AIRA System-1m Modular Plug out synthesizer

Roland returns once again, as it becomes increasingly clear the company is on a quest to re-assert itself as the hardware revolution continues, and rightfully so; it was one of the originators, and while it seemed to take a step back during the "Digital Revolution", here they are again innovating and setting the bar even higher than before. Introducing the AIRA modular System 1m synthesizer, a continuation of their AIRA plug out series, this time stepping into the Modular rack systems domain as the interest in that type of instruments continues to grow.


The best part about this-as if a modular synth coming from Roland, and at a nice price wasn't enough-is the fact that as in the rest of the series, plug in versions can be uploaded straight into the machine without the need for computers, so you always have more than meets the eye. Never before have we had a synthesizer that not only gave you everything on the panel, as well as multiple versions of other old school legendary machines that could be controlled without any programming or mapping. This isn't even making mention of the fact that what you would have are "modular" versions of these synths....think of a modular SH-101, and you might begin to get the picture!


As usual, let's begin at the sound source, where 2 nearly-identical oscillators provide six wave forms, in the form of Square, Sawtooth and Triangle, as well as what the company refers to as "Triangle 2", "Square 2", and "Sawtooth 2". Add to that a cool "Color" knob, and the ability to Cross Modulate, and even modulate from sources such as Filter Envelope, Amp Envelope, LFO (also outside LFO sources via CV), Pitch Envelope (Yup, it's got Pitch envelope, how cool!), as well as the Sub Oscillator, not to mention Ring Modulation and Syncing to Oscillator 2, and you've got a very solid signal source and foundation.


Now this is where the fun begins when we go modular: provided are CV I/O (Out for Osc 1, and In for Osc 2), allowing you to use CV to connect to other synths or modules, along with Audio I/O for the oscillator section which includes In for Ring, Out for both oscillators, an external input for feeding other sources into the 1m, not to mention a "Mix" output which will allow you to send the signal out to other machines past the mixer section. So both oscillators and parameter changes within the Oscillator section can be manipulated by other machines or modules. The mixer section on the 1m includes a sub-oscillator (2 octaves), along with Noise (White and Pink), as well as the ability to make the synth work as a Mono synth, or Poly; even featuring Unison.


The 1m also features a very neat feature not found on many synthesizers, if any that can be recalled, here giving you not just a dedicated Pitch section-normally found within sub-menus-but going a step further and giving you an independent Pitch envelope that while only allowing for the manipulation of the Attack and Release, can be an incredibly useful tool in shaping tone. The section also includes Portamento, and an envelope intensity knob. CV In is also provided for the envelope, giving you some cool modular options for this feature, as well as CV and Gate In for general control of the pitch. 


The Filter section found here is as full-fledged as you'd expect on a machine of this caliber, providing simultaneous High Pass and Low Pass filters, as well as Envelope Intensity, and Keyboard Tracking, not to mention its own dedicated Filter Envelope controls in the form of ADSR. CV options here allow for the envelope to be sent out, or controlled externally, as well as CV in for controlling it via an LFO. The Amp envelope includes your standard ADSR sliders to shape the signal, as well as the typical Volume knob, and Tone control. The Amp Envelope also features CV In and Out for external connectivity (found on top of the filter section, though labeled properly).


The System 1m features a single LFO design, providing 5 wave forms (Sine, Saw, Square, Sample and Hold, Triangle, and Random), along with modulation capabilities that include Pitch, Filter, and Amp, also providing a neat "Fade Time" feature, not to mention the standard Rate knob. The LFO also features a single CV Out for modulating other destinations.


The System 1m also includes an integrated effects section that offers, as in the keyboard version, Tone, Delay, Reverb, and Crusher; also found in the Amp section like on the keyboard. The synthesizer also features a 24bit 96khz Audio and MIDI interface, along with an AIRA Link port for easy connectivity to the MX-1 Performance Mixer recently released.


The System 1m features of course, MIDI In and Out both in the rear panel, as well as underneath for easier rack accessibility; and can obviously sync up all of your effects and the LFO as well internally or using External Clock. The System 1m comes in a 19" rack mountable chasis that is also 84 HP Eurorack compatible, including an adapter that is provided for the internal case power supply. In cases where mounting on a rack is not desired, the standard Roland AC adapter is also included, as are braided patch cables that can be used with the expansion modules released alongside the 1m, which include Torcido for Distortion effects, Bitrazer for bit crushing, the delay effects module Demora, and the super cool scatter/looper effect module Scooper. All made to fit next to each other below the 1m, totaling 19" as well.


The next phase in the continuing hardware and analog revolution is here folks, and challenges us to go deeper in our relationship to the machines. There are few things more satisfying than creating music in a way that is totally up to you and without very many boundaries if any at all. Synthesizers of this kind that allow for unconventional, or at least expanded signal routing capabilities, especially of such high quality as these machines, will inspire eons of creativity, delivering a final product that is original and raises the bar on its own. We are beginning to see the influence of this in the new music coming out, and we will undoubtedly continue to do so as we get back to a state of true originality, driven by intrigued curiosity. 




Written by: Santino Fernandez

July 2015