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

I’ve had two constant complaints about most Roland gear: a lack of hands-on controls and an pointless quantity of diving via incomprehensible menus. However, earlier this yr the corporate shipped the Aira Compact S-1 Tweak Synth. Its menu despatched me right into a rage spiral, however it did supply a good variety of hands-on controls. Then, not lengthy after, Roland debuted the SH-4D which not solely had loads of knobs, buttons and faders, however a streamlined menu and a display that didn’t predate house computer systems. My largest situation was the shape issue; I simply actually needed it to be a devoted synthesizer with a keyboard, however it was extra of a pseudo groovebox.

So, when Roland introduced the Gaia 2 — a protracted overdue replace to its 13-year-old digital analog synth — I used to be cautiously optimistic. The S-1 and SH-4D had been indicators the corporate was on track interface-wise, and so they each sounded nice. At first look the Gaia 2 appeared to be every little thing I’ve been in search of in a Roland synth: loads of hands-on controls, an honest display, a simplified menu and a full-size 37-key keybed. And but, on the threat of seeming not possible to please, I walked away from the Gaia 2 a bit unhappy.

All sounds, aside from the drums, come straight from the Gaia 2. The one extra processing being some EQ and compression.


Probably the most instantly underwhelming factor is the construct. Now, to be clear, the Gaia 2 doesn’t really feel low cost, however I anticipated barely extra from a $900 synth. The highest panel is steel, however the remaining is plastic. The keyboard is great, however lacks aftertouch. The knobs are principally wonderful, however there are a couple of encoders that really feel free and have a superb quantity of wiggle. The detents on some are weak too, making it simple to overlook your mark. Plus the pitch and mod wheels are bizarrely small. All of these items could be simply forgiven on a $600 synthesizer, however at this worth I felt a bit let down.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The Korg Minilogue XD, as an illustration, solely prices $650 and customarily feels extra rugged, even when the keybed isn’t pretty much as good. And Elektron’s Digitakt and Digitone lack a keyboard however really feel damn-near indestructible at $949 (and for less than $50 extra).

The controls are intensive, although. Roland hasn’t solved all of its menu-diving issues, however the Gaia 2 will get fairly shut. There are extra knobs and buttons than I care to rely. All the things is organized logically and, whereas there are some shift features, lots of the controls are single goal, leaving you free to tweak virtually something with one hand when you play. That is getting tougher and tougher to come back by as prospects anticipate extra highly effective synth engines with extra modulation choices, whereas additionally wanting devices to be compact.

The ADSR faders for the filter envelope on the Roland Gaia 2.
Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The Gaia 2 isn’t precisely small. At roughly 26 inches broad and 13 inches deep, it does command an honest quantity of desk area, however it’s hardly onerous. And it makes essentially the most of its entrance panel, cramming it stuffed with controls and an honest sized display.

It’s inevitable that your eyes shall be drawn to the “Motional” touchpad straight beneath that. It’s one of many highlights of the synth, with my one grievance being its placement. It’s useless middle, which is sensible if you happen to’re utilizing it to navigate the menus with a cursor. However, it’s a lot sooner to only use the knobs. The touchpad simply doesn’t really feel pure for navigating the interface, and it might be a lot much less cumbersome for efficiency on the left aspect — there’s actually room for it alongside the toy-sized pitch and mod wheels.


The Motional Pad is nice, the horrible title apart. It looks like a little bit of a gimmick at first — a big X/Y touchpad, not not like the Korg Kaoss Pad, devoted to modulation. However when you get previous the preliminary strangeness (and Roland’s manufacturing facility patches that lean exhausting into its gimmicky aspect), it’s exhausting to not see the worth. It’s used to regulate the waveshaping and part modulation of oscillator one, however you may as well assign virtually any parameter you wish to the X and Y axis and alter them by merely dragging your finger round.

What’s extra, you possibly can report that movement, primarily providing you with a 3rd, complicated LFO. It data not simply the form of your finger actions, however the timing too. So you possibly can draw small circles slowly working your manner from the underside left to the highest proper, to open up the filter and improve the resonance earlier than shortly zigzagging your manner again to the beginning. Lots of the manufacturing facility presets deal with this animated modulation sequence as a novelty, sketching out small individuals, leaves and, after all, the Roland emblem.

The Chip Fighter patch on the Roland Gaia 2 showing an automation sketching out a tiny person.
Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Sound engine

This clearly isn’t a deal breaker, however it does communicate to a broader situation I’ve with the Gaia 2: lots of the presets really feel like tech demos and I don’t discover them significantly usable. Now, I can already hear individuals getting up in arms. “Properly, an actual musician could be designing all their very own patches from scratch anyway!” you is perhaps saying. I’m right here to inform you to go kick rocks. There’s no disgrace in taking part in presets, particularly if you happen to’re making music as a passion. Moreover, the manufacturing facility presets ought to be a showcase of what a synth is able to, not simply technically, however musically. And judging by that, the Gaia 2 is firmly caught within the early aughts.

That is in the end what left me feeling chilly in regards to the Gaia 2: It sounds dated. The unique Gaia was a strictly virtual analog affair. Its successor saved the identical three oscillator construction, however swapped in a wavetable engine for certainly one of them (the opposite two stay digital analog). There are many nice, modern-sounding synthesizers on the market that use wavetables, however Gaia 2 makes a speciality of a specific model of Roland cheese. It’s excellent for scoring a flip of the century cyber thriller, and whereas some individuals will find it irresistible, others gained’t.

The 2 digital analog oscillators sound medical and lack oomph within the decrease registers. The filter is extraordinarily versatile with three totally different slope choices (-12dB/Oct, -18dB/Oct or -24dB/Oct) for every of its three modes (lowpass, bandpass and highpass) and a drive choice. It could actually sound a contact skinny, however it’s serviceable.

The filter cutoff knob and slope LEDs on the Roland Gaia 2
Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

I want I may say I used to be extra enamored with the sound engine, as a result of in any other case that is most likely essentially the most pleasant trendy Roland synth I’ve used. The Gaia 2 strikes a near-perfect stability between complexity and approachability. The three oscillators, multimode filter, twin LFOs, Motional Pad and wealthy results part supply fairly a little bit of depth, however are extremely simple to dial in. All the things is labeled clearly and the entire most important parameters have direct hands-on controls. Even most issues that require shift features or some menu diving are all fairly intuitive. It’s legitimately enjoyable to program. The Gaia 2 would make a wonderful instrument to study synthesis on if it wasn’t so costly.

Making use of the LFO to any parameter is so simple as holding a button and turning the knob of no matter you wish to modulate. And there’s even a step mode the place you possibly can design a 16-step customized wave. The Motional Pad and glorious sequencer are a cinch to make use of. And having faders as an alternative of knobs for the 2 envelopes (amp and filter) is a pleasant contact. There’s no modulation matrix and you’ll’t reroute the envelopes, however I didn’t thoughts a lot. I hardly ever ran right into a state of affairs the place I actually needed to do one thing when designing a patch, however couldn’t. It’s a simple synth with sufficient depth to maintain even skilled gamers twiddling knobs for hours.

Roland Gaia 2 oscillator controls
Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Mannequin Expansions 

When you develop bored of the principle Gaia engine, you possibly can load Mannequin Expansions so as to add emulations of basic Roland synths just like the Jupiter-8 or Juno-106. It even comes with an SH-101 emulation pre-installed. Actually, that sounds higher than the default digital analog engine.

After all, the mannequin expansions aren’t low cost at $149. And loading them on the Gaia is, let’s say, aggravating. You have got two choices: You should purchase an non-compulsory $100 wireless USB adapter and ship them out of your cellphone. Or, you possibly can copy information to a USB key after which load them manually from there. (You already know, similar to it’s 2001.) This is among the few locations the place Roland stays stubbornly archaic. Despite the fact that the Gaia 2 has a USB-C port able to transmitting each audio and MIDI (and energy), it will possibly’t connect with the Roland Cloud supervisor app to load Mannequin Expansions.

Roland Gaia 2 on a desk surrounded by a bunch of clutter and some other instruments.


The brilliant spot within the sound engine, although, is certainly the consequences. There are seven reverb and delay choices, three varieties of glorious sounding refrain, and 53 different results together with compressors, bit crushers, lo-fi and scatter. The brand new shimmer reverb algorithm, specifically, is beautiful. There’s virtually as a lot room for sound design within the FX part alone as there’s in the remainder of the synth. That is additionally your finest wager for including some character to the usually cold-sounding major oscillators.


In the end, what makes the Gaia disappointing is that it will get a lot proper, however can’t fairly stick the touchdown. It’s extraordinarily enjoyable to program patches on, however I simply didn’t click on with the outcomes. It expertly blends approachability with depth, however it’s too costly to advocate to a newbie. And it lastly delivers the hands-on controls individuals have been begging for, however the high quality of the encoders, pots and buttons go away one thing to be desired. I needed to love the Gaia 2, and I’m positive there’s loads of individuals on the market who will, however it’s simply not for me.

This text initially appeared on Engadget at

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