You would think synth keyboards would have stayed the same since the Eighties. Turns out, they keep improving. The Roland System-8 is an improved board with a vast array of easily-operated and discoverable dials, presenting every feature a musician could ask for, without having to dig through a cluttered menu.

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The System-8’s main feature is “Plug-Out,” which allows the case to sample analog sounds from other synths, hooking up to as much as three additional instruments. A notable improvement is the easiness of the sequencer, notoriously difficult on other devices. Just tap and record.


What makes the System-8 stand out is its accessibility. While the rows of dials may initially seem daunting or confusing, the case is carefully organized and divided. The arpeggiators fall far left, the oscillators, LFO and associated controls stay in the middle, and you can find the sequencers and filters on the right. Simple and straightforward, the numerous dials also make it easier on musicians who prefer physical buttons over touch screens. Want to easily split keyboard sounds down the device? Just tap the “Performance” button.

In a recent review from Engadget, the biggest complaint was the plastic housing, which for gigging musicians, reviewer Roberto Baldwin argues, can quickly lead to unwanted damage. Still, he asserts that the system works if you are careful, and is nonetheless perfect for in-house jam sessions. Other features that might displease users is the glowing green interface, although Baldwin assures that the lights are not so bright that you are blinded while on stage. If you are used to the Roland Aira TR8, this shouldn’t be a problem.

This is a synth that truly stands out for its ease and features, but its plastic case means you have to be a little delicate while rocking out to your latest synth masterpiece.