I’ve all the time had two complaints about most Roland gear: the dearth of guide controls and needlessly navigating by incomprehensible menus. Nonetheless, earlier this 12 months, the corporate launched the Aira Compact S-1 Tweak Synth. Its menus despatched me right into a spiral of rage, nevertheless it does supply a good quantity of hands-on management. Quickly after, Roland launched the SH-4D, which not solely had numerous knobs, buttons and faders, but in addition had streamlined menus and a display screen that predated the looks of house computer systems. My greatest challenge is the shape issue; I actually wished it to be a devoted synth with a keyboard, nevertheless it’s extra of a pseudo groovebox.
So when Roland introduced Gaia 2, a belated replace to its 13-year-old digital analog synthesizer, I used to be cautiously optimistic. The S-1 and SH-4D are indicators that the corporate is transferring in the best course in terms of interfaces, and so they each sound nice. At first look, the Gaia 2 appears to have all the things I have been in search of in a Roland synthesizer: loads of guide controls, a pleasant display screen, simplified menus, and a full-size 37-note keybed. Nonetheless, on the danger of seeming not possible to please, I got here away from Gaia 2 a bit unhappy.
All sounds besides drums come instantly from Gaia 2. The one further processing is a few EQ and compression.
What’s most instantly spectacular is the construct. Now, to be clear, the Gaia 2 does not really feel low cost, however I anticipated barely extra from a $900 synth. The highest panel is steel, however the remainder is plastic. The keyboard is nice, nevertheless it lacks aftertouch. The knobs are largely fantastic, however just a few encoders really feel unfastened and have quite a lot of wobble. Some braking gadgets are too weak and might simply miss the goal.Moreover, the pitch wheel and modulation wheel are surprisingly small. All of these items are simply forgiven on a $600 synth, however at this value I am a bit disenchanted.
The Korg Minilogue XD, for instance, prices simply $650 and usually feels sturdier, even when the keybed is not as good. Elektron’s Digitakt and Digitone do not have keyboards, however at $949 (simply $50 extra) they really feel almost indestructible.
Nonetheless, the controls are in depth. Roland hasn’t solved all of the menu diving points but, however the Gaia 2 is fairly shut. There are extra knobs and buttons than I can rely. All the things is organized logically, and whereas there are some transformations, most of the controls are single-purpose, providing you with the liberty to regulate virtually all the things with one hand whereas taking part in. That is more and more troublesome to attain as prospects count on extra highly effective synth engines and extra modulation choices, whereas additionally wanting devices to be extra compact.
Gaia 2 is just not small. At about 26 inches extensive and 13 inches deep, it does take up a good quantity of desk area, nevertheless it’s not cumbersome. It makes good use of the entrance panel, cramming it with controls and a decent-sized display screen.
Your eyes are inevitably drawn to the “dynamic” trackpad slightly below. This is likely one of the highlights of the synth, my one criticism is its placement. It is at useless heart, which is sensible if you happen to use it to navigate menus through the cursor. Nonetheless, simply utilizing the knob is way quicker. The trackpad feels much less pure in terms of navigating the interface, and it is much less cumbersome on the left aspect of efficiency – there’s positively room for greater than toy-sized pitch and modulation wheels.
Horrible identify apart, the Motional Pad is nice. At first look, this appears a bit gimmicky—a big X/Y trackpad, not like the Korg Kaoss Pad, devoted to modulation. However when you recover from the preliminary strangeness (and Roland’s manufacturing facility patch, arduous Entering into its gimmicky aspect), it is arduous to not see its worth. It is used to regulate the wave shaping and part modulation of oscillator one, however you can even assign virtually any parameter you need to the X and Y axes and alter them by merely dragging your finger.
What’s extra, you possibly can report the motion, primarily providing you with a 3rd advanced LFO. It not solely data the form of finger motion, but in addition data time. So you possibly can slowly draw small circles from the underside left to the highest proper to open the filter and improve the resonance, then rapidly zigzag again to the place to begin. Many manufacturing facility presets characteristic this animated modulation sequence as a novelty, outlining small figures, leaves, and naturally the Roland brand.
This is not clearly an enormous challenge, nevertheless it does illustrate a broader downside I’ve with Gaia 2: most of the presets really feel like tech demos, and I do not discover them notably helpful. Now, I can already hear folks standing up. “Effectively, an actual musician would design all his personal patches from scratch anyway!” you would possibly say. I am right here to let you know to kick rocks. There is not any disgrace in taking part in presets, particularly if you happen to make music as a interest. Moreover, manufacturing facility presets ought to exhibit the synthesizer’s capabilities, not solely technically, but in addition musically. At this level, Gaia 2 remains to be in its early phases.
This in the end left me chilly on Gaia 2: it sounded dated. The unique Gaia was a strictly digital simulation occasion. Its successor retained the identical three-oscillator construction however changed certainly one of them with a wavetable engine (the opposite two remained digital analog). There are quite a lot of nice, modern-sounding synths that use wavetables, however Gaia 2 focuses on a particular model of Roland cheese. It is an ideal soundtrack for a turn-of-the-century cyber thriller, and whereas some will take pleasure in it, others will not.
The 2 digital analog oscillators sound medical, however the decrease register lacks oomph. This filter is extraordinarily versatile, with every of its three modes (lowpass, bandpass and highpass) that includes three completely different slope choices (-12dB/Oct, -18dB/Oct or -24dB/Oct) and a drive possibility. It might sound slightly skinny, nevertheless it works.
I want I might say I am extra enamored with the sound engine, as a result of in any other case that is most likely probably the most pleasant trendy Roland synthesizer I’ve ever used. Gaia 2 strikes a near-perfect stability between complexity and ease of use. Three oscillators, multi-mode filters, twin LFOs, dynamic pads and a wealthy results part present a good quantity of depth but are very straightforward to dial in. All the things is clearly labeled and all probably the most fundamental parameters could be instantly managed manually. Even most issues that require shift features or some menu diving are very intuitive. Programming is de facto enjoyable. If it weren’t so costly, the Gaia 2 can be an excellent instrument for studying synthesis.
Making use of an LFO to any parameter is so simple as holding down a button and turning the knob you need to modulate. There’s even a step mode so you possibly can design customized waveforms in 16 steps. Motional Pad and a superb sequencer are straightforward to make use of. Having faders as an alternative of knobs for each envelopes (amp and filter) is a pleasant contact. There is not any modulation matrix and you’ll’t reroute envelopes, however I do not thoughts that a lot.I not often encounter such a state of affairs actual I wished to do one thing after I designed the patch, however could not. It is a easy synth with sufficient depth that even skilled gamers can spend hours tweaking the knobs.
As soon as you’ve got bored with the primary Gaia engine, you possibly can load mannequin extensions so as to add emulations of traditional Roland synthesizers such because the Jupiter-8 or Juno-106. It even comes with the SH-101 emulator pre-installed. Truthfully, this sounds higher than the preset digital simulation engine.
In fact, the mannequin growth does not come low cost, priced at $149. Suffice it to say, loading them onto Gaia can be annoying. You’ve gotten two choices: You should buy an optionally available $100 wi-fi USB adapter and ship it by your cellphone. Alternatively, you possibly can copy the recordsdata to a USB flash drive and cargo them manually from there. (You understand, like 2001.) This is likely one of the few locations the place Roland stubbornly stays stale. Though the Gaia 2 has a USB-C port able to carrying audio and MIDI (in addition to energy), it can’t hook up with the Roland Cloud Supervisor app to load mannequin extensions.
The spotlight of the sound engine, although, is certainly the results. There are seven reverb and delay choices, three great-sounding choruses, and 53 different results, together with compressors, bit-smashers, lo-fi and scatter. The brand new shimmer reverb algorithm particularly is attractive. The sound design area within the FX part is nearly as giant as the remainder of the synthesizer. It is also an excellent possibility for including some character to an typically cold-sounding foremost oscillator.
In the end, what was disappointing about Gaia was that it did precisely the best factor however could not fairly stick the touchdown. Writing patches was quite a lot of enjoyable, however I simply wasn’t clicking on the outcomes. It is a masterful mix of approachability and depth, however can be too expensive to advocate to rookies. It lastly supplied the guide management options folks had been craving, however the high quality of the encoders, knobs, and buttons left a lot to be desired. I wished to love Gaia 2, and I am positive lots of people would, nevertheless it simply wasn’t for me.
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