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Roland System 500 2018 Series

Click here to check out the new System 500 modules.

This week Roland has announced its next series in the popular System 500 Eurorack range. The first series was released in 2016 and offered Eurorack versions inspired by it’s highly coveted System-100m and System-700 modular synths from the 1970s. The release of these Eurorack modules gave producers and tinkerers the opportunity to to explore the classic and precise sound of these machines that most of us won’t get to see in person let alone use.

Whilst the original system was a complete stand alone voice, the addition of four more modules expands the sonic tool-kit offered in this series. It has some great offerings for people with existing systems as well as being a comprehensive option for people looking to enter the exciting world of Modular Synthesisers.

SYS-510 Synth

If you were looking to get started with Modular Synths, the SYS-510 would be a great first buy. In a single module, it offers an oscillator with triangle, sawtooth and pulse-width modulateable square waves. The latter of which is a signature of the classic Roland sound. It also has a dual input low-pass filter with a high-pass switch as well as a dual input VCA. The dual inputs are a common theme across Roland modules which gives users a lot versatility in a small system. This module is a great starting place for someone getting into the format as it contains 3 crucial building blocks in one module. It is also a great addition to an existing rack for someone who wants to incorporate that vintage Roland sound into their other modules.

SYS-555 Lag / S&H

Much like the 510, the 555 offers a large number of features packed into a small module. This single modules provides portamento / slew limiter, sample & hold, delayable LFO with multiple waveshapes, pink and white noise source and ring modulation. Whilst these functions may not get people’s hearts racing in the same way they do about oscillators, filters and sequencers, these tools can be the difference between a static patch doomed to repeat forever and an exciting sound full of movement, texture and dynamics. If you’re coming from a keyboard synth background, the sample & hold section may be a little bit of a surprise.

On keyboard synths, sample and hold is generally shown to be an LFO shape that gives stepped random outputs. Sample and holds work by taking an input signal and a clock source. Everytime the sample and hold receives a pulse from the clock source it takes whatever the signal is at the input (samples it) and maintains that signal until the next clock input (by holding it). If white noise is placed in the input (as is the case on most sample and hold waveforms on keyboard synths) it produces, effectively, a random output. However, if your input is something more controlled such as an LFO or an envelope, you can achieve much more controlled results. A manual sample and hold module allows you to put any signal in the input as well as any regular or irregular clock source to determine when the signal is held. This can provide controlled modulation and not just the jumble of randomness that was responsible for making the voice of R2D2. The 555 may not be one of the first modules that you purchase, but after you have a functional voice and are looking for a way to bring a bit more life to it, this single unit packs in in five modules worth of functionality into a compact space. You’ll likely find a use for it in every patch.

Sample and hold diagram. Photo credit: synthesizers.com
SYS-505 VCF

Roland’s first series of modules contained their gorgeous 521 Dual Low Pass VCF that was based on their System 100M synthesiser. The 505 is modeled on the classic SH-5 mono Synth. Besides the difference in character between the filters themselves, the 505 has some features that sets it apart. Unlike the previous series’ 521 which had 2 fixed high-pass filter settings, the 505 offers 1 Multi-mode Filter on the left side of the module and a band-pass filter on the right. Both of which are fully resonant. The multi-mode filter can be switched between low, band and high-pass settings. The two inputs can be directed to each filter individually or both simultaneously if you want some extra control over your sound. If you find yourself trying to decide between the 521 and the 505, the 505 is a little more flexible. However, they both have quite a different sound signature, so you can always take the age-old piece of advice given on Eurorack forums and get both.

SYS-531 MIX

Whilst it might seem that we’ve buried the mixer at the bottom of the blog, it might be our pick of the bunch. The Eurorack format has a surprising lack of affordable stereo mixers that have all the features that you’d be after. They either don’t have enough inputs, don’t have CV control over pan on all the inputs, don’t have mute switches, don’t have sliders or don’t have a headphone output. The 531 has all of the above. This 6 input mixer will allow you to blend a variety of signals all with their own dedicated pan knobs that are CV controllable. This allows you to use your stereo effects from another module, as well as creating space for the other elements of your patch. The CV control means you can modulate these signals via an LFO or an envelope to get some fantastic swirling effects. The mute switches allow you to instantly bring in different parts to your mix at the right levels and the level knobs gives you an instant visual indication of your mix. There is also a preamp section that will allow you to get Mic and Line signals up to the much hotter volumes needed for eurorack. Mixers are generally modules that people consider deeper into their journey with modular synthesis. Roland have timed the release of the 531 perfectly as the users who got on board with the first series likely have a larger rack now that is in need of a high performance low-noise mixer.

Check out our videos of the new System 500 units in action:

With modular systems growing in popularity, Roland’s 500 series offers highly functional units to get you up and running, featuring the famous Roland sound. Visit your local Store DJ to check out these modules and see how to integrate them into your setup.

More info here.

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