Roland Gaia 2 overview: Roland lastly delivers the hands-on synthesizer we’ve been begging for

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I’ve had two constant complaints about most Roland gear: a scarcity of hands-on controls and an pointless quantity of diving via incomprehensible menus. However, earlier this 12 months the corporate shipped the Aira Compact S-1 Tweak Synth. Its menu despatched me right into a rage spiral, nevertheless it did provide a good variety of hands-on controls. Then, not lengthy after, Roland debuted the SH-4D which not solely had loads of knobs, buttons and faders, however a streamlined menu and a display that didn’t predate dwelling computer systems. My largest difficulty was the shape issue; I simply actually needed it to be a devoted synthesizer with a keyboard, nevertheless it was extra of a pseudo groovebox.

So, when Roland introduced the Gaia 2 — a protracted overdue replace to its 13-year-old digital analog synth — I used to be cautiously optimistic. The S-1 and SH-4D have been indicators the corporate was on target interface-wise, they usually each sounded nice. At first look the Gaia 2 gave the impression to be all the pieces I’ve been in search of in a Roland synth: loads of hands-on controls, a good display, a simplified menu and a full-size 37-key keybed. And but, on the danger of seeming inconceivable to please, I walked away from the Gaia 2 a bit of unhappy.

Engadget · Roland Gaia 2 demos

All sounds, aside from the drums, come straight from the Gaia 2. The one extra processing being some EQ and compression.

{Hardware}

Probably the most instantly underwhelming factor is the construct. Now, to be clear, the Gaia 2 doesn’t really feel low cost, however I anticipated barely extra from a $900 synth. The highest panel is metallic, however the remaining is plastic. The keyboard is superb, however lacks aftertouch. The knobs are largely positive, however there are just a few encoders that really feel unfastened and have a superb quantity of wiggle. The detents on some are weak too, making it simple to overlook your mark. Plus the pitch and mod wheels are bizarrely small. All of this stuff can be simply forgiven on a $600 synthesizer, however at this worth I felt a bit of let down.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The Korg Minilogue XD, as an example, solely prices $650 and usually feels extra rugged, even when the keybed isn’t pretty much as good. And Elektron’s Digitakt and Digitone lack a keyboard however really feel damn-near indestructible at $949 (and for under $50 extra).

The controls are intensive, although. Roland hasn’t solved all of its menu-diving issues, however the Gaia 2 will get fairly shut. There are extra knobs and buttons than I care to depend. Every little thing is organized logically and, whereas there are some shift capabilities, most of the controls are single objective, leaving you free to tweak virtually something with one hand whilst you play. That is getting tougher and tougher to return by as prospects anticipate extra highly effective synth engines with extra modulation choices, whereas additionally wanting devices to be compact.

The ADSR faders for the filter envelope on the Roland Gaia 2.
Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The Gaia 2 isn’t precisely small. At roughly 26 inches large and 13 inches deep, it does command a good quantity of desk house, nevertheless it’s hardly onerous. And it makes essentially the most of its entrance panel, cramming it filled with controls and a good sized display.

It’s inevitable that your eyes might be drawn to the “Motional” touchpad immediately under that. It’s one of many highlights of the synth, with my one grievance being its placement. It’s useless middle, which is sensible in the event you’re utilizing it to navigate the menus with a cursor. However, it’s a lot sooner to only use the knobs. The touchpad simply doesn’t really feel pure for navigating the interface, and it will be a lot much less cumbersome for efficiency on the left aspect — there’s actually room for it alongside the toy-sized pitch and mod wheels.

The

The Motional Pad is nice, the horrible title apart. It looks as if a little bit of a gimmick at first — a big X/Y touchpad, not not like the Korg Kaoss Pad, devoted to modulation. However when you get previous the preliminary strangeness (and Roland’s manufacturing facility patches that lean onerous into its gimmicky aspect), it’s onerous to not see the worth. It’s used to regulate the waveshaping and section modulation of oscillator one, however you can even assign virtually any parameter you need to the X and Y axis and alter them by merely dragging your finger round.

What’s extra, you may report that movement, primarily providing you with a 3rd, complicated LFO. It information not simply the form of your finger actions, however the timing too. So you might draw small circles slowly working your approach from the underside left to the highest proper, to open up the filter and improve the resonance earlier than rapidly zigzagging your approach again to the beginning. Lots of the manufacturing facility presets deal with this animated modulation sequence as a novelty, sketching out small individuals, leaves and, after all, the Roland brand.

The Chip Fighter patch on the Roland Gaia 2 showing an automation sketching out a tiny person.
Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Sound engine

This clearly isn’t a deal breaker, nevertheless it does converse to a broader difficulty I’ve with the Gaia 2: most of the presets really feel like tech demos and I don’t discover them notably usable. Now, I can already hear individuals getting up in arms. “Effectively, an actual musician can be designing all their very own patches from scratch anyway!” you may be saying. I’m right here to inform you to go kick rocks. There’s no disgrace in taking part in presets, particularly in the event you’re making music as a passion. Moreover, the manufacturing facility presets needs to be a showcase of what a synth is able to, not simply technically, however musically. And judging by that, the Gaia 2 is firmly caught within the early aughts.

That is finally what left me feeling chilly concerning the Gaia 2: It sounds dated. The unique Gaia was a strictly digital analog affair. Its successor saved the identical three oscillator construction, however swapped in a wavetable engine for considered one of them (the opposite two stay digital analog). There are many nice, modern-sounding synthesizers on the market that use wavetables, however Gaia 2 makes a speciality of a selected model of Roland cheese. It’s good for scoring a flip of the century cyber thriller, and whereas some individuals will adore it, others gained’t.

The 2 digital analog oscillators sound medical and lack oomph within the decrease registers. The filter is extraordinarily versatile with three totally different slope choices (-12dB/Oct, -18dB/Oct or -24dB/Oct) for every of its three modes (lowpass, bandpass and highpass) and a drive possibility. It will possibly sound a contact skinny, nevertheless it’s serviceable.

The filter cutoff knob and slope LEDs on the Roland Gaia 2
Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

I want I might say I used to be extra enamored with the sound engine, as a result of in any other case that is most likely essentially the most satisfying fashionable Roland synth I’ve used. The Gaia 2 strikes a near-perfect stability between complexity and approachability. The three oscillators, multimode filter, twin LFOs, Motional Pad and wealthy results part provide fairly a little bit of depth, however are extremely simple to dial in. Every little thing is labeled clearly and all the most important parameters have direct hands-on controls. Even most issues that require shift capabilities or some menu diving are all fairly intuitive. It’s legitimately enjoyable to program. The Gaia 2 would make a wonderful instrument to study synthesis on if it wasn’t so costly.

Making use of the LFO to any parameter is so simple as holding a button and turning the knob of no matter you need to modulate. And there’s even a step mode the place you may design a 16-step customized wave. The Motional Pad and glorious sequencer are a cinch to make use of. And having faders as a substitute of knobs for the 2 envelopes (amp and filter) is a pleasant contact. There’s no modulation matrix and you’ll’t reroute the envelopes, however I didn’t thoughts a lot. I hardly ever ran right into a scenario the place I actually needed to do one thing when designing a patch, however couldn’t. It’s a simple synth with sufficient depth to maintain even skilled gamers twiddling knobs for hours.

Roland Gaia 2 oscillator controls
Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Mannequin Expansions 

When you develop bored of the primary Gaia engine, you may load Mannequin Expansions so as to add emulations of basic Roland synths just like the Jupiter-Eight or Juno-106. It even comes with an SH-101 emulation pre-installed. Actually, that sounds higher than the default digital analog engine.

In fact, the mannequin expansions aren’t low cost at $149. And loading them on the Gaia is, let’s say, aggravating. You might have two choices: You should purchase an non-obligatory $100 wi-fi USB adapter and ship them out of your cellphone. Or, you may copy information to a USB key after which load them manually from there. (You understand, identical to it’s 2001.) This is without doubt one of the few locations the place Roland stays stubbornly archaic. Although the Gaia 2 has a USB-C port able to transmitting each audio and MIDI (and energy), it could’t hook up with the Roland Cloud supervisor app to load Mannequin Expansions.

Roland Gaia 2 on a desk surrounded by a bunch of clutter and some other instruments.

Results

The intense spot within the sound engine, although, is unquestionably the consequences. There are seven reverb and delay choices, three varieties of glorious sounding refrain, and 53 different results together with compressors, bit crushers, lo-fi and scatter. The brand new shimmer reverb algorithm, particularly, is attractive. There’s virtually as a lot room for sound design within the FX part alone as there’s in the remainder of the synth. That is additionally your finest guess for including some character to the usually cold-sounding foremost oscillators.

Wrap-up

Finally, what makes the Gaia disappointing is that it will get a lot proper, however can’t fairly stick the touchdown. It’s extraordinarily enjoyable to program patches on, however I simply didn’t click on with the outcomes. It expertly blends approachability with depth, nevertheless it’s too costly to advocate to a newbie. And it lastly delivers the hands-on controls individuals have been begging for, however the high quality of the encoders, pots and buttons depart one thing to be desired. I needed to love the Gaia 2, and I’m positive there’s loads of individuals on the market who will, nevertheless it’s simply not for me.

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