Today, I am going to be taking a close look at the Roland System 8, which is a versatile performance synthesizer. Roland is known for putting out high-quality products, and this instrument is no exception.

Throughout this review, I will be comparing the System 8 to a variety of popular competitor synths on the market—namely the Roland System 1, the Korg MicoKorg and Korg Minilogue.

And below, please take a moment to use our interactive guide to directly compare the Roland System 8 to some of these notable synthesizers on the market.

PhotoModelKeysPriceFeatures
Roland System 849$$$Advanced ACB technology
roland-juno-ds88Roland Juno DS8888$$$128 Note Polyphony
roland-gaia-sh-01Roland GAIA SH-0137$$64-Voice Polyphony
roland-jd-xiRoland JD-XI37$Gooseneck mic w/built-in Vocoder & AutoPitch
Korg MinilogueKorg Minilogue37$$16-Step Polyphonic Step & Motion Sequencer
Korg Monologue25$2 VCO (Square Wave, Triangle Wave, Sawtooth Wave)
korg-microkorgKorg MicroKorg37$4-Voice Analog Modeling Synth Engine

Green Is My Favorite Color

The first thing that struck me about this synth was how thoughtful it was of Roland to make the System 8 with green LEDs. All joking aside, I find the color choice to be striking, and from the point of view of a first impression, it was definitely appealing.

Like its smaller brother, the Roland System 1 also has green LEDs. However, the Korg Minilogue, for example, is not so vibrant with color. It is more minimalistic and industrial looking, while the MicroKorg has some LEDs but nothing near as impressive as what Roland is offering up.

As I have found with most synthesizers, the keys themselves feel cheap—but everything else is top notch. I like how the Roland System 8 has 49 keys. The Roland system 1 only has 25, and both the MicroKorg and the Korg Minilogue have 37 keys. However, the MicroKorg does not have full size keys, which is sort of a deal breaker for me.

As for an initial cosmetic impression as well as overall feel, I think there is no competition—the Roland (both the System 8, but also the System 1) are better-quality instruments.

But how well do they stack up against the others as far as features?   Well, let’s examine that in the very next section.

Below, please check out some of the best selling synthesizers that are currently available on Amazon, and then see how well they stack up against the Roland System 8:

  1. Novation MiniNova
  2. Arturia MicroBrute
  3. Novation Bass Station II
  4. Korg VOLCAFM
  5. Korg MicroKorg

Feature for Feature Fight

One of the big things I always go into with my reviews is what sort of features do the instruments offer. This is important when you start considering price and what would be the best fit for your needs. And the Roland System 8 comes with an array of features.

Here is a brief list:

  • 49 keys with velocity
  • Maximum Polyphony-8 voices  (Model System-8, Plug Outs 1,2,3 depend on software)
  • 8 memoires x 8 banks
  • 3 Oscillators
  • ENVELOPE Depth
  • Attack Time, Decay Time controls 
  • Delay, Panning Delay, Chorus 1, Chorus 2,Flanger, Delay+Chorus
  • Over Driver, Distortion, Metal, Fuzz, Crusher, Phaser

When you compare the System-8 to the other instruments we are looking at today, the Roland System-1 is basically a more portable version of the System-8. However, you would also have to bear in mind that, when it comes to the Roland System 1, you’re essentially taking the features I listed for the System-8 and cutting them in half.

The System-1 only has a maximum polyphony of 4 voices, it has about half the number of keys, and uses the AIRA ACB sound engine. It has no velocity capability, eight presets, and 10 effects. The MicroKorg and the Minilogue, by contrast, have more keys, more presets, and greater polyphony capability.

In this sense, if you had to rate each instrument based off of how well they stack up as far as features goes, the Roland System-8 would be at the top, the Korg Minilogue would be second, the MicroKorg would be third, and the Roland System-1 would be last.

Some might give the Roland System-1 a bump just because they prefer Roland over Korg products. However, the clear winner is the Roland System-8 in this area.

Can Hear That Sound?

I was impressed with the sound of the Roland System-8. You have a vast array of high quality sound options here. I prefer its sound engine over what the MicroKorg and the Korg Minilogue have to offer, in fact.

The System-1 and the System-8 have identical sound engines, so there isn’t much of a difference there. So if you like the sound of the System-8, you will likely enjoy the sound of the System-1, and vice versa.

The Korg Minilogue also has a great sound. It has a very natural sounding analog engine, and might attract the more vintage desiring players. The MicroKorg has decent sound capabilities too, but does not compare to the Minilogue or the Rolands. For that reason, I put it at the bottom of the list as far as sound goes.

I think what makes the biggest difference with the Roland System-8 is its filter capabilities. You have the option of using Variation 1, which includes LPF (-24 dB), LPF (-18 dB), LPF (-12 dB), HPF (-12 dB), HPF (-18 dB), HPF (-24 dB). These all add uniqueness to the sounds themselves when placed in the hands of a player that knows what he is doing.

Filter variation 2 option comes with 6 different types. It has knob controls for cutoff, resonance, velocity sens, envelop depth, key follow, and HPF cutoff.  You also have the ability to control attack time, decay time, sustain level, and release time. Though the other instruments have a decent amount of filter options, they pale in comparison to what the Roland System-8 has to offer.

Now, onto the next area to review—connectivity options.

Let’s Make a Connection

First, let’s discuss audio inputs and outputs. The System-8 has the capability to connect with 2 quarter inch audio inputs, 2 quarter inch outputs, and one quarter inch for headphones.

The Roland System-1 doesn’t have any inputs, only the same amount of outputs as the System-8.

The Korg Minilogue has a quarter inch audio in, and an eighth inch sync in. It also has two quarter inch outs, one audio out and one for headphones, and an eighth inch out for sync.

The MicroKorg has 2 TS inputs and 2 TS outputs, plus one TRS output for headphones.

Overall, the System-8 has slightly more connectivity options for audio ins and outs. Of the four instruments, the MicroKorg is the only one with MIDI in/out/thru. The other three have MIDI in/out, which gives the MicroKorg a slight bump.

It is also the only one that can run off batteries. The others come with power supplies or an AC adaptor, which is not as big of a deal but it does lend the MicroKorg greater portability. However, the one thing that the MicroKorg does not have in comparison to the other three is a type-B USB port, which is always handy to have.

The Roland System-8 does have something that none of the other instruments have—an SD card slot. Overall, you can probably find another synthesizer out there with more connection options, but as far as these four goes, the System-8 ranks just slightly ahead of the competition.

Breaking Down Cost

Okay, now it’s time to get down to what will make or break everything we have talked about—price point.

Although the System-8 is consistently at the top of the list in all of the areas we have discussed  today, it is also the most expensive instrument. Depending on where you find it, the Roland System-8 is going for around $1500 USD.

All three of the other instruments are going for about one third the price, sitting at around $500 USD. That is a big difference when you think about what we have discussed throughout this article.

The System-8 is the better instrument, but it really doesn’t warrant a two third price difference. In my opinion, I feel the System-8 is a bit overpriced. Granted, you might be able to find a better deal elsewhere, perhaps on the used or previously owned market, but I am not convinced that the System-8 is worth that much more than these other instruments.

Recap

In the first section, we noticed how cool the Roland System-8 looked, and that it felt just as you might expect from a high quality Roland product.

The Korg Minilogue, though, stacked up fairly well with both Roland synths as far as features went. 

As for sound, it really comes down to personal preference. The other instruments have great sounds, they are just different. I prefer the System-8, and if you feel the same, then the downside (or, maybe simply the “reality”) is that you’re going to have to shell out more money for this particular synthesizer.

And all of the instruments were neck and neck as far as connectivity goes, although I do believe the System 8 had the advantage in the end.

Conclusion

In the end, the Roland System 8 is a great synthesizer.  But, your desire to get it might be somewhat tempered by price. 

At the end of the day, price is always a major factor.  If you feel you can accomplish most of your needs via a cheaper synth like the Korg Minilogue—go for it.  But if you feel the Roland System 8 is most equipped to handle specific tasks you need done, there’s a good chance that you’ll be happier with the System 8.

If you can get over the sticker shock, that is.

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