Roland today has announced a desktop monosynth that’s all-analog at US$/EUR 499. It’s got a bunch of nicely balanced sound features, plus a sequencer. And it represents a new collaboration for Roland, working with an actual boutique synth maker – Studio Electronics.

Roland has already called a cute set of synths “boutique,” but … it was unclear they knew what that word meant. (Like, small?) But Studio Electronics qualifies as genuinely boutique. Sure enough, Roland is adding this to a new line called the Boutique Designer Series. (Note the additional word “designer.”)

And that means a new direction for the industry, possibly – a small maker doing the design, but a big maker providing the scale (and thus lower cost). I think this could also lead to a bizarro universe where, now that big brands are doing analog at lower cost, boutique manufacturers may wind up embracing digital technology to continue to do things at smaller scale. That contrasts with the landscape from just a few years ago, when it was small makers embracing the analog tech bigger manufacturers had more or less abandoned. (Stay tuned and see if I’m right, or feel free to argue.)

Back to the SE-02, though, it looks great. Oh, yeah, and remember how a certain German manufacturer was going on forums crowing about how it was the only one providing low-cost synths to starving musicians? Uh… about that.

Let’s have a look:

Three oscillators, temperature stabilized / automatic tuning
Six waveforms
Three types of cross modulation
24 dB low-pass filter
Filter feedback loop
Tempo-syncing LFO with nine waveforms, envelope sweeping and inverting
Oscillator sync
Noise generator
Tempo-synced delay
Nearly one-to-one correspondence of controls to function

So, you get a lot of additional synthesis and sound design functions – which to me is more interesting than another Moog clone, even if this may have a three oscillator architecture and front panel layout obviously more than a little inspired by the Minimoog.

That’d really be enough, but in deference to today’s appetites, there’s also a step sequencer with per-step gate, per-step automation of any parameter on the front panel, and adjustable glide, plus sync via trigger, USB, or MIDI DIN. Also, while presets themselves may or may not be interesting to you (there are 384 of them if you do care), what’s really nice is the ability to store presets with the sequences – making this really appealing for live. (There’s ample user memory – 128 (Patch), 128 (Pattern), 16 (Song).)

Per-step control of every parameter is reason enough to have a look at this instrument.

You can also connect to modular rigs with trigger I/O and CV ins.

USB does both audio and MIDI.

Did I mention this is only five hundred bucks?roland_se-02_straight

That puts the Roland head to head with Novation’s Circuit Mono Station, which has its own unique voice architecture and sound capabilities, and the advantage of an 8×4 grid controller (in place of the more conventional step sequencer here). They’re each totally new, totally unique in character, and take a very different approach from one another. I think that adds up to a real win for new designs.

We should have access to the new Roland by next week here in Berlin, so stay tuned for a hands-on.

In the meantime, Roland have done us the favor of posting a sound-only demo. And I love it – it sounds a bit raw and alive and very Studio Electronics. Still, it’s tough to judge by these videos alone; our hands-on will hopefully help. (Just don’t expect me to play live … there’s a step sequencer for a reason, I say. Sorry to my various piano teachers. 😉 )

Full details:

  • Pop

    Very nice! The knobs look minuscule however. But perhaps forgivable given the decent sound, spec and price, right?

    • Yeah, I guess they’re similar to the other Boutique line? I love small … maybe I’m secretly Japanese (since that market does favor tiny products). But I have really small fingers… I’ll make sure when we do our hands on we get some alternate, larger hands, too!

    • Polite Society

      They are small, but the other boutique synths with mini knobs had a pretty good feel to them. Plus how nice is it to be able to fit this kind of power in such a compact space?

      • Pop

        The size of the Boutiques seems to work better for some models than others. For example, the TB-03. Thats more or less the same size as the original, so it works perfectly fine. The JP08 on the other hand, with its faders that have 11mm of travel, not so much!
        I think this SE-02 might just about get away with it though. I hope so because im mighty tempted to grab one : )

  • Tony Scharf

    Wake me when Roland makes anything remotely innovative ever again.

    • Pop

      Do they have to be innovative? Gibson just released 2 new guitars. They are still planks of wood with 6 bits of string on though..

  • Such a beautiful little beast…

  • Nagasaki Nightrider

    This definitely takes the prize for Most Awkward Spot for a Display. Smack in the middle of the row of step sequencer buttons? Now, cue the claims that a 2×8 grouping is somehow preferable.

    Also, “totally new, totally unique in character”? Totally pointless hyperbole, as usual. I don’t doubt that the synth will sound OK, but what is totally unique about the voice architecture? Just add it to the pile of tabletop monosynths that have come before it.

    • D

      The centered 7 segment display is very much a Roland staple across their vintage synths and pianos and so it works for me.

      • Nagasaki Nightrider

        Is there another example of them breaking up the 16 step sequencer with it, though? It’s an odd choice.

  • Christian Naumann

    This is fantastic news. Hopefully it’s not a hybrid (DCO’s, Digitally-generated Envelopes, etc) as I imagine they’re making this for purists.

  • LexTron6K

    With all of those hot licks this demo made me feel like I just walked into a Guitar Center.

  • Presteign

    The price point is indeed a breakthrough for bona fide boutique hardware (a Studio Electronics synth for $500?), but I wonder if that price point is already too crowded for something so niche.

    $500 will already get you a four-voice synth from Korg, and $100 more will soon get you a six-voice Behringer, to say nothing of the much more powerful and playable sequencer built into Novation’s $500 mono offering.

  • Lauren Buchholz

    I really would love Roland to make nice 61 key controller that you could dock any (maybe 2, 3, 4 even!) of these small boutique units in. It would be cool to have a single unit you could have a TR-09, one of these and then maybe a JU-06 or JP-08 in… I personally would buy one of those in a second…

    • dan

      Ooohh… that’s a great idea!

    • hungedu

      I had exactly the same idea. Perhaps add an LED button beneath each dock space to quickly turn the control on or off for each docked synth, and perhaps another button to activate each in a split keyboard mode.

  • Matt Jackson

    Envelopes sound way too clicky for my taste but there some nice sounds if not a bit distorted. The sync sounds good. XMOD sound interesting. What are the 3 modes? But I think it sounds even more unpolished than the Bass Station. Just my take from the two videos.

    • Polite Society

      yeah, sounds like they aren’t resetting at a zero crossing, which makes for snappier envelopes, but you get a pop every time the oscillator has to jump to a new position on key press. You can probably hide it with the tiniest of attack envelope if it bothers you.

  • I’ve got to say, I love the look of this thing. It’s the ins and outs that sold it for me. Now I really don’t need yet another synth in a similar vein to what I have, but to have analog this stable, this connectable and sounding this good at a size I can sling in my bag makes me re-evaluate why I drag my modular skiff to gigs with me.

  • heinrich zwahlen

    It looks and sounds cool but i just can’t deal with tiny little knobs..

  • Dopamine Addict

    Even though I liked the sound quality of the Aira instruments (didn’t like the ID), I feel like Roland had been out of sync with what the market wanted to see and hear. This seems like a pivotal product for Roland. I hope we see Roland reclaim their legacy reputation as an innovator. I am thrilled to see collaborations like this one, but would like to see them surprise us with something that becomes the sound of a generation.

    I look forward to trying out the SE02.

  • DPrty

    Most of the people I talk to are looking for 6 voice’s or more.

  • The synth itself is interesting, but the collaboration might indeed be a bigger story.

    There’s a whole lot to be said about the history of all of those big manufacturers, how they interact with one another and with independent ones. The arc is also about hardware/software. Been trying to discuss this on the Audiobus forum, which did help me figure out a few things (including some Mergers & Acquisitions).

    The analog craze is interesting. If major manufacturers get back into it in a big way, at a lower cost, it could change a lot of things. A few years ago, the stereotypical “hipster” was said to abandon anything becoming mainstream. In that context, you’d imagine some people dropping analog if anyone can do it with an inexpensive and widely-distributed machine from a mainstream manufacturer. But there’s something beyond the stereotype: we’re searching for our own ways to do things.

    If Bastl suddenly becomes focused on digital synths, you’ll know something is up.

  • this does look very compelling for packing that much into such a small package, not sure if it’d suit the form factor but SE does make an 8 voice analog poly, just sayin…cough…jupit..cough…

  • Rami Haimov

    does it have velocity that is – articulation?