Upon its arrival final yr, Roland’s AIRA Compact vary represented one thing of a chance for the corporate. Of all of the reboots, reiterations and revisions to the Roland pantheon of iconic digital devices – a modus operandi that has seemingly sustained the corporate’s product vary over the previous few years – by no means earlier than had it tried to squeeze a few of its most liked sound signatures into such tiny packages. Make no mistake, although – these devices sound rather a lot larger than they give the impression of being.
Three iterations had been launched concurrently to kick issues off: the T-8 Beat Machine takes after the sound of the inimitable TR-808 drum machine, with just a little of the TB-303’s acidic bass thrown in for good measure; the J-6 Chord Synth channels the spirit of the Juno-60 and is able to producing lush pads, wealthy chords and dynamic sequences besides; the E-4 Voice Tweaker doesn’t base its id on any single predecessor, but nonetheless makes its mark with a flexible set of dynamic vocal results.
Now comes the subsequent chapter within the AIRA Compact story, with a equally pithy identify: the S-1 Tweak Synth, which relies on the traditional SH-101, one in every of Roland’s most revered fashions and, like many Roland devices, a key participant within the evolution of dance music in the direction of the top of the 20 th century.
Roland has settled on a very satisfying type with these devices. Every is a unique color on the decrease chassis and all have similar higher panels, with two 3.5mm jack sockets for sync and blend in/out, plus a single mini quantity knob. That is along with the rear panel’s MIDI sockets, USB-C port and energy change.
The color of selection for the S-1 is a cool inexperienced, which, as with the opposite AIRA Compact models, may give it a barely toy-like aesthetic. On the identical time, although, the AIRAs look inviting and accessible, and on this sense, their pleasant look is well-conceived. Every is mild in weight, properly made, reasonably priced and supremely transportable. They’re additionally backpack-friendly, with lithium-ion batteries chargeable over USB. We’re glad to see Roland hasn’t wasted precious sources by constructing audio system into the models – one thing that usually provides little worth since they virtually at all times sound pathetic.
The S-1 guarantees to be the closest factor to date to a ‘correct’ synthesizer within the AIRA Compact vary, making anticipated use of Roland’s Analog Circuit Conduct (ACB) digital know-how to vow genuine recreation of the SH-101’s tone and response. Whereas the SH-101 was a mono synth, the S-1 is a four-voice polyphonic instrument and takes virtually no bodily design options from the unique. That is respectable; Roland (as with many stalwart builders) can at instances veer dangerously near purveying nostalgia in instrument type. However the S-1, just like the J-6, opts purely to channel the sonic signature of its predecessor and never deal with its retro aesthetic.
Whereas the panel appears to supply a reasonably typical set of subtractive synth controls, there’s a complete lot extra to be discovered beneath the hood. On the floor, its oscillator part presents blendable sq. and noticed waves alongside an octave selector and noise generator. Subsequent to this can be a filter part with easy controls for cutoff, resonance and envelope quantity, akin to the one ADSR envelope beneath. On the left of the panel is an easy modulation part with a single, wave-variable LFO, which can be set to random or to noise shapes, and is routable to both filter cutoff or oscillator frequency. On the appropriate are controls for delay and reverb.
A rubberised miniature keyboard occupies the decrease half of the S-1, which is pretty helpful – if not notably playable – however capabilities extra usefully as a menu system, a preset selector or a transport management for its 64-step sequencer. To date, so good. The S-1 does a advantageous job of retaining main parameters up-front and simple to entry, it sounds surprisingly sensible and likewise presents itself as much as being pushed properly – the LFO can greater than hit audio price and the filter can actually howl at excessive resonance settings. There’s a wild aspect to this factor that at instances rattles its miniature cage.
Underneath the floor, the S-1 will get a lot deeper. For one, it boasts a formidable seven reverb and 4 refrain sorts, which all sound excellent and put the stereo output to good use. The S-1 can file parameter modifications into its sequencer – together with results – endowing sequences with unimaginable dynamism atop easy patterns of notes. One other spectacular side of its playability is its D-Movement accelerometer, à la Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 which permits it to be bodily tipped and turned in two dimensions, influencing any two of a number of parameters, from panning to filter cutoff.
The S-1’s oscillator Draw and Chop capabilities actually make the synth stand out. An bold addition by Roland, it divides waveforms into 16 steps to be edited and sculpted in depth by way of the sequencer buttons. This provides harmonic richness and multiplies wave cycles for some advanced sounds that punch nicely above the S-1’s weight. It rewards experimentation, however takes some getting-used-to, since finally wave modifying is actually finest achieved with an oscilloscope to visualise issues. The S-1 can not present this, in fact, with solely a easy four-digit, seven-segment show. Limitations of the show can result in some confusion, because it has so many abbreviated menu headings and button-based navigation programs to work by means of with minimal visible cues, so it’s advisable to maintain the guide available, at the least when first attending to realize it.
Whereas the AIRA Compact vary hinted at large potential from the outset, it’s within the S-1 that this potential is starting to be absolutely realised. The opposite Compact models allude to real angle however supply what typically seems like scaled-down performance. The S-1, nevertheless, feels extra self-sufficient, deeper, grittier and extra highly effective. It raises the bar for this collection with appreciable type.
- Worth: £175 (avenue value)
- 4-voice analogue-style, digital synth
- Onboard sequencer and arpeggiator
- Sq. and noticed wave oscillator with wave variable LFO
- D-Movement accelerometer for modulating with bodily motion.
- Oscillator Draw and Chop for advanced waveform modifying