Final yr throughout Superbooth Roland unveiled the Aira Compact sequence – its first true rivals to Korg’s wildly profitable Volca line. Now the corporate is again for Superbooth 2023 with a brand new addition to the household, the S-1 Tweak Synth. Just like the T-8 and J-6, the S-1 makes use of Roland’s Analog Circuit Conduct (ACB) expertise to recreate the sound of an iconic instrument from its previous, the SH-101. Whereas the core of the S-1 is finally fairly acquainted, in true Roland style there’s lots of trendy options packed in as nicely. And in even more true Roland style, a lot of them are buried in a bewildering array of indecipherable menus and button combos.
I’m going to get this out of the best way proper now, as a result of it’s a recurring theme in virtually each evaluation I write of a Roland product. The interface right here is really thoughts boggling when you get past the speedy hands-on controls. Virtually each knob and button has at the very least one shift perform. A lot of them aren’t labeled. And the one visible suggestions you’re given for something is by way of a four-character, seven-segment LED show. A seven-segment LED show in 2023! I dare anybody to inform me what the hell “Nod.d” means with out wanting it up within the guide. And what in regards to the D-Movement button means that that is the place the likelihood and substep choices are positioned? I’m not attempting to recommend that I ought to be capable of determine each function on an instrument immediately with out studying a guide. However I additionally shouldn’t really feel like a misplaced ball within the tall weeds. Particularly not after we’re speaking about an entry degree $200 synth.
The clunky interface right here is especially irritating as a result of the S-1 is in any other case sort of nice. It really has an honest quantity of hands-on controls. It affords much more depth than any of the earlier Aria Compact entries, even should you by no means contact the shift button. There’s an LFO with six totally different waveform choices, together with random. The oscillator part permits you to mix collectively a noticed and sq. wave with pulse width modulation, in addition to a sub oscillator and noise supply. And, not like the unique SH-101 which was monophonic, the S-1 is polyphonic so you may play precise chords (as much as 4 notes).
And the oscillators sound nice. I’m not at all times the hugest fan of Roland’s ACB sound engine, nevertheless it shines right here. Thick bass, acid leads and 16-bit JRPG arps are all simply attainable and satisfying. That is simply one of the best sounding member of the Aira Compact household.
The filter is great too. It stops simply shy of self oscillation, however nonetheless will get fairly sharp and might actually endanger your eardrums you probably have your headphones up too loud. However on the decrease finish of the cutoff spectrum you get a shocking heat and silkiness from this dust low cost emulation of a basic analog circuit.
Roland even threw in a delay, seven reverbs and 4 refrain choices. The reverbs are merely okay, however the delay is a superbly strong digital impact. You possibly can even set the delay time to 1/128 and crank the … Anb(?) reverb mannequin to get howling metallic textures which are out of this world. The choruses, pulled from the Juno and JX-3P are actually glorious. It’s only a disgrace they’re buried within the arcane menu system as a result of I wish to flip them on for nearly each patch I make.
There’s a strong arpeggiator, and you may even file immediately from the arpeggiator into the 64-step sequencer. That’s fairly helpful for laying down glassy excessive notes then going again in and overdubbing some bass to intensify the chord modifications. I’ll say although, I haven’t fairly found out the way to get to 64 steps. By default sequences are 16 steps, there isn’t a apparent option to transcend that and I used to be not offered a guide with my evaluation unit.
Roland additionally added movement sequencing to S-1, so you may tweak settings as you’re recording to slowly enhance the quantity of delay over the course of a sample. And even go into the menu and activate and off the refrain, or change the sub-oscillator tuning on a per-step foundation. It actually opens up lots of prospects on an instrument this small and inexpensive. You possibly can ratchet notes, set per step likelihood, and there’s even Step Loop for rapidly mangling your sequence into new riffs on the fly, although that’s much more helpful on a drum machine.
If the function checklist for the S-1 ended right here, that might be completely tremendous. However Roland added extra. So. A lot. Extra. Possibly an excessive amount of extra.
There’s a draw and chop perform, which lets you create customized waveshapes for even wilder tones. Then use the multiplier in your freshly drawn waveshape, or the comb in your chopped wave for hard-synced and dissonant metallic noises. You can even flip the noise supply right into a form of pulsing riser impact. Although, I used to be unaware of this once I unintentionally activated it whereas messing round one afternoon and couldn’t for the lifetime of me determine what was happening. That is a kind of many unlabeled options hidden behind a seemingly arbitrary button mixture. (For the file, you maintain down shift then press 1 and a couple of concurrently to cycle by way of just a few totally different riser modes.)
The one final function price mentioning (I feel), is a little bit of a head scratcher. D-Movement permits you to change parameters by selecting up the synth and tilting it about. It’s a enjoyable novelty for a couple of minutes, nevertheless it doesn’t really feel sensible. Although, at the very least it makes extra sense on the small, battery-powered and transportable S-1 than it does on the SH-4d.
Past that the S-1 resembles the remainder of the Aira Compact line. It’s plastic, has a chargeable battery in-built and weighs subsequent to nothing. There are 3.5mm MIDI, sync and audio jacks for connecting different gear. And USB-C for charging, but additionally for sending audio and MIDI to computer systems, telephones and tablets. My one different minor gripe, bodily at the very least, is that the mushy keys are painfully small. Taking part in chords on this factor is a little bit of a headache. However not way more so than on every other instrument of this ilk, just like the Modal Electronics Skulpt or a Volca Keys.
The S-1 Tweak Synth is each probably the most compelling and most irritating member of the Aira Compact sequence. It has loads of hands-on controls, sounds nice and is deceptively highly effective for the worth. However it is usually, maybe, too complicated. It tries to do too many issues and finally ends up feeling cluttered and complicated. Which is the precise reverse of what you need from what is actually a $200 music toy.
What made Korg’s Volcas so profitable wasn’t their laundry checklist of options, it was their simplicity. They sounded adequate, have been inexpensive, and unintimidating. Roland appears to have gotten the primary two elements of the equation down. Now it simply must work on the final ingredient.