Review: Roland A-01

Is it a controller? Is it a synth? The Roland A-01 is a small, portable MIDI controller and 8-bit sound generator with a step sequencer. Sara Simms finds out if it's as attractive to play as it looks.  

Roland's A-01 is a portable, powerful mini sized pocket module that offers more than meets the eye. A flexible unit, the A-01 is a controller, 8-bit sound module and step sequencer. The A-01 is Bluetooth compatible, making the present and future of music making a reality. For those who are fans of analog, the A-01 has CV and GATE outputs that allow you to connect your analog gear. It packs all of these features into a compact, good-looking sound module, making it an attractive instrument for studio or stage musicians. Ready to delve a little deeper? Here are my discoveries about Roland's fascinating A-01. 



The A-01 comes housed in a sleek looking black chassis and features a minimal design. Along the left-hand side of the unit are two touch-type ribbon controllers, an array of twelve buttons that give control over the instrument's three modes and four rotary encoders. On its own, the A-01 is a rectangular shaped module that's capable of more than it reveals. The K-25M controller is an additional purchase, but one that I would highly recommend making. This small keyboard easily connects the A-01 and brings the instrument to life by making the synth playable. I instantly liked the A-01 more after attaching mine to the small but functional keyboard. The A-01 is powered by four AA batteries, or by USB. The back of the instrument features MIDI In/Out, CV and GATE out, a Phones jack, volume control for an internal speaker and a USB port. 


For the music makers who are keen on analog, the A-01 offers CV and GATE output that allows users to connect and control analog synthesizers. Whether you already own analog equipment, or are thinking about investing in some, the A-01 has got you covered and gives musicians the power to drive their synths. 


Roland has taken a step into the world to come by making the A-01 Bluetooth compatible. This means that a tablet or smartphone that offers Bluetooth connectivity can be connected and the A-01 can be used to control music apps. This makes the A-01 a solid option for modern-minded musicians who want a flexible controller that's equipped for making music in the modern age. 


Controller Mode 

There are three magical modes on the A-01 and each one is fun and easy to use. In controller mode, both the ribbon controllers and the four rotary encoders can be used to control MIDI equipment. Up to 16 patches of controller presets can be saved. Designed for real-time performance, the module has dedicated dials and dual ribbon controllers assignable to pitch bend, modulation, sound preview, channel and polyphonic aftertouch, as well as CC and system exclusive data. All of the details can be viewed on the rectangular LCD screen, making it a viable option for performances in dimly lit venues. 

Synth Mode 

In synth mode, the A-01's 8-bit CPU sound module allows for sound creation and design. Sound is created by editing the sounds of the oscillator, filter, envelope and LFO. To edit sounds, users need to scroll between two different pages on the LCD screen; navigation is simple after getting used to the layout. Roland has a number of quick start videos online that make it easy to learn to use the A-01 as a synth. I liked the variety of sounds that the A-01 was able to generate, from square-wave bass tones to clean sounding sawtooth waves. The A-01 also has a noise waveform that sounds good and can be used for creative effects. To record the audio from the synth into your DAW, use the headphone output on the A-01 into a sound card.

Here are a few types of sounds the A-01 can generate: 

  • Bass Sound:
  • Saw Wave:
  • Noise: 
  • Percussive Sound:
  • Square Wave:

Step Sequencer

Without a doubt, my favourite mode on the A-01 is the step sequencer. The 16-step sequencer allows for pattern creation and the steps can be edited in four block sequences. Users can choose the number of steps, the step order, tempo and scale (32, 16, 16T or 8T) of the pattern. For each step, the key, gate, cutoff resonance and velocity can be edited. Although the sequencer did have a bit of a learning curve, I quickly discovered how to create and save patterns. Up to sixteen patterns can be saved in two banks, making pattern recall quick and easy for live performances and jam sessions. In my opinion, the step sequencer is one of the features that makes the A-01 shine and stand out from the crowd. 

Here's an audio example of a pattern programmed with the sequencer:



One of the strengths of the Roland A-01 is the fact that it's an extremely flexible unit. Whether its a mobile controller, or portable synthesizer you're looking for, the A-01 is versatile enough to suit many musicians' needs. I personally liked the minimal controls on the unit, as creativity can sometimes be maximized by working with instruments that offer control over a few adjustable parameters. I see the A-01 as a useful tool for live performances, and in controller mode could be used to control larger synthesizers and or even software. Portable and lightweight, the A-01 can be easily be taken on the road to jam and recording sessions. If you're looking to get ideas started quickly, the fact that the instrument can be operated via battery power and has its own internal speakers makes the A-01 fun to use anywhere.

I think that hands down, the best features on A-01 are the sequencer mode and the fact that it offers CV/Gate Outputs, allowing connectivity with the modular world. This intriguing controller/8-bit synthesizer/sequencer has much to offer and is a powerful unit in a small package. Best when paired with the Roland K-25m keyboard, the A-01 will have you inspired and writing new melodies in no time. The versatility the A-01 offers would make the A-01 a new favourite instrument/controller in any musician's arsenal.  

Price: $299 USD

Pros: 3 Modes, including a synthesizer and sequencer, CV/Gate Output, Battery powered and internal speaker, Great minimal design. 

Cons: The smaller LCD screen only allows you to edit one page at a time, which means you do have to scroll through two pages to edit synthesizer parameters. While this is a-ok in the studio, on stage scrolling through multiple pages means you must know how to navigate the parameters quickly. One feature I do wish the A-01 had is an 1/8” audio output, instead of just the headphone jack. 



Sara Simms captivates the world as an innovative musician, DJ, turntablist and electronic music producer. She's a multi-instrumentalist who's known for her love of music technology. Sara makes her mark in the music community by crafting diverse sets with styles ranging from pulsating techno to house. She balances technical skills wi... Read More


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