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In the first part of our Roland AIRA System-1 review, we covered the synth engine, in this part we look at MIDI, Scatter and more importantly, the first available Plug-Out - the SH-101 emulation.
This one comes free with the System-1 and is essentially a second DSP model that can live alongside the System-1 synth actually on board the hardware, activated by the dedicated Pug-Out button.
The Plug-Out also comes as a plug-in, in VST3 and AU formats it can run as a usual plug-in (multiple instances) but also communicates directly with the System-1 hardware as a one-to-one controller.
When the Plug-Out is activated, controls that are not present in the SH-101 are dimmed to make tweaking more obvious to the user. All controls on the SH-101 are represented, aside from the envelopes - the DSP version adds a dedicated filter envelope, rather than the single env/gate combo the original sports.
Additionally, or rather subtractively(?) there is no sequencer in the plug-out, so if you were hoping for that simple step sequencer, you're out of luck.
So how does it sound?
Fortunately I have a contact who is a synth collector and loaned me an original SH-101 which I was able to run alongside the Plug-Out. Both in the room and on the scope, the similarities are striking, the Roland boffins have done a remarkable job with the DSP model, I would be hard pressed to tell the difference in a blind test, though I must confess I never owned one so there may be nuances that escaped me.
As a concept, Roland's choice of DSP synthesis is somewhat against the trend, but with the emulation this good, it could be irrelevant. The main thing they need to do is to ensure that more models are quickly forthcoming and priced keenly to encourage us to add to the collection.
I know it's not on message to praise DSP instruments, the argument that you could just run a plug-in is often quoted - I would counter that you can't beat actual dedicated hardware control, and remember you can use this to control those plug-ins too - each control and button outputs MIDI cc.
But I was impressed by the accuracy of the SH-101 emulation. It is noticeably different to the native SYSTEM-1 so gives you a wider palette of sounds and is totally capable of recreating those SH-101 voices.The downside - well the short travel keys are an issue, no velicity is surprising in a synth that costs more than $500 ($599) as is the omission of the pitch/mod wheels. It's not cheap when compared to some of the true analog synths now on the market. But, as a thing or instrument it is quite compelling to use and if they can really push the boundaries of the DSP synth concept, it could become something that really is very interesting.