Roland has added yet another product to the plug-out series of synths and this time it is a lightweight 49-key, 8-voice synthesizer, the System 8. If you are familiar with the System 1 or the System 1m, you will know of the Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) Engine used in these synths. Yes, it is not real analog but it is one of the nicest sounding circuit modeling technology available on a hardware synth. Let's look at some of the key features on this synth.
The System 8 has 3 oscillators, 2 main ones and a very flexible Sub-Oscillator. The two main oscillators have a variety of waveform options, from the usual, sawtooth, pulse, triangle to more esoteric vowel and FM capable wave shapes, to even a cowbell. Depending on which waveform you choose, the ‘Color’ dial will let you modify the tonality. Aside from the usual octave and semitone controls, you also get Cross Modulation, Ring Modulation and Oscillator Hard Sync functions. There’s a modulation selector dial for the 2 main oscillators that can be set to any of the envelopes, LFO or even oscillator 3. When using any of these modulators the color dial sets the modulation depth.
The Sub-Oscillator can be set to sine or triangle and can be 1 or 2 octaves below OSC 1. It too has a color control and a fine tune control. So a lot more than just a Sub-Oscillator, hence the name OSC 3/SUB OSC.
Aside from the expected level control for the three oscillators, you also get a level control for a noise generator that can be set to white or pink.
The main filter can be in low pass or high pass mode with cutoff and resonance controls. Both modes have the option of 24 dB/oct or 18 dB/oct slopes. The Filter is a resonant filter, you can turn down the level of the oscillators and crank up the resonance to hear the self-oscillation of the filter. You get controls for velocity sensitivity, key tracking and bi-polar envelope modulation depth control. The filter envelope has four sliders for the basic ADSR controls. In addition to the main filter there is a non-resonant high-pass filter which is placed before the main filter in the signal path.
The amp section has four sliders for the ADSR controls, a velocity sensitivity control (separate from the velocity sensitivity control on the filter section), a Tone dial to brighten or dull the overall sound and a patch level control (Separate from the synth volume control).
You get three separate effects, each having different modes and two dials to control parameters. The first effect has a variety of distortion modes and a phaser mode. The second effect can be set to a delay, auto-pan, two chorus algorithms, a flanger or a dual delay+chorus mode. The third effect is primarily a reverb which can be set to ambience, room, two types of halls, plate and my favorite, pitch modulation reverb mode.
Aside from the built-in modulation options in the oscillator & filter section, you get an LFO that can be assigned to modulate overall pitch, filter cutoff & amplitude. You also get a dedicated Pitch Envelope with just Attack & Decay controls.
The System 8 has an arpeggiator, Chord Memorizer and a Key Hold mode for hands-free operation. There’s also a 64-step polyphonic sequencer with real-time recording as well as step record options.
Similar to the classic Jupiter 8, the System 8 has a dual part mode which splits the 8 voices into upper and lower parts, each with a 4 voice polyphony. You can select either of the two parts, have them setup completely different from each other & layer them together or even set keyboard splits for the two parts.
There is also a vocoder mode which uses the audio input as the modulator and the synth sound as the carrier. Unlike most vocoder synths, the mic input is not a XLR but a TRS jack. This is primarily because the input can be switched from line level to mic level, so you can plug in a line level signal and process that with the internal filters and effects.
The System 8 comes with three plug-out slots, two are already pre-loaded with the Jupiter 8 and the Juno-106 model. As of this writing the Juno-106 model is not available.
The Jupiter 8 plug-out is my favorite feature on this synth, as it is so much better than the Boutique series JP-08 which limits you to just 4 voices. The presets on the Jupiter 8 plug-out sound fantastic. When switching to this plug-out you will notice some of the synth controls are disabled to match the features on the original Jupiter 8. For example, you do not get to use the dedicated AD Pitch Envelope, but the amount control on the Pitch Envelope will control how much the Filter Envelope modulates pitch.
Aside from the 1/4 inch outputs/inputs & headphone output, this synth also has Analog CV gate and pitch outputs, and a trigger input. The pitch CV only works in the volt/oct range & not Hertz/Volt. You get 5 pin din MIDI connectivity as well as USB MIDI. You can also use the USB connectivity to record the audio output of the synth directly to a computer (driver installation required). There’s an SD card slot to save and load presets. There’s also MIDI sustain pedal and expression inputs.
The System 8 is a lightweight powerhouse of a synthesizer. If you can look past the fact that it's not a real analog synth, it is quite competitive in today’s highly saturated synth market. The fact that it can host other Roland synth models makes this much more versatile than most true analog synths. I would generally not pay heed to digital synths as they don’t really live up to my personal expectation but the System 8 is definitely beyond your average digital synthesizer. Thanks to the ACB modeling, it has analog character and thanks to the Plug-out technology that character can be changed on the fly. If this synth was $500 cheaper, it would be a no brainer.
Pros: Lightweight, 3 Plug-out slots, high quality analog modeling