The Roland A-01 and A-01K variant were released a little over a year ago. The A-01 is listed as a Controller+Generator by Roland and rightfully so. It has a plethora of connectivity options in addition to a neat little 8Bit synth that can produce some hardcore, gritty basslines in addition to the beeps and pops that 8Bit music is known for. I’ve been following the progress of this unit for a while now and one thing that I see trending across almost all the sites and forums I’ve visited is that people really don’t know what to make of the device. I think the misconception that most people have of this unit is that it is a Synth with a few “Controller” options. In actuality, it’s the complete opposite. The A-01 is a Controller with a synth thrown in for the heck of it! Once you take a step back and look at it from this perspective, you will begin to see just how novel this little device is.
The A-01 and it’s Limited Edition A-01K variant feature a design that can best be described as “Functional Minimalism”. Roland went out of their way to make sure that the design of this unit was clean. All you see when you look at the device are straight edges and circles. Almost all the buttons and knobs serve more than one purpose and are mainly there to control the menu driven interface on the built-in monochromatic LCD display. The A-01 is built like a tank and weighs over 2 lbs on its own. When paired with the K-25m it is a whopping 3 lbs and 11 oz just a hair short of 4 lbs. I understand that a quality built device is going to be a little heavier that usual, but come on Roland. You give us the perfect form factor for travel use and completely negate all of those benefits with something so heavy that it’s almost akin to lugging a brick around in one’s gig bag. This is the only gripe I have with the unit, it is unexpectedly and uncomfortably heavy for its size. As far as connectivity goes the A-01 delivers in spades. Although it’s a bit on the small side, it features 2 full-size MIDI DIN connectors in addition to three 1/8″ jacks for Headphones, CV and Gate connectivity. The unit can be powered by 4 AA/LR6 type batteries or a Micro USB cable. Additionally, there is Bluetooth LE Connectivity according to Roland but I never got that to work on any of my Android devices. I have seen online though that there has been success with Apple devices but I did not confirm with my own.
The A-01s claim to fame is its built-in synth which is also the basis of a lot of the confusion that surrounds this device. The “8bit CPU Synth” as Roland calls it [is a “Virtual Analog” digital sound engine that reproduces a subtractive synthesizer with an 8-bit CPU.] The Synth was the brainchild of a former Roland engineer by the name of Akira Matsui, who played an integral part in the development of a number of Roland devices in the 80’s. The synth deserves a lot more credit than it’s given. With a good Daw and some patience, you could roll out a full track with this thing. The synth can produce sounds ranging from deep growling basslines to high pitched percussion type sounds with just a little knob twisting and waveform tweaking. Another function of the A-01 is the sequencer and although this falls under the “Controller” section of the device it can also be used with the built-in synth. I made a quick video below demonstrating some of the capabilities of the internal sound engine:
Using the A-01/K was a little intimidating at first. It took a little getting used to all the different parameters that were controlled by the few buttons and knobs on the unit. There are three main “pages” on the interface that can be cycled through using the Mode button on the front of the A-01. The first is a “MIDI configuration” page that allows you to assign CC, Octave, Pitch-Bend and Modulation values to the main controls on the front of the device and also the Global MIDI Channel. This section is great for adjusting the parameters of external Synthesizers whether Physical or Software based. The second page allows the configuration of the internal synth parameters. You are able to control all aspects of the synth including a variety of waveforms (no Sinewave), ADSR Envelopes, Resonance/Environmental and LFO settings. You even have Portamento control in the waveform selection area on the synth page. The final page has the Sequencer configuration options, here you can set the Steps, Order and Tempo of the sequence. Inputting the sequence is as easy as holding down one of the bottom 4 buttons and using the knobs or keys (A-01K) to adjust the note and other settings. You also have the ability to shuffle the sequence and Adjust the time signature if needed. Using the A-01 is a breeze once you get over the initial learning curve of knowing which button controls what and as a bonus Roland also threw in a nice little oscilloscope so you can see your waveforms in all their aliased glory.
The A-01 and especially it’s A-01K variant are extremely good at what they do, and for what you can get them for on the market now I would definitely jump on board! I used this unit to replace my trusty Minilab and although it’s almost twice as heavy and has only a quarter of the knobs, it excels with its built-in synth, sequencer and true connectivity options that can only be rivaled by the Arturia Keystep at its current price point. I really wish that it was a little lighter, though, as lugging this beast around is not going to be easy. I guess it will help me gain some well-needed muscle while on those long road trips. I can’t complain too much, though the A-01 has everything you would need in a portable controller and then some, true aftertouch and sustain/expression pedal connections would’ve been nice but then it would have been even bigger and heavier, and that is definitely something I can do without! Specs Below:
Controller Mode: 16 patches (4 patches x 4 banks) Synth Mode: 16 tones (8 tones x 2 banks) Seq Mode: 16 patterns (8 patterns x 2banks)
Connectors PHONES jack: Stereo miniature phone type CV OUT jack: Stereo miniature phone type GATE OUT jack: Stereo miniature phone type MIDI (IN, OUT) connectors USB port: MicroB type (MIDI)
Bluetooth Bluetooth LE
Power Supply Rechargeable Ni-MH battery (AA, HR6) x 4 Alkaline battery (AA, LR6) x 4
USB bus power Current Draw 500 mA
Expected battery life under continuous use: Rechargeable Ni-MH battery: Approx. 12 hours Accessories Owner’s Manual Leaflet “USING THE UNIT SAFELY” Alkaline battery (AA, LR6) x 4Options (sold separately)Keyboard unit: K-25m
SIZE AND WEIGHT
Width 300 mm 11-13/16 inches Depth 128 mm 5-1/16 inches Height 46 mm 1-13/16 inches Weight 950 g 2 lbs 2 oz