Roland GAIA SH-01 first impressions

I had the opportunity to play around with this synth at a
local music shop and I have to say I was quite impressed
Everything about this keyboard felt good to me. The
construction felt sturdy, the keys felt good, the knobs and sliders were well
spaced and quite tweakable, etc. No real gripes in this department.
Pretty much everything you’d expect from a modern VA
here: 3 oscillators with 21 waveforms (7 x 3 variations), 64 voices, arp with
64 patterns. (Full specs here)
Some of the specific features I’m really digging:
  • tap tempo delay (quite handy for live performance)
  • separate filters for each oscillator: LPF, HPF, BPF,
    PKG (-12 dB/-24 dB)
  • the ability to edit multiple oscillator settings at
    once (i.e. sweep the aforementioned separate filters together!)
Another nice touch is the ability to save your patches to
a USB flash drive, although I can’t see this being the kind of synth where
you’d have that many patches! (The on-board memory allows for 8 banks x 8
patches per bank).
Lastly, the effects section offers 5 separate stages, each
of which allows you to choose an effect:
  • DIST: Distortion, Fuzz, Bit Crash
  • FLANGER: Flanger, Phaser, Pitch Shifter
  • DELAY: Delay, Panning Delay (with tempo sync function)
  • REVERB: Reverb
  • LOW BOOST: Low Boost

A good variety of waveforms here: sawtooth, supersaw,
square, triangle, sine, noise and pulse, each with 3 “variations”
(from what I understand, the variation button adjusts the harmonics of the
Really, my only gripe in the sound department is the
filters – they didn’t sound bad per se but they did sound very digital and
extremely resonant. This did make for some pretty wild sounds when coupled with
the on-board distortion and fuzz effects though.
Ease of use:
Everything I tried to do was dead simple, which I think is what Roland was going for. There is no menu diving needed to do anything.
The most complicated thing here is the “SHIFT” button, which allows
you to access some (slightly) hidden features that you may need to consult the
manual for. For example, setting up modulation, oscillator panning, controlling
some of the FX parameters, etc. Once you know how to use it you’re set though.
Overall impression:
I quite enjoyed my time with the SH-01. I don’t think it
breaks any new ground but what it does do it does well, and I think it would make
a great (cheap) alternative to more expensive VAs.
  • Very easy to program and tweak
  • Separate filters for each oscillator
  • Lots of on-board effects, including tap-tempo delay
  • Great price ($699)
  • No LCD means no patch naming (oh well!)
  • Not multi-timbral

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