My Roland System-8

System-8
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Introduction

    After buying a Roland System-1, I started wanting a larger keyboard with even more features.  Subscribing to Roland Cloud, I fell in love with the Jupiter-8 and Juno-106 Plug-Outs.  I thought to myself, it's time to get a larger synthesizer with the features I like.  So it was only logical that I would eventually buy a System-8.
    I am very happy with my purchase.  This is a fantastic synthesizer.
    If you only want my patch banks, click the donate page to download them.
    To read my blog about the System-8, click here.

Review

Unboxing

    The System-8 came with a more substantial owner's manual than the System-1, but it still wasnít as complete as it shouldíve been.  The System-8 also doesn't come with a vocoder microphone, either.  So if you want to use the vocoder, keep in mind you'll need to buy a microphone.
    Finally, it didnít come with the most recent software, V1.3.  Thatís fine, and updating it was easy.  As well, however, the manual and even the ďultimate guideĒ do not tell me how to use filter variation 2, which is supposed to be a bandpass filter.  That would be helpful, but since I donít have that, I essentially donít even touch this feature.

Appearance

    This thing looks fantastic!  Very polished and professional looking.  Unlike the System-1, it seems to have a few less back-lit controls, but not in a bad way.  It wasn't very hard to navigate the controls.  And having LCD screens makes figuring out what's going on a whole lot easier.
    As well, you can get side protectors for the System-8.  I chose the brushed aluminum side protectors, and I love it!

Feel

    This is my first keyboard that is, well, like a stereotypical electronic keyboard.  It feels good.  I like the System-1ís "controller" keyboard, but the System-8ís keyboard is more like a piano keyboard, granted without weighted feel.  The keyboard responds well to velocity inputs, though its range of sensing is a bit wider than I'm used to.  So far, Iíve played around with the velocity sensitivity, and a setting of around 64 works for me.
    The other controls feel great as well.  The sole modulation lever (for pitch bend and modulation) is different than I'm used to, but since I didn't play keyboards very often until recently, it doesn't bother me.  It's better than using the System-1's round mod wheel for pitch bend, thatís for sure.  Being able to change how much the modulation lever mod and pitch bend functions apply to my sound is a great feature to have.
    The interesting way in which patches are selected and saved is worth noting.  You select them by letter and number (so you have 16 buttons towards the right side).  You can also select them by the central "value knob," which is helpful.  And the LCD screen displays which preset you're on.  However, unlike the System-1's very convenient save feature (hold the button), you must press WRITE and then ENTER four times.  That is slightly annoying, even if you get used to it.  I understand this is the flagship keyboard, so you get more options.  But adding the System-1's easy "hold the button" save feature would be a nice addition in the future.

Features

    There are tons of features here to talk about.

    First, there's performance mode.  At first, I was frustrated with this mode, because even though it's cool, I couldn't get the patches to "stay" on their side of the keyboard.  All button presses registered in both parts.  This was echoed by the Facebook System-8 User Group, who wished for an actual "Keyboard Split" button.  I agree: having to modify a performance patch this way requires going through part edit in the menu and setting each part's lower and upper octave limits.  Four items in all.  To be fair, once you save this feature on the performance, it's saved.  And once you've done it a few times, it's pretty quick.  Maybe the default should be to split at middle C and then require menu diving to change it.  But ultimately, it's a fair criticism.

    You can find a list of the factory performance mode mappings, for reference use, here.

Initial Sounds

    The initial sounds are good, and useful for church.  Right now, thereís a problem that has disabled sending patches from my DAW/VST to the System-8.  The Plug-Outs can communicate to their VSTs in my DAW, but not the System-8 to its own VST.  I was able to modify a few of the initial patches to make them work in church.  Ultimately, I found a temporary work-around (see 14 November blog post, below).
    Having previewed many sounds that are available for this synth using the VST, there are a lot of fantastic presets available from Roland.  I recommend you check out my review of the Plug-Outs.
    When I got it, it included two Plug-Outs (the Jupiter-8 and Juno-106) and was using software version 1.12.  I updated it via Roland to 1.3 when I got it, which was a pretty easy process.  Version 1.3 comes with the JX-3P Plug-Out for slot 3, basically making the System-8 a four synthesizer juggernaut.

Using It In Church

    The System-8 works very well in church!  There are no ďdanger buttonsĒ to accidentally push.  Not only do the patches work well in a worship environment, but the ability to split the keyboard into two patches makes it very useful.  And to top it off, you can use each Plug-Out for what some people claim they are best at (Jupiter-8 for strings, Juno-106 for pads, etc).
    Having the Plug-Outs available only increases the usefulness of the System-8, as now the player has more presets to call upon.  This leads to many possibilities, such as (for example) loading one Plug-Out with only leads, pads, or some other type of patches.  As well, having more patches gives the player more options to choose from.  And if thatís not enough for the user, other Plug-Outs via the Roland Cloud (System-100, Pro Mars, etc) only make it even more flexible.  One could include some iconic leads and/or basses from the Pro Mars and/or SH-101 and/or SH-2 and use them in split keyboard modes, if desired.
    The Line In function is also helpful for those who want to run another instrument.  For example, Iíve used it in church for running my System-1 so that I can reach over and use it for timpani.  I could Plug-Out the ProMars into the System-8, but then I would lose the ability to play pads with it.
    Yesterday at church worship team practice, my worship leader called upon me to play bass, since (due to COVID19) we had only 5 people on the worship team.  I tried to use a few of the included bass sounds (both System-8 and the various PLUG-OUTs) that I had included in my patch line-up.  The worship leader didn't like them as much, so he asked me to synthesize one in the moment.  So I did, and he was able to tell me (since he is standing on the other side of the platform) what it sounds like to him.  He is listening to the bass subwoofer and house speakers.  Between the two of us, we found a sound that sounds great and also sounds good through our house mix.  Ironically, he wanted more ultra-low-end thump and presence.  It worked, and I saved it all to my System-8.  It took only five minutes.  With a synthesizer, you don't just play sounds (like on a keyboard): you can shape sounds.

Synthesizing Sounds

    Synthesizing sounds on the System-8 is pretty easy.  The only difficulty Iíve encountered stems from how many controls there are rather than any lack of capability.  I have brought over a few patches from the System-1 by manually dialing them in (thankfully the System-1ís filter section is included), but only a few that I really love, like BL SMALL BELLS and SY LIKE A JUNO.  Which is ironic considering itís way more bombastic than any patches I found in the Juno-106 Plug-Outís factory patches.  But given how many patches the System-8 itself includes, not even including those in the Plug-Outs, I have nearly everything I need.  Unlike the System-1, which didn't include some church-friendly necessities like harp and piano, the System-8 comes loaded with enough patches (including the Plug-Outs) that I have everything I need, technically.
    As usual, to make the System-8ís patches useful for church, where appropriate Iíve needed to change attack time, filter parameters, reduce delays, and reconfigure the mod lever.  On most patches except leads, I prefer the mod lever left/right to control the filter (which is useful in church) and forward (bend) to control vibrato.  With other patches, I have modified the amp section velocity sensitivity enough that the volume increases when I increase key press velocity, so that it follows my natural playing.  With mainly the piano-like patches, I have added or adjusted filter velocity sensitivity to make it sound more natural, just like hitting the keys harder on a real piano results in a slightly brighter note.