Fun with Synths – The Roland GAIA SH01

Warning… This is a keyboard-geek post. If you’re the sort of person that isn’t going to get irrationally excited reading about synths, then I suggest you just look at this relaxing video instead.

A couple of months ago I became the proud owner of a Roland GAIA SH01 synth. I had wanted a synth that had lots of knobs and was easy to program for some time and though what I really wanted was a real analog synth, the Moogs and Prophets were really out of my price range, and while a Korg MS20 Mini was affordable, I just couldn’t bring myself to get something with mini keys (Why Korg? Why?)

So after some time researching and demo-ing I settled on the little Roland GAIA…




Despite it’s diminutive size, it is actually a bit of a monster. On the face of it it’s a 3 oscillator virtual analog with lots of knobs controlling the Oscillators, LFO Filter and Amp, but what you find out quite quickly is that it’s 3 complete single oscillator synths each with its own LFO, filter section and amp section. They all share the same set of knobs and are selected by a dedicated button. What this means is that you can set up sounds which stack 3 completely different characteristics.

For instance a mellow pad on layer 1, some atmospheric sample-hold burbling on layer 2 which comes in after a second and a swirling string sound on layer 3.

Or some monster lead with stacked, detuned super-saws with huge fat sub bass.

The Oscillators all offer saw, square, pulse, triangle, sine, noise and super saw (Roland’s own 7 detuned saws in one waveform) and each osc type has 3 variations. You can sync osc 1 and osc 2 or ring mod 1 with 2.

There are 4 filter types, Low pass, high pass, bandpass and peaking, and 2 filter slopes – 12dB and 24dBand both the filter and amp have their own ADSR.

The LFO sections offer triangle, sine, saw square, sample-and-hold and random, and the LFOs can modulate pitch filter and amp sections, and there is an LFO delay. The LFOs can be tempo synch’d to MIDI as well. And while we’re on the subject of tempo, there is a nice programmable arpeggiator too.

It also has a rather nice effects section which can all manner of sonic goodness (or grunge if you prefer) to the mix of sounds and the delay also can be tempo sync’d to MIDI.

And the one knob-per-function layout is intuitive really does make programming a breeze.

Is it perfect? Well, no. Sometimes it belies it’s digital nature with some audible aliasing.  It allows you to sync oscillator 1 and oscillator 2 (which is great for aggressive lead sounds) but that puts the synth into mono mode – which I can understand, sync probably requires quite a bit from the DSP algorithms, but it also disables the filter section – presumably also to save on processor resource – and this is a pretty annoying limitation. It also does some strange envelope retriggering you don’t expect when you are playing fast runs with a slow sweep on the filter.

But these niggles aside, it’s capable of some truly wonderful wild or downright mad sounds and the immediacy of grabbing a couple of knobs and tweaking the sounds on the fly is so gratifying.  Love it!

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