MAN CAVE, a grotesque of mid life crisis
Roland SH32: COMPUPHONIC as FUCK
Best for: cheap and cheerful cheese for the average user
Here you see the synthesiser I used in 1980 – 1981. The SH-1 was a perfectly adequate monophonic keyboard that made perfectly adequate sounds that contrasted with the more shrill and unstable Kawai I’d had up to that point. A sensible machine, of small pretensions and small price at the time. I’d like to point out that it had a word SYNTHESIZER spelled out in COMPUTER TYPING. It might be hard to understand now, but in the late 70’s a computer was a magical mythical thing seen in science fiction. I was pretty damn hip with my TRS-80, but most people aspired to the day that everything would be (as Roland put it) COMPUPHONIC.
It wasn’t too long before most synthesisers were COMPUPHONIC. There was relentless progress – polyphony – sequencers – digitally controlled oscillators that didn’t need tuning – arpeggio – MIDI – sampling – all of these things were exciting and people would discard their keyboards quickly to be able to snap up the next thing. I was right behind them, picking up their trash.
It’s hard to date when people started dumping anything COMPUPHONIC. The evidence seems to be around the end of the last century, when the virtual analogues really got going. (At the time I wasn’t in any financial position to care, and the pent up interest you’re seeing is partly due to that.)
Now have a look at the SH32. Before we get into nitty gritty, please focus on that word again – SYNTHESIZER, written in COMPUTER TYPING. What does it mean now? Don’t hurry, because I don’t think anyone can really explain why that word is there. If it was once an aspiration, a sign of momentum, it now seems to be the opposite – a mnemonic of authenticity. In the 1970s you may had seen a cheque or a bill printed in the old OCR readable font, so you would get the direct reference. What would you understand now?
The SH-32 was the first Roland synthesiser that strenuously denied that it was COMPUPHONIC, while being utterly COMPUPHONIC. And that’s insane & why I wanted it, along with people saying it wasn’t ‘analogue’ enough. I’m in my comfort zone picking up trash that no one wants.
The SH32 is funny little thing, a metal wedge, no keyboard, with a cheerful amount of sliders and knobs, especially when you compare it to the machines of the 1990’s. It’s aimed at people that had a ‘groove box’ like the MC505 and wanted a companion for it.
All music companies like their bullshit technology names. This one uses “Wave Acceleration Sound Generator”, which just means the waveforms are samples from older keys to save the processing needed to make real waveforms. The two oscillators both offer sampled saws, squares, triangles and some tuned noises and spectrums which are much more interesting for me. There’s a variety of each waveform, but no guide to what they are supposed to be – Juno? Jupiter? You can have a sub oscillator for free. From then on it costs dearly.
Who knows what processor is inside but I can tell you it’s the most feeble teeny thing this side of a VIC-20. When you hit the synch button, those 32 virtual oscillators crash down to ONE VOICE with NO FILTER. The entire reptile brain of this thing has a near death experience trying to synch two sampled waves. Fuck, Roland you could have spent another five bucks on the CPU. Sure there’s another filter in the effects, but it’s not nearly the same quality. Some other things will halve your voice count, and it’s like a game of Windows Minesweeper finding out which.
There’s four layers in a performance, so maybe you can put that solo voice on top of a polyphonic layer. I was trying to do that last night but was having flashbacks of all the Rorand manuals I have ever tlied to be decipher with the eyes (pg. 23) mode. Note: see section on Mode to see Mode settings available when pushing EXIT and flashing LED under PANTS.
The filters are nothing special, and I expected that because in general Ro-bland filters are not notable in the way the MS20 or the Oberheim filters are – they just do a good job. The SH-32 filter does a good job. If you try moving it too quickly there’s a zipper that others have mentioned – the box is too slow to keep up with fast fluid wiggling, but MIDI wiggling works fine. Actually the net result is not too much different to the SH-1 so long ago – it’s an adequate synthesiser for the day to day, leaving others do the fruitiloops. Look how I went out and bought pedals to try get an interesting sound out of the SH-1. Now at least the pedals are built in, so that’s progress.
You soon hate the LED display. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be ‘authentic’ but it surely is antique.
I reckon if you ever wanted one of those big JD800 boats, this would do the same trick and leave you room to sleep.
Of all the machines I have ever used it most resembles the dream of what a synthesizer would be in the 21st century, both in kitsch and in the sound it creates. Of all things it most deserves this logo:
THIS TOY IS EASY TO USE
IT MAKES OLD ROLAND SOUNDS
THE SOUND QUALITY IS GOOD
IT WAS CHEAP AND IS COMMON
ITS RATING IS SURPRISING
It was either this or a red car and I think I chose wisely.