Sonic LAB: Roland Aira SYSTEM-8 Polysynth

Top of the range plug-out synth      13/02/17

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Roland's AIRA range has been based on their ACB (analog modelling technology).

We've seen this in the Boutique range too and now both are utilised in the System-8 Plug-out synth. It's an 8 voice DSP based poly synth. As well as the System-8 engine it also has three plug-out slots - two are pre filled with the Jupiter 8 model (from the Boutique JP08) and the Juno 106 model (Boutique JP06).

Each of these can give you 8 voices of polyphony, with three effects engines and an up to 64 step sequencer. Combining is possible using the Performance mode, with a fixed polyphony of  four voices for each plug-out available on each of the single split or layer. Each of these also gets 3 FX and a sequencer.

Mono Plug-outs from the System-1 remain as mono synthesizers, they don't magically get to be 4 or 8 voice. But you can load them

Build

So it's a plastic case with metal facia. It's not wobbly or badly built, but I can't help but feel that it should be a bit more substantial given the price tag ($1499/£1299). You can get optional wooden or aluminium end cheeks to give it a bit more class should you wish, at an extra $49 a pari.

Engine

The SYSTEM-8 engine is a 3 Oscillator - with two identical oscillators featuring SAW/SQ/TRI and multi-wave (variable detune) versions of each.Fine and coarse tuning for each - the Colour knob ads additional wave shaping on all waves - with SQ mapped to PWM- of course - no through 0 PW though.

On the Variations, you get an additional 6 waves of Noise Saw,Logic,  FM, FM+ Feedback, Vowel and 808 cowbell. What's more interesting is that you can X mod Osc 2->Osc1 and sync and ring mod too.  OSC three can also modulate the Colour parameter. Quite a lot of audio rate mod stuff here.

OSC 3 is a variable sub wave, Tri/Square -1 or -2oct plus variable tuning for additional  intervals.

Filter - multi-multi mode

Standard 4 pole/3 pole. 2 pole Low Pass and High pass modes give you those pleasing sing song harmonics, and the drive level from the mixer also affects the tone. Sounds nice. Variation 2 - gives you 6 Side Band Filters - these are really unusual, with flangey/time type sounds - not something I've heard before in a filter. Variation 3 is the System-1 transistor ladder in 3 pole settings - if you want 303 - here it is.

Envelopes

One VCA ADSR, VCF ADSR and an AR for pitch give you a reasonable amount of mod with +/- depth for each.Snappy or long they can handle it. VCF env can also be triggered from the LFO should you wish.

LFO - Only 1?

This is perhaps the weakest part of the System-8 - not that LFO itself, but the fact that there is only one. Decent number of waves and high speed mode rate again gets you into unusual sonic territory. Variation 2 gives you a sort of  double wave, Sine + Sine at two rates, Saw+ Saw etc. It sounds like 2 LFOs but is actually only one. Variation 3 are another set of more unusual sounding waves.

With only one LFO there's only so far you can go, but it is a pretty comprehensive one and again, you can head of into world of weird pretty quickly.

FX

A good selection - I like to see FX on the front panel and these are pretty good. drives/distortion, Delays/Modulations and a pretty decent reverb. The mod setting gets you into long ethereal madness - though could be a tad longer IMHO. it's also worth mentioning that you also get Delay and Reverb on the external audio input too.

Sequencer

This is a nice feature, with up to 64 steps, resolution, play direction, key trigger, transpose, triplets, swing it's all you could want really. With up for four lanes of parameter recording, you also have a whole world of modulation possibilities. Turn the notes off and just use it as another mod matrix - it's good.

You can also use it to address the CV and Gate out (1v/Oct format - with tweakable scaling). This lets you work up some nice external synth action  - you can route the keyboard (Upper/Lower/Both), Arpeggiator and Sequencer out to this for some external action, Though in standalone mode it's not possible to decouple the sequencer from the internal voices.

Additionally, feed your external synth back into the stereo input and you can add Delay and Reverb (separate FX) to that signal path. Could be might useful for a variety of things.

Performance Mode

As I said earlier, split or layer with two independent 4 voice engines +FX and Sequencer is pretty handy. You can address each via External MIDI too. Setting up complex patches is a lot of fun. BUT when saving performances, you are not saving tweaked patch data. Each patch needs to be saved too for it to come back the way you left it. Shame they didn't add more edit buffer slots so that a performance will store the patch data too - that's a sort of behaviour is a bit too last century for me.

However, the SYSTEM-8 really does sound good. Internal 96kHz/@24bit means you get a great sound out of it - could even plug it into your AIRA MX-1 over USB or just into your DAW at up to 192kHz (2 channel audio).

But the bottom line is it's actually a coherent and enjoyable instrument to play. In no time you'll be lost in sound. A good set of features (I didn't even get around to the Vocoder) and a very quick path to the unusual, means you will need to allocate some "lost in the mix" time if you get your hands on one. The Plug-Outs also sound as good as their Boutique counterparts - possibly better due to the 96kHz internal rates.

Certainly if you wanted to keep the price down - I could live without them as I do feel that given the new affordable analog polys (DeepMind 12, DSI Prophet 08 price reduction), the System-8 does seem a little expensive on paper. However in it's defence,  I should also say that it's is a pretty good instrument - I don't care if it's analog or digital, it's just good.

Available now priced at $1499/£1299

 

 

 

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