Hardware makers have tried different ways of fusing those tools with software for years. Now, we get to see just how Roland’s PLUG-OUT scheme will work, as the company shows off the SH-101 plug-in for the AIRA SYSTEM-1 keyboard synth that just began shipping.

The SH-101 PLUG-OUT ships on the 25th of July, available for free with purchase of a SYSTEM-1.

And, just as I’m enthusiastic about Elektron’s direction this year with Overbridge, I have to say PLUG-OUT looks really convenient. The name might be a gimmick, and I don’t know that everyone will want to swap models regularly, but the integration features look eminently logical.

A video released yesterday (just shy of making it into our SYSTEM-1 mega roundup) shows how it all works.

The selling points:
1. Software you can use without the hardware.
2. Hardware control of the software.
3. Software automation (recording and editing) from that control.
4. Preset storage and management in software.
5. The ability to swap models on the keyboard itself, effectively turning the same hardware into different instruments.

#5 is for now more of a wildcard, as we don’t know what the other PLUG-OUTs will be. For now, it means you can swap the original SYSTEM-1 synth model with the SH-101. But even if it turns out that you love the SH-101 and load that and leave it, #1-4 might already make you happy.

What you get on your computer is really a software duplicate of what you’ve got in hardware. The SH-101 plug-in portion of the PLUG-OUT scheme is a VST3 and AU on Mac, VST3 on Windows. The on-screen UI is configurable to layouts both based on the original SH-101 and what you see on the SYSTEM-1 hardware — and yes, you can change the color to blue and red limited editions.

Add as many instances as you want, and use the software plug-in with or without the SYSTEM-1 connected – the hardware isn’t a dongle, if that’s what you were wondering.

With the hardware connected, the SH-101 adds hands-on control. Everything is routed into the software, meaning you can record and edit automation. It’s nice to see, for instance, that the arpeggiator sends independent MIDI notes (an obvious feature, but sometimes omitted).

The software also acts as a kind of editor/librarian. You can retrieve and load presets. And you can load the software model onto the hardware itself – the actual PLUG-OUT functionality, which Roland says will take about a minute.

That is, assuming you don’t wind up buying the SYSTEM-1 primarily as a hardware model of the SH-101, which seems possible. From what little you can hear in this video – plus the word I’ve gotten from those who did try the SYSTEM-1 with the SH-101 model at Sweetwater Gearfest recently – it seems it sounds really very nice.

This isn’t the first time the SH-101 has been digitally modeled. See, for example, the excellent LuSH-101 plug-in from D16, as reviewed by Rekkerd, or the terrific TAL Bassline 101, reviewed on SonicState (with video); the latter costs only US$60. In fact, if you just want something you can use with your computer, I expect those plug-ins are a better buy. But, of course, the advantage here is you get an instrument you can use away from the computer, and hands-on control. And as standalone SH-101-emulating hardware, the SYSTEM-1 qualifies as news.

We’ll know more when we do our review.

Roland has posted an official page:

The SYSTEM-1 hardware isn't an exact duplicate of the SH-101, but you can see the layouts map fairly logically. Without the SH-101 PLUG-OUT, it's a new AIRA synth, but I know many fans of the classic Roland synthesizer are awaiting that model.

The SYSTEM-1 hardware isn’t an exact duplicate of the SH-101, but you can see the layouts map fairly logically. Without the SH-101 PLUG-OUT, it’s a new AIRA synth, but I know many fans of the classic Roland synthesizer are awaiting that model.


  • Resist

    Shame they won’t sell the vst separately. Could be a good way to demo the sounds then tempt you to buy the hardware. Even if you didn’t buy the hardware it would still generate revenue.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      It appears the software will be available only with the hardware.

    • Nagasaki Nightrider

      Which is as it should be. Why would anyone really want Roland to become a software developer? Can we please just fast forward to 5 years from now when this Roland rolls out the next generation of must-have, disposable, analog modelling synths with a new, incompatible software format that has forgotten about this whole platform? The thing we never talk about is how all this market trend-driven shit from Korg, Roland, Yamaha et al pretty much falls the fuck apart after a couple of years of moderate use. I get it. Big companies have to spend heavily on a marketing blitz to move hundreds of thousands of budget units, but all this hand-wringing over design philosophy and features is trumped by the inherent physical crapitude of this stuff in the long run because, by the time it becomes a solid part of your workflow, it dies or needs a repair that costs as much as buying another one, probably on eBay because the manufacturer has given up on it.

    • FilterSweep

      The Reason that Roland has been so resistant to developing software versions of their classics is two fold. One, they are a hardware company, they make money selling hardware. Two, software has no value, the price anyone can charge for software has plummeted with .99 apps, freemium, and outright free. They also know that within 18 hours or less of releasing a Roland branded VST/AU it will be pirated and available everywhere. So, they decide to make the software simply added value for buying a very inexpensive to produce System-1. I am actually shocked they didn’t make the System 1 a dongle. Maybe they realized the backlash of going that route would have ruined the launch.

  • Resist

    Or will they? Maybe I’m wrong.

  • Paul

    I think the concept here is really great, and if they actually stand behind this long term and release several synths for this, then I might be interested. Although I have to say, I really dislike the aesthetics of the hardware.

    • Bynar

      I agree. Ultimately this is a controller that can take the soft synth away from the computer. For that reason the controller layout, look, and feel are all important components. It doesn’t seem like the control interface is open ended enough. Right away we know that Roland will never introduce plug out synths that have more than 2 oscillators. Of course they could but labeling the controls like they did invites all sorts of confusion with deeper plug out models. At that point it becomes no better than a standard midi controller tethered to a plugin.

    • Paul

      You have a point there, but of course you’ll never get one controller that does everything well. But I’d rather have proper dedicated controllers for my soft synths and have say 5 synths that work with that controller than nothing. I wonder if NI will ever implement something similar. I think this is a new concept, and is a step in the right direction.

    • http://flexyvoid.com/ Yanakyl

      Indeed the concept is great, especially because it is going a different direction than most other manufacturers.

      Aesthetic can be important but feeling and usability is king for a synth, when I tried the tr8 I really liked the faders and knobs and those should feel the same. As you say I hope they support it for a long time, many have complained about roland dropping their product way too early, I don’t have experience with that but as a children of the internet age I trust you guys 😉
      I personnally would be interested in a bigger version with more keys, but I guess it is fair to test market with simple product and expand if people react well.
      Other thing, Markus Fuller showed there are velocity sensors in the keyboard, why is the synth engine not using them?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Will check the MIDI spec there. For the SH-101, the reason there’s no use of velocity is obvious – authenticity. For the other synth, seems it could do *something* with it (filter amount, for instance).

    • Doug

      Agreed, adding velocity to the SH-101 plugin would ruin the authentic vibe in the same way that adding a second envelope would. Wait a minute…

    • Nagasaki Nightrider

      C’mon Peter. The authenticity argument is not convincing in the least for a product like this because the Aira range is explicitly billed as a family of products that combine the best of the past and present. But not really. You don’t want velocity? Allow the real, pretend analog playas of the world to turn it off on the synth, but at least have it as an option like any $50 bog standard keyboard controller. Asking people to shell out for a digital keyboard synth that doesn’t have such a basic function (which, by the way, has been present in countless other ugly, forgettable, plastic “revolutionary” analog modeling synths produced by Roland for years) is pretty rich. I’ve never heard this synth and don’t care that much, but let’s not kid ourselves about keeping it real with the old school analog vibes for fuck’s sake. It’s a fucking plugin housed in a plastic controller. Jebus. Meanwhile, I can buy any number of brand new analog synths instead. I’ll pick up one of these at a garage sale one day to bang around on while I spill beer on it, but fuck if I’m going to pay $600 for something that’s going to fall apart in a couple of years and requires even MORE money just to load different presets. Suck it Roland.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I didn’t say I thought it made sense that it lacks velocity. I would expect that to be a ‘con’ in every review of the SYSTEM-1.

      I was just trying to guess at the reasoning; I’ve no idea. Maybe they assume this audience doesn’t want velocity.

      Now, I’m still reviewing the thing, though, so I’m not quite ready to rail against absolutely everything else they’ve done over that one decision.

  • Bynar

    I would like to see Yamaha jump on this bandwagon and rerelease a DX7 where you can control every operator/eg parameter directly with a knob but the software is on the computer. A control interface like this would be a dream for an FM fanatic like myself!

    There are certainly plenty of synths that Roland could model for future plug out releases. The obvious choice would be a simulation of the Juno models. Roland D-50 could be nice but I can’t see that translating very well with the existing system-1 layout. Of course the Jupiter 8 would be nice too.

    I think what made the Roland of the 80’s so great was the workflow that it imposed with its step sequencers. The MC-202, TB-303, TR-606, and the TR-909 were responsible (single handedly) for techno music. The control and workflow with the old Roland drum machines and bass synths were like nothing else at that time. I hope that this is just the beginning of a return back to this tradition. Nothing in the AIRA series is for me but I do like seeing more affordable options like this. I think i’m more interested in what the competition could do though.

    • Paul

      Agreed. I would love to see what Native Instruments could come up with. Could be really great!

    • J_

      i see it the other way, the people that made techno/house/electro, etc were responsible. roland got lucky to be attached to the sound. their drum synthesis is nice, but can be done other ways and a lot of people were using samples anyway. you can make acid lines on anything.

      rhythmically, it was an out growth of disco, funk and dj culture cutting between 2 copies of the same record to loop bars. roland’s sequencer made it easier to be tight, but the people making it had a sense of rhythm. roland gear being cheap helped people that otherwise couldn’t afford it get into it and allowed for 1 or a few people to work on it alone.

    • Bynar

      Interesting take. I just think the Roland drum sounds, while not difficult to program, became such a staple of the Techno/House sound just because of the ease of access to those sounds that the machines provided. Essentially everyone was using the same set of presets. I agree that it was pure accident on Roland’s behalf.

  • labradot

    Does the system-1 only work with 96khz, or also at 44.1khz?

    • Brandon Ryan

      For audio over USB, only at 96kHz.

  • RolandAiraPoopOnAStick

    Enjoy your soon to be adandonware plagueout that in 2 years time will be completely dead in the water just like all the other software based products from Roland in the past and all other manufacturer hardware/software tie in’s.

    I am also particularly loving the distortion present on every sound cause by the utter massive clipping of the channel in the DAW/interface they are using.

    Quality product range these Aira’s.

    No wait I mean , what an endless pile of dog turd.

    • FilterSweep

      Hmmmm, sounds like you got burned on R-BUS.

    • Brandon Ryan

      This is totally disingenuous:

      There is no distortion present – much less on “every sound”. If you look – you’ll see Logic’s meters hit .3 on the first bass hit. First of all, in no universe is .3 “utter massive clipping”. In fact. in any 32-bit floating point environment this will not result in audible distortion/clipping. Secondly, aside from the initial bass sound hit, the meters don’t go above zero again, and come nowhere near on the following two examples.

      So how again is there “distortion present on every sound due to utter massive clipping”? It’s fine to be critical, but at least be factual.

  • http://fzero.ca/ Fabio Neves

    If you remove the VST part, Nord Modular has been doing this since forever. Sure the plugin adds better integration, but I think the System 1 is simply too expensive for what it is. Taking into account all practical limitations imposed by the controller design – and also the main objective, which is emulating old analog hardware – it might be better to just get an Arturia Microbrute and get a true analog synth.

    Having said that, wouldn’t it be cool if they released a modular editor for it? It doesn’t look that far-fetched.

  • J_

    this seems cool and imo sounds good, but i don’t really need a ton of simple synths.

    i dunno, it’s so close, but to me it’s a miss. the dsp seems powerful enough that you could get some neat sounds out of it if it was a completely modular setup. let us build our own synths! :)

    if they stuck all the system-1 controls behind the tr-08 at an angle and took away the keys for say $899? add in the other roland drum models, let us make our own drums and synths, all in one. one usb cable and power connector. works as a plug out. yeah!

    that would be an interesting alternative to other stuff out there. then i could imagine buying the tb-3 and ft-3 as add ons, with a usb or something connector that let them share DSP and filter each other. analog, i don’t care about, but i’d like it to be forward thinking and boundary pushing.

    i’d much more confidence in them supporting one system long term and a modular system would have a user community to make cool stuff and even help advertise it.

    the control laden interfaces seem nice, but for the same price as the tr-8 and system1 you could get an ultra nova or a used radias or jp8080 or a yamaha sy77 or one of the tons of other great digital synths and one of the cheap analog monos and have an easier time making tracks.

    also, a portion of the sh101 goodness is the sequencer. the other thing is an analog style synth without external filtering? why? the tr-08 has external ins and not the system-1?

    or give us vsynth plug out! :)

  • James

    Why does everyone bang on about RONALD dropping support when it is a VST instrument? I assume that it would be less of an issue in this case? Thing should have been a different colour and $5/600 is steep for such an awful keyboard, however, I can see this blossoming into something useful and fun if they do other models as promised.