System-1 Review Part 2 Plug-Out And SH-101 Compared

Out with the scope      06/08/14

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15:51 mins    

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.


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18 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
EdEagan    Said...

To my ears that's about as close as one can get to a faithful emulation. I think the modelling is impeccable. Another nice review Nick!

06-Aug-14 07:25 AM

Mark    Said...

Do you have to have the DAWS listed to put a plug out on the system one? Say, you only have reaper on your computer, is their another way to transfer the plug out?

06-Aug-14 08:20 AM

Nick B    Said...

Not checked with Reaper, but its not VST3 savvy as far as I can tell. May now work on OS X with AU 32 bit version

06-Aug-14 08:43 AM

Nick B    Said...

Not checked with Reaper, but its not VST3 savvy as far as I can tell. May now work on OS X with AU 32 bit version

06-Aug-14 08:44 AM

SirCasm    Said...

Great review. Liked the closing music very much too.

06-Aug-14 08:44 AM

Coz    Said...

Sonically it's definitely there.

If you could backup your additional synths to a USB key and load them from there it wouldn't be so bad.

That way if your hardware suddenly blew up 5 years down the line you'd be able to replace it and restore it back to a standalone unit, and you could bypass relying on Roland to write drivers to keep it functional.

06-Aug-14 09:20 AM

Mark    Said...

So you need one of the DAWs listed in the review to be able to get plug outs into the system 1?

That's a bit of a limitation on the part of Roland, that will hurt sales of the product. I think there would be quite a few amateur musicians and Hardware Synth Nerds without any kind of professional DAW...

06-Aug-14 09:57 AM

brianfromusa    Said...

Maybe this will push more DAWs into adding VST3 support.

06-Aug-14 09:59 AM

Klaus Morlock    Said...

I've had a dabble with the stock synth, and it's not exciting at all. This is primarily a plug-out host, and while I get the concept, at that price you're having a laugh. No mod/pitch wheels? Not the greatest bang for the buck, at least at the moment.

06-Aug-14 10:54 AM

Kevin Nolan    Said...

Hi Nick -

Thanks for testing the PWM. I can tell you from your demo the System 1 is impeccable - that is significantly better than the JP80/50 and Integra 7.

Appreciate you demo-ing that (just a pity Roland haven't fixed the JP80/%0 and Integra 7 PWM aliasing which is almost as audible as the oscillator itself from about G3 upwards).

But - any aliasing you're hearing on System-1 at the highest end is minuscule by comparison; and I'd even venture to say this is even cleaner than the VA's on OASYS/Kronos (AL1, PolySixEX and MS20EX famed for their low aliasing).

Very nice indeed!

Thanks Nick - a valuable test for all concerned.

06-Aug-14 02:14 PM

abc47    Said...

@Mark VST3 so Reaper will not work, I had to download a trial version of Cubase to load SH101 Plug-out into the Sys1

06-Aug-14 04:48 PM

Dan    Said...

If you simply want to plug out and your DAW isn't on the list, then do as I did and use a free app such as "Hosting AU" which is free and very easy to use. I spent ages trying to get the AU/VST to be recognised in Logic and then realised it didn't wan to play ball. Link :

06-Aug-14 11:23 PM

Champ    Said...

There has been a lot of coverage over all the Aira stuff so why isn't this thing bringing me into gas mode? The keys are obviously a downer and limiting its future potential. USB class compliant would make it a cool companion with the iPad or other easy portable devices. I like the scatter wheel because it can open new ways of interaction but then again it isn't fully editable as of yet. The lights that come on when a parameter is effected is really cool, definitely something other manufactures should take into consideration.

I guess my problem with it is that it doesn't offer anything that a plugin can't offer as well. Therefor the unit itself should have all the comfort you would expect it to have and for me it lacks on certain features like good keys. When Roland is going to have emulations coming out in the near future the keys will probably be limiting its potential.

What I think Roland did with this unit is they use the limitations and presenting them as a feature. Making it possible to disconnect the unit and still continue on your computer is wonderful but I mostly buy my hardware because it can do things which are not possible on anything else. To me it looks as a very nice controller with a lot of extra's but also with limitations. (some of which can be fixed by update).

With that said MAYBE the TR-8 will be damn handy as a MIDI controller for controlling the old one or other small drum units like a Nord Drum that have limited hands-on control. Does anyone care to do a test?

07-Aug-14 04:18 AM

Jarpy    Said...

The DSP model sounds a little fizzy to me, and you can see that in the square wave on the DSO. Maybe a high shelf could clean it up a bit?

08-Aug-14 01:21 AM

Synth_Fan    Said...

The SH101 model sounds excellent to me.

But for me, the non-class compliant USB driver issue is a big problem - it give this product range a life span of perhaps 5-7 years or there about.

And I just do not 'get' the limited DAW support. It would have been smarter, and probably easier in the long run, for Roland to organise themselves to sort all of these computer interface issue out.

But - Roland are atrocious at computer / driver support, so I do not see it being resolved as Nick calls for - its not going to happen - and that's the stumbling block for me on why I won't buy it.

It means that not only can you not expect to be able to use it into the long term (unless you hold onto an old computer, and nobody does that) - but if you wish to return to a project, say a decade on, you can't.

This system has a very limited life span!

09-Aug-14 08:42 AM

Guido    Said...


What laptop stand are you using?

13-Aug-14 04:31 AM

iSay    Said...

It's not the sequencer that's missing, the external clock input is not emulated.

The LFO on the aira system/sh101 is thereby only capable of responding to constant (midi) clock pulse. This means that, even if your sequence contains dotted whole notes, the LFO will still step through the mod cycle every 16th, 8th, 4th or whatever.

Via the external clock input, however, the LFO will only move to the next step in its cycle on an incoming note from the rimshot trigger of a connected Roland drumbox. This is like having a random velocity generator when applied to the filter with appropriate waveform.

One reason not to ditch the real sh101 - yet.

12-Oct-14 04:07 AM

MD    Said...

anyone know if this will import syx from original sh-101

09-Feb-15 04:42 PM

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