Last year, Roland announced the availability of the SH-01A, the boutique version of one of the most legendary synths ever, the SH-101. The company took everything that people loved about the original, shrank it down, and pumped it full of new features. In this review, we’ll be taking a look at those new features, as well as what makes this little synth a great addition to your setup.
What is it?
The SH-01A is a digital recreation of the original analog SH-101, in Roland’s Boutique package. Like the original, it’s a dual VCO, with a saw and square wave. Where it separates from the original is the newly added chord, poly, and unison modes, as well as the improved step sequencer. It also comes with the standard Boutique ribbon controllers. Also standard is the option for the unit to either run on AA batteries or micro USB and even be used as a sound card. There is no keyboard, although you can use the Roland Boutique one, or any other keyboard via MIDI.
How Does it Work?
Using Roland's ACB technology, which is short for Analog Circuit Behavior, the SH-01A faithfully recreates what made the original SH-101 so famous, with its monophonic sound and simple, easily programmable interface. But, the new features allow for you to really push the unit further than was ever possible before. With the improved built-in step sequencer, you can now quickly save and access up to 64 patterns, making live performances much more fluid. Alongside being able to save your sequences, you are now able to save presets as well. The SH-01A now also has 4 voices, to create massive leads and pads, which can be selected via the push of a button.
What do I think?
When I first saw the announcement for the SH-01A, I was thrilled. And then I saw it wasn't analog, which still honestly confuses me, which bummed me out. The new additions were great, but that analog beef, or potential lack-there-of, really threw me off. And then I got one to play with. After figuring out how to make it sound like I wanted it to, I realized that maybe it not being analog wasn't the end of the world. The more time I spent with it, the less I even realized it wasn't. It's sharp and fat at the same time. Unison mode makes it even bigger. I love the insanely ravey sound you can get from it using pulse width modulation and the square wave. The built-in sequencer is great, although I prefer to create mine via Ableton. I also love that, even when using it in mono, the vast variety of sounds you can create from such a simple little synth is amazing.
Overall, I think that Roland really nailed it with this one. It faithfully recreates the sound of the original synth, and the new features feel organic, not like some cheap add-on. I also really enjoy that they released all the colors it came in. The SH-01A is a powerful little synth when used in mono, and that power is amplified when using it in both poly and unison modes. Overall, the SH-01A is absolutely worth taking a look at if you are interested in either getting your hands on a hardware synth, but want something easy to learn, or if you are looking to add one of the legendary sound of the SH-101 to your modern setup
Pros: Compact and powerful sound, new features are great, variety of colors
Cons: Not analog, batteries can be an issue
Final Score: 9/10