Final 12 months throughout Superbooth Roland unveiled the Aira Compact collection – 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 Habits (ACB) know-how to recreate the sound of an iconic instrument from its previous, the SH-101. Whereas the core of the S-1 is in the end fairly acquainted, in true Roland style there’s loads of trendy options packed in as properly. 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 nearly each overview I write of a Roland product. The interface right here is really thoughts boggling when you get past the fast hands-on controls. Virtually each knob and button has no less than 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 handbook. And what concerning the D-Movement button means that that is the place the chance and substep choices are situated? I’m not attempting to counsel that I ought to be capable of determine each characteristic on an instrument instantly with out studying a handbook. However I additionally shouldn’t really feel like a misplaced ball within the tall weeds. Particularly not once we’re speaking about an entry stage $200 synth.
The clunky interface right here is especially irritating as a result of the S-1 is in any other case form of nice. It really has an honest quantity of hands-on controls. It provides much more depth than any of the earlier Aria Compact entries, even if you happen to 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 possibly can 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 the very best sounding member of the Aira Compact household.
The filter is superb too. It stops simply shy of self oscillation, however nonetheless will get fairly sharp and may actually endanger your eardrums in case you have your headphones up too loud. However on the decrease finish of the cutoff spectrum you get a stunning heat and silkiness from this filth low cost emulation of a traditional 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 stable digital impact. You may 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 stable arpeggiator, and you may even file instantly 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 discovered find out how to get to 64 steps. By default sequences are 16 steps, there isn’t any apparent method to transcend that and I used to be not supplied a handbook with my overview unit.
Roland additionally added movement sequencing to S-1, so you possibly can tweak settings as you’re recording to slowly improve 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 loads of prospects on an instrument this small and inexpensive. You may ratchet notes, set per step chance, 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 characteristic listing for the S-1 ended right here, that will be completely high-quality. However Roland added extra. So. A lot. Extra. Perhaps 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 too can flip the noise supply right into a form of pulsing riser impact. Although, I used to be unaware of this once I by accident activated it whereas messing round one afternoon and couldn’t for the lifetime of me determine what was occurring. 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 means of just a few totally different riser modes.)
The one final characteristic 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, no less than 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 in addition for sending audio and MIDI to computer systems, telephones and tablets. My one different minor gripe, bodily no less than, is that the mushy keys are painfully small. Taking part in chords on this factor is a little bit of a headache. However not rather more so than on some 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 collection. It has loads of hands-on controls, sounds nice and is deceptively highly effective for the value. 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 basically a $200 music toy.
What made Korg’s Volcas so profitable wasn’t their laundry listing 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.