Roland Gaia SH-01 ($699)
The Roland Gaia SH-01 is an enhanced re-creation of Roland''s well-regarded ''80s synth, the SH-101. It''s like having three SH-101s (here called Tones) with a lot of interplay, and it''s easily programmable by ear—there is no display of any kind. To put that in perspective, EM''s reviewer raved, “This is how programming a synth should be!” For example, you can assign the front panel to control one or several Tones, which greatly simplifies tweaking a sound to your liking. The Tones follow the subtractive-synth model with some added bells and whistles, such as multiple filter modes, seven waveforms with variations, and oscillator sync or ring modulation between Tones 1 and 2. Four effects slots with different complements of effects round out the signal path.
The Gaia is no slouch in the control area either. You''ll find a joystick for pitch-bend and mod-wheel functions, transpose buttons, a Key-Hold button (think infinite sustain), and a D-Beam controller, which you assign by simply pressing a button and then twisting the desired target knob or slider. An arpeggiator with 64 preset patterns and a phrase recorder that captures both notes and knob tweaks further enhance Gaia''s playability. A USB port lets Gaia exchange MIDI and audio with your computer and even function as a basic audio interface. But at the end of the day, it''s the sound and Gaia delivers big time.