Hardware makers have tried different ways of fusing those tools with software for years. Now, we get to see just how Roland’s PLUG-OUT scheme will work, as the company shows off the SH-101 plug-in for the AIRA SYSTEM-1 keyboard synth that just began shipping.
The SH-101 PLUG-OUT ships on the 25th of July, available for free with purchase of a SYSTEM-1.
And, just as I’m enthusiastic about Elektron’s direction this year with Overbridge, I have to say PLUG-OUT looks really convenient. The name might be a gimmick, and I don’t know that everyone will want to swap models regularly, but the integration features look eminently logical.
A video released yesterday (just shy of making it into our SYSTEM-1 mega roundup) shows how it all works.
The selling points:
1. Software you can use without the hardware.
2. Hardware control of the software.
3. Software automation (recording and editing) from that control.
4. Preset storage and management in software.
5. The ability to swap models on the keyboard itself, effectively turning the same hardware into different instruments.
#5 is for now more of a wildcard, as we don’t know what the other PLUG-OUTs will be. For now, it means you can swap the original SYSTEM-1 synth model with the SH-101. But even if it turns out that you love the SH-101 and load that and leave it, #1-4 might already make you happy.
What you get on your computer is really a software duplicate of what you’ve got in hardware. The SH-101 plug-in portion of the PLUG-OUT scheme is a VST3 and AU on Mac, VST3 on Windows. The on-screen UI is configurable to layouts both based on the original SH-101 and what you see on the SYSTEM-1 hardware — and yes, you can change the color to blue and red limited editions.
Add as many instances as you want, and use the software plug-in with or without the SYSTEM-1 connected – the hardware isn’t a dongle, if that’s what you were wondering.
With the hardware connected, the SH-101 adds hands-on control. Everything is routed into the software, meaning you can record and edit automation. It’s nice to see, for instance, that the arpeggiator sends independent MIDI notes (an obvious feature, but sometimes omitted).
The software also acts as a kind of editor/librarian. You can retrieve and load presets. And you can load the software model onto the hardware itself – the actual PLUG-OUT functionality, which Roland says will take about a minute.
That is, assuming you don’t wind up buying the SYSTEM-1 primarily as a hardware model of the SH-101, which seems possible. From what little you can hear in this video – plus the word I’ve gotten from those who did try the SYSTEM-1 with the SH-101 model at Sweetwater Gearfest recently – it seems it sounds really very nice.
This isn’t the first time the SH-101 has been digitally modeled. See, for example, the excellent LuSH-101 plug-in from D16, as reviewed by Rekkerd, or the terrific TAL Bassline 101, reviewed on SonicState (with video); the latter costs only US$60. In fact, if you just want something you can use with your computer, I expect those plug-ins are a better buy. But, of course, the advantage here is you get an instrument you can use away from the computer, and hands-on control. And as standalone SH-101-emulating hardware, the SYSTEM-1 qualifies as news.
We’ll know more when we do our review.
Roland has posted an official page: