Roland GAIA SH-01 Synthesizer Review | Synths of the 21st Century

roland gaia sh-01 synthesizer review

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Roland GAIA SH-01

9

Sound Quality

9.0/10

Build Quality

8.5/10

Product Design

9.5/10

Specs & Features

9.0/10

Accessibility

9.0/10

Pros

  • 37 Velocity-Sensitive Keys
  • 64-Note Polyphony
  • Pitch/Modulation Controller
  • "Hands-On" Design
  • GAIA Synthesizer Sound Designe

I remember playing my first synthesizer during my early teens and as it turns out, it was this one. I wrote this Roland GAIA SH-01 synthesizer review to share my passion for this synth.

If you’re looking for an affordable synthesizer for your home recording studio, you’ll need to become familiar with the Roland GAIA SH-01. It’s got an old-school feel due to its absence of display components. You’ll have direct access to more parameters than you’ll know what to do with, including a multitude of factory presets. Let’s dive into this contemporary wonder!

The Roland GAIA SH-01 has a logical layout of its parameters

One of the first things you should notice about the GAIA SH-01 is its logically laid out components. We have direct access to THREE oscillators, one filter, one amplifier and one low-frequency oscillator (LFO).

Navigating this synthesizer is simple once you realize that its envelopes are conveniently located below each component.

So you’ll also have…

  • Volume envelope
  • Filter envelope
  • Pitch envelope

In other words, the Roland GAIA SH-01 has everything you need to conceive any sound you desire.

And as if that weren’t enough, you’ll also have access to an effects processor along with a unique controller… “D Beam”. It’s somewhat of an optical sensor that detects your hand’s movements. It’s a great addition to the pitch/modulation wheel.

Speaking of which… It’s really efficient how Roland managed to combine the pitch/modulation wheels together.

Here are a few more functions you’ll have direct control over:

  • Tap Tempo
  • Key Hold
  • Monophonic
  • Portamento
  • Transpose
  • Preset Library
  • Arpeggiator

The arpeggiator actually has a “library” of its own. It’s actually one of my favourite features of the GAIA SH-01 synthesizer.

Control up to 3 oscillators independently with the Roland GAIA SH-01

I think one of the things that make the Roland GAIA SH-01 such a unique synthesizer is the ability to control its oscillators independently. You may be wondering how Roland managed to achieve this in such a compact synthesizer.

The solution is rather simple… The addition of a “select” button on the oscillator component allows the user to focus on a specific oscillator.

Most synthesizers don’t possess this ability, so you have some significant flexibility with the GAIA SH-01. You’ll be able to create some pretty “impossible” sounds with this instrument.

And it wouldn’t be conceivable without 37 velocity-sensitive keys. The full-sized keys really offer the maximum playability. However, aftertouch is not integrated into the GAIA’s keybed.

But you’ll have 64-note polyphony which is more notes than you can play at once! This synthesizer can sound really “FAT” if you need it to.

In essence, the GAIA SH-01 is suitable for professionals, but it’s so easy to use that a beginner could make it sound extraordinary. 

An excellent synthesizer for sound designers and beginners

You wouldn’t expect it from such an affordable synthesizer, but the GAIA SH-01 is powerful. Even with the impressive software synthesizers at our disposal, I still feel like I could use one.

Its virtual analog synthesizer engine sounds incredible.

You could even use the Roland GAIA SH-01 as the ultimate MIDI/USB controller. MIDI I/O is an integral element of this synthesizer along with USB connectivity. It’s even got a sustain pedal input!

Each oscillator has the essential waveforms:

  • Sawtooth
  • Square
  • Pulse
  • Triangle
  • Sine
  • Noise
  • Supersaw

So you’ll have plenty of different combinations to try out! Especially once you start messing around with the pitch envelope.

The filter actually provides a few modes:

  • Low-Pass Filter (LPF)
  • High-Pass Filter (HPF)
  • Band-Pass Filter (BPF)
  • Peak (PKG)
  • Bypass

Basically, you’re getting the precision of an EQ with this synthesizer. The filter envelope provides you with everything you need to sculpt your tone.

As basic as the amplifier component seems, it’s got everything you need with that volume envelope.

And finally, the effects module provides you with a variety of high-quality effects:

  • Distortion
  • Fuzz
  • Bit Crusher
  • Flanger
  • Phaser
  • Pitch Shifter
  • Delay (regular/panning)
  • Reverb
  • Low Boost

Keep in mind that you can combine these as well for some pretty interesting results.

But why is this synthesizer so beginner-friendly?

It may have something to do with the amount of detail Roland put into the front panel. It’s so approachable that everyone can make music with it.

The fact they include an “auxiliary input” and a “phrase recorder” makes this a great synthesizer for students.

Professionally designed GAIA SH-01 synthesizers at an affordable price

This synthesizer truly offers a “boutique” feel at a reasonable price. Roland has a reputation for creating some of the most iconic synthesizers and the GAIA SH-01 stays true to that.

It’ll definitely become an iconic synthesizer of the 21st century.

roland gaia sh-01 synthesizer review

I really like the fact that it can run on batteries (8x AA) instead of 9V DC power. You could take this synthesizer on the road very easily. The headphone output makes it easy to practice anytime, anywhere.

What’s really convenient is the ability to connect a USB stick to extend the GAIA’s memory. You can also transfer data to/from the computer using a USB cable. You could even synchronize its clock to your DAW via MIDI (V-Link).

It’s all accessible from the rear panel…

  • ON/OFF Switch
  • Headphone Output
  • Line Output (L/R)
  • Pedal Input
  • MIDI I/O
  • USB-B Output
  • USB Input

This synthesizer will be as useful to you on stage as it will in your home recording studio.

Is the Roland GAIA SH-01 right for you?

I honestly couldn’t imagine anybody objecting to this synthesizer. It’s simply one of those “must-have” instruments for every musician.

If you’re new to the world of synthesis, it’ll give you the perfect introduction (or perhaps this blog post will).

I could spend hours creating sounds on the GAIA SH-01 synthesizer. Just sit down, put on your headphones and explore Roland’s 21st-century wonder.

Although it’s not technically an “analog” synthesizer, you’ll be convinced that it is. You’ll have the privilege of creating sounds using an award-winning engine. You’ll need to hear it for yourself!

Professionals who prefer being “hands-on” with their music will adore the layout.

Each one of the GAIA’s parameters is accessible via its front panel, NO screens! It’s very user-friendly as well, so there’s no reason to become overwhelmed. The ability to save/load patches makes this instrument suitable for a stage.

Whether you’re a composer, performer and/or producer… You’ll be blown away by this synthesizer. It’s great for beginners, students and musicians on the road! It can also serve as an excellent MIDI/USB controller as well since it has velocity-sensitive keys.

At such an affordable price, you’ll be impressed by the Roland GAIA SH-01.

You can find the Roland GAIA SH-01 at Amazon…

What are some of your favourite synthesizers? Let us know in the comments. I hope you found this Roland GAIA SH-01 synthesizer review insightful and if so, please consider sharing it. Thanks!

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2 Responses

  1. I got to know of this for the first time when I was at church not so long ago and with all those buttons to push and pull I was almost totally blank on how to use them for better sound. I’m still learning from this guy from church what all those are for but I’m pretty sure even he himself doesn’t know. Too bad the item is going for 659 and I have to pay shipping of 643 to get it because of my location, quite on the expensive side for me.

    1. Hey there Donny,

      Your church must host some pretty interesting music if they’re using this synthesizer! If you’re having some trouble figuring out how the parameters work, try loading up a patch. The GAIA has plenty of “pre-designed” sounds to work with.

      I’ve never heard of such ludicrous shipping rates! Which country do you live in? If you’re interested, I could most likely help you find a better option for shipping’s sake.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      – Stefan

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