The a few years during which Roland was no longer a major stop at NAMM for me. After a burst or more esoteric instruments, it felt like they veered strongly to the most conventional and commercial. But like with other companies, they have taken a turn towards synthesizers, analog and otherwise, that are worth time and consideration.
The Series 500 modules are new designs that recall classic Roland modular synthesizers in Eurorack format. Combined with the new A-01 controller, it becomes a standalone system.
Note that this is not a replica of vintage Roland modulars (e.g., 100m or 700), but a new instrument for its own sound. The oscillators and filters do sound good, a bit darker and coarser, though not quite at the grit level of the Korg MS-20. In addition to these classic-inspired modules (the panels look the part), Roland has a few other modules in the AIRA modular series called “Effectors.”
In addition to the more colorful and modernist design, these modules serve different functions from the Series 500. These are really standalone effects boxes in Eurorack format, with high-sample-rate digital signal and control paths, as well as programmability via a computer or tablet to reconfigure their signal paths. The Bitrazer and Scooper were the most interesting out of the box. For both sets of modules, the real power would be incorporate them into larger heterogenous modular systems rather than as standalone units.
The Boutique series rounds out Roland’s offering based on their vintage instruments. There are three small units that model the classic Jupiter 8, Juno 106 and JX-3P synthesizers, respectively. And when combined with the optional keyboard, they are absolutely adorable.
The cuteness factor alone attracts me – I had seen a few of these before NAMM and that was what stood out to me. You just want to adopt one and take it home. Musically, the JP-08 would probably be the most interesting to me. But if one is a fan of the Juno 106 or JX-3P, the others are worth considering. They are also metal and look like they could withstand sitting next to a modular on stage. Did I mention that they are cute?