Roland Aira System 1 Synthesizer Demonstration and Review

Miles at Sonic Sense takes a look at the new Roland Aira System 1 synthesizer.


  • Four oscillators
  • Oscillator colors create continuous waveform changes from simple to complex
  • All parameters can be controlled with physical knobs and sliders with LED indicators
  • Advanced arpeggiator with Scatter function
  • Scatter jog dial offers 10 different phrase variations with dynamic, real-time control over 10 stages of depth
  • -12 dB and -24 dB filter types with independent high-pass filters
  • Tone knob for easy tonal balancing
  • Crusher knob for modern edge
  • Integrated delay and reverb effects
  • Tempo syncing for LFO and delay
  • Innovative thin keyboard with 25 normal-sized keys

The Roland AIRA System-1 is priced at US $599. See the Roland site for more information.

58 thoughts on “Roland Aira System 1 Synthesizer Demonstration and Review

      1. Sounded to me as if the color on ‘square’ modulated phasewidth, while the supersaw affected the degree of detune between the singular oscillators that sum up to supersaw.

      1. Actually, he has a point. The JP supersaw might be digital, but it is unique. As Roland’s first VA and one of the earliest VAs period, the JP8000 created the supersaw differently than other Roland synths claiming to have supersaw. For example the sh201, sh32, and Gaia supersaw sounds less bright in the upper register than the old JP. As a virus owner and a JP8000 owner I can tell you digital super saws DO sound very different from each other.

        1. Thanks for the insight on that, but of course for pure info you still get an angry spazz downvote from someone.

          “Have a downvote for informing me and countering my pre-conceived notion, I’m feeling a lot of brand and synth snob insecurity right now.”

          -Fanboys spazzes

          1. lol. Also, it’s worth noting that the SH-32 and Sh-01 (Gaia) are actually PCM based.

            i.e. The supersaw in those are not actually being created via DSP. They are samples, and whoever sampled them did a really crappy job imho.

            AFAIK, the JP-8000 and JP-8080 are to this day the only Roland synths with the original supersaw sound. There are some great VSTs out that mimic them, and other synths that have tried to expand and improve on them (DIVA, Virus TI, Sylenth, etc…). Still, the combo of late 90s DSP and conversion makes the JP sound unique. Never selling mine. EVER.

  1. Overpriced toy. I see no reason to spend $600 on such a limited plastic 4 voices thingy.
    I wonder why companies like Roland and Korg are doing so bad, they could dominate the market very easily, but the continue to point to the wrong target.

    1. Korg and Roland are actually actually doing quite well. How is a $600 synth that can load plug-ins overpriced? Please point me to another synth at this price that can do that.

    1. Good hands on control is one of the most important factors on synths. General MIDI controller won’t do the trick, dedicated one does. So I would actually buy dedicated MIDI controllers filled with knobs to all of my fav. plugins.. . .

    2. It is basically a synth, that can load VST’s.

      And there is no other synth in its price range…even twice its price, that is fully knobbed.

    3. If you check out the specs, it’s pretty clear that Roland has been thinking hard about what a digital synth should be in this day and age.

      With the System 1, you’ll be able to run the synth as a VST without the hardware, use the hardware as a dedicated controller for your VST, or take the VST synth with you and play without the computer. Roland also seems to be thinking through the usability issues of this, so controls will only light up if they are available for that synth.

      If they get the sound right, and have several synth options, this could be pretty killer.

  2. Strange that this demo is contains the most info concerning Rolands new “plug-outs” interface and how it works with the System-1 even though its brief. Now at least we now know the plug-outs are definitely VSTs and at the same time loadable to the System-1 and can toggle between the plug-out and the System-1’s synth , this info seemed vague for some reason no mater were I searched. But we still do not know how Roland will be issuing the Plug-outs either for free or purchase? The “Arpeggiator” section seems weak for a 21st century synth, I would like to see many-many more modes accessible some how. I truly want to get this synth but as of now its feature set is so-so.

  3. It sounds nice, and it doesn’t seem overpriced to me, even if I preferred it to be truly analog. However, those disco lights make the whole line look a bit tacky.

  4. Judging the sound of this “prototype” version, my Bass Station 2 stomps all over this thing. I guess I’m old school and judge a synth first and foremost by its sound before its feature set, and I’ve seen every scrap of video on the System 1 and honestly it just doesn’t sound very good at this point.

    But even the feature set comparison slants in Novation’s favor anyway, short of having 4 voice polyphony. And with 2 distinct filter types with 7 filter modes total, it’s an analog tone machine that has a great voice in its own right but can also sound vintage like an SH-101 or an ARP Odyssey so why bother with “plug-outs” anyway?

    With all the folks around here who want the “real deal”, know that famed British synth genius Chris Huggett designed the BS2, and one of the filters is identical to the EDP Wasp / OSCar for crying out loud! For $500 the knobs don’t wobble and you can’t go wrong.


  5. In the video the prototype unit being used lacked a working arpeggiator and yet I am expected to believe Roland is going to create other “Analog Circuit Behavior” synth VST’s to power the System 1.
    I will believe that when I see it.

          1. VariOS is like a hardware lesson about the limited lifespan of software. I already have to cope with that within a computer, but it seems to magnify the problem when dedicated hardware can totally freeze you out. Nord Modular owners are among those who hit that wall. Its a point to consider when you’re eyeballing an upgrade. In my experience, hardware and software are great as a team, but should stay separate as actual instruments.

            Also, the SH-101 model strikes me as a too-basic bore. If they offered a soft JP-8 model, that’d be burnin’ good, but even so, I’d have to run the 1 from a decent controller I could zone. It doesn’t look as if it could handle a JP-8s full range of functions anyway, so I see a bit of a line possibly drawn there. Its not a bad rig at all, but its limitations bite a lemon, for my needs.

        1. Who does more feature adding updates, than Roland in hardware business?

          Juno-G got sampler
          Fantom-X got 8 audio tracks
          Jupiter-80 +50 and integra got new filter models
          V-Synth got more stuff, than I care to list
          and so on, and so forth.

          My Korg synths got nothing, no matter the price range!!! Yamaha even less.

          1. JUNO-G got no sampler, it already had a sampler. What Version 2 improved was the user interface, and it gave you the option of triggering the samples from the function buttons. Otherwise you’re right.

  6. Why put a keyboard on a VA synth that not velocity sensitive (and no after touch either). I’m hoping that is something that they can address in software before the final version or I think if will be a dead duck

    1. Velocity and aftertouch being hardware can’t be addressed in software (but you know that).

      For an analog synth to omit velocity is more forgivable. But for a Roland digital synth, it’s kind of a shame.

      It would require another little matrix section to assign velocity to color (per voice if possible), cut-off, and amp. That’s three more knobs.

  7. Innovative thin keyboard with 25 normal-sized keys?
    Tone knob for easy tonal balancing?
    Crusher knob for modern edge?

    cmon who wrote this? was it you mighty boosh?

        1. What then?

          The topic here is:
          “Roland Aira System 1 Synthesizer Demonstration and Review”

          Nothing wrong with it System-1 filters…actually on the contrary, mr. pretentious.

  8. we can agree that beauty is subjective but i find this to be one horrible looking synth.
    it is literary visually insulting to me.

    1. If the knobs don’t tickle your fancy, you are barking on wrong topic.

      And its not just about looks either, the lights serve a purpose.

  9. your are inferring a bit too much. i never mentioned knobs.
    i am talking about the overall esthetics. this aims for a edgy, contemporary sci-fi look and falls on its face.

    again subjective, but i loved the light up knobs on the nord lead 3 and find it the best looking in the series.

    1. Of course the design is always subjective, but I smell exaggeration here.

      Synths are all very similar simplistic boxes with keyboards. A very slight attempt to differentiate your product design wise can hardly be insulting. Especially, when you have this extremely tight budget; there’s no money to spare for very fancy decorations.

      The ‘sci-fi’ look is also not that far from Lead 3, and they both have their looks built for purpose. If you love one, saying the other ‘falls on its face’ would be seriously hamming it up.

      1. Not sure what you are smelling nor do i care and your understanding of design is the same as your grasp of idioms. Since you invoke design let me break it down for you.

        Each synth has, as it should, a specific design language which embodies the product concept. For instance I like the elektron gear which has a tool-like form-follows-function look. 
        Aira design aims for the michael bay lowest common denominator generation which is reflected by the scatter function and glow-stick esthetics. The price suits it and nothing wrong with that. 
        It just offends me, like i said, visually, because it looks tacky and cheap. And that is not even taking into consideration the classics it purports to live up to. However i am not the target group, and mark my words this has been designed and priced with a very specific target group in mind, so all is good. Roland of the now is not my thing.

        1. You should really design your own synth man, then you can make it exactly how you want it. Oh, and maybe you should try to write, direct and produce your very own 300 million dollar movie. As a filmmaker, I’m just tired of people bashing movies made for the average movie-goer. Michael Bay films are not of my taste(well, the rock certainly gets my adrenaline glands working hard), but they have a place in the industry, and are well thought of by a certain audience. If you don’t like Transformers, don’t watch it. There’s certainly no lack of diversity in film and synths in this day and age.

          If you like Elektron gear, just pay the Elektron premium price and enjoy, same for Nord/Clavia. Just wanted to remind you that you’re comparing the design philosophy and performance of gear with a $1500+ price tag to something well under half as that. The simple fact that you are comparing these units speaks well of the new System 1.

  10. Wow, he really sells his enthusiasm for the ‘pitch wheel’. And that keyboard looks very similar to the PCR-M1 keyboard, of which mine had multiple failed keys not too long in to it’s life.

    This seems like such a miss to me, lots of potential but poorly realized.

  11. Some more performance control surfaces would be nice:
    * After-touch on keybed
    * X-Y touch pad (or joystick)
    * Ribbon touch strip
    * …

  12. In all honesty, I don’t care about all the pros and cons which are obviously there. Yea, i know it has two octaves(bummer), the structure is pretty simple and no, there’s nothing cutting edge about it’s design. But I like the sound and the structure is straight forward enough that I could think of a million cool sounds I could make on the fly just by watching the review. If I just had one decent poly synth(like the one I’m planning to buy this year!), I would for sure buy it as a secondary unit. I was already thinking of a mini nova for that purpose, but this is just cooler to my eyes and ears. I really don’t think it’s made to be the main cannon in your arsenal.

  13. The raw sound seems to be there.
    I would like to have seen more creative examples of the oscillator section.
    You can clearly perform Cross modulation, OSC Sync and Ring Modulation all at the same time looking at the front panel which would yield some very good results at extreme settings. He totally overlooked the Ring Modulator and if the LFO goes audio rate that’s a whole other area to explore also.
    If the sound can compete with and surpass the JP8080 I just may bite. So far of all the AIRA units this is the one to watch. If they can nail an SH-2 and SH101 plug out then I definitely wouldn’t say no as SH101’s are stupidly priced these days.
    Also would like to know it becomes 4 part Multi-timbral in Mono mode – with an SH101 model plug out / vat loaded it could act like an MC202 with the right hardware sequencer.

  14. I have the SH-201. It’s the same setup and config as that, the Juno and the SH101. It’s an old look with an enhanced sound and new colour scheme. When Roland did the JD800, I thought there’d never be a synth as damn sexy looking but, as we know, it’s not about that. I’ve owned lots of synths. I mean lots over the years and the system 1 isn’t really new to me. The kingkorg isn’t new either. I have one and I have a microkorg XL. I’m so sick of hearing the same argument about analogue/digital. Get a matrix 12 and a synclavier. Job done. Permanently. :).

    1. I am quite over the analog vs digital argument also (truth be told).
      Just recently replaced my JD990 Expanded, D550 and JV1080 with an Integra-7 rack and couldn’t be happier with the decision made – i can get all the same sounds pretty much across the board from one unit over SPDIF out in 24 BIT at sample rates above 48khz.
      The Supernatural Synth Engine sounds very good with high sample rates via the digital out – covers most of my poly analog pad duties (as I only have mono analogs in the studio).
      Still trying to track down a MOSS board at a good price for my Triton Studio at the moment as good physical modelling instruments aren’t easy to come by in hardware but I digress……..

  15. If indeed this is a vst synth with an audio midi interface then it’s overpriced, if I can create my own synths and load them up then it’s not overpriced. Music has changed it’s cheap flashy lights stuff not solid metal grey stuff.

  16. I’m pretty interested tbh. Dual supersaw/sq etc will be cool. Sounds like the upper ranges are clean (probably due to 96k). What gets me is as it’s dsp based, the cost of components is lower but they insist on this cheap plastic. A pulse 2 is built like a tank at a cheaper cost. The mininova is velocity sensitive despite the plastic. I’m assuming it’s the control surface that hikes the cost up. Still I love the Roland sound so if that delivers I’m in.

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