Man Cave: Roland System-8 : All’s well that ends well.

It’s most gratifying to see Roland Corporation take note of my comments regarding the System-1m – surely so, as each has been addressed exactly to my specification. There is now a control to dim the green lights – it requires at least 5 hours to blind a test rat where it previously took 30 minutes max. Switches and doodads are all placed at the back, and there is a reasonable number of memories displayed on the sensible LCD display which also tells you what the control you just diddled did. Let that be a lesson to them.

ROL-SYSTEM8

If I have any major critique, it’d be that it’s not very usable on stage, being so black you can see your face in it. The machines it replaces – the Jupiter 8 et al. are colourful and with good reason – you can see what you’re doing. I’ve got a lamp directed at it but it seems to gobble up light and spit it back out as green circles. Chlorophyll?

I did say replaces. I mean that. I mean that as far as music making goes you’d be hard pressed to find a reason to hang on to your ‘legendary’ Roland keyboards. Up the end of this I’ll try give you a list of what is worth hanging onto.

As you switch between the main synthesis software and the two free ‘plug out’ emulations – the Jupiter 8 and Juno106 – it’s interesting to see the lights go out for each. The System 8 is a 2 oscillator + Sub oscillator device with some extra features – notably sideband filters and extra wave forms. The Jupiter loses the extras and the Sub, the Juno drops down to just one oscillator. It’s as if you’re switching off parts of the computer brain a la HAL9000, and I came to see little point to doing it. Because the System-8 is a super-set of the older machines, it does all they did, and far more.

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Does it sound like a Jupiter 8 or JUNO106? Seems to. Don’t care that much. If Roland wanted to illustrate their reasons for never going back to the old models they’ve done an excellent job.

Does it sound like the System-1? Mostly. You’ll see two filter settings, one for reproducing the S1’s filters and ‘improved’ S8 filters. The oscillators are identical. The LFO has some extra weird and wonderful modes. The Sub is also available for LFO duties as on the S1. The sideband filters are interesting but really are fixed flanges with a fancy name. More effects, which are welcome. Very similar, but better.

Does it sound like a Good Roland? One of the things I noticed about the Boutiques was the extra bass and treble, much higher than say the JP8080. You need to boost EQ on the JP8080 all the way to get the same timbre, then you’re in the same league. But the S8 is already there, especially with the Tone knob set one way or the other. This is a full Aira product and so goes up into the dog howling frequencies without the aliasing you get from the little boxes. For their part the Boutiques seems to be able to make nastier sounds by their limitations.

The S8 does the ‘Roland chocolate’ sounds. It passes my ‘make a noise like a Kawai 100F test’ by using the cross modulation. It does everything you want… as long as you don’t go past 1987. At that point the S8 has nothing to say, and all the reasons people went on to newer machines are all still there.

You get no digital wave forms (as on the JD series) – you can pretend to despise them, but too soon you’ll lament their absence. The little SH32 can make some sounds the S8 can’t reach. The Fantom can go places that the S8 can’t even sketch. Even a D50 has some advantages (sound editing not one of them).

Although it has a polyphonic step sequencer, it doesn’t seem to have a phrase sequencer like the JP8080, or the V-Synth (which pays tribute to the 8080 in many respects). If there is one, the manual is giving few clues. Added: yes it’s there, not well explained. The sideband filters don’t seem to have quite the subtlety of the V-Synth, although that could be my inexperience.

Sell your old keys, keep the young ones. Get rid of that old Juno before it gets too wobbly (in which case you can use a menu setting for how wobbly the machine you’re emulating) and use the money to buy some strong lamps.