Roland AIRA System-1
Of the four AIRA products unveiled early in 2014, the roots of the System-1 were least obvious. Where the TB-8 and TR-8 had clear, direct links back to classic Roland products, the System-1 was a bit more vague. The name hints at the System 100 semi-modular synth released in 1975, but the compact setup has more in common with the SH series of monosynths on which Roland made their name in the world of synthesis.
What sets the System-1 apart from most digital synths is that it’s something of a sonic chameleon. As standard, the unit has a built-in digital sound engine based on Roland’s new ACB (‘analogue circuit behaviour’) technology, with individual components emulated digitally in order to replicate the sound and behaviour of classic analogue units.
However, the System-1 hides a neat trick: it can also be loaded with Plug-Outs, Roland’s neatly conceptualised software expansions (think of them as plugins for the hardware itself, as opposed to the virtual instrument plugins you might run in your DAW). The first Plug-Out was a remarkably accurate SH-101 emulation (a free download for all System-1 owners), while the second was an equally impressive SH-2 clone (€110).
At this point we have no idea how many Plug-Outs Roland have planned for the System-1, but if we had to put money on it we’d bet that there are lots more planned. Although the Plug-Outs might be fairly pricey given that you’ll already need a System-1 to use them, the prospect of a library of circuit-modelled Roland classics all conveniently accessible from the same hardware synth platform is incredibly appealing.
The newly announced JD-Xi and JD-XA may well join our list in the future, but right now the System-1 is our pick of Roland’s offerings.