Roland Aira System-1 Synthesizer First Look

In this video, Nick Batt from Sonic State takes an in-depth look at the new Roland Aira System-1 synthesizer.

The synthesizer is unique in that it is essentially a hardware host that you can upload different software synths to, a hardware synth with ‘multiple personalities’.

Roland also plans to release multiple ‘Plug-Out’ synthesizers that can be loaded onto the System-1, with corresponding plug-ins that you can run in your DAW. This will allow the System-1 to act as a dedicated hardware controller for the DAW plugins, but also let you use the plug-ins (in their plug-out versions) while the keyboard is not connected to a computer.

This aspect of the System-1 is still to come, which is unfortunate, since it’s arguably the keyboard’s most interesting feature. It will be difficult to judge the System-1 until Roland delivers on the promise of Plug-Out technology, and multiple synth options become available.

The Roland Aira System-1 is expected to be available in late June, 2014,  priced at £495 / $599. The first Plug-out synth is scheduled to be released at the end of July and is expected to be of the SH-101.

Roland has also announced the SH-101 Plug-Out software synthesizer.

via sonicstate

47 thoughts on “Roland Aira System-1 Synthesizer First Look

  1. Ok, I’ve got more to say:

    As usual Nick does a great job, but I think he was pretty polite to the System-1 here. Let’s see . . . digital, monophonic (with only paraphonic mode to get chords), somewhat weak oscillators, very sub-par LFO functionality, no velocity sensitivity (we’re beyond even hoping for aftertouch), no multi-mode filter, weak effects, suspect keybed, goofy pitch/mod setup . . . no really special features to make up for these weaknesses except for the “plug out” functionality which is still yet to be seen in practice. It’s like Roland took all the respective weaknesses of digital and analog synthesis and combined them into one very boring product. I mean, for real, what (mostly) monophonic synth doesn’t have multi-mode filter capability? The potential for “plug out” is interesting, but it’s crazy that Roland is asking us to pay $600 to be part of the black-box experiment.

    Will not be purchasing. Roland, when we asked you to start making synths again (instead of just stage pianos) this is not what we meant.

  2. If Roland invested in Digital so much, why did they give this synth a sub-par non-professional package, you’d think they make it a flagship professional synth, but instead it’s for amateur consumers.

    1. There are numerous options for “amateur consumers” ( whatever that is supposed to imply) that are way better than this.

      1. Just to list a few GREAT sounding, deep synths with polyphony and their current used prices (all have velocity sensitive keyboards, kinda mindblowing Roland would leave this out!):

        Micron ~$250 (8 voice, sounds great, huge mod matrix)
        Venom ~$150 (12 voice, demos sound great)
        Korg Poly 800 ~$300 w/ cutoff, res knobs added and actual analog/unlimited oscillator paraphonic
        Nord Micro Modular ~$300 (no keyboard, but truly INFINITE synth, 1-4 voices)
        Nord Lead 1&2 both go for $400-600: best sounding virtual analog subtractive synths I’ve heard still! and made in the 90s!

  3. Great vid. Thanks Nick. Where this thing is at right now, I can’t even consider getting one. If Roland drops the price say like 300 then maybe.

  4. The strange thing about the System-1 is that Roland nailed the TR8 & TB3, both powerful devices at good prices.

    This feels rushed out, because it’s not worth the price unless the deliver some kick ass options with the plugouts.

  5. I actually thought this sounded pretty okay, but it seems to be MASSIVELY weak on features. I mean, it’s six hundred fricking dollars. For six hundred bucks, I can get an Ultranova, which has 1 more oscillator than the System, WAY more oscillator types (plus digital waveforms and wavetables), one extra filtre, both filtres multimode LP/HP/BP with multiple DB falloff and different drive types, 4 more envelopes that are fully patchable, 2 more LFOs that are fully patchable, a 3 octave, pretty nice keyboard WITH velocity AND aftertouch, 5 effects that sound pretty good, etc etc.

    Hell, even true analogue synths in that price range have more features.

    The ONLY thing this machine has going for it is hype and the plug out stuff, which we haven’t seen yet. The plug out stuff will have to be massively awesome to even make me CONSIDER buying this synth.

    I think the price is the most crazy thing though. If you handed me this and an Ultranova, said the UN was 600 dollars, in direct comparison, I would put this at maybe 250.

    IMO if you’re making something that’s not so cheap as to be an impulse buy, it either needs to sound absolutely amazing, or have a LOT of desirable features, and this thing hits neither.


    1. Roland is hyping this way too early.

      The time to release and hype this is when it can run 3+ synth engines and they can demonstrate their software synths running in your DAW, standalone and using the System-1 as a controller.

      When they get that working right, Roland will be the only company with anything like this. Until then, though, it’s an overpriced digital monosynth.

      Also – this would be way more interesting if they’d open this platform up to other developers. I’d love to see my favorite plugins running on a hardware synth.

    2. It’s not paraphonic, it’s a true 4-voice.
      Future plug outs might have a higher voice count.
      Future firmwave might increase native polyphony.

      HOWEVER: No audio input, no vocoding, can only offset the oscillators in octaves plus/minus a semitone (no mono 5ths, no wide sync sweeps, etc.)

      Plug outs knobs not used by the plug out model will go dark – so that means any plugout will have to offer less than the native system 1 engine? Or will it simply no longer be a 1:1 feature to knob ratio?

      1. Correction: Osc will tune to non-octave intervals, you have to hold down a few buttons and use the scatter wheel. A little under-the-hoodish for such a knobby synth.

  6. This had the potential to be Roland’s microkorg. Why would you pay 600 for a synth when you can get a second hand microkorg for £150 now!? A missed opportunity that at first I was very optimistic about.

  7. a well developed modern VA should be able to mimic various classic synths anyway, if they concentrated on making a next gen JP8000 with their ‘ACB’ tech instead of something thats not sure what it is or where it is going. the sh101 has relatively simple synch architecture, it shouldnt need to be a plugout, it should be programmable. maybe have various patches from classic roland synths instead

  8. If one of the plugouts is a decent emulation of the Jupiter 8, or Juno 106, it begins to look like good value and could win a lot of friends. Yes it’s very feature-poor as is, but I think we need to be patient.

      1. no worries mate i do that all the time, sometimes these videos can be a bit dry especially if its not floating your boat.

  9. the oscillators section is fantastic with such modulations for each OSC….4 voices unisson in great ….a bit expensive but the street price will be ok I think….

    1. Hmm. I suspect nerds won’t like it, and musicians won’t like it, but their reasons for dislike will be different.

      1. I have fun with my nord lead-1 and this system 1 is way more interesting…..on the NL1 the oscillators are static…ok there’s FM but quite limited and PWM…on system 1 you can modulate the color of both oscillators separatly and that’s very creative

  10. I all honesty, I just don’t understand why Roland even bothered to do this… it’s one of the least interesting things I’ve seen in a long time. I think that even knobless synths are better than this. We’re on the 600 range, and there’s a lot of good stuff for the money. All this just makes me think how out of the game Roland seems to be when it comes to synthesizers.
    Nick does a very nice job showing how shitty this thing is… I didn’t even get to watch the whole thing, but jumping around I could hear the same turd all over the place. I’m not an analog snob and I don’t want this to be an analog synth, but when you look to an Ultranova you can hear how lame this Aira thing is. Korg released a nice digital synth, with good filter emulations and without these weird limitations (King Korg), and they’re probably working on putting that into a new Microkorg product on the future.
    Why would somebody get this? I really don’t know…

  11. I like the System-1 and the concept. Mine has shipped and I cannot wait to try it and see how the ACB technology sounds in comparison to Roland’s older VA synths. I have several vintage Roland’s (Juno-60, JX-3p, Juno-106) and would like to see how close I can get to some of my own patches on those. I like the look of the System-1 and love the back-lit controls. The main thing I wish it had is more memory slots. I will ignore the negative comments from others until I try it and hear it myself.

  12. I’d much rather get a Novation Ultranova which has so much more for a similar amount of money. This is a cheap monosynth, with the suggestion it can also act as a MIDI controller for ‘plug-out’ VSTs. Roland – FAIL!

    Thanks – I’ll wait for the Korg ARP Odyessy!

    1. Looks like the System-1 is one of the best friends Novation ever had, considering the number of people who immediately think of the Nova line as the logical and more rewarding alternative.

  13. At least Roland did a better job promoting AIRA than they did when releasing SH201 or GAIA etc.
    They rely on being noticed to youngsters maybe, who perhaps one day want to start making music and want to purchase their new synth without knowing that there are 2nd hand synths which are way cheaper and better. I once did the same mistake by buying Micron when I could have bought 2 synths + a drum synth for the same money.

  14. So far it seems pretty basic but if Roland maintains support for these machines they will keep them a source of cheap fun. Playability is a big factor and even though cheap hardware doesn’t fulfil every wish list the competition is on. We live I’m exciting times and those if us who started with freeware plugs and a high opinion of ourselves are able to supplement working all night at a computer. After a day in the office. At first I baulked at the aesthetic (it would be nice to see people customise the paint work). But if they come as close to the originals they have with the TR8 ie offering the experience and packing its own punch I would consider. Let’s see a JP6 or a string machine! A System 700 or SH5! Let’s see the beautiful 707 and Cr78, the 606 for their drummer. In fact I think aside from a cheeky garish pot dealer colour scheme they just need to live up to updates that mature these machines. Why not plug out style editors for the remaining instruments? That with the USB integration would be great for running stuff through fx like a vst insert…. A sync box would be sweet too… I like my analogues but they’re all different colours…and can be coloured…

    1. Unfortunately they don’t have a great record of doing updates to their machines that can be re-configured, like the Vari-OS. Even as far back as the S-50, which was software based and could theoretically have had different operating systems loaded on to it.

  15. Really like the concept. Clearly it doesn’t yet match expectations, but Roland are a safe pair of hands with a fantastic pedigree. Let’s wait and see how it develops.

    1. I tend to judge a safe pair of hands by their recent track record, and Roland looks a lot like he’s got hand cramps.

    1. roland has info up on their site
      sh101 vst/au – controlled with controller – can be saved to the plug out system.
      specs are silly, basically same as native, but listed below.

      SH-101 PLUG-OUT Software Synthesizer
      Complete reproduction of the iconic SH-101

      Maximum Polyphony 1 voice
      Range (64′, 32′, 16′, 8′, 4′, 2′)
      Pulse Width Modulation (50%–min)
      PWM Mode switch (MANUAL, LFO, VCF ENV, VCA ENV)
      Modulation Depth (-min–+max)
      Tune (+/-50 cent)

      Source Mixer
      Square/Pulse wave Level
      Saw wave Level
      SUB Oscillator Level
      SUB Oscillator Waveform switch
      (1Oct Down Square, 2Oct Down Square, 2Oct Down Pulse)
      Noise Level

      Cutoff Frequency (10 Hz–20 kHz)
      Resonance (0–Self oscillation)
      ENV Depth (-100%–+100%)
      Modulation Depth
      Key Follow (-100%–+100%)

      VCF ENV
      Attack Time (1.5 ms–4 s)
      Decay Time (2 ms–10 s)
      Sustain Level (0–100%)
      Release Time (2 ms–10 s)

      VCA Mode (ENV, GATE)
      ToneVCA ENV Attack Time (1.5 ms–4 s)
      Decay Time (2 ms–10 s)
      Sustain Level (0–100%)
      Release Time (2 ms–10 s)
      Gate-Trigger switch (GATE, LFO, GATE+TRIG)

      Crusher Depth
      Reverb Level
      Delay Level
      Delay Time

      LFO/CLK Rate (0.1 Hz–30 Hz)
      Waveform (SIN, TRI, SAW, SQR, RANDOM, NOISE)Controller Volume
      Portamento Time (0–5 s)
      Portamento Mode (ON, AUTO, OFF)
      Bend Range (VCO)
      Tempo Sync switch

      Arpeggio Switch
      Arpeggio Type (1Oct Up, 1Oct U+D, 1Oct Down, 2Oct Down, 2Oct U+D, 2Oct Down)
      Arpeggio Step (1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/4T, 1/8T, 1/16T)Sampling Frequency 44.1 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 48 kHz, 96 kHz, 192 kHzTones 64 patches/1 bank *User can make new user banks.
      Plug-In Formats VSTi 3.6 (32bit/64bit), AU
      Plug-Out Hardware SYSTEM-1

      can you spot the differences with this and native?

  16. I am very impressed with the AIRA line. I also do like the fact that Roland is not forcing me to buy a drum machine (or pads built into my keyboard), a bassline unit or vocoder if I don’t want those items. I actually applaud their decision to divide the components up. The System 1 keyboard does leave a little to be desired, and on top of the comments of others regarding velocity and aftertouch (which I agree should be in this unit), I heard the keyboard was the same keyboard they used in an earlier controller and they have a record of failure… Still, I found the whole system worth my time. For the record, I love my A300 Pro MIDI controller and most of their keyboards from the past. Maybe they will release a MKII soon correcting at least the keyboard issues. I wish to support them still as a company, they may indeed “be lost” as someone pointed out, but they can come back from the dark side if there is sufficient motivation.

Leave a Reply