Analog is back. Boutique synth makers have entered Eurorack, one by one (Dave Smith, Tom Oberheim). KORG has remade analog hits of yore, and now produces hardware like the SQ-1 sequencer that interfaces with analog gear. Arturia, once known only as a plug-in vendor, has analog Control Voltage ins and outs on its new hardware gear.
Now, Roland seems next to climb on board the analog renaissance. The question is, just how far are they going to go? The answer should be coming in April at Musikmesse, and the first hint has just leaked out.
Updated, April 8: we’ve received a request from Roland’s development team to remove the original image that accompanied this story. It’s a bit peculiar, in that the image – taken apparently at Winter Music Conference – is nowhere near as clear as the new teaser image posted officially today. But, well, here’s the clearer image.
Just a few years ago, such a possibility would have seemed ludicrous – maybe even in the pre-AIRA world. Roland’s idea of legacy had to do with vague product name references and a full embrace of digital modeling as an improvement on the original – mostly in the interest of creating traditional instrument sounds. But then, AIRA happened, and it became clear that Roland was willing to create independent, new products. That led to the SBX-1 sync box, first seen by us at last year’s Musikmesse. At the time, I thought it indicated a new direction for the country. But I didn’t necessarily expect this.
I was hearing rumors on the street even last March when the SBX-1 appeared that the company was pondering an entry into modular – maybe even the increasingly-popular Eurorack format. They were certainly interested in the modular scene; Roland executives were seen buzzing around the ALEX4 booth and playing with this gear. (ALEX4 is run by Andreas Schneider of Schneidersladen; I shared that booth with MeeBlip and, full disclosure, ALEX4 is our European distributor.)
Now, there’s this: a picture clearly showing Eurorack modulars, Japanese-manufactured Reon modules, and… something with distinctive AIRA-shaded green knobs. That would seem to be material evidence that rumors of Roland gear with CV had come true.
Sequencer.de gets the scoop, and Moogulator already places his bets on what this is:
ROLAND AIRA – ANALOG SYNTH COMING UP – REON IN A ROLAND CASE? [Sequencer.de]
And that I imagine has many of you saying… wait, who’s Reon? You can be forgiven for not knowing this Japanese manufacturer of analog gear like the Drift Box; they’re known more in Japan than outside the country. (See, for instance, this product page in Japanese, which is always entertaining when Google Translated.)
I’m not convinced this is just a REON repackage, though that’s possible. However, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for Roland, as a Japanese company, to collaborate with someone in Japan. (See, for instance, the KORG collaboration with Xseed on its Nintendo DS outings.) It may simply be that they pictured the REON as a friendly bit of gear they could plug some cables into.
Here’s a look at the Reon Driftbox in English, from Perfect Circuit Audio. It’s a nice box, for sure, and might be a hint at what to expect:
My guess is… actually, I really don’t know. For a company like Roland, making an enclosure is no great effort. So it seems to me that this might be desktop unit with CV connectivity than a Eurorack per se. (Eurorack is, after all, just a format for standardizing on rack mounts and connections – it’s not the only way to go analog or even to go modular.) But I do think it’s very possible that this is analog hardware, and not just a digital modeling unit with some CV ins and outs. In fact, I’m fairly certain it’s not related to the JD Xi / Xa synths, which seem to have a sound architecture outside the AIRA line. If anything, it’d be more likely to use a SYSTEM-1 digital engine and add CV ins and outs.
Also, our sources tell us this picture only scratches the surface of what we’re about to find out.
But given that the AIRA lineup cashed in on the growing interest in dance music, and given it already includes a CV-connected device, and given the success of KORG in the analog world, I think it’s absolutely possible that Roland is going analog with this – at least analog control from input to output, but possibly even a venture into analog sound circuitry.
Join CDM with our reporting from Musikmesse and we’ll find out together.