Roland AIRA System-8

KEY FEATURES

  • A Lightweight Keyboard with Heavyweight features
  • JUPITER-8 and JUNO-106 included
  • Load 3 Classic Plug-out Synths w/up to 8 Voices
  • Powerful Vocoder, Arpeggiator, & Polyphonic Step Sequencer
  • Connect to Modular Synths via CV/Gate Outputs

The AIRA series of Synthesizer and DJ products have been a big hit for Roland. Modern music is filled with the sounds of Retro Synths and Drums. With the Plug-Out concept, these classic Synths get a new life thanks to advances in modern technology. I’m excited about this new AIRA addition, the System-8 Plug-Out Synth. It’s the big brother of the original System-1 Plug-Out Synth.

Out of the Box

The shipping box was surprisingly light. Roland has opted to use a hard plastic casing instead of metal. At 13 lbs, the lightweight factor will be great for most musicians. It’s weighs less than some of my guitars. It will be interesting to watch how it holds up years from now. I’ve seen plenty of dented heavy keyboards made with metal casings. They can be a real pain.
The System-8, is 34½” wide and has 49 full sized keys with velocity. They feel really nice and responsive. On top, the layout is similar to the System-1 with the familiar cool green disco lights. There are plenty of hands on editing possibilities. I counted 61 knobs, 58 buttons, 12 sliders, and the multi directional joystick. There’s also a small LCD Menu/Patch display and numerical displays on the 3 oscillators and Filter. This thing is so much more fun than playing a virtual instrument with a mouse.
On the back, you’ll find Power supply input, Midi in/out, USB, 2 pedal jacks, Trigger in, Gate out, CV out, Stereo Inputs, with Line/Mic options, and Stereo Output and Headphone jacks. I like how Roland adds label-maker labels to their power supplies. It’s a nice touch, especially when you have a box of wall warts etc.

Plug-Out Power

For the System-8, Roland uses its next-gen Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) to faithfully recreate forty years of Classic Roland Synthesizers. These include the JUPITER-8, JUNO-106, SH-2, SYSTEM-100, SH-101, and PROMARS. The System-8 also has its own cool internal sounds. The Plug-Out concept may seem odd at first. These are basically wonderful software-like synths loaded into a single hardware controller. It’s a great concept. I remember when old Synths had extra chips and circuit boards you could get to expand them. It’s clear that Roland put in a ton of effort to faithfully re-create these classic keyboards. Being able to download and have three killer Plug-Out synths on one board is really cool.

In Use

The System-8 is laid out in a very logical way. There is the Arpeggiator on the left, followed by LFO, two Oscillators, a Sub Oscillators, and a mixer section. The right side has the Filters, ADSR & Effects. Below them is the step sequencer that does double duty as a patch selector. Patches can also be recalled via a knob next to the center LCD display. With all those knobs, buttons, and sliders, it’s easy to navigate and quick to go deep into patch editing. I felt very comfortable getting around on it in a short time, and was mesmerized by all the great sounding patches. What a crazy thing to be able to go through four different synths on one board. Talk about inspiration!
The LFO has 6 modes with three variations, totaling 18. The two Oscillators have 6 possible waveforms, with 2 variations totaling 12.  Oscillator three has 2 shapes and can also function as a Sub. The full featured Filter section followed by the Amplifier section, are easy to understand. There are three modules of Effects, set up the order I’d use on a pedal board. First is Distortion stuff, followed by Chorus & Delays, and lastly Reverbs. They all sound fantastic. The 64 Step Sequencer is a nice addition for live and studio programming. The Vocoder is another cool feature. The only downfall is a ¼” jack, but there are two
inputs so you can have a stereo source. The USB also can be used for Audio and MIDI, no need for separate cables. Lastly, the forward thinking of the CV Gate outputs to interface the System-8 with popular Euro Rack stuff is genius.

Conclusions

I loved the old Roland Synths, and like a lot of guys mistakenly sold them when the virtual instruments came out. From the players I’ve talked to, and my own hands on experience, the System-8 has nailed the original sounds and vibe with the vintage Plug-Outs. As far as value goes, it would cost thousands to have the original classics, and of course they come with all their age-related issues.
If you are looking for a killer synth that mixes the benefits of modern Hi Tech with authentic Roland classic analog synths, this is it. It’s the best of both worlds. The System-8 sells for $1,499.00. For more information, go to www.roland.com.

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