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Ultimate Guide: SYSTEM-8

Get the most out of the powerful Roland SYSTEM-8 synthesizer on stage and in the studio with this comprehensive Ultimate Guide.

49 mins read
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The AIRA SYSTEM-8 Plug-Out Synthesizer has made serious polyphonic waves in the keyboard world. In 1973, Roland released the SH-1000 synthesizer and started a journey that continues to this day.

The History

During the 1970s, analog monosynths evolved into multi-oscillator modular synthesizers that ushered in the Golden Age of polyphonic analog synthesizers.

The 1980s saw the birth of the digital revolution, with Roland pushing the envelope of digital synthesizer design into the 1990s and 2000s. This innovation evolved into the successful AIRA range These are instruments inspired by Roland’s legacy. However, they use the technology of the future.

Polyphonic PLUG-OUT

In the spirit of its predecessors (SYSTEM-100, SYSTEM-100M, and SYSTEM-700), the Roland AIRA SYSTEM-8 PLUG-OUT Synthesizer breaks new ground, thanks to its remarkable flexibility and accurate sound. It is the world’s first polyphonic PLUG-OUT synth, which means it provides access to plug-in versions of classic Roland synths. These plug-ins exist within the SYSTEM-8, without the need for a computer. You can also use the SYSTEM-8 in Roland Cloud.

This Ultimate Guide to the SYSTEM-8 breaks down each section of the synth. We’ll show you how to get the most out of your SYSTEM-8, both on stage and in the studio.

TIP #1: CHOOSE ONE OF TWELVE OSCILLATOR WAVEFORMS TO CREATE A WORLD OF SOUNDS

The AIRA SYSTEM-8 PLUG-OUT Synthesizer has two oscillators, (OSC1 and OSC2), that each host 12 waveforms. An additional oscillator (OSC3/SUB OSC) with triangle or sine waveforms allows you to stack similar waveforms for a thick bass or lead. Additionally, combine waveforms for different pitch ranges, with the 6-position OCTAVE (feet) knob.

The WAVE knob shows 6 waveforms on the SYSTEM-8 synthesizer. These are SAW, SQUARE and TRIANGLE, the traditional wave shapes found in most synthesizers. However, 3 unique waveforms have the same character as the first 3 waveforms, with harmonics. They are SUPER-SAW, SUPER-SQUARE, and SUPER-TRIANGLE.

6 Unique Waveforms

The AIRA SYSTEM-8 also has 6 waveforms unique to the AIRA series, so you have a vast range of sounds to add to your arsenal. These new waveforms provide a palette for creating modern electronic sounds. They also add a complex range of sounds and harmonics to the classic 6 original waveforms.

Breaking it Down

1. NOISE SAW: The Noise Saw takes the traditional sawtooth to another level, with the introduction of noise. This adds a brighter, brassier sound with a fuller bass response when using LPF cutoff.

2. LOGIC OPERATION: A logic operation refers to a gate signal, switched high or low (on or off) based on a mathematical function. There are many logic operations that you may have seen in the modular synth world, such as OR, AND, NAND, XOR. Plus, there are many more. In synthesis, these gates provide a semi-random on/off signal for triggering envelopes or can mix signals, including oscillators, to create a unique and complex waveform.

This LOGIC OPERATION waveform features a novel cascaded logic circuit that mixes waveforms to create a special synth tone unique to this AIRA synthesizer.

Mod it Up

3. FREQUENCY MODULATIONThere are many ways to control the pitch of an oscillator. One of which is using one oscillator to modulate the frequency of another. You can use an LFO for vibrato effects, or use an audio-rate oscillator for FREQUENCY MODULATION – also called FM. As the pitch of the modulating oscillator rises (i.e. frequency of the wave gets faster). It produces a complex waveform, containing overtones not available from the original oscillator.

These can be harmonic overtones that are great for deep basslines or non-harmonic overtones that provide metallic, bell-like sounds. This complex synthesis process is easy using the SYSTEM-8. The range of sounds controlled by one knob: COLOR.

Syncwave

4. FM + SYNC: This waveform combines the same synthesis method as above, (i.e. Frequency Modulation), but uses oscillator sync with the FM oscillator to produce a waveform with more harmonics. Waveform synchronization, or “sync”, is the process of modulating a high-frequency waveform to generate a thick, harmonic tone. Combined with FM, it can produce an impressive range of harmonics when swept, for build-ups and crescendos.

5. VOWEL: This formant waveform uses a series of waveforms and complex filtering to mimic the sound and articulation of the human voice. The COLOR knob sweeps through a series of vowel-like modulations from “A” to “U” in each oscillator. Modulating the COLOR knob with an envelope or LFO via the MOD knob will create some expressive and unique synth voices. Explore these distinctive waveforms and take advantage of their potential!

6. COWBELL: The cowbell has become an iconic drum machine sound, courtesy of the Roland TR-808. This metallic waveform is also now part of the 12 oscillator wave shapes in the SYSTEM-8 synthesizer. This unique tone now has a suite of controls. Try adding delay and a long release for cowbell/pad-like sounds. Or, use a snappy amplifier envelope with an arpeggio for a pitched percussive line that you can match, or syncopate, with your rhythm track.

To access additional waveforms, turn the [VARIATION] knob to select between Type 1 and 2.

TIP #2: MASTER OSCILLATOR MODULATION TO CREATE COMPLEX SYNTH TONES

A waveform’s shape is a foundation on which you build your synth tone. Modulating, or creating movement of a waveform, provides an evolution of the synth tone by adding and subtracting harmonics. With a shallow depth of modulation, you can create subtle, expressive variations in tone. Larger modulation depth will create aggressive, dissonant tones. Using one, or many modulation types, allows you to shape the sound that you want and provides further control to get your unique tones.

Breaking it Down

1. DETUNING: Detuning is a technique that involves changing the pitch of one oscillator, relative to another. One can do this by a few cents, sharp or flat, to create a thicker, chorus-like sound. Alternately, spread it out to harmonic intervals (fifths are a good starting point). This is a favorite synth technique with saw waves and creates an iconic detuned lead tone. The AIRA SYSTEM-8 has a Coarse Tune control knob for OSC1 and OSC2 and a Fine Tune control for all oscillators.

2. RING MODULATION: OSC2 offers Ring Modulation and Hard Sync options. A ring modulator is a circuit that “multiplies” the frequencies of OSC1 and OSC2. The result is an output signal that contains none of the original input frequencies. The output contains the sum and difference of the input signals. This produces “sidebands“, resulting in a harmonic sound that differs from the original. View Coarse tuning on the display screen. This allows you to set your intervals.

On the Pulse

3. PULSE WIDTH MODULATION (PWM): Each waveform has a shape that repeats with each cycle. The symmetry or “width” of this shape is a source of modulation with an envelope or LFO. A square/pulse waveform is a classic combination. This is Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). That said, waveform width modulation can yield interesting textures for many different shapes.

The source and rate of modulation are important to mastering this synth technique. Slow sine wave sweeps can add subtle dynamic movement to a drone. An S&H LFO can produce a randomized evolving tone when synced to tempo.

The COLOR knob on the SYSTEM-8 controls the depth of the width modulation with different modulation sources. These include the LFO, any of 3 envelopes (PITCH, FILTER, and AMP) or OSC3.

Oscillate Wildly

4. OSCILLATOR SYNCHRONISATION (SYNC): Sync involves using one oscillator to “reset” another oscillator, shifting the wave shape cycle to zero. This reset in turn creates a new waveform, with new peaks (or added harmonics), that provide a characteristic “ripping” or “tearing” sync tone. When the SYNC is lit, OSC2 is a slave to OSC1, while the Pitch Envelope moves to the slave oscillator.

5. CROSS-MODULATION: Cross-modulation is a technique where 2 or more oscillators modulate each other. The output of one oscillator modulates the pitch of a second, which in turn modulates the first. This bi-directional modulation creates a complex waveform, rich in tone, that can reach dissonance very quickly. The AIRA SYSTEM-8 offers a dedicated CROSS MOD knob, which modifies the frequency of OSC1 according to the OSC2 waveform. This technique creates interesting sound effects, or to intensify a sound source. It is a very powerful technique that can produce extreme sonic results.

 

6. CROSS-MODULATION: Cross-modulation is a technique where 2 or more oscillators modulate each other. The output of one oscillator modulates the pitch of a second, which in turn modulates the first. This bi-directional modulation creates a complex waveform, rich in tone, that can reach dissonance very quickly. The AIRA SYSTEM-8 offers a dedicated CROSS MOD knob, which modifies the frequency of OSC1 according to the OSC2 waveform. This technique can be used to create interesting sound effects, or to really intensify a sound source. It is a very powerful technique that can produce extreme sonic results.

PRO TIP:

Switching between the PW source is a great performance technique. Use 3 different envelope shapes (especially those not in use) to create dynamic tonal changes.

TIP #3: MIX SOME DEPTH TO YOUR SOUND WITH SUB-BASS AND NOISE

The mixer section of the SYSTEM-8 allows you to blend the level of OSC1 and OSC2 to create the right tonal and level balance. It also offers two extra sound sources to add dimension, complexity and tonal variation to your patch.

Breaking it Down

The SUB-OSCILLATOR features sine and triangle waveforms with two pitch options: -1 octave or -2 octave below OSC1, which is set using the OSC3/SUB OSC control knob. This oscillator hosts a COLOR knob of its own, allowing you to expand on the sine and triangle waveforms. You can assign it as a modulation source for the Color parameter of Oscillator 1. The sub-octave oscillator is best used to fill out the bottom end of a patch. Still, its broad octave range means it’s also capable of intervals, like fourths and fifths.

The NOISE source has a level of control and [NOISE TYPE] where you can choose between pink or white. This sound source is useful for adding depth to a standard synth patch. It is particularly useful for percussive sounds. Use the NOISE source alongside the onboard sequencer to create interesting rhythm loops.

PRO TIP:

When you move a knob or slider, the LED display shows you the name of the control you are affecting and its numerical value.

TIP #4: CONTROL YOUR SYNTH PATCH WITH THE MULTIMODE FILTER

The Voltage Controlled Filter section now has heightened performance and control options. A dedicated ADSR envelope allows you to control the brightness, by modulating the CUTOFF FREQUENCY. The [ENV] knob controls the depth of the inverted (-) and non-inverted (+) envelope shapes. 

The ADSR sliders allow you to shape the filter’s response to the incoming signal and also enables you to manipulate the characteristics of the filter’s cutoff and resonance response. Try a slow attack for a sound that raises the cutoff frequency over time.

Boost the Signal 

High RESONANCE settings boost the signal around the CUTOFF frequency. At full RESONANCE, the boost is so powerful that the VCF can produce its sine wave-like tone. Use this to layer a pitched tone from the VCF on top of melody/sequencer lines.

Breaking it Down

The [KEY] knob (KEYBOARD FOLLOW) uses the pitch of the notes to control the CUTOFF FREQUENCY. By turning the knob to the right, the CUTOFF frequency becomes higher with the higher notes. When you turn the knob to the left, the opposite occurs. The CUTOFF frequency becomes lower with the lower notes. Also, the SYSTEM-8 offers a separate non-resonant high pass filter. This allows for further control, sound shaping, and performance options. Controlled by the HPF CUTOFF knob, use this filter to remove unwanted bass rumble and ensure your synth patch cuts through the mix.

The SYSTEM-8’s VCF section offers high-resolution Griffer knobs and has three variation modes to shape and control your synth sound. Each mode has distinct characteristics that make them useful for a wide range of filtering purposes. Mastering these modes and their associated controls give you a range of expression on the timbre of your patch and are a skill that synthesists spend years perfecting.

Variations on a Theme

1. THE VARIATIONS: Variation 1 operates in either resonant lowpass or highpass mode, with options for 12dB, 18dB and 24dB/octave slopes for each. The 18dB/octave lowpass mode can recreate the famed Roland TB-303 “acid” bass sound.

Variation 2 resembles the “side-band” filter that appeared on another Roland icon, the V-Synth. Its 6 different modes each have a unique character. Savvy listeners will immediately recognize Variation 2’s filters as sophisticated comb-filter arrays. Used them for flanging effects.

Variation 3 comes from the original System-1 and -1m synthesizers. It offers more aggressive low pass characteristics. This variation does not include the high pass options, but there is a new 18 dB/octave mode.

PRO TIP:

Sweeping both LPF CUTOFF and HPF CUTOFF gives you a band-pass filter. A BPF is ideal for isolating a certain range of frequencies, i.e. bass lines or percussive hi-hats.

TIP #5: USE THE AMP ENVELOPE TO SHAPE THE VOLUME OF EACH NOTE

Every instrument, from xylophones to a violin, has a characteristic “shape” to its volume. Studying the attack, decay, and release of different sounds gives us ideas about how to use an amp ADSR envelope. This can help shape the volume of each note or chord played on the AIRA SYSTEM-8 synthesizer.

Trigger Warning

An envelope requires a TRIGGER or GATE signal to begin the ADSR cycle. In the SYSTEM-8 synthesizer, each time you press a key (or play a note on the arpeggiator), a GATE signal travels to the amp envelope. When the key is down, the GATE is on and the ATTACK, DECAY, and SUSTAIN phase of the ADSR shape the amplifier volume. When you press the key, the GATE is off and the RELEASE phase of the ADSR finishes the volume modulation.

You can trigger the AMP envelope, alongside Pitch and Filter envelopes, simultaneously from the LFO. This feature creates interesting rhythmic and pulsing effects.

PRO TIP:

Experiment with the ADSR sliders to find the best shape for your synth patch. Remember: SUSTAIN is a level control, ATTACK, DECAY and RELEASE are time controls. Keep the SUSTAIN level higher than DECAY if you want to hear a long RELEASE.

TIP #6: CREATE SPACE, MOVEMENT AND TEXTURE WITH EXPANDED ONBOARD EFFECTS

The SYSTEM-8 contains 3 effects sections to provide space and texture to your synth patch. Each section offers 6 different types of processing you can shape and customize. Do so using the onboard controls of Type, Tone, Time, and Level.

Maintaining Control

Type control allows you to move between different effects, offering a range of popular and useful reverb and delay types. Tone and Further customize time controls using the menu and display screens. Access the effects options via the PATCH EFFECTS MENU. Finally, save customizations to your patch.

The Delay/Chorus section offers 6 different types: Delay (DLY), Panning Delay (PAN), Chorus1 (CH1), Chorus2 (CH2), Flanger (FL), and Delay+Chorus (DLY+CH). These time-based effects add character to your synth sound. Explore these broad options to get the most from your synth patch.

Breaking it Down

1. THE REVERB SECTION: The Reverb section also offers 6 variations, from Ambience (AMBI), Room (ROOM), Hall1 (HALL1), Hall2 (HALL2), Plate (PLATE) and Modulations (MOD). These luscious reverb effects will take your sound to the next level. Customize each parameter for your unique sound.

An extra effects section offers new effects for further sonic exploration and exploitation. Choose from OverDrive (OD), Distortion (DS), Metal (MT), Fuzz (FZ), Crusher (CR) and Phaser (PH), for varying and textured effects.

Use the OverDrive, Distortion, or Fuzz for added grit and dirt. These effects revel in the power of BOSS compacts, past and present. The CRUSHER creates a textured effect from digital bit-depth/sample-rate reduction. This effect allows for tuning to emphasize certain harmonics in a melody. Take them to the extreme for complete disharmonic destruction.

TIP #7: MASTER MOVEMENT WITH LFO MODULATION

As demonstrated in Tip #2, the LFO of the AIRA SYSTEM-8 is great for modulating the width of the oscillator waveform for dynamic tone shifts. However, the LFO can also modulate multiple parameters simultaneously. Understanding how the LFO works to add expression is key to mastering synthesis.

Breaking it Down

The LFO has six waveforms available with a wide RATE range that goes up into audio rate to create tones reminiscent of ring modulation and FM synthesis. The LFO waveforms include:

  • Sine
  • Triangle
  • Sawtooth
  • Square
  • Sample & Hold
  • Random (smooth S&H)
Modulation Station

Modulation of OSC 1 and OSC 2, VCF, and VCA via the LFO allows for PITCH (vibrato), FILTER (cutoff sweep), and AMP (tremolo) effects, or a combination of each. Turning the PITCH, FILTER, or AMP knob to the right controls the depth of modulation. Turning the knob to the left uses an inverted LFO waveform, with depth increasing at the knob’s minimum. Using a mix of inverted and standard LFO modulation adds another dimension to the movement of your patch.

1. THE VARIATIONS: The SYSTEM-8 offers 3 LFO variations that enable you to access the full power of its engine. Variation 1 works as the standard LFO configuration, with options for Sine, Triangle, Rising Sawtooth, Square, Sample&Hold, and Random, as discussed above. Variation 2 is a dual LFO, created using a second separate LFO. The second LFO is a sine wave, 5 octaves lower. The waveform options are the same as Variation 1, with the LFO rate modulated by the second LFO.

Mastering the Mode

This mode produces some interesting, atypical results. It’s also great for effects or radical patches that push the limits like sonic exploration. Variation 3 is a pulse waveform with resonance. It is like a modular style LFO. This LFO is a sine wave, with its depth modulated by a separate sawtooth. The result is a pulse of modulation, where the waveform selector determines the frequency of resonance.

The SYSTEM-8’s LFO works for up to 5 different destinations simultaneously, in varying amounts. This makes it a powerful modulation source and will bring life to your synth patch.

PRO TIP:

2 LFO features give you control over the timing of the LFO modulation. [KEY TRIG] specifies whether you synchronize the LFO cycle to begin when the key is (ON) or not (OFF). [FADE TIME] specifies the time from when the modulation starts until the LFO reaches its greatest amplitude. Both of these features are very useful for modulating long, sustained/held notes and chords.

TIP #8: ADD EXPRESSION TO YOUR NOTES WITH PITCH MODULATION

The AIRA SYSTEM-8 offers numerous features to provide pitch movement to your notes. Envelopes, pitch wheel, and portamento are just a few functions and techniques for you to master to add style to your sound.

Pitch It

1. PORTAMENTO: Use Portamento to create a smooth change in pitch, between one key and the next key played. The [PORTAMENTO] knob adjusts the time required for the pitch change. Legato provides further control over “pitch glide”. The [LEGATO] button applies portamento only when you play legato (i.e., when you press the next key before releasing the previous key). Using a combination of the two provides expressive pitch control to your playing.

2. PITCH ENVELOPE: Another method to alter the pitch while playing is by using the PITCH ENVELOPE. Pressing any key/s triggers the Attack-Decay envelope. When turning the [ENV] knob toward the right, the pitch becomes higher and then returns to the pitch of the pressed key. When turned to the left, the pitch drops, then returns to the initial pitch. The ATTACK and DECAY sliders shape the depth of modulation.

Do the Bend

3. PITCH BEND: The BENDER provides control over pitch expression for your left hand while playing. The BENDER springs back to its center position with no pitch modulation. When turned to the right, it increases the pitch, and when turned to the left, decreases pitch. Set the BEND range in the Menu and tailor the bender to suit your playing style.

4. OCTAVE SHIFT BUTTONS: The OCTAVE [DOWN] [UP] button shifts the range of the keyboard in steps of one octave. The button is lit for the 1-octave setting; the button is blinking for the 2-octave setting and blinks faster for the 3-octave setting. If you press the [DOWN] [UP] buttons simultaneously, the keyboard will return to its normal pitch range.

TIP #9: USE CHORDS & ARPEGGIOS TO EXPAND YOUR PERFORMANCE

The AIRA SYSTEM-8 features an Arpeggiator section, a tool that allows you to play the notes of a chord one at a time. Arpeggios are a popular performance technique in all styles of music. You will find them in both vintage and modern synthesizers.

Chord Sequence

4 modes dictate the order of the chord sequence; Up, Down, Up & Down, and Random, as well as the choice of one to four octaves. The [ARP STEP] knob specifies the note value length. Choose between Quarter note, Eighth note, Sixteenth note, Quarter-note triplet, Eighth-note triplet, and Sixteenth-note triplet. Each division will have a different impact on the sound and effect of your arpeggio. Experiment with all types to find the right one for your sound. To access the arpeggiator, press the [ARPEGGIO] button.

Breaking it Down
 

1. THE KEY HOLD: Use the [KEY HOLD] button to hold the chord you have played and the arpeggio will continue. This is a handy feature for live performance, leaving your hands free to shape and control other parameters of sound. As you play a different chord, the [KEY HOLD] will capture that chord and the arpeggio will also change.

Chord memory is also offered on the SYSTEM-8, which is a useful tool for studio compositions and live performance. Use the [CHORD MEMORY] button to store chords of up to 8 notes. Layer notes one by one for a slow but powerful build-up, or use the on/off function to recall powerful chords mid-performance. Activate chord memory by pressing the [CHORD MEMORY] button. When the button is lit, you recall the chord. Hold the [CHORD MEMORY] button to enter notes, and save one chord memory for each patch.

PRO TIP:

Set the TAP TEMPO by holding the [SHIFT] button and the [MENU] button to access the TEMPO screen. Then, hold [SHIFT] and tap the [ENTER] button to set the BPM. Use this to ensure your arpeggios are in time when playing with a live drummer or to a MIDI-less device.

TIP #10: BRING YOUR SOUNDS TO LIFE WITH THE POWERFUL STEP SEQUENCER

The AIRA SYSTEM-8 offers an impressive polyphonic step sequencer that’s intuitive and easy to use. However, under its simple exterior lies a complex and powerful sequencer. It elevates the SYSTEM-8 to extraordinary levels of versatility.

The sequencer features 16 physical steps but offers up to 64 steps of polyphonic sequencing. The display screen indicates which bank of steps you are operating (1-64). These steps light up green when active, and show blue where the playhead is on the sequence.

1. CREATING SEQUENCES: Enter Sequences can manually or recorded as a live performance. In [STEP REC], entering sequences manually is easy with large, brightly lit step buttons. To enter note information, simply press the [STEP REC] button, and play a note on the keyboard. The sequencer will automatically advance to the next step. You can also capture a live performance in [REAL TIME REC] mode, which allows you to bring your sequences to life, and is a great way to record ideas on the fly. You can start recording by holding [SHIFT] and pressing [REAL TIME REC].

Live Sequencing 

Sequencing live is particularly easy with dedicated buttons for real-time record, step record, rests, ties, and various other editing functions. Access further editing parameters, like Copy-and-Paste and note length via the STEP SEQ MENU. TRANSPOSE allows you to easily pitch shift the entire sequence, and you can use the ERASE function to easily edit your sequences, deleting knob movements, notes, or both.

2. ONBOARD CONTROLS: Onboard controls for First and Last steps allow you to manually set each point from which the sequence should start and end. To set the first step, hold down the [FIRST STEP] button, press the step button (1-16) on the sequencer. You can use this operation to make it play from any desired step. The last step is usually specified by the STEP LENGTH setting. You can use the [LAST STEP] setting to make the step sequencer use a different step as the final step. Changing the First or Last step while maintaining region length allows you to shift your sequence, creating dynamic and inspiring new results.

Automation 

Parameter automation is also possible with the SYSTEM-8’s onboard sequencer, and it’s the perfect way to add depth and dynamics to your sequence. Enter Automation either by recording in real-time or by entering parameter locks per step of the sequencer. Entering parameter automation manually allows you to create calculated modulations per step and is a great way to create detailed sequences. To enter the parameter information manually, hold down the [STEP] button. Then turn the knob to the corresponding parameter.

3. USB & MIDI: The SYSTEM-8’s sequencer works with both USB and standard MIDI connections, allowing you to send sequences from your DAW. Furthermore, the CV and Gate outputs on the rear make it possible to sequence Eurorack or CV-dependent synthesizers from the SYSTEM-8. Use one sequencer layer to send CV/Gate information to an external synthesizer, whilst using the second sequencer layer for the SYSTEM-8’s internal sounds.

Breaking it Down

The sequencer responds well to the incoming clock, allowing your external gear to drive the onboard sequencer. Use the MIDI or USB input and set the MIDI IN via the SYSTEM MENU. Alternatively, use the TRIGGER IN jack on the rear panel to advance through steps of the step sequencer, by sending a trigger from an external device, like a rhythm machine. When you connect a plug to the TRIGGER IN jack, the sequencer is no longer connected to the internal clock. It will await an incoming trigger signal. You can also set the tempo of the sequencer and arpeggiator via the [TEMPO] knob.

SPLIT and DUAL Modes allow you to access different sequences for each split or layer, making for an amazingly dynamic and powerful machine. This is great for easily harmonizing two separate sound patches, and allows for more complex sound design and composition. When the sequencer is not used, the 16 dedicated step buttons become a means for Patch Recall.

TIP #11: GET VOCAL WITH THE VOCODER

The Vocoder is a special addition that takes the SYSTEM-8 to a new level, opening a new world of possibilities for vocalists or even those of us who just like to experiment with the human voice.

Vocoder Variety

Found on the rear of the AIRA SYSTEM-8, the Vocoder’s audio input works as the modulator and the synth as the carrier, when in Vocoder Mode. The Vocoder microphone input is monophonic, using the left channel. Set the input gain with the [INPUT] knob on the front panel, and the incoming signal with the PEAK light. Alternately, skip the Vocoder, switch the input from mic level to line level, and utilize left and right inputs. This works for external instruments, drum machines, and other synths. The result is, you can send external audio through the SYSTEM-8’s onboard reverb, delay, and chorus effects.

Additional control of the Vocoder comes in the form of a fine-tuning formant parameter and a high pass tool used to shape consonant behavior. Access both via the PATCH EFFECTS MENU.

PRO TIP:

With its TRS line-level input option, you can also use the System-8 as an audio interface and mixer! This is particularly useful if you have another drum machine or synth that you would like to use alongside your SYSTEM-8. You can do so without the hassle of buying or transporting a secondary mixer.

TIP #12: STEP BACK INTO ROLAND’S HISTORY AND PLUG-OUT AN ICONIC SYNTHESIZER

The SYSTEM-8 improves on the PLUG-OUT capability of the SYSTEM-1 and can host up to 3 models. Performance modes allow you to split or layer 2 sounds at once, allowing you to maximize your PLUG-OUTS. Now you can hear what a JUPITER-8 would sound like when layered with a JUNO-106, all on the same synth!

Through new PLUG-OUT technology, the AIRA SYSTEM-8 can control and host software reproductions of legendary Roland synthesizers. To access the PLUG-OUT mode, press one of the three [PLUG-OUT] buttons on the SYSTEM-8’s front panel. All controls that do not relate to that particular PLUG-OUT will “black out,” making it easier to shape your PLUG-OUT sounds.

The Now Sound

1. A CONTEMPORARY RECREATION: The JUPITER-8 PLUG-OUT is a contemporary recreation of the iconic JUPITER-8 Synthesizer. ACB (Analog Circuit Behaviour) technology reproduces the sound and behavior of the original. True to the original, the JUPITER-8 offers all the modes – Poly 1, Poly 2, Mono, and Unison. Performance mode also makes it possible to stack and split the keyboard, as on the JUPITER-8.

Freedom to Fly

The PLUG-OUT software gives you the freedom of hardware gear, alongside the reliability and the flexibility of software. You now get the sound of the JUPITER-8, with more control and features like reverb, chorus, delay, and other effects not present in the original. You can use these effects to take the JUPITER-8 sound into incredible new places. Access the JUPITER-8/SYSTEM-8 Parameter Correspondence Table here.

The JUNO-106 PLUG-OUT is a modern reproduction of the legendary 1984 analog polysynth. This software synthesizer integrates into the SYSTEM-8 hardware. The software, connecting cables between the patch points enables you to alter the signal path and modulate various parameters. The new Pin Routing Matrix provides a visual representation of the connections, making it quicker to patch away. Access the JUNO-106/SYSTEM-8 Parameter Correspondence Table here.

Discover the other PLUG-OUTS like the SH-101 Software Synthesizer here.

TIP #13: SAVE, EDIT AND RECALL KILLER SYNTH PATCHES

The [MANUAL] button provides a start point from which you can create new patches. If you are the type to avoid presets, this is where you should begin! It can be particularly handy for live performances if you want to create a new patch on the fly.

Total Recall

You can then save your custom sound to a new user bank, by holding down the corresponding memory button (1-8). The AIRA SYSTEM-8 has 8 banks, with 8 presets in each bank, allowing you to store up to 64 patches! To access these banks, hold the [SYSTEM-8] button, and then select a User Bank from 1-8. Your selected bank will flash. Once you release the [SYSTEM-8] button you can use memory buttons 1-8 to select a preset.

Breaking it Down

1. EXPERIMENT WITH THE SOUND COMBINATIONS: The saved PLUG-OUT synths also have 8 banks of 8 presets, giving you a total of 256 monophonic and polyphonic sounds available at the press of a button. Save up to 3 PLUG-OUTs on the SYSTEM-8 at a time. Make sure to experiment with all the different potential combinations.

You can back up synth-related data or export it to an SD card to restore it later. From the UTILITY MENU, access options for Backing Up Data, Restoring Data, Exporting Sound Data, and Importing Sound Data.

Exporting allows you to export Patches and Performances, which you can import later. When restoring, all data and settings are rewritten, so take care before you use this feature. This makes the AIRA SYSTEM-8 a great option for touring and live performance, where reliability and ease are key. Insert your SD card into a new SYSTEM-8 to load up all your sounds and sequences.

 

TIP #14: MIDI and CV ARE THE KEYS TO MASTERING YOUR SYNTH RIG

MIDI Mania

Using your AIRA SYSTEM-8 to control other pieces of your synth setup or DAW is possible through MIDI. You can also control all values on the SYSTEM-8 from an external source via MIDI. Use the various SYSTEM MENU settings to configure the MIDI setup that best suits your needs! USB connectivity allows you to use the SYSTEM-8 as a 24bit/96kHz Audio Interface, recording the output of the SYSTEM-8 into your DAW. You are also able to send MIDI information from your DAW to the SYSTEM-8 via the USB connection.

You can synchronize the AIRA SYSTEM-8 to the MIDI Clock of another external device through the MIDI IN at the rear. Or, you can use the SYSTEM-8 as the Master Clock, from which you can sync external gear. MIDI settings for transmit/receive channel, Modes, Patch, Performance, and more are all accessed in the MIDI MENU.

Gate Crashing

1. CV/GATE OUTPUTS: CV/GATE Outputs further elevate the versatility of the SYSTEM-8. You can now use the SYSTEM-8’s keyboard or sequencer to send Pitch and Gate information to external sequencers, like a Eurorack modular. These connections are particularly useful for machines that rely on CV. This also means that the SYSTEM-8 can operate as a MIDI-CV converter, and is a great way to send MIDI information from your computer to synths that utilize CV. CV/GATE behavior is set via the SYSTEM MENU and includes settings for Keyboard, Sequencer, Scaling, Fine Tune, Bend Range, Portamento, and MIDI behavior.

The power of MIDI lets this synth come to life! To get the most out of the SYSTEM-8, spend some time working out these different configurations. Learn how to apply them to your studio or live performance.

TIP #15: CUSTOMIZE YOUR KEYBOARD WITH MODES

The AIRA SYSTEM-8 operates around 2 different modes – PATCH MODE and PERFORMANCE MODE. These modes have dedicated buttons on the front panel, so you can easily move between them. PATCH MODE is the SYSTEM-8’s basic mode, allowing you to play one patch at a time. In this mode, the synth operates with a maximum of eight notes of polyphony. Save Sequencer, Arpeggio, and Chord Memory data within each patch.

Performance Time

PERFORMANCE MODE allows you to assign a patch to each of 2 parts – upper and lower. Pressing the [UPPER] or [LOWER] button selects the part affected by the panel controls. PERFORMANCE MODE offers SINGLE and DUAL settings, which dictate how the keyboard will operate. In SINGLE mode you perform using either the upper part of the lower part. The part you play has a maximum polyphony of eight notes.

Breaking it Down

DUAL mode, allows you perform using both the upper and lower parts. In this mode, each part has a maximum polyphony of 4 notes. Parts can be layered or split, which provides endless possibilities for sound design, especially with the extended Plug-Out engine.

In PERFORMANCE MODE, apply different Arpeggio and Sequencer settings to both upper and lower parts. Access these settings via the PERFORM EDIT MENU. This is where the SYSTEM-8 can get interesting. Layer vintage analog-style sounds of the PLUG-OUTS together with the futuristic sonics of the SYSTEM-8.

1. POLY, MONO, AND UNISON MODES: There are Poly, Mono, and Unison modes for voice assignment, accessible via the [MONO] button. When the button is lit Mono mode will sound notes monophonically. Unison mode plays all sounds together and is active when the [MONO] button is flashing. Poly is an unlit button. Understanding how these various modes work together is imperative to mastering the SYSTEM-8.

The CONDITION setting is another way to experiment with and customize each synth patch on the SYSTEM-8. Access it via the MAIN MENU and save it as a patch parameter. The CONDITION setting controls the way the SYSTEM-8 replicates the character sound of an aging synthesizer as it degrades of time. You can determine the intensity of the effect, and apply it per patch.

The AIRA SYSTEM-8 offers a detailed level of customization, inherent in the various modes but also found in its MENU settings. In short, utilize these parameters and modes to customize your SYSTEM-8 to best fit your sound and need.

 

PRO TIP:

Further customization comes in the form of velocity control, accessed via the SYSTEM MENU. Change the feel of the keyboard with Key Velocity Curve and Velocity Offset.

Hannah Lockwood

Hannah Lockwood is an audio engineer/electronic music producer from Sydney. Her live sets are a collision of noise and harmony centered on modular synthesis. Hannah co-founded the Deep Seeded collective, showcasing the local live electronic artists and DJs actively breaking the boundaries of contemporary music.