When Roland’s new AIRA System-1 synth was introduced, there was a lot of
talk about Roland’s commitment to delivering a series of software
emulations of some of its most coveted vintage synths that could then be
ported into the System-1 for live use sans
computer. In my
original review (Oct. ’14), I analyzed Roland’s first “plug-out”—a
spot-on re-creation of the classic SH-101
—and was really impressed with
the potential of this approach. For live players, the System-1 provides
an impressive alternative to gigging with vintage gear.
- CLICK HERE to download a six-pack of SH-2 loops for your own music productions.
Just a few months after the SH-101 plug-out, Roland has
delivered a virtual version of the decidedly more obscure SH-2 synth.
Although I’ve never owned an SH-2, I’ve used them in the studio. While
the SH-101’s slightly plastic sound has made it a workhorse in the dance
music era, the SH-2 has a distinctly aggressive synth-pop vibe, more
akin to Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. It also excels at greasy funk
basses, especially with the resonance up a touch.
The SH-2’s architecture is a bit deeper than the 101’s,
which gives it more sonic flexibility. Whereas the 101 is a
single-oscillator affair, with sub-oscillator for added low-end
chutzpah, the SH-2 sports two oscillators. These are detunable over a
fairly wide range, but like the original, there’s no option for hard
sync. In a departure from the original, Roland has taken several
liberties with the new SH-2 plug-out design. These new amenities make
the SH-2 a lot more flexible as a synth, while remaining faithful to the
overall sound of the original.
Like the software version, the original SH-2 oscillators
offered saw, square, and variable pulse waves on each oscillator, with
oscillator 1 also including a sine wave generator (a bit of a rarity in
itself) and oscillator 2 offering a noise mode. On the Plug-Out, the
noise generator is present but the sine wave is gone. For most users
this will be trivial, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it.
As for enhancements, the SH-2 Plug-Out is brimming with
features that the original lacked. For starters, there’s now a dedicated
ADSR for the filter cutoff. What’s more, each oscillator’s pulse width
can be modulated independently from a much wider range of sources,
including either envelope, the LFO, the sub-oscillator, or the classic
SH-2 auto-bend feature (a simple pitch envelope that slides up or down
into each note). This adds a lot of range to the oscillators’ character,
especially when the sub-oscillator’s audio rate modulation is in
Other upgrades include a few more waveforms on the LFO, a
few subtle changes to the envelope modes, and the inclusion of the
System-1’s effects and arpeggiator. The effects may not be a big deal in
a DAW environment, but in a live setting they’re extremely handy.
I tested both the plug-in and System-1 plug-out versions
of the SH-2 and, naturally, they sounded identical. Again, there’s
something about this synth that has more girth and swagger than many
other synths from that era. Like Moogs of the same vintage, the filter
is a four-pole affair, but the resonance is decidedly more in-your-face
than a Moog’s, as cranking it will dramatically minimize the lower
harmonics. It also self-oscillates beautifully, which is lovely for
noise patches when the keyboard tracking and cutoff are tuned correctly.
All in all, I was blown away by the SH-2’s assertive
character and impressive depth as an analog emulation, and I stand firm
on my original assessment that these digital re-creations can go
toe-to-toe with proper analog gear. If this is how Roland plans to move
forward with its System-1 products, I can’t wait to hear the next one!
Breathtaking re-creation of original Roland SH-2 sound.
Faithfully recaptures analog character. Improvements include a new
filter envelope and advanced PWM. Can be used as either soft synth or
loaded into System-1 as an alternate tone generator.
Software plug-in is a little CPU-heavy.
Stunning emulation of a vintage rarity.
$145 ($95 for System-1 owners) street