It’s the fourth and final piece in the AIRA puzzle: Roland’s AIRA SYSTEM-1 has finally appeared in finished form in the last few weeks, and is starting to arrive in dealer and user hands around the world.

Like the other AIRA models, the SYSTEM-1 is build around component modeling, new digital models of analog components. But whereas the TR-8 and TB-3 model the 808/909 and 303, respectively, the SYSTEM-1 initially ships with an all new synthesizer assembled from the sounds of its Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) models. For a Roland classic of yesteryear, we’ll be waiting until the end of July for the SH-101 PLUG-OUT to ship.

CDM will have more on PLUG-OUT, ACB, and that SH-101 model soon – as I think the SH-101 is really the key to whether you’d have this synth.

In the meantime, though, the SYSTEM-1 is an ultra-slim, compact synthesizer with lots of hands on controls (though no velocity sensitivity). In fact, that contrasts with the TB-3, which, while it sports a really lovely touch-enabled sequencer, limits control over synthesis to broad-strokes.

The SYSTEM-1 enters some fiercely competitive waters for inexpensive synth hardware. But it also fits nicely with the rest of the AIRA line, and it’s earning no less attention, even if it doesn’t have the “look, I’m a new 808” draw of the TR-8. So, we’re pleased to offer a range of videos from around the world for your AIRA-gawking pleasure.

As usual, topping the bill are the intrepid lads of SonicState, out front with their hands-on review.

Markus Fuller hilariously takes the thing apart, to reveal the innards. No big surprises, but — yeah, FPGAs. (Very cool way of making hardware these days, and speeds up the development process.) He also does something really risky and unwise, and talks about the merits of digital versus analog. (ducks!)

Jim has a bit of a jam with one. As you’ll hear, it doesn’t really sound like an SH-101 out of the box – it’s a new synth. The good news is, quick access to preset slots for your own patches. And in keeping with the hardware workflow, he has a go of recording via the RC-300 BOSS LoopStation.

Of all the artist tracks, Nina Kraviz absolutely kills it, with a flight of acid-inflected techno. And she sings and breathes into the mic for extra bonus points.

More like what happens when I touch something is this wonderfully-weirdo jam by Matt Edwards, Mathew Jonson, and Vakula. The whole AIRA range really fits together nicely and lends itself to this kind of live jamming – hurrah, hurrah for hardware, when it comes to going live:

Nacho Marco has a go of his own track, re-instrumented for the synth. Hypnotic.

When unboxing causes you to trip out, psychedelic kaleidoscope style:

(What, that doesn’t happen to you?)

More my speed is this video, which is trance-tastic, especially with those lights. (Yeah, right now SYSTEM-1 is sounding very, very 90s to me.)

My favorite reviews really come in Japanese. I … can’t understand a word. But, you probably know exactly what’s going on. Comprehensive (and you hear a lot more of the raw sound of the thing):

One knob at a time seems to be the default way to review this stuff.

Lastly, while I hear AIRA also went to, um, Indiana, for retailer Sweetwater’s annual get-together, it was probably more fun to catch up with it at Detroit’s Movement Festival:

Finally, for the record:

You’re all pronouncing it wrong, fellow Westerners. (Except in Japan, where you have it exactly right.) My understanding is, it’s “Aye-Ra”, as in “aye aye, Captain,” not “error,” which is not a terrific name for a synth. Actually – scratch that. Error is a wonderful name for a synth, but it might need to be … glitchier.

It’s AYE – I – RA. Because it’s from Japan, and not England, and so that “AIR” isn’t pronounced “air.”

SYSTEM-1, meanwhile, sounds so much more awesome when mixed with Japanese. Nintendo DS + AIRA jam. Let’s make it happen.

Back in the world of English speakers, though:

Stay tuned for when SYSTEM-1 and the full AIRA quartet – plus that SH-101 – land here in Berlin.



  • Nahuel Mijal

    It’s Aira in Spanish, too!

    • Peter Kirn

      Actually, yeah, I think it’s a problem only in English!

  • Andrew

    The Matt Edwards and crew demo is cheating with an actual SH. It looks powered on and being sequenced.

  • Andrew

    This series of synths is the lamest marketing hype in a long time. Reminds me of the original Electribes. Check out the guy surfing his phone while jamming.

  • alkemade

    So far the AIRA synth is less impressive, than almost every current vsti.
    Shure clean oscillators, lots of blinking lights like a gambling machine.
    But who cares ? And the SH-101 plugout will be 100 euro extra ?
    And who cares about another SH 101 emulation anyway these days ?

    And yes it’s Ay ra in Dutch as well. Like the Stark Girl in the TV series.

    • Bogdan Oancea

      Hmm… it seems anybody can spread misinformation these days mindlessly…
      The SH-101 is a FREE download for the System-1 buyers.

    • Peter Kirn

      Ah, yes, Dutch and Japanese have this sort of odd affinity, actually. Nice reference.

      I still think the SYSTEM-1 hinges on the quality of the SH-101 model, for a lot of people. See the updated story. And yeah, it’s free.

  • Dave Whiting

    The most hyped junk of the decade.

    • Brandon Ryan

      Metal topped synth with lots of quality, lit, knobs and sliders that controls and even hosts new plugin models of Roland classic synths – including a free SH-101? Junk?

    • Dave Whiting

      I know where you are coming from, but you do realise if you but if it was as great as it sounds on paper it truly would be a steal. The actual truth is the system1 feels like a toy to play, the oscillators are the most clinical digital waveforms I’ve even seen, and there are so many better synths for that price. Minibrute, two Microbrute’s, or even two Shruthi-1’s are going to knock this synth out.

      Also, don’t forget that the SH101 was never a synth that was going to blow anyone’s mind,

    • Brandon Ryan

      The keybed is subjective. For me, for monosynth bass lines and leads and FX – it excels and is much better than mini-keys or other solutions. The rest of it doesn’t feel toy-like at all, but to each his own of course. To me the knobs and sliders are awesome and this is what I, for one, value on an instrument like this. “Clinical” is a totally subjective adjective. Some might call it “clean”. Not sure how much time have you spent with it. Each plug-out also completely changes the sound of the oscillator. So are we talking about the SH-101 OSC as well? And therein lies what makes the SYSTEM-1 special…it doesn’t just have one OSC and/or filter sound…it can morph via PLUG-OUT. One of its tricks is that it is a plugin host . How do the other synths you mentioned accomplish that again? :-) Now of course, people can reserve judgement until they experience and are comfortable with PLUG-OUT…I get that…and rightfully so…but one should really avoid over-simplifying the SYSTEM-1 as it misses the point. And…nothing is for everyone. 😉

    • Dave Whiting

      If you like it, then that’s cool with me. I’m not trying to take anyones enjoyment from it.

      Away from our subjective opinions, it remains a truth that there have been many much greater synths in the past decade that have gone without as much hype as the Aira range. The way Roland have gone on about these synths it is as if they have re -released the x0x range, and clearly they haven’t, These are just another bunch of DSP based grooveboxes targeted at bedroom producers.

      Other than a couple of decades of technical advances, I really don’t see what differentiates these machines from the likes of the MC303, the SH32, and all the countless other boxes that Roland have fobbed people off with since. Now, forgive me, but I’m not a sour faced analogue fan that is pissed off because the Aira range isn’t a true revival of the old gear, I actually think Roland should move on and for those that won’t there is always the x0xbox and Yocto, etc.

      I even remember when the MC303 was released, everyone was running around like headless-chickens as if it was the second coming. I lost count of friends telling me that the TB303 was history. It wasn’t until the dust had settled that everyone realised that we had all been duped into buying another box of crap.

      Actually, I think we all need to move along. We should stop trying to recreate the past synths, and start looking ahead to new forms. We are now in an era that, thanks to technology like Arduino, even a DIY open-source synth is a formidable instrument. Also, thanks to the lowered cost of short run electronics, even modular-synths are a financially viable to anyone with a moderate amount of expendable income. Not to mention anyone with an interest in electronics can build and sell their own synths.

      Here’s to the future! 😉

    • Brandon Ryan

      “These are just another bunch of DSP based grooveboxes targeted at bedroom producers.”

      Not so. They are purpose-built devices designed for performance. Also for production…in bedrooms and elsewhere. :-) Lots of pros using these on stage night after night.

      While I would be the last to discount a “couple decades of technical advances” I would say that what differentiates these boxes, aside from sound, is interface. The behavior and interface are intuitive and fun, etc.


      Here’s to the future indeed. These are good times again for synth and electro heads. Like some kind of second golden age.

    • Bogdan Oancea

      @ Brandon – you guys stick to your guns, release firmware updates for the Airas, new sounds and plug-outs that kick ass, and don’t mind the pathological skeptics.
      P.S. When you release System-2, make it more colorful, with different colored LEDs, like the TR-8 and TB-3 are. That’s very important. :)

    • Mezzurias

      Yeah. I bought the Microbrute. Unimpressed. I kind of regret buying it now. The System-1 on the other hand looks awesome.

  • matthand

    no velocity sensitivity?!

    • Payt

      It’s velocity sensitive over midi, as well as aftertouch, pitchbend and modulation.

  • Charles

    Seriously, they go retro on the one thing (velocity) where it’s LEAST desirable? What a joke. Get DIVA and a decent controller. Roland has lost the plot.

  • brian hennessey

    Wow. It just looks so cheap.

    • Grant

      i agree it looks like a cheap piece of plastic, but i bought the tr-8 and that’s one drum machine i wont be letting go of. pretty much an amazing reissue of the 909 AND 808 in one. got the tb-3 as well but it isn’t as much fun since there isn’t a lot to play around with; timbres are preset. i’ll be looking forward to this synth for sure. and on ebay as well since the price goes down even more. just cant beat the price! velocity wont be an issue since i can just midi my m-audio keystation. i dont care if it’s cheap looking. and better yet, if something happens to it physically, i wont be that upset as compared to a much more pricier item that doesnt look cheap

  • Blue Monster 65

    I spent a bit of time with the Aira series at Gearfest. I have to say that in person, they’re a lot more impressive than any video I’ve seen of them so far. Would I buy them? Hmmm … I don’t know, but they are certainly fun to play and they sound good (again, in person).

  • J_
  • hey

    AAAIRA, please give us better emulation of the 303 accent, 808 bass drum, hi-hats, balanced instrument levels and make the damn compressor actually compress!!!!

  • fenda audio

    Nice post aira system and these videos are very cool.!!