Roland Gaia 2 review: Roland finally delivers the hands-on synthesizer we’ve been begging for

The Motional Pad is great, terrible name aside. It seems a bit gimmicky at first – a large X/Y touchpad unlike the Korg Kaoss Pad, which is dedicated to modulation. But once you get past the initial weirdness (and the patches at Roland’s factory). difficult to his crafty side), it’s hard not to see the value. It is used to control the waveform and phase modulation of an oscillator, but you can also assign almost any parameter you want to the X and Y axis and change them by simply dragging your finger.

Plus, you can record this action, essentially giving you a third, complex LFO. It records not only the shape of your finger movements, but also the timing. So you can slowly draw small circles from lower left to upper right to open the filter and increase the resonance before quickly returning to the start. Many factory developers treated this animated modulation sequence as a novelty, sketching little people, leaves and, of course, the Roland logo.

The Chip Fighter patch on Roland Gaia 2 shows automation that draws the lines of a tiny human.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Sound engine

It’s not an obvious deal-breaker, but it speaks to a broader problem with Gaia 2: it feels like a lot of pre-built tech demos, and I don’t find them particularly useful. Now I can already hear people getting armed. “Well, a real musician would design all his patches from scratch anyway!” you can say I’m here to tell you to go hit the rocks. There’s no shame in playing presets, especially if you make music as a hobby. In addition, factory settings should demonstrate what a synthesizer is capable of, not only technically, but also musically. And that’s why Gaia 2 stuck hard in the early days.

Here’s what makes me feel cold about Gaia 2: it sounds old. The original Gaia was serious virtual analog work Its successor kept the same three-oscillator setup, but was replaced by a wave engine for one of them (the other two remain virtual analog). There are so many beautiful modern sound synthesizers uses wave tables there, but Gaia 2 specializes in a particular brand of Roland cheese. It’s perfect for a turn-of-the-century cyber thriller, and while some people will love it, others won’t.

The two virtual analog oscillators sound clinical and lack oomph in the lower registers. The filter is versatile with three different slope options (-12dB/Oct, -18dB/Oct or -24dB/Oct) and driver selection for each of the three modes (low pass, range and high pass). It may sound a touch subtle, but it’s serviceable.

Filter cut knob and slope LEDs on Roland Gaia 2

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

I wish I could say I’m more impressed with the sound engine, because otherwise it’s probably the most enjoyable modern Roland synth I’ve ever used. Gaia 2 strikes the perfect balance between complexity and accessibility. Three oscillators, a multi-mode filter, a dual LFO, a Motion Pad and a rich effects section offer plenty of depth, yet are incredibly easy to access. Everything is clearly labeled and all the most important settings have direct practical controls. Even shift functions or most things that require some menu diving are pretty intuitive. Programming is legitimately fun. The Gaia 2 would be a great tool to learn synthesis if it weren’t so expensive.

Applying an LFO to any parameter is as simple as holding down a knob and turning the knob on whatever you want to modulate. There’s even a step mode where you can design a 16-step custom wave. The Motional Pad and excellent sequencer are a cinch to use. And having faders instead of knobs for the two envelopes (amp and filter) is a nice touch. There’s no modulation matrix and you can’t change the direction of the envelopes, but I didn’t bother too much. I rarely encountered such a situation that I indeed he wanted to do something while making the patch, but he couldn’t. It’s a simple synth with enough depth to keep even seasoned players turning knobs for hours.

Roland Gaia 2 oscillator controls

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Model extensions

Once you get bored with the basic Gaia engine, you can download Model Extensions to add emulations of classic Roland synthesizers like the Jupiter-8 or Juno-106. It even comes with pre-installed SH-101 emulation. Honestly, it sounds better than the standard virtual analog engine.

Of course, the model expansion is not cheap at $149. And uploading them to Gaia is, shall we say, aggravating. You have two options: You can buy optional A $100 wireless USB adapter and send them from your phone. Or you can copy the files to a USB key and then download them manually from there. (You know, like in 2001.) This is one of the few places where Roland remains stubbornly archaic. Although the Gaia 2 has a USB-C port that can transmit both audio and MIDI (and power), it cannot connect to the Roland Cloud manager software to download Model Extensions.

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