Synth range goes plug and play

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The release in 2014 of Roland’s new Aira range of synths, drum machines and other such electronic goodies marked a new chapter in the history of the famous Japanese company. Coming at a time when synth-love was reaching fever pitch, thanks to a new wave of electronic musician, Aira provided a way for Roland to remain relevant amid fierce competition. Thankfully, the hype was warranted, and the TR-8 drum machine, TB-3 bass synth and System-1 synth were almost universally, a few die-hard analogue fans apart, welcomed with open arms.

Roland was keen to communicate at the time of launch how Aira wasn’t going to be a one-off. It was to become a sub-brand in its own right, and this has been proven right with the announcement at MusikMesse 2015 of the new Roland Aira modular series. However, rather than simply modularising the System-1, which would have been the easy option, Roland also introduced a series of dedicated, standalone effects units to complement the existing range and even enhance non-Aira rigs.

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As it happens, we did get glimpse of the standalone System-1 unit, cunningly named the System-1m Рm being modular, of course Рwhich takes the brains and sound generation technology from the full-sized version and makes it rack mountable. This is great news on a number of levels; not only does it allow other dedicated MIDI keyboards like 49 or 61 key units to be hooked up, improving instantly on the 25-key original, but you can now also experiment with other controllers like step-sequencers or even other modular synths thanks to the newly-included CV/gate connection. Factor in that the System-1m can be used in Eurorack format or as a table-top unit, and the entire package starts to look very impressive indeed.

The modular effects units also look extremely cool too. There’s four of them; Bitrazer, a kind of bitcrusher/lofi effect; Demora, which is an extreme delay processor; Torcido, a distortion/overdrive unit and Scooper, which fans of the Aira ‘scatter’ function will love. It’s basically scatter with way more extremity and variation. Again, these units can all be hooked up via CV/gate to external processors, and can be used to process any sound source you like thanks to the external in functionality. It doesn’t end there though; tweakers and parameter junkies can tinker to their hearts content thanks to the way these units can be connected to a computer or smartphone. From there, the user can start deep-editing, adding sub-modules like filters, ADSR and LFOs to further expand on the capabilities. The hardware units themselves are fully 24bit, which means each knob is capable of 16 million steps of gradation, and as with the System-1m they are all either rackmountable or standalone.

We also got hint – little more – of a further range of rack-mounted gear to add to the range. The System-500 modules, due later in 2015, are a completely new modular synth unit based on the System-700 and System-100m. We don’t know too much about these modules just yet, but they do confirm how Roland is dedicated to providing synth explorers with an ever increasing range of toys to explore the outer limits of creativity.