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 trend there’s plenty of trendy options packed in as nicely. And in even more true Roland trend, lots 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 overview I write of a Roland product. The interface right here is really thoughts boggling when you get past the quick hands-on controls. Virtually each knob and button has not 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 trying it up within the handbook. And what in regards to the D-Movement button means that that is the place the likelihood and substep choices are situated? I’m not attempting to recommend that I ought to be capable to determine each function on an instrument immediately with out studying a handbook. 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 form of nice. It truly has a good quantity of hands-on controls. It presents 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 completely different waveform choices, together with random. The oscillator part lets you mix collectively a noticed and sq. wave with pulse width modulation, in addition to a sub oscillator and noise supply. And, in contrast to 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 all the time the hugest fan of Roland’s ACB sound engine, however it shines right here. Thick bass, acid leads and 16-bit JRPG arps are all simply attainable and satisfying. That is simply the most effective 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 definitely endanger your eardrums when you’ve got 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 strong 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 really wonderful. 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 straight 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 tips on how to get to 64 steps. By default sequences are 16 steps, there isn’t a apparent technique 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 plenty of potentialities on an instrument this small and reasonably priced. You may ratchet notes, set per step likelihood, and there’s even Step Loop for shortly mangling your sequence into new riffs on the fly, although that’s much more helpful on a drum machine.
If the function record for the S-1 ended right here, that will be completely advantageous. 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 may as well flip the noise supply right into a kind of pulsing riser impact. Although, I used to be unaware of this after I unintentionally activated it whereas messing round one afternoon and couldn’t for the lifetime of me determine what was occurring. That is a type 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 completely different riser modes.)
The one final function value mentioning (I believe), is a little bit of a head scratcher. D-Movement lets you change parameters by selecting up the synth and tilting it about. It’s a enjoyable novelty for a couple of minutes, however it doesn’t really feel sensible. Although, not 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 additionally for sending audio and MIDI to computer systems, telephones and tablets. My one different minor gripe, bodily not 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 far 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 essentially 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 additionally it is, maybe, too advanced. 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 record of options, it was their simplicity. They sounded ok, have been reasonably priced, and unintimidating. Roland appears to have gotten the primary two elements of the equation down. Now it simply must work on the final ingredient.