The Roland SH-4d is a groove box disguised as a synthesizer

Many of Roland’s recent instruments, which are not just classic appliance restorations, take an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach. Sampling and drum synthesis? Why not. Defaults to numbering in the thousands — plural? Of course! A dedicated vocal effect section and phantom power to run a condenser mic? It would be silly not to. The SH-4d follows the same basic formula, it has basically any feature you could want, and it’s little wonder who would need them, but it sticks in a box focused on synthesis and sound design (mostly).

Unlike most of Roland’s newer fare, however, the SH-4d has plenty of manual controls. It features a full two-octave keyboard, 16-step sequencer buttons, four faders and 32 knobs. It even has motion controls for some reason – You can actually pick up the synth and tilt it to change parameters. I’m not sure what the appeal of that is, but you know what, I’m glad to see Roland putting in controls instead of pulling back more.

Under the hood is a powerful sound engine with 11 oscillator types, ranging from imitations of classic analog sounds from the Juno-106 and SH-101, to metallic FM tones, PCM samples and 31 different wavetables. It features a multi-mode filter, amp envelope, and LFO and a multi-effects engine with 93 different options, including nine types of Reverb and five choruses. The 128 x 64 LED screen isn’t the sharpest, but it’s certainly an improvement over the slightly archaic-looking displays on the Verselab and TR-6S

Based on the demo clips, it looks like the instrument is living up to Roland’s legacy as a cornerstone of techno, house and other electronic dance music. But it will probably be versatile enough to work for other genres as well. As long as you are pairing it with other instruments.

But the SH-4d doesn’t stop at sound design. There is also a five-track, 64-step polyphonic sequencer with motion recording and three different playback modes. The first four tracks can control any of the 11 oscillator models, The fifth is a dedicated rhythm track that can play back a choice of 439 different samples and virtual analog waves.

The sequencer and rhythm section turns the SH-4d into a groove box rather than a synthesizer, something Roland has been unique in recent years. But its interface certainly screams synthesizer, which is a welcome change from the menu items the company has been offering lately.

At nearly four pounds and more than a foot wide, not to mention nearly eight inches deep, the SH-4d isn’t overly portable, but it can be powered by four AA batteries nonetheless. You can also power it with a standard USB-C charger like you might use for your phone, which is nice. Plus, at least you know it won’t eat up too much desktop space. The Roland SH-4d will be arriving sometime in March for $650.

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