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The usual drill when companies say they will release more for platform x or y is that we wait. But not this time, at least Roland have pulled the stops out to bring us another DSP model for their AIRA System-1 DSP synth. This time its the classic SH-2, a twin oscillator bass synthesizer - as it was originally described at its 1979 release.
First up, the Good News - Roland originally said that any Plug-Outs would only run in conjunction with a System-1 keyboard acting as a dongle if you like. This is NOT the case, the SH-2 is available as a plug-in only as well, albeit at a higher price.
As with the SH-101 Plug-Out, its available as Audio Units and as VST3 only (Mac and PC). This does limit the DAWs that will run it, eg, no Ableton Live support for Windows users. This is a bit of a drag as there are a lot of LIVE users out there on PC.
As with the SH-101 plug-out you send the DSP imprint into the System-1 via the PLUG-OUT button, while the System-1 is connected via USB (takes around 10-15secs) you'll need do ensure you have the Roland drivers installed as we know, the System-1 is not class compliant - a decision that I cannot understand, but still, maybe one day.But once its in there, you can disconnect and choose it as the Plug-Out via the dedicated front panel button, without connecting the computer.
SH-2 has two oscillators, OSC 1 with Saw/SQ and Sine waves, with a wide range of 64 to 2 feet (old fashioned organ pipe reference), PW mod is available on the SQ wave but the Colour knob does not do anything on the other waves. OSC 2 has Saw/SQ and White Noise. As with the SH-101, any controls not used on the panel are not lit.
There's a Sub osc at -1 Octave and its a clean Square wave. Each OSC and Sub is mixed into the filter via the Mixer section.
The 24dB low pass filter certainly sounds warm when there is no resonance, as far as I can tell, there is no variable drive into the filter as with other models or synths. When resonance is dialed in, while it does sound nice, the bottom end does drop off significantly.Presumably this was the case on the original SH-2 filter. However, the sound of it is very musical and I found that very small adjustments really made a difference to the harmonics - great for ambient stuff when using the on-board reverb and delay.
Again, the use of the Tone control allows for pretty dramatic changes to the nature of the sound, winding it anti-clockwise will drop the top end and beef up the low.
One major differece to the SH-2 layout is the inclusion of a second envelope, the original only had one, but being able to switch the VCA between Gate/Filter Env/Amp Env/Hold allows for more possibilities. Additionally the Env trig (Filter env) lets you switch between Gate/LFO/Gate+Trig/LFO+Gate.
Great for tempo based LFO sequence type stuff.
The Envelopes generally are pretty snappy - you can create drum sounds and zaps with no problem, a bit of white noise, full resonance and off you go.
As an addition to the team, it certainly has it's own character, it can only be played in mono - unlike the System-1 itself, but I found myself wandering off into all sorts of synth nirvana whilst trying to focus on finishing the review - which is all you can ask.
Clearly, the boffins at the lab have done their homework here, and the result is a musical instrument, not just a collection of ones and zeros.
Available 25th September via download.
Prices: €75 Plug-Out/Plug-in, €110 Plug-In only.
Using Chains and automation to switch keyboard setups