Roland GAIA SH01 Review – Awesome Fat Sounds!

Welcome to my Roland GAIA SH01 review. I saw that this synth was getting some great comments by people who have bought it, so I decided to take an in-depth look at it and see what all the fuss is about.

If big fat sounds and hands-on controls are what you are after, the GAIA SH01 is definitely worth considering. With 3 separate synth engines and lots of knobs and sliders to play around with, you can have a lot of fun making a lot of excellent sounds with this synth.

Roland GAIA SH-01 Synthesizer

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Product:  Roland GAIA SH01

Cheapest Place to Buy: Amazon

Warranty: 1 Year

My Rating: 

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Nick at SonicState.com Loves the Great Sounds and Hands-on Control


It’s Like 3 Synths in One – Great for Fat Sounds!


This is one fat sounding synthesizer, and it’s easy to see why. It has 3 virtual analog synth engines, each with their own dedicated oscillator. This means it is like 3 synthesizers layered together.

Each of these synth engines has a choice of several waveforms:

  • Saw
  • Square
  • Pulse/PWM
  • Triangle
  • Sine
  • Noise
  • AND: Super Saw – this is a fatter version of the saw wave.

Also, there is a “Variation” button that you can press to get a different version of a particular waveform.

If you are thinking: okay, but most synthesizers have more than one oscillator, let me tell you it is more than that. Each of these 3 oscillators can be independently adjusted by the many parameters such as filter cutoff, resonance, and envelope, or you can indeed adjust all 3 synth engines together, it’s up to you. This means you can get some quite complex sounds once you layer up 3 different waveforms and process them all differently.

However, one minor flaw with the SH01’s triple oscillator setup is that it is not multitimbral. This means you cannot assign each one to a different MIDI channel and then layer up 3 different musical parts. All 3 oscillators have to play the same notes. This is not a problem, though, if you are going to use it as an individual performance synth.

When you consider that it also has 64-note polyphony, you can play some big, fat chords with this. I imagine it being put to particularly good use in dance music such as trance. Big stabbing chords to bring the house down. It can also be great for 80s synth sounds if that’s your thing.

It has a powerful filter, with several different filter types to choose from:

  • LPF
  • HPF
  • BPF
  • PKG (-12 dB/-24 dB)

One user reported that there is a very slight latency between adjusting the filter knobs and hearing the change in the filter. This is only going to be a problem if you want to do a lot of rapid filter changes, but for most people it probably won’t be noticeable. Another user noticed that you can hear some digital artifacts at high frequencies, but I wonder if some people might actually like that.

When you push the filter resonance knob up really high, it starts to oscillate and produce its own sound. When this happens, you lose the other sound. This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on what you want to hear. On the plus side, it means you suddenly get a totally new sound. Also, don’t forget that you have 3 separate synth engines to play with, so you can easily bring the missing sound back in with one of the other oscillators.

Of course, all these great sounds wouldn’t be worth much without the effects such as:

  • reverb
  • distortion
  • fuzz
  • bit crash
  • flanger
  • phaser
  • pitch shifter
  • low boost
  • delay with panning and tempo sync

You can layer up to 5 of these effects simultaneously. However, they only work globally, not for the 3 individual synth engines. I don’t think this will matter for most people, though. If you are playing the same notes with all 3 synth engines anyway, the chances are you’re going to want the same effects over the whole lot too.

The sounds don’t stop there, though. In addition to these great synth sounds, you also have a secret General MIDI soundbank. The only problem is, you cannot play these GM sounds from the GAIA keyboard itself, you have to link up another MIDI keyboard or sequence them from your sequencer or Digital Audio Workstation. On the plus side, the GM sound bank is actually multitimbral.

I can see how that could be put to good effect, though. You could use the multitimbral GM sounds to build up the basis of a song, and then play a great sounding synth part over the top.

Roland GAIA SH-01

Superb Hands-on Control, Perfect for Live Performances


Where the GAIA SH01 really comes into its own is with the controls. There are no less than 11 knobs and 18 faders, along with numerous buttons. There are no hidden menus or complicated settings to understand.

Everything is all there for you, very easily laid out, ready for you to just dive straight in and start playing around with the sounds. This makes it easy to learn, great fun to play, and excellent for live performances.

There is no display screen like you get with some other synths, but to be honest, you probably don’t need it anyway. With all the controls right in front of you, you can easily see what is going on.

Instead of pitch bend and mod wheels, there is a dual-function pitch bend and mod lever. It may take a little bit of getting used to if you have only used the wheels before, but once you do, it’s probably a more dynamic way of playing with those parameters anyway.

As for the D-beam controller, that can be mapped to any parameter for live performance. For example, you could map it to the filter cutoff frequency and wave you hand around it to sweep the filter. Sure, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but it could be a fun feature of a live performance.

Another thing that makes it ideal for live performance is the arpeggiator, which has 64 presets. It also has a phrase recorder, which you can use to record the adjustment of any of the front panel controls, for playing back later along with the arpeggiated notes.

But is it good for traveling? Yes, because it is very light (4.2 kg or 9 lbs. 5 oz.) and runs off AA batteries. It can go for 5 hours of continuous use, which should be enough for almost any concert or performance situation.

Great Connectivity with Computer and USB Memory


The SH-01 has 2 different USB ports:

  • Type-B for plugging in a memory stick.
  • Type-A for linking to your computer.

The Type-A USB port can transmit either audio or MIDI, which means it can be used as either an audio interface or a MIDI interface. So you can use the GAIA SH-01 just as a MIDI controller to play software synths on your computer if you want to, or you can actually record the audio from the synth into your DAW.

There is also an external stereo in jack, so you can plug in any external sound source, for example, an MP3 player. You can then play along with your favorite music, and you can even eliminate specific parts of the music such as vocals, guitars, or bass.

Is this Synthesizer Suitable for You?


The GAIA SH01 is ideally suited to a beginner who wants to be able to just dive straight in and start making great sounds without having to learn anything. It is also great for more experienced synth users who want a synth they can use for live performances. The huge polyphony and fat sounds would make it great for playing those big chords that you hear in a lot of dance music.

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Thank you for reading my Roland GAIA SH01 review. I hope you found it helpful. If you have any questions or comments, why not post them in the comments section below, and I will reply as soon as I can.

All the best,
Marcus.

6 Comments

  1. Chris

    Was lucky enough to end up in a basement setup with one of these not so long ago – was NOT lucky enough to have an engineer generous enough to let us use it!

    My mate uses one quite often and he feels that some of the presets don’t exploit its potential – they sounded a little cheap to him? What are you thoughts on this?

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      Maybe he is referring to the General MIDI soundbank. That could start to sound a bit samey after a while. As for the actual synth sounds, you have a lot of potential here. You have 3 different synth engines, all of which can be modified independently. It sounds to me like your friend was not diving into the control and experimenting enough.

      Reply
  2. Rob

    Hi Marcus,
    Thanks for the information on the synth’s. I did not know about all the different features. I have my youngest son starting out on the drums and my youngest daughter just started playing the trumpet last September. Both are really enjoying the instruments. My other boy is good at the rubix cube and I was told that he should be good at playing a piano or synth.
    I see that the one you are selling is lightweight. Do you believe it is durable for young kids not to break?
    Please let me know,
    Rob

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      Hi Rob,

      I think it really depends how young the child is. I probably wouldn’t give this to a young child because I would be worried about alll the knobs and sliders. You don’t want a young child just randomly bashing it about like it’s a toy. For an older child who can be trusted to treat it well, sure, but not a younger child.

      All the best,
      Marcus.

      Reply
  3. Maria

    Thank you for the accurate review of Roland GAIA SH01. It is obvious that you really know what you are talking about, great job!

    I went to see the prize on amazon thru your link and did find only Roland GAIA SH01 synthesizer sound designer per Gaia at the prize of 98 euros. Could that be because I live in Italy and your link took me to amazon.it instead of .com?

    Maria

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      Hi Maria,

      Yes, it is set to redirect people to their own country’s version of Amazon. So if the product is not stocked on that site, it will show related products.

      All the best,
      Marcus.

      Reply

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