious neo-futuristic sounds that will give sports car enthusiasts the experience of driving a space ship on the road. Electric sports cars are more popular now than ever, and as environmental concerns escalate, some drivers are learning to appreciate quieter electric engines. Driving sounds are still crucial for many, however ­– especially drivers of high-performance vehicles and those who want to have a fun and fulfilling driving experience.

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For decades, the industry standard for reproducing the sound of traditional musical instruments was PCM sampling. The challenge with sampling is that most acoustic instruments respond differently to how hard they are struck, blown or bowed – most acoustic instruments grow brighter as they get louder, for example. By meticulously modeling the subtle characteristics and responsiveness of acoustic instrument sounds, Roland was able to create the most realistic electronic music sounds. Roland’s SuperNATURAL technology makes it possible to recreate these nuances electronically, and will be used to create the best driving sounds possible in the electric sports car.

Main features of the Roland sound generation system:

  • Generates driving sounds depending on the driving situation (e.g. acceleration, deceleration, and motor load variances)
  • Roland’s acclaimed SuperNATURAL synthesizer technology is used to synthesize dynamic, neo-futuristic sounds, then reproduce them through the car’s stereo speakers
  • Driving situations are detected by the system in real time through a car-mounted network that measures the car’s speed, pressure on the accelerator pedal, and load to the power system
  • Drivers can select from several driving sound types based on their personal preference, including neo-futuristic options

The driving sound system option for GLM’s ZZ model featuring Roland’s sound-making technology will be available this fall.