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

I’ve had two constant complaints about most Roland gear: a lack of hands-on controls and an pointless quantity of diving via incomprehensible menus. However, earlier this yr the corporate shipped the Aira Compact S-1 Tweak Synth. Its menu despatched me right into a rage spiral, however it did supply 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 house computer systems. My greatest concern was the shape issue; I simply actually needed it to be a devoted synthesizer with a keyboard, however it was extra of a pseudo groovebox.

So, when Roland introduced the Gaia 2 — an extended 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 not off course interface-wise, they usually each sounded nice. At first look the Gaia 2 gave the impression to be the whole lot 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.

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


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 steel, however the remainder is plastic. The keyboard is great, however lacks aftertouch. The knobs are principally positive, however there are just a few encoders that really feel unfastened and have an excellent quantity of wiggle. The detents on some are weak too, making it straightforward to overlook your mark. Plus the pitch and mod wheels are bizarrely small. All of this stuff could be simply forgiven on a $600 synthesizer, however at this worth I felt a bit of let down.

Roland Gaia 2's bizarrely tiny pitch and mod wheels.
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 nearly as good. And Elektron’s Digitakt and Digitone lack a keyboard however really feel damn-near indestructible at $949 (and for less than $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. All the pieces is organized logically and, whereas there are some shift capabilities, lots of the controls are single function, leaving you free to tweak nearly something with one hand when 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 huge and 13 inches deep, it does command a good quantity of desk house, however 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 will probably be drawn to the “Motional” touchpad instantly under that. It’s one of many highlights of the synth, with my one grievance being its placement. It’s lifeless heart, which is smart for those who’re utilizing it to navigate the menus with a cursor. However, it’s a lot quicker to simply use the knobs. The touchpad simply doesn’t really feel pure for navigating the interface, and it could 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 Motional Pad is nice, the horrible identify apart. It looks as if a little bit of a gimmick at first — a big X/Y touchpad, not in contrast to the Korg Kaoss Pad, devoted to modulation. However when you get previous the preliminary strangeness (and Roland’s manufacturing facility patches that lean arduous into its gimmicky aspect), it’s arduous to not see the worth. It’s used to manage the waveshaping and part modulation of oscillator one, however you can too assign nearly any parameter you wish to the X and Y axis and alter them by merely dragging your finger round.

What’s extra, you may file that movement, basically providing you with a 3rd, complicated LFO. It data 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 enhance the resonance earlier than shortly zigzagging your approach again to the beginning. Most of the manufacturing facility presets deal with this animated modulation sequence as a novelty, sketching out small folks, leaves and, after all, the Roland emblem.

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, however it does communicate to a broader concern I’ve with the Gaia 2: lots of the presets really feel like tech demos and I don’t discover them significantly usable. Now, I can already hear folks getting up in arms. “Properly, an actual musician could be designing all their very own patches from scratch anyway!” you is perhaps saying. I’m right here to let you know to go kick rocks. There’s no disgrace in taking part in presets, particularly for those who’re making music as a passion. Moreover, the manufacturing facility presets ought 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 in the end what left me feeling chilly concerning the Gaia 2: It sounds dated. The unique Gaia was a strictly virtual analog affair. Its successor stored the identical three oscillator construction, however swapped in a wavetable engine for certainly 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 focuses on a specific model of Roland cheese. It’s excellent for scoring a flip of the century cyber thriller, and whereas some folks will adore it, others received’t.

The 2 digital analog oscillators sound medical and lack oomph within the decrease registers. The filter is extraordinarily versatile with three completely different slope choices (-12dB/Oct, -18dB/Oct or -24dB/Oct) for every of its three modes (lowpass, bandpass and highpass) and a drive choice. It may possibly sound a contact skinny, however 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 in all probability essentially the most gratifying 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 supply fairly a little bit of depth, however are extremely straightforward to dial in. All the pieces is labeled clearly and the entire 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 wish to modulate. And there’s even a step mode the place you may design a 16-step customized wave. The Motional Pad and wonderful sequencer are a cinch to make use of. And having faders as an alternative of knobs for the 2 envelopes (amp and filter) is a pleasant contact. There’s no modulation matrix and you may’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 an easy 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-8 or Juno-106. It even comes with an SH-101 emulation pre-installed. Actually, that sounds higher than the default digital analog engine.

After all, the mannequin expansions aren’t low-cost at $149. And loading them on the Gaia is, let’s say, aggravating. You’ve gotten two choices: You should purchase an elective $100 wireless USB adapter and ship them out of your cellphone. Or, you may copy recordsdata to a USB key after which load them manually from there. (You realize, similar to it’s 2001.) This is among 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 may well’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.


The intense spot within the sound engine, although, is certainly the consequences. There are seven reverb and delay choices, three varieties of wonderful 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 nearly 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 greatest wager for including some character to the usually cold-sounding major oscillators.


In the end, 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, however it’s too costly to suggest to a newbie. And it lastly delivers the hands-on controls folks 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 certain there’s loads of folks on the market who will, however it’s simply not for me.

This text initially appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/roland-gaia-2-review-roland-finally-delivers-the-hands-on-synthesizer-weve-been-begging-for-150058035.html?src=rss

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