My name is Dave Gardner and I work for Roland as a product specialist in Red Dog Music. Last month I was lucky enough to hear and see the full range of new Roland products that are part of the “The Future Redefined” product launch.
As someone who loves synths and all things electronic, there was one product that I was looking forward to especially… I am proud to present a review of the Roland System 8! So, what is it exactly? Why is it so special and what on earth does it do? Read on my friends and I will reveal all!
In order to “Redefine the Future” let’s cast our mind back a little to February 2014. Roland wowed the world when they launched AIRA, an amazing, unique range of products. The TR8, TB3, VT3 and SYSTEM 1. These completely changed what it means to create an analogue modelling device thanks to a brand new and very important technology called ACB or Analogue Circuit Behaviour.
There’s many definitions for ACB flying about the web but let’s sum it up in a sentence because it’s central to the System 8 (and one or two other sneaky products) that are being launched as we speak.
“Analogue Circuit Behaviour models the individual components of analogue synthesisers so that, without compromise, the sound, behaviour and crucially, the character of analogue and classic instruments is created as you play”.
So now we’ve done our homework, let’s look at the Roland System 8 in a bit more detail starting with what it actually is!
The System 8 is a 49 key, eight voice polyphonic synthesiser containing Roland’s most advanced version of the ACB sound engine to date. Like a System 1 on steroids, it is a totally unique synth in its own right. New oscillators, controls and features, which we will look at later, all combine to make an excellent instrument capable of earth shattering sounds. In addition to this it can host 3 polyphonic “Plug Out” Synthesisers. You may remember that term from classic AIRA machines such as “SYSTEM 1” and “Son of System 1 – SYSTEM 1M”. Put simply, you can host 3 classic Roland Synthesisers inside the System 8 and the best part is…
You get a Jupiter 8 and a Juno 106, built in. FOR FREE!!
I’m just going to let you breathe that in for a second…
Back in the room? Excellent, let’s talk about how it sounds starting with the oscillator section. There are 2 main oscillators each with 6 waveforms and two variations to choose from plus a third oscillator which generates a sine or a triangle wave and doubles as a sub oscillator. Additionally, there is a noise generator which produces white or pink noise. Each of these oscillators has several sources of modulation including, the LFOs, pitch, filter and amp envelope generators. With 8 note polyphony, there’s a great sonic palate to draw upon.
Thanks to ACB, the filter section is incredibly versatile. The filters are smooth and seamless without stepping or any evidence of digital artefacts. However, the coolest thing is that they can model different types of filter. For example, using the Plug Out, we can exactly model the distinctive filter of a Juno 106 or using the variations, get the side band filter out of the V-Synth. Unlike the System 1, the System 8 is velocity sensitive and the filter can be activated via velocity. During the performance I watched, the level of expression was amazing. Having all of these analogue sounds controlled and played in a unique way really opened my eyes (and ears!) to the vast potential of this synth.
The sound can be enhanced further, thanks to the effects section which includes specially modelled distortions, taken from the circuitry of the legendary Boss compact range. A modulation and delay section, gives you access to a range of delay, chorus, and other modulation effects bringing additional richness and warmth to any patch. Finally, the reverb and ambience section was particularly nice. The modelled reverbs and ambient effects bring a vastness to what is already a giant sounding synth. For want of a better term, they sound EPIC!
The additional polyphony on the System 8 really adds to the performance possibilities and this is especially cool because it can be utilised in some really interesting ways. Firstly, the synth can be split in two or layered. Two different patches can be played at any one time and crucially, it’s really easy to edit each of them quickly thanks to dedicated panel select buttons. The sequencer section is polyphonic as well and you can create up 64 note sequences. Sequences can be played forwards, backwards, alternatively, randomly and via key triggering. Once you’ve created your sequence, you can then play chords and control the key that the sequence is playing in! This is so useful for live performance, particularly if you are using other gear and have your hands full. Thirdly, the “Chord Memory” allows you to play chords by playing one key at a time. Different inversions and variations can be recalled easily and quickly. Ideal if you’re not a keyboard player.
Now, time to talk about Plug Out! As I mentioned previously, the System 8 allows you to host up to 3 of Roland’s Plug Out Synthesisers. Essentially, this means that classic Roland Synths like the SH101, SH2, Pro-Mars etc. have be recreated using ACB technology. These can then be ported onto the System 8 and activated, essentially turning it into one of these classic instruments. They System 8 has a Juno 106 and Jupiter 8 included in the price. They sound remarkable and behave just like the originals. This really is Analogue Circuit Behaviour in action. Every characteristic and behavioural nuance happens as you play and is enhanced by the System 8’s additional features like the sequencer, effects section and CV/Gate out. Look at how much an original Jupiter 8 sells for. I recently saw a broken one on ebay for £3000! For less than £1300 you get a Juno 106, a Jupiter 8 and a totally unique and devastatingly powerful System 8 Synthesiser.
I can’t wait for this to land in the UK. It is a game changing product for analogue modelling synths and who knows where the ACB and Plug Out technology will take us in the future. I will be getting my name down for one as soon as possible! I’ll be sure to keep you informed of any updates, developments and most importantly stock availability and demonstrations! Please feel free to contact me here at the Edinburgh branch if you have any questions or would like to pre-order.