Roland Aira System-1 Review – “I’m Absolutely Blown Away”


Producer Francis Preve has published his take on the new Roland Aira System-1 synthesizer in the latest issue of Keyboard magazine.

Now that Roland has released several Plug-Out synths for the System-1, its vision for the platform is starting to come together.

While the System-1 one has generated a lot of hype, questions and skepticism, Preve says that he came away from his time with the new synth “absolutely blown away by what Roland has accomplished”.

Here’s how he sums up his impressions of the System-1:

“The Aira System-1 sounds better than several of my favorite analog instruments—and coming from a purist, that’s heresy. Every classic analog patch I threw at it sounded astonishingly legitimate. There were even a few vintage sounds that the Roland nailed where the others failed.

So I moved some gear around and cleared space in my immediate work area, and the System-1 now lives by my side in the studio. I’ve even moved my trusty vintage SH-101 to a corner of the room. The only question remaining is how long it will actually stay there. After all, it’s worth a pretty penny on eBay these days.

We’re not ready to give up our vintage analog synths yet, but it’s clear that Roland’s latest analog emulation technology delivers some pretty impressive results.

Preve also shared some audio examples of the Roland Aira System-1:

Check out Preve’s full review at the Keyboard site.  And if you’ve worked with the System-1, leave a comment and share your thoughts on the new synth platform!

54 thoughts on “Roland Aira System-1 Review – “I’m Absolutely Blown Away”

  1. The entire Aira line has turned out to be pretty cool. The vocoder is the weakest link, in my book.

    They need to do a version of the System-1 with a better keyboard and a Jupiter emulation, then I’m onboard.

    1. I second the Jupiter.

      I wouldn’t mind better keyboard either, but Jupiter.

      And V-Synth.

      I would go NUTS if they released a Fantom-V with plugout synths, SuperNatural shit,, Variphrase technology and a sequencer. I would buy it immediately.

  2. sounds kinda boring to me. Don’t feel any vintage Roland vibe there. Sounds more like a good software simulation in a sterile environment, which it basicly is.

    1. Sterile environment……what does that even mean? That’s such bullshit.
      I bought the SH-2 plugin/plugout and it sounds great!…..Fantastic, rich and warm.
      I have analog gear and the Sh-2 plugin stands up to my analog systems.
      I can’t stop playing around with it. Great job Roland.
      Sterile environment? ….what a bunch of shit!
      I agree with not buying the System1 but everything after that is great! (Sh101 and Sh-2)
      Keep these great sound emulations coming!

      1. As far as not buying the System1…….waiting for the Systems 2 or higher, hopefully larger keyboard (61 keys or higher) more polyphony for upcoming polyphonic plug-ins……Jupiter series? Maybe?
        Then I will buy the Roland keyboard controller,? right now I am using the Akai 49 controller and it works fine except no midi learn with the SH-2 so there are definite reasons for getting the System1.

    2. I’m sorry but you’re just talking bullshit now. I’ve had this thing for a few months and it’s absolutely amazing – especially for the price. I’ve had analog synths for decades and this thing sounds so close that most people out there wouldn’t know the difference. The 101 emulation is pretty amazing. It doesn’t sound exactly like my 101 because they all sound slightly different. I have a background in circuit design so I know why analog sounds like it does and this is simply a great emulation of the 101 circuit. Don’t even get me started on the SH-2 plugin. It absolutely blew my mind. The baseline out of this thing are huge. Filter is creamy as butter.
      It’s clear Roland have the something good going on in R&D for the Aira line. The DSP is powerful enough now to model circuits of monosynths. I’m sure poly’s are next. This is great news since one machine should be able to do the work of many. It’s so pathetic to see all these morons nit picking over things they can’t even hear. Watch the video review on YT by some guy in a production team called Freemasons from the UK. Probably the best review out there because he is an actually producer who values workflow and how the sound will fit into mixes and not some tool who compares oscillator waveforms.

  3. “As with the other Aira gear, the System-1 design is gloriously futuristic, with its Matrix-green backlit knobs and slim, wedge-like footprint. Whether in a darkened studio, dim DJ booth, or multi-tiered keyboard rig, its glowing presence will turn heads like no other synth on the market, especially when its “screen saver” kicks in.”

    I have a hard time trusting reviews that read like bad ad copy.

    1. It’s funny to hear someone use “gloriously futuristic” to describe the visual aesthetic of a 15 year old film, which was at the time extremely derivative of an even older cyberpunk movement. When the products involved are all good, it still sounds goofy to say.

    2. Feh, every other thing you read in this arena sounds like ad copy. So? Its the nature of the business. Preve knows his stuff, so if he chooses to wax enthusiastic, why should that be seen as a slap to the reader? He imparts the feel as an end-user and that’s what I really want to know, whether I agree or not. The subjective things matter as much or more than the specs.

      I’m sick of ‘vintage’ or ‘analog’ anything. Too much synth music sounds like Human League retreads or Deadmau5 covers. Those same fizzy, squirty leads of yesteryear are a bore when richer synthesis means are available now. You’ll never see a V-Synth model in this thing or anywhere else. Most people would never really wring out a V-Synth. Its a serious player’s synth you wrestle in real-time; its NOT an instant-grat item like the System-1. You can’t just press Play, because its all about your hands. Besides, few would buy a system powerful enough to handle that due to the high cost. VariOS came and went in the same breath, remember. Just because a majority goes for a trend doesn’t make it good by default. Example: people bitch about the astoundingly shitty keybeds, yet keep buying them. Of course Roland will sell you crap if it makes a buck. The simple truth is that quality will cost you, but if you buy a serious controller that FEELS like an instrument instead of some cheap switches, you can easily pro-rate it and see the real work/fun ratio gains over time. Don’t be too easily swayed by the trends, positive or negative.

  4. “Now that Roland has released several Plug-Out synths for the System-1, its vision for the platform is starting to come together.”
    SH-101, and what else….?

    1. The System-1 has its own synth engine, then there’s a SH101 clone and an SH2 clone.

      I still don’t get why they couldn’t put enough Flash ram on there to hold several synth engines.

                1. Zymos

                  Roland offers three synths for the System-1: SH101, SH2 & the System-1. Roland has been a little fuzzy on their use of the Plug-Out term, and it’s something they made up – so I care less about their terminology and more about the fact that this keyboard can run three different synth engines.

                  The key point of mentioning this in the article is that you can judge whether that’s a useful feature or not. When it was released, there was only one synth to run on it.

                  1. And when it was released, there was a lot of skepticism about whether Roland would keep adding models. It’s good to know they’ve added 2 so far, and hopefully more will be on the way (I’m not going to count what already shipped with the synth as originally announced)

                    1. Jupiter or Juno. But like so many other commenters, I’m not really interested unless the release a new model with a bigger and better keyboard.

  5. I wasn’t all that excited by the System 1 until I heard the SH-2 plug out demo, which is VERY convincing. However, these soundcloud samples linked to the article are making me skeptical again. Even referencing some classic riffs doesn’t help my brain hear analog. Not sure which module they recorded them with, but if it’s the internal synth, that would make sense.

    I concur, if they make a 4 or 5 octave version that is a poly with a Juno and or Jupiter plug out forthcoming, I am in. I think they would also do well to hire some sound designers from Korg and Elektron who are eating their lunch these days in the fresh presets department. I can program with the best of them, but as a producer for TV, I need a lot of go to presets to get inspired. And nothing I heard at NAMM on the current System 1 gave me the warm fuzzys.

    1. “I can program with the best of them”
      “I need a lot of go to presets to get inspired”

      Sorry but you lost me there. And you did download these samples and not just listening to the 128 kb mp3 stream ?

  6. I’m glad that folks are catching on to this thing. I spent about an hour with it today and it’s just endlessly fascinating–a huge range of sounds both warm, cold, smooth, nasty, digital, analog, you name it.

  7. I have the vocoder and bassline,both very good.
    I have analogue synths.The drum machine tr8 has so few memories and only four outs.The synth has so few memories it is not worth having at the moment. I believe Rolands profits are up as a result of the aira range?
    I look forward to future products.

  8. Hasn’t Aira gotten enough press already? The System 1 has been written up and discussed to death in videos and forums all summer, seems to me.

  9. What I find fascinating about this whole series of products are how people are reacting to them based on various beliefs. There have been software synths for quite some time that are of this caliber, but they were all deemed crap by the roland hardware purists. This system is, in fact and form, a software synth. The only difference is that the “hardware” component is a custom box with knobs on it made by roland, rather than a generic box made by a mainstream manufacturer of multi-purpose computing devices. But because Roland themselves are doing the software emulation rather than someone else, and because the “processing box” running the software looks and feels like a synth rather than a computer, a large number of people will accept and champion this software when they would not before.

    It just proves that packaging matters.

    1. What synths are you talking about? Why are you even talking about softsyths? Apple and oranges, right?
      OF course these are digital models running on a DSP. This is not even debatable. What is your point?

        1. “There have been software synths for quite some time that are of this caliber, but they were all deemed crap by the roland hardware purists. ”

          So where exactly are these Roland hardware purists making these statements?
          And again I ask you what synths are you talking about? Component modelling is fairly new in algorithm design. uHe was one of the first with ACE but as expected it was a huge CPU hog. Roland clearly have developed the DSP which can now do component modelling. This type of emulation didn’t really exist before. Roland is a hardware company. That is where they make money to continue existing. No one is championing anything here except good sound and workflow. If you’re somehow saying that their new gear is simply old technology repacked in hardware, then you need to listen more closely.

  10. Id still rather roland re-release the sh-101 as it was with midi. Id pay 1500 for that, cos I know itll last 40 years. These cheaps arse plastic toys will be recycled in a few years.

  11. soooo, the system 1 can run 3 synth engines, is that all onboard at the same time, switching between the different synths or can only one synth be loaded onboard at any given time?

  12. Realtime “component modelling” is pure bullshit! Just run a simple full parameter
    Sallen/Key 12db OPamp filter circuit simulation on LT Spice for instance and it’s
    nowhere close to realtime and thats what “real engineers” is using for simulate
    circuit behaviour.

    To do REAL component modelling in REAL TIME you need a stunningly fast
    desktop computer and not some silly embedded piece of 100Mhz crap that’s
    inside ARIA + marketing bullshit hypeing that every laptophipster is wanking to.

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