GM-800 Architecture

Started by admin_shawnb, October 09, 2023, 11:25:04 AM

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This post focuses on the GM-800 architecture, and its place within the Zen-CORE multiverse.  Its purpose is to help GM-800 owners understand what they can & cannot do within the GM-800 itself, with Roland Cloud, and with Zenology Pro.  I have tried to pull together information from a variety of threads & docs.

The challenge is that there is a lot of detail out there, and a lot of marketing flyovers, but nothing that ties it all together.  This document aims to tie it all together, specifically from the perspective of the GM-800 guitarist.  Armed with this information, hopefully the content out there on their websites makes more sense...

This is not meant to be comprehensive - for that, read the manuals.  But just enough to show the landscape, and to address some topics that seem to be the most confusing.

I will probably need to update this over time as more/new information comes in.  And, of course, corrections!  ;D


ASSIGNAn ASSIGN in the Roland/Boss world is an internal function that allows you to map source signals or controls to actions within the device.  ASSIGNs have a source, e.g., a control pedal, a knob, or an incoming MIDI message, and a target, e.g., a specific effect parameter, or a part on/off switch.  ASSIGNs allow you to configure how to control the device & sounds.
BankA bank is a collection of tones.  You can share banks of tones across Zen-CORE compatible devices.
ToneA tone is a sound the synth can produce.  You can sculpt tones from samples or models within Zenology Pro.  You use tones as building blocks when making scenes within the GM-800.
ModelWithin the Zen-CORE context, a model is an algorithmically produced sound.  One without a PCM source.  E.g., a sawtooth, square or sin wave. 
PartWithin the GM-800, five parts make up a scene, or a patch.  Each part utilizes a tone, and can have unique controls and effects routing within the scene.
PartialA partial is the lowest-level sound source.  When editing a tone within Zenology Pro, you can use up to four partials to build the tone.  The sound sources can be either PCM samples, VA (virtual analog) models, or noise.
SceneA scene is a patch on the GM-800.  It is made up of five parts, and you can define effect routing and controls at the scene level.
Zen-COREZen-CORE is Roland's underlying sound generation hardware.  Roland's current generation of synths is based upon Zen-CORE, which means that they are all capable of producing the same set of partials and tones.  Each device offers different controls and different capabilities of what you can DO with these partials and tones.  But at the lowest level, they generate and operate on partials and tones similarly.

GM-800 & Zenology Pro
There are two layers of sound definition going on here: 
  • Within Zenology Pro, you can combine up to 4 partials, plus 1 MFX, plus 4 ASSIGNS, plus a control matrix (4 group ASSIGNs with up to 4 targets each - per partial), plus other fun stuff, into a tone. 
  • Within the GM-800, either directly or via Boss Tone Studio, you can combine up to 4 tones, plus 2 MFX, plus Chorus, plus Reverb, plus 16 ASSIGNs, and boatloads of other fun stuff, into a scene.

You cannot edit the tone internals, e.g., the ADSR of an internal partial, or the partial sound sources, or filter cutoff/resonance or LFO behavior for an individual partial, etc., within the GM-800.  That level of editing of the internals of an individual tone must be performed within Zenology Pro.

Within the GM-800, you can group up to 4 of those tones, and apply further effects and controls, to define a patch/scene. 

This can be confusing, because you do see similar parameters, e.g., ADSR & LFOs, at both levels, within BTS and in Zenology Pro.  But within Zenology Pro, you are looking at the ADSR & LFOs for each of the 4 individual partials.  In BTS, you are looking at the ADSR for the overall tone, i.e., the combined partials. 

The Two Layers:
A picture is worth, etc...  In Zenology Pro, you combine up to 4 partials into a tone, in this case, Kaotik Melody from the Filigree Sound Pack.  Note that the Kaotik Melody tone is not made from PCM samples, its sources are all "VA", Virtual Analog modeling.  Note that the LFOs, etc., displayed here are just for partial 4:
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In Boss Tone Studio (or by editing on the GM-800 itself), you combine 5 parts into a scene.  Note that Kaotik Melody is used as the tone for one of the parts in this particular scene:
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ASSIGNs allow you to customize how you choose to interact with your GM-800.  Note that there can be ASSIGNs defined within Zenology Pro, at the tone level, and also in the GM-800 and BTS, at the scene level.

Which ASSIGNs are honored? 


This is confusing because Roland/Boss users are accustomed to seeing the ASSIGNs all laid out in BTS.  But the internal tone ASSIGNs, defined within Zenology Pro via ASSIGNs or the control matrix, are not visible in BTS nor in the GM-800.  But they work.

Zenology Pro has a concept of 4 global assign sources, SYS-CTR1 thru SYS-CTRL4.  For tones, these are pre-defined as CC1 (modulation), Aftertouch, CC2 (breath) and CC4 (foot pedal msb).  Note that for drums, these are not predefined & can vary per patch. 

But it is important to note that these 4 – CC1, Aftertouch, CC2 and CC4 – are predefined, and are frequently used throughout the tones.  Further, many of the CCs in the GM-800 MIDI Implementation Chart are honored, e.g., CC1 controls modulation, CC7 (sometimes CC11) controls volume, CC74 cutoff (very useful!!), CC71 resonance, CC73/CC74 attack/release, CC91/CC93 chorus & reverb - work on many GM-800 voices. 

This capability is not visible within BTS or the GM-800, but is visible within Zenology Pro when editing the source tone.

MFX ASSIGNs with Zenology Pro.  Note you can use individual CCs; you are not restricted to the 4 SYS-CTRLs:
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The matrix control within Zenology Pro.  You can assign up to 4 sources, with up to 4 targets each, per partial, i.e., x4.  Note also that since you can set the 4 sources, you can in fact have one control, e.g., SYS-CTRL1, control all 16 targets:

Roland Cloud
Roland Cloud is where you spend money.

You can purchase lifetime keys for usage of the expansion packs & sound packs there.

You can also purchase a monthly subscription, which enables you to try all of the expansion packs & sound packs within Zenology Pro.

  • The GM-800 does not load the drum kits included in any of the expansion packs or sound packs. 
  • The GM-800 does not load model expansions. 

The short version:  If you purchase a lifetime key, you own it for life. 

To purchase lifetime keys, on Roland Cloud, under Hardware Instruments, click on Guitar & Bass, then GM-800. 

What if you have a paid cloud subscription?  The Roland cloud site clearly says: "Sound Packs, Wave Expansions, and Model Expansions included within membership for use exclusively in ZENOLOGY. To use Sound Packs, Wave Expansions, and Model Expansions with compatible hardware, please purchase the corresponding Lifetime Key."

With one of the paid cloud subscriptions, though, you can download anything from Roland Cloud and load it into Zenology Pro.  There, you can edit the sounds.  Further, you can export almost anything to a USB drive and load most of those into the GM-800 (exceptions noted above). 

There are some restrictions, e.g., you can only load four expansion packs into the GM-800.  And you only have so many slots for new tones.  It's not unlimited.

The idea here is a fairly broad "try before you buy" model.  And with a paid cloud subscription, you can try almost everything – and that catalog of expansion packs and sound packs is constantly expanding.  Perfect for the person looking for new stuff to experiment with all the time – and who is willing to pay the monthly subscription.

So, to try before you buy, subscribe to Roland Cloud, then, under Software Instruments, click on Zenology and download what you want to try.

File types:

Model ExpansionEXM###Each Roland synth has its own set of characteristic sounds.  Model Expansions allow you to bring those sounds into Zenology and other Zen-CORE compatible synths. 
Model Expansion Sound Pack------Sound packs designed to work with a particular model expansion.
Sound PackSDZ###Sound packs contains new tones, and allow you to communicate banks of new tones back & forth.
Wave ExpansionEXZ###Wave expansion packs include the source partials (samples or models) as well as some tones built from those new partials.
Zenology Sound PackZEZ###Sound packs specifically for use within Zenology – and not necessarily Zen-CORE hardware.

.binThe new firmware for your GM-800 comes in a .bin format.• Update your GM-800 firmware.
.exzThe .exz file is a wave expansion pack, and will include the source partials (samples or models) as well as some tones built from those new partials.• Import the tones & new partials into the GM-800.
• Import the tones & new partials into Zenology Pro.
• Note that drum/rhythm kits are not imported into the GM-800.
.sdz/.svzThe .sdz & .svz files contain tones, and allow you to communicate banks of new tones back & forth.  .sdz files hold sound packs downloaded from Roland Cloud, where .svz files contain your tones exported from Zenology Pro & other devices.• Import the tones into the GM-800.
• Import the tones into Zenology Pro.
• Note that drum/rhythm kits are not imported into the GM-800.
.svdThe .svd file is a backup of your GM-800.• Restore your GM-800 to a previous state.
.tslThe .tsl file is a Boss Tone Studio library file.  It contains the definition of a set of scenes you have exported from the GM-800.• Export scenes from your GM-800 for backups or sharing with others.
•    Import scenes into your GM-800.
•    Note that .tsl files are text files, in JSON format, so certain changes can be made in a text editor (e.g., propagating ASSIGN definitions across patches).

This info is compiled & provided without warranty.  You break it, you broke it.

The true sources of information are the Roland & Boss sites. 


Quote"you can only load two expansion packs into the GM-800"

Actually four wave expansions can be loaded at any time.

This is from roland "At this current time, only 4 EXZ Expansions can be loaded to the GM-800 at any given time"


Correction made, thanks, @BROCKSTAR !


"Zenology Sound Pack    ZEZ###    Sound packs specifically for use within Zenology – and not necessarily Zen-CORE hardware.  I.e., not for loading into the GM-800."

You can indeed load these into gm-800. I have all of them loaded in mine and works fine. Not sure why they started doing the ZEZ ones to be honest. Seems redundant and the same as the SDZ sound pack files.


Quote from: BROCKSTAR on October 09, 2023, 11:44:33 AMYou can indeed load these into gm-800. I have all of them loaded in mine and works fine. Not sure why they started doing the ZEZ ones to be honest. Seems redundant and the same as the SDZ sound pack files.

Thanks for the update.  I removed the "not for GM-800" part.

I hadn't tried importing them, because they do not mention Zen-CORE, and they're also not on the GM-800 list. 

But they do import & play fine!