Plug Out Mania

 

Black Friday! Time to use that Yankee discount magick and pick up some food for the System 1m.

 

It’s the current dilemma isn’t it? As much as the consumers desire the weight of vinyl or the fluttering of book leaves, they also want the convenience that goes with downloads. A download by itself has no class, but aligned with the physical object, it basks in the sunshine of that signifier, it represents it.

 

Roland have taken up the challenge with a series of ‘plug out’ virtual instruments. They work like any other VST, but push the magic button and the code goes down the pipe to a physical System 1, to be wrapped in the charisma of touch. There is no difference in the actual sound apart from your shitty studio wiring.

 

The instruments are all venerable machines, apart from a replica of the host System 1 hardware.

 

SH-2 and SH-101

 

I owned both of these – well actually a SH-1. The SH-2 had a second oscillator, but only one ADSR; this replica can have both if you dare break with accuracy. The SH-2 is the superior machine all around, the SH-101 is very good at a few things. Of course I recreated the SH-101 drum sounds I made on Come Visit The Big Bigot and easily got the sound I expected, a warm bassy THWACK that sounds like something is being mistreated inside the box. Half an hour of fiddling with the SH-2, I couldn’t get the same sound at all, which was also true of the hardware. The plug outs are two very different machines.

 

Roland have only recently admitted cheating on many of their ‘legendary’ 80’s machines by adding a bass boost. For example the lowest setting on the Juno106 High Pass is actually a Low Boost. Up one notch is flat. Very naughty, and when people complain about newer things not being as warm, they mean not having the Bass knob turned right up. The SH-2 does not have this, the SH-101 does, and that’s the main difference. Incidently the SH-32 has it as an optional setting. The JP8080 has a bass knob. Turn it up – there’s your MKS80.

 

I wouldn’t call the SH-2 an essential purchase, it’s fun for me because it has associations. With two oscillators you get some fine treacle, but not that much better than cheaper VSTs, and the System 1 can make just as nice noises. But the SH-101 has a very limited purpose, if you know it, you will be very pleased by this.

 

System 100

 

This was the one I was waiting for. Never owned such a thing, much too expensive. Human League had one, I could only be jealous. The plug out is a ‘best of’ combination of the original 101 and 102 blocks plus the mixer, which makes sense, although you end up missing a filter in the shuffle. There’s an interesting patch bay/chord system where you can place pins and hide the cables. I don’t find the basic sound of the System 100 remarkable, it’s a bit crispy, probably because you’re tempted to modulate everything with everything else and lots of FM. No bass boost obviously. Yes you can make some noises with this guy that are hard to do on the other period machines, but not so exceptional when compared to any recent VST or a MS2000.

 

The CPU hit is not terrible but like all the AIRA’s you need to have a sprightly machine, or Plug it Out.

 

Although the System 1m hardware has patch cables that are recognised by this plug out it’s nowhere near the full repertoire. The hardware also lacks knob control of the second LFO and S&H modules. You tend to use this one on the computer, because the Green Chaos of the hardware does not map nice at all. The hospital green on the VST is an excellent green, and Roland were fools when they stopped using it.

 

The obvious comparison is Korg’s MonoPoly VST, which is polyphonic, probably not nearly as accurate, but sure as hell good enough to make music.

 

System 1

 

Speaking of CPU, the plug out version of the standard System 1 engine is a complete pig. My music laptop is not new, it’s an i7 but about half as fast as the current breed. This plug out has real problems with four voices, and I’m glad I have the hardware. Incidentally – if the JU08 emulation of the Jupiter 8 is the same hardware then the inevitable plug out version is not going to deliver four voices either, let alone 8.

 

Why even buy the VST? For a start Roland make you buy it to store banks of patches on the computer. Very rude. But also you can put the virtual one into more complex automation.

 

Why buy any of them? Don’t. Not unless you have a history with these things. There are far cheaper, better VSTs available. But if you have Been There, these may Throw You Back.

It was either this or a red car and I think I chose wisely.