Roland System-8 Synthesizer Review

In the latest Sonic Lab video, reviewer Nick Batt takes a look at the Roland System-8 Plug-Out Synthesizer

The System-8 is a new hardware synth that uses analog circuit modeling to implement its own synth architecture and to recreate the circuits of some of their classic synths, like the Jupiter-8 and Juno-106. The System-8 can host and control up to three Roland Plug-Out software synthesizers, and new Jupiter-8 and Juno-106 Plug-Outs are included with purchase. Optional Plug-Outs such as the SH-2, SH-101, Promars, and others will be supported as well.

The synth includes “a massive array” of hands-on controls, as well as a polyphonic step sequencer, vocoder, CV/GATE outputs, arpeggiator, and other creative tools.

If you’ve used the System-8 synthesizer, let us know what you think of it in the comments!

49 thoughts on “Roland System-8 Synthesizer Review

      1. first comment = an opinion, about the product in the blog post

        second comment = a comment complaining about another comment, calling it useless

        hummmm…. i wonder which comment is more useful?

        (apologies for the uselessness of this comment)

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    1. I’m with you. The brightest can be changed or turned off all together. But off all the way can make it hard for different plugout controller highlights. I dim mine and it’s good match for my rooms light so they don’t distract.

      But the sound does it for me. I love it.

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    2. I hear/read a lot of comments about people not buying a synth because it looks ugly.

      I realize everyone likes attractive aesthetics but honestly, on my list of concerns regarding a synth, what it looks like is way down the list.

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      1. I know I should agree with you, because in the end, it’s the sound that matters, however, I don’t agree. I think the looks of all the surroundings while making music (and thus including the synth itself) have a great impact on the inspiration and creativity of the mind, same goes for workflow. A synth should look nice, work nice and sound nice, then it will be inspirational. Some people are just blessed with a filter in their heads that don’t connect the looks of a synth to their inspiration.

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        1. PLEASE Bert… no one is arguing that the Dominion sounds great.. it’s a great synth.. but it’s like comparing a car with a motorbike… both fast, both get you from a to b, but if you were talking about which 4×4 to get for your family and some idiot piped up with “Go buy a Kawasaki and screw the wife and kids!!” what would you think??????

          Compare monosynths to monosynths, polys to polys.

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      1. I cannot believe that someone who is meant to know a little about synthesis can put imperfect analog modelling, over two much warmer analog synths. The DSi and DM12. I wonder if bitterness is blinding you Ty? I know it is me! I had three variants of ACB technology. They were all deeply flawed. And had to go. Roland are a shadow of their former self. That’s quite sad for anyone who had a System 100. To compare their beloved Roland’s former sonic brilliance to their current plastic copycat mentality.

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        1. Really don’t get why I should be “blinded by bitterness”?? Why? How? Totally agree about Roland being a shadow of their former self… totally disagree about your assessment of the DM12 and P08.

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          1. I could have worded that better…But I don’t subscribe to the negativity Behringer receive for their first synth. Imperfect, but a brave step forward in many ways. And regarding DSi…admittedly they are overpriced, especially after brexit! But they make synths with soul. I had a P08 that I sold for a Vermona Perfourmer Mk ii. Later I bought back the P08 and then a P06. These are practical, useful synths with expressive possibilities. If only the Vermona had easier ways to sync the chaos & recreate a moment of magic. I had a JU06 boutique, and I thought it was great. Till I compared it to an MKS 7. Similarly a SH2 plug out compared to a real SH2. It was like looking at a pixelated version of a great painting. So I’m the one, bitter at the plasticisation of art and artistic tools!

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            1. We can agree to disagree 🙂

              As I’ve said elsewhere I like DSI stuff (and the company) and if I’m honest don’t REALLY think it’s overpriced… I’ve a P6, P12, PolyEvolver and Tempest… I just don’t rate the 08 at all… played them loads and wanted to love it but found it incredibly sterile. The DM12? I agree.. great first attempt… and it sounds “good” but that’s it for me… nothing great about it and so SO much of the sound is the wonderful FX… take those off and I found it mediocre.

              We can view ACB in whichever way we want but I honestly don’t care what kind of synthesis it is… all I’m bothered about is what it sounds like. I’ve plenty of “real” analog to compare it to… and it sounds like the real deal. That’s good enough for me. I’m not precious about these things, they’re all tools, and whether it brings something new or special to the party is all that really matters to me. The System 8 does, the other two don’t. But that’s me… we’re all different and we all want different things out of a synth. 🙂

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  1. Think it sounds great. The tonal variations on the OSCs and Filters sound great. I’d love to own one but it’s kind of bummer that the flagship model uses a wall wart, doesn’t have aftertouch, doesn’t have MIDI Thru…

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  2. This has to be the most boring age of keyboard instruments since the dawn of synths..Just fire everyone in that huge marketing department, it is obvious they are making all the calls and either shut the business or of the love of god make something remotely interesting. It’s 2017 not the early 90’s

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  3. With a $1500 price tag, I would expect this synth to have better build quality and features. I love the sound of classic Roland analog synths and the interface looks terrific, but why does the base System-8 engine have so many limitations? It’s like a slightly expanded rehash of the JP-8000, a 20-year-old VA synth.

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  4. Why does Roland insists on always making “almost great” top-of-the-line synths that fall short on ridiculous little big details? (No aftertouch? 4 octaves? Plastic case? Only one LFO? Arcane Multi Setup Save?….wtf Roland!) I personally love the sound, but paying so much only to suffer those compromises…?

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    1. this is a problem with almost all gear to some degree, but id agree that Roland is by far the worst offender in this category

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  5. the limitation regarding polyphony and multitimbrality is shockingly crazy, given the fact that the system-8 is pure digital. its sequencer reminds me of the one of the jd-xa: total crap. why didn´t they put an eight-track version of the fa-06 sequencer in there? roland, wake up!

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  6. 20 years ago Synths purpose was to emulate acoustic instruments. Now Synths try to emulate analogs, In 20 years. Roland will try to emulate ACB and it won’t be bigger than a postage stamp (and sold at about the REAL price as today). Don’t forget, JP80,Integra 7,RD2000, System 1 and 8, JD-XA, JD-Xi, Boutiques, TB 3/303, TR08 all use the same processor. Basically it is supernatural with just other Firmware. This helps service-ability but it’s also recycling. if DSI can sell analog 8 voices at 1499 (remember those who said Made in USA was impossible at that price point ?), Then the mass/robot produced S8 is indeed overpriced. Roland should by long have got their ROI on the hardware now. The S8 may make interesting sounds (even though the sticker “Preloaded with two of your favorite instruments” is feels like a soap add of “this cleans your laundry 3x faster”) but it lacks on MIDI, Sysex, after-touch, 2 LFO’s , there is not even a librarian. (a JP80 repeat, just need towait for another CTRL/JUCE hobby version).Still would buy an S8 at $999 if it includes ALL plugouts after they fix the MIDI. Hair splitting ? Don’t think so. Perhaps a System 12 with all these features, but nowadays Roland does not listen anymore. And by the way, comparing this to DSI or other synths (e.g. the P12, often very under estimated. Have you really digged into that synth, it has a complete different structure, serves a complete difference purpose and has a very different sound scape) and telling those don’t sound as good is absolutely subjective and non-value adding.. And Roland threw good MIDI support overboard now for some time, they can (re)learn such a lot from DSI for how SYSEX/MIDI should be done.

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    1. A few comment:

      1) ACB is not Supernatural. Supernatural is sample-based. ACB is their take on component modelling.
      2) This is not “recycling”. Maybe you misused the word. Roland design multi-purpose chips that they can use in multiple products. This is no different than a company using a SHARC or ARM processor to do a job. There is no point in redesigning the wheel.
      3) Comparing Roland to DSI is not valid. DSI is a small company with a much lower overhead. Roland is a multi-national with much higher costs that require a higher ROI. Until recently they were publicly traded which made decision making more difficult. Their recent adaptation to market conditions had the result going private.
      4) “Interesting Sounds” ?? You do realize the history of the Jupiter 8 , JUNO 106 etc.??

      I find these criticisms of companies like Roland odd. The pundits constantly criticize them for petty things while indifferent to the fact they have been around for over 40 years. If Roland were not that successful they would not be in business. Success means selling products and they seem to be doing okay there. Like any company, they make mistakes (sad little TB303 didn’t do too well at the time) but their recent catalog of products is some of the most interesting I’ve seen in a long time from one of the big players.

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      1. The arguments made were intended to justify the price v.s features.

        1) Restate: The same processor (and much of the glue logic) with different firmware
        (Similar to the VA of Nord Lead/Electro/Stage etc..)
        2) See 1
        3) Not agree. It’s valid, they are competitors. and for cost, refer to the basic theories of economies of scope and scale.
        4) Sorry, would “amazing sounds” or ” one the best in the world” feel better?
        5) DSI exists for a long time too. The topic is about the price/features of this product.
        Do own lots of Roland gear (recent and 80/90′ stuff).

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  7. The largest and probably most ugly VST-Controller to buy. There is no love love from me for this synth. Behringer is second worst because the sawtooth dilemma. OB-6 is probably best choice to date. REV2 should be even better cause bigger Modmatrix, 16 Voices and Performance-Mode. But who needs all this? My 4-OP Yamaha’s, Kawai K4/1, JP-8080 and Super JV-1080 are so versatile, surprising and sound with charakter, i’ll never leave them for a new boy in town.

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    1. So that people also will buy a System 8.5 in 2018 just for that half voice + a few new features and a System 10 in 2019 and System 12 in 2020 at very low development expenses. Secondly naming it System 7,9 or 10 would be a bit odd for 8 voices. (ouch, that’s wasn’t straightforward, wasn’t it)

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  8. I don’t mind the colour but I am not enamoured by VA in general. There no sound here that cannot be replicated by a vsti, not emulated, replicated. A laptop, a good controller keyboard and a good set of VSTi’s will provide the same audio functionality with many more sound options, plus it would be a lot cheaper.

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  9. Why won’t any company support MPE!? I don’t even like this synth. (8 digital voices really?) But I would buy this in a second if it had full expressive capabilities for the Linnstrument.

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    1. I think this has probably got a lot to do with the MIDI Association. They are bumbling around and haven’t release an MPE standard yet.
      I am waiting for an MPE options before my next synth purchase…I am not sure if this Roland would be my first choice, but I am getting antsy…

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    2. 1) Being Roland they will add the least possible enhancements in every new product to stretch the recycling of the hardware for many years to come to achieve a maximum return on investments. (and so do many companies)
      2) Wait for a new System X product in 1.5 years.
      3) It may need some additional processors.
      4) I don’t think it’s to do with MPE standard, a firmware change is easy to make and MPE functions and CC’s are mostly agreed by now if not customizable by editors.

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      1. DSI aren’t saints when it comes to support for promised features. Have a think about the Tempast and how it lives up to its name.

        Roland are a bit timid but they have accountants who know what sells. Hopefully there will be a ’12 and I wouldn’t mind if it had some menu options like the Behringer but do give us more modulation options next time please.

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  10. that record automation and turn the notes off and play in realtime with automation still going feature is pretty nice!!!! but the saving thing is very odd

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  11. Really crap build, crap colour scheme and aesthetics, no aftertouch, but it sounds bloody good indeed…
    Would I buy one? No, some of my NI Komplete Ultimate virtual instruments can sound much better and “warmer” and I have more control over them.

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  12. I own this synth and love it. I was not convinced whilst testing it in the store and even less when watching what little there was online video wise. I bought it becuase it had something worth exploring and after playing around with for a time and then the upgrade with the Juno 106 released I knew I had a keeper.
    I bought it for slightly less than full price, not 999 that some think it should cost, but about 1350 instead of 1500 and I think it is worth it.
    People owning the emulated synths and owning a system-8 are very happy with how it emulates there real synth. It does what it says on the lid and it does it well.

    I might have gotten a DeepMind12 as I had my eye on that, but it was not released and now I am not getting it but I am getting DSI Rev2 when it is released soon. See, for me DeepMind looses out becuase it does not have ‘audio in’ – otherwise it might still be interesting; that and I really try to keep down on stuff with keys. Got me the Arp Odyssey desktop for this very reason.
    If I eventually find Matrixbrute for a killer price new/second hand I will get that too.

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  13. Bought it. Have now played around with it for a total of 12 hours or so and I haven’t felt this inspired and excited by a musical instrument since I first got to use an SH-3A (which got me into synthesis).

    Immidiate, graspable and deep. The System-8 engine is the most exciting part, even though both the Juno and Jupiter sound great.

    There’s a few things that could have been better (I’m not friends with the modulation/expression solution for example), but on the whole: a great sounding and ridiculously inspirig synthesizer.

    Stop whining, people.

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 4

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