Roland is a well-known and respected brand in the world of synthesizers, but its synth lineup has been criticized for not offering much in the midrange. Its only two pure synthesizers in the $500 to $800 price range are the 13-year-old Gaia SH-01 and the eight-year-old JD-Xi, the latter of which is often referred to as “objectively hideous.” However, the company has started to make steps in the right direction by introducing the SH-4d, a synth-focused desktop groovebox with a rich sound engine and a more than reasonable price of $650. But in an increasingly crowded field, has Roland done enough to carve out a unique niche for itself?
The heart of the SH-4d is built around Roland’s engine, which offers 11 different oscillators that range from emulations of classic Roland machines to metallic FM tones, PCM samples, and 31 different wavetables. One of the standout features of the SH-4d is the number of hands-on controls available, allowing users to do serious sound design without having to dig too deep into a complicated menu system. The SH-4d also features a larger, higher-res screen than some of Roland’s other devices, making navigation much more accessible.
The SH-4d has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to its effects. The delay and chorus are excellent, and there are a whole suite of other effects available, ranging from an incredible bit crusher to lo-fi vinyl warbles to the DJ looper from the SP-404. However, the reverbs are a bit lackluster, and there is a lot of noise in the Juno chorus emulation, which makes it effectively unusable until the user goes into the menu and turns the noise down or off.
Despite its flaws, the SH-4d sounds incredible overall, with the presets doing an excellent job of showing off the unique characteristics of each model. The oscillators themselves are carefully polished, and the drawing oscillator allows users to create completely custom waveforms with ease.
The SH-4d is more of a groovebox than a true synthesizer, featuring four polyphonic synth tracks and one rhythm track that users can use to create loops up to 64 steps long. While the sequencer is reasonably feature-packed and mostly easy to use, some users may find the lack of pattern chaining or a song mode limiting.
One of the standout features of the SH-4d is its rhythm section, which is surprisingly rich and powerful. The rhythm section has its own sound design tools, which allows for a unique experience that goes beyond just using samples from the 808 and 909.
However, there are some features on the SH-4d that are a bit gimmicky, such as D-Motion, where users can assign parameters to an X and Y axis and tilt the instrument to change them. While it may sound interesting on paper, it can be gimmicky and unnatural in practice. The visual arpeggiator is in a similar boat, with a few modes that allow for control of playback by bouncing notes or playing pong.
Overall, the SH-4d is a big step in the right direction for Roland, but it remains to be seen whether it can truly carve out a unique niche for itself in an increasingly crowded field of synthesizers and grooveboxes. Regardless, the SH-4d offers a rich sound engine, accessible hands-on controls, and a reasonable price point, making it a great choice for those looking to dive into the world of synthesizers.