Rediscovering LA Synthesis

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As the retrowave phenomenon kicks into high gear, there’s been growing interest in the digital sounds of the ’80s. FM is back. Wavetable is huge. And now, the sound of the Roland D-50 is starting to pop up. Heck, even the Roland Cloud service includes an hommage to the timbres of the D-50’s LA Synthesis.

At its core, LA (Linear Arithmetic) synthesis consists of combining short percussive samples with warm pad sounds, then slathering on chorus and reverb for space and depth. D-50 patches such as “Fantasia” and “Future Pad” quickly became ubiquitous thanks to their fusion of icy shimmer with lush atmosphere.

Propellerhead Reason, with its many synths and sizable collection of transient percussion sounds, is a great platform for whipping up LA-style tones. Using this, we’ll create a variation on Roland’s classic “Future Pad.”

Step 1

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Step 1: Start with an empty Combinator and add a 6:2 mixer for layering and blending the synth elements.

Step 2

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Step 2: Add an NN-19 sampler below the mixer, reset the device, and make sure it connects properly by using the Tab key to flip the rack. NN-19 is great for LA-style sounds because you can simply drag a WAV file onto it and instantly assign it across the keyboard.

Step 3

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Step 3: Here, we’ll use Tmb_PraiseU.wav from the Factory collection. It can be found at: Factory Sounds/Redrum Drum Kits/xclusive drums-sorted/07_Percussion-Hi.

Step 4

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Step 4: Next, add a Subtractor to your Combinator. Reset the device, then create a simple sawtooth pad with both oscillators detuned slightly, a low filter cutoff, full sustain, and a slightly extended release. From there, use the 6:2 mixer to blend the two elements.

Step 5

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Step 5: The D-50’s secret sauce lies in the liberal use of chorus and reverb to thicken the sound, so add a CF-101 Chorus/Flanger followed by the basic RV-7 Reverb at the end of the chain. Then, adjust the wet/dry mix to taste.

If you’ve followed the steps closely, your patch should now sound quite a bit like a real D-50. From here, experiment with alternate percussion samples and different waveforms in Subtractor.

To hear audio examples of this technique, visit