The original. Photo (CC-BY-SA) Mickey Destro.

The original. Photo (CC-BY-SA) Mickey Destro.

If you’ve seen a review of Roland’s AIRA SYSTEM-1 synth – the keyboard and final member of the original AIRA quartet introduced earlier this year – it’s probably premature.

Word from Roland is that the SYSTEM-1 is still not quite finished. We’ve played it in an earlier form at Musikmesse. But at that point, firmware was still not done, and the synth model was the onboard default for the SYSTEM-1. You can hear Roland’s AIRA component modeling applied to a synth, and indeed, the SYSTEM-1 itself is straight out of the box a new, if fairly conventional, synthesizer.

Part of what Roland is pitching on the SYSTEM-1, though, is the ability to switch synth models. Connect to a computer, change what synth you want, unplug, and you can “plug-out” a new instrument.

To me, the big test of the SYSTEM-1 will be whether Roland has built a compelling model of its classic SH-101 synth. That seems to fit the form factor of the keyboard (and, perhaps, excuse its lack of velocity sensitivity). The question was when that would be done – and when AIRA was announced earlier this year, even Roland didn’t have a solid answer.

We might have an answer now. Apparently at Sweetwater’s Gear Fest this month, Roland first showed that SH-101 model – and another event is planned this week in London.

A quiet event announcement lists a premiere of the SH-101 model for the SYSTEM-1 on Thursday in London. In-person events were limited to a scant 20 people (I didn’t get in), but there appear to be sign-ups for a live webinar. So, yes, right after the USA squares off against Germany in the World Cup, you can see what the SH-101 will bring to the AIRA table.

Artist David Ålhund will be on-hand to show the new instrument, as well as play on the other AIRAs, followed by a discussion with Bullet Dodge’s Gareth Whitehead and Mike Greig from SSR London along with Marshall Jefferson, Adamski, Luke Solomon and guests.

World Premiere SH101 Plug-Out – Marshall Jefferson & Guests [Eventful]

I’ve contacted Roland in Germany and the USA for more comment. And I hope CDM finally gets an AIRA for review.

Thanks to Nicolas Bougaïeff for the tip.

  • James Yanisko

    My biggest question before investing in this infrastructure:

    Roland has made similar products before, promising us this incredible machine that you could just plug in a new card and turn it into a different box: The VariOS being the most useful of this model and the V-Synth being the second most.

    They put out two cards: the D-50 and the Vocal Designer…..and I was heavily waiting for new ones since the inception. They even put out a new V-Synth with a new synth model – which I was hoping us early adopters would at least be able to get in a card….but alas, the VariOS does not even support more modern OSes, and while it had a few synths it could turn into as well as those two cards (and its native cool dawish interface)…..nothing new ever really came out for it other then what was announced when it came out.

    Back to my original question. Is Roland planning on actually supporting this infrastructure? Or do I have to assume that what we are going to get from this product is the synth plus the sh-101 model, and that’s it. By itself that’s still a great idea – a keyboard that can do two completely different synth models…but I’m afraid – because of Roland’s history with similar products – that the infrastructure will stop there, and we must assume the only ‘plug-out’ synth we will get is what is available when we purchase the unit…

    What do you think, Peter?


    • Peter Kirn

      Well, that’s a good point. In a way, I’d say – I would generally not invest in Plug-Out based on future promises. I don’t think you should buy the SYSTEM-1 in the hopes that something else comes out. I think it has to be worth it to you now, today, with the SH-101 model and the built-in model.

      And actually, since you have to be tethered to the computer to even swap, I’m not entirely convinced you’d buy the keyboard based on Plug-Out at all. It seems like it either makes it as a single synth or it doesn’t. Now, if Plug-Out then adds additional value – and from Roland’s perspective, if it can allow them to keep freshening the synth – great. And that could mean that the life of the product could be longer, which is potentially good for user and manufacturer alike. But I still wouldn’t buy based on that.

    • James Yanisko

      Buy with the features that are currently available is always a great concept. Never expect ‘future updates will include’ to be a promise…

      Some manufacturers have a better track record of continual support and updates for a single product…like Access Music and their Virus line. I think they still have OS updates for the C model.

    • Michael Aldridge

      I must admit that I agree with you James. I once looked at getting a VariOS or a V-Synth with the view that its ‘go to’ value would continually be increased by more synth models.

      The same could also be said of the Korg OASYS PCI card (which only recently bought, vastly cheaper than the original price). Though in the case of that product, it wasn’t priced attractively enough for consumers, so they just abandoned it. Perhaps for the VariOS technology that was partly the case, and partly that building a product that has to move with desktop computer OS updates (less so for the V-Synth) that the work involved outweighs the benefit to the company.

      I partially agree with Peter’s point though, that perhaps in the case of the System-1, it should be purchased just based on its current offering rather than the promise. I like the look of this product, but it’s unlikely I’d buy it until I’d seen more synth models coming out for it. I should probably have more faith in Roland as they’ve really built up the hype for the AIRA range, and it’s been delivering so far…!

    • Mutis Mayfield

      If they open the platform (I will love to buy again a variOS for hacking) and make something like pure data/reaktor system to patch…

      Wait! This is more or less aleph from monome or satellite ccrma!

      Forget what I said, roland is outdated and its flexibility as corporation fight against them. Look at korg with trons, tribes and volcas and learn something, roland!

    • James Yanisko

      I think Roland is actually doing something well with these products….what Roland does not have is any track record with keeping systems like these up to date and bringing forth new products for their cool concepts of a ‘future proof machine,’ like what the VariOS and Vsynth were both billed as when they came out….

    • Yanakyl

      Well you say they were planning to make cards for releasing new synths, in these case they would not need to manufacture anything for every new synth they release.
      Consider this to be a point in favor of the plug out technology compared to your older roland.

      If they don’t support their new products again I think it could be really damaging for them and their image. More sounds in the tr8 would be nice too!

    • James Yanisko

      They were standard Express Card hard drives that you could fit into a laptop, or some higher end cameras, so I doubt they had to manufacture anything other then the sticker to put on them.

    • Yanakyl

      I see, but they still had to put inside some form of circuit/chip programmed to act as a specific synth.
      In this case there is fpga in the synth designed to be reprogrammed, it can load different synth architecture probably from usb and the distribution can happen in digital over internet. It does make a difference to me, especially in term of what it cost to them to deliver new synths to customers.
      Only drawback is you can’t swap your plugout without computer, anyway by tomorrow we’ll know more. Even less:(link for sh101 plugout premiere)

  • heinrich zwahlen

    I played around with the sys1 and liked the small and light hardware and also its projected price point, only the lack of velocity control seemed a bit odd in in 2014. The Plugout concept is great but somehow i dont see Roland as the software company that could make this happen in a sustainable and timely way. Sound more like a job for NI !

  • yamahacx5m

    ok this will sound crazy but why are these companies like roland not in a contract with its buyers? ie a promise go actually support the things they sell us for a certain period of time instead of abandoning them?

    • fred

      Yup – desirable but crazy! How much extra would you be prepared to pay on top of the product, so that you could hold Roland to the contract?

  • Sebastian le Kafka

    Since you’re based in Berlin (afair) you maybe could checkout the System 1 in the Justmusic-Shop at Moritzplatz. Their website says it is already available there:

  • AdrianF

    Seems Roland Australia let it out early:

    • Peter Kirn

      25 July is the release date, though. Will clarify that with everyone.

      Wasn’t a leak by Roland Australia; the SH-101 was revealed when we talked to Roland way back beginning of the year.

  • Dude
  • genjutsushi

    This is an easy comment to make, but for the cost of a System 1, i could purchase an original SH101…. and have change left over for a Beatstep to sequence it with!