We're taking a look at the new Roland Boutique Designer SE-02, a collaboration between ace analogue electronics experts Studio Electronics, and Roland. Essentially this is a 3 Oscillator analogue mono synth, with true analog VCOs, VCA and VCF - 24dB Moog Ladder Filter.
It's not exactly a MiniMoog, but the architecture is pretty close and Studio Electronics do have an intimate knowledge of such things. If you want to read about the design concepts and process, there's a great page on their site.
So, all this analogue goodness is crammed into the Boutique format, which love it or hate it (after all it's pretty small) means that it's got a fairly small interface.
The good news is that it sounds great, that SE thing they do, they've done it here to great effect. The Oscillators have that authority that you find in other SE products, it's not fully quantifiable, but when you hear it, you know.
My only gripe here is really that the PWM modulation routing, which requires you to use VCO 3 in Lo mode as the modulator, isn't really all that low, or slow. No tearing PWM tones here, it starts at around 1.5 to 2 cycles per second. But the plus side is that the VCOs offer a lot of potential as Audio Rate Mod sources - OSC2 to Filter, OSC 3 to OSC 2 FM, and OSC 3-PWM.
But yes the waves are pretty chunky,all that lovely low end and buzz where required. And the tracking and stability seemed good.
VCA + Filter
The ladder 24dB 4-pole Low Pass filter is essentially the Mini style filter, recreated pretty authentically by the SE boffins and sounds pretty lovely to be honest. My only gripe is that I don't really care for the resonance response of the ladder style filter, with a high degree of low end loss on the introduction of resonance or emphasis as they call it. But the degree to which you can gain stage the filter is nice, that extra burn you can get after 12 o'clock settings on the Mixer section is very familiar territory. Even more drive can be added with the Feedback control, turning the filter into a screaming monster - more akin to the MS20 and beyond.
2 Envelopes, ADS (Attack Decay, Sustain) with switchable release offers, the main VCA gain, plus a modulation env which can be routed to VCF and Pitch of OSC 2. It's also possible to trigger from LFO speed for additional rhythmic stuff.
The LFO offers a decent range of waves, Sine, Tri, Saw UP, Saw Down, Square, 50% PWM, 25% PWM, with a rate clockable to the tempo of the sequencer or external sync, Goes reasonable high into audio rates too,
Finally the Delay is a digital affair, with time, feedback and mix controls, also clockable to tempo.
It's the standard 16 step Roland style step sequencing (no realtime record) with forward, backward, alternating and random directions, you have the usual resolution settings, 16, 8, 4 - with triplets for each too. Note value per step (via knob or MIDI), gate length and glider per step. Though it does not seem easily possible to transpose the sequence during playback, which is a shame.
The additional feature is the parameter recording - one lane of automation, but each step can have any front panel parameter value assigned to it. Quite neat, apart from the fact that one set, say filter open on a step, you need to use another step to close it back down again so it's a constant state type, rather than a momentary state, like the Elektron style. You also get a song mode for chaining patterns - each pattern can have a patch, and number of repeats. However, life is a bit short for arranging like this as far as I'm concerned.
All audio is on 1/8th Jack, Phones, Audio out, Audio In (pre-filter, pre VCA - no level control), Filter CV in, Gate IN, CV in, Trigger IN, Trigger Out, MIDI I/O and USB (Micro) - driver is required on Mac and PC - which offers both MIDI and Audio connectivity - so you can use the SE-02 as an audio interface(2io), as long as you only want to record it, but also as an audio output. With the built in speaker this could be useful I guess, but the main thing is being able to record the direct analogue signal for the maximum girth - it does sound good.
Patch memories - 4 banks of 128, A/B/C/User, only user is overwritable, 50 sequences.
Routing of Mod Wheel and aftertouch is useful for expression, and you can also route the MW to the XMod section selecting A(filter mod) B (3 to 2 FM), C PWM and depth via the MW blend. Modwheel and Aftertouch depth also can be routed to filter cutoff and LFO pitch mod depth.
The only issue seems to be that you can set the knobs to work in pickup mode, so when you change patches, any parameter you change will jump directly to the new value, now catchup or pass through modes.
What can I say, it does sound really good. Basses - pah, the room will shake, spacey delayed lead sounds - check, screaming weird distorted - check. Cross modulated wierdness - yes. I mean it has a deep quality to it. I really do think Studio Electronics have done a great job of translating their thing into a more affordable, mass produced format.
True the omission of a slow PWM to me is sacrilege, and some more flexible mode routings would be nice, LFO to single OSC perhaps? But these things can be forgiven when you hear it in action - what it does it does well.
It is a shame that it's soo tiny though, the size does make it more fiddly to use, but then I'm old. so you 20/20 visioners might be wondering what the problem is. Bottom line is that the SE-20 is an authentic sounding analog monosynth with a big sound.