Sonic LAB: Roland SH-01A Boutique

US Classic Roland SH-101 in ACB      27/11/17
    MP4 17:57 mins    

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Here we go again, it's another Roland reboot in Boutique form. But don't worry, this one really seems to work - spoiler I know but I wanted to get that out of the way.

The SH-101 is an iconic synth in many ways, as it was an enabler for many to enter into the world of synthesis and electronic music, back in 1984 when it was first released, it showed up on a lot of new emerging music. Since then, it's been a mainstay for many electronic outfits due to it having that classic Roland sound while still being relatively affordable.

The Boutique SH-01A does pretty much that, they've not messed around with the layout much, and as a thing it actually works well in boutique form - unlike some of the others.

The sound is faithful, fire up and you're there again, that snappy Roland sound it immediately right there in front of you - yes is does sound like a 101.

Added bonus is of course the fact that you can run it in 4-voice mode, making a handy little poly synth from four 101 voices. Additionally there's a Unison mode (no detune tweak) and a chord mode - stack up four voices at fixed intervals.

You also get  64 memory locations, and 64 for storing sequences too - though sadly these are not linked.

Additional tweaks - faster LFO - the ADV mode gets you into audio rates and does create some more tonal territory. There are two noise types, the original and a more hi-fi version which again opens up the percussion possibilities - as the ADSR envelope gets you into snappy, zappy and beyond.

Arpeggiator now has additional clock divisions, and an extra octave range, the sequencer stays the same 100 steps, but with memories. It's got the same immediate step entry method of operation, though these days, step programming seems a bit fiddly when you can record and tweak in real-time. As a concession, I would have liked to see  parameter recording facilities like the SE-02, but there aren't.

Biggest omission for me is that there a no on board effects, not even a delay, which I think would have made a difference and helped vibe up the whole experience.

Same USB MIDI and Audio capabilities as well as the MIDI connectors (old school). Clock sync in too for advancing/clocking the arp and sequencer, CV and Gate outputs for hooking up to external gear. Oh yeah and the same little speaker and battery power (4 AA).

The Sound

It sounds good, it's got plenty of low end and whip, classic Sawtooth bass roundness,  get the PWM going and your back to that classic Roland sound, plenty oomph for basslines, that special Roland filter and res for classic acid lines sound very authentic. In short it sounds like an SH-101 and takes you there.

This one also responds to velocity if you want, but only the VCA, would like to have seen the option to map velocity to filter env depth for more expressive sounds - can't be all that tricky if you are coding it anyhow, but I guess we'll have to do without.

MIDI control values for all front panel sliders and knobs, and you can get the SH-01A to dump each patch as a burst of CC controls which might be handy.

I have been frustrated by the teeny controls of the Boutiques in the past, but this one seems to work well with the form factor.

The SH is after all quite a simple synth, but deserves the classic status and the SH-01A doesn't disappoint in that respect.

Perhaps a tad pricey, considering that the earlier Boutiques were sub £300 but I think we are being hit by the exchange rate in the UK, price is £349/$349/€389

Nice little synth, worthy of the name.




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