Roland SE-02

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

Stu­dio Elec­tron­ics meet Roland for this ana­logue monosynth – we bring you the of­fi­cial FM verdict

The SE-02 is Roland’s de­but ‘De­signer Bou­tique’ model, de­signed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Stu­dio Elec­tron­ics. Dan ‘JD73’ Gold­man checks it out!

Stu­dio Elec­tron­ics were one of the few com­pa­nies still heav­ily in­vested in ana­logue tech­nol­ogy in the ’80s and ’90s. They ini­tially re­paired and rack-mounted clas­sic synths in­clud­ing the Min­i­Moog (MidiMoog) and Prophet-5 (P-Five), but it soon made sense for them to launch their own ana­logue prod­ucts, and they did so with a bang. Their SE-1, ATC-1, Omega-8 and Code synths are all held in high es­teem to­day, and many are still cur­rent prod­ucts – a tes­ta­ment to their great de­sign and sound. More re­cently, SE have had suc­cess with their Boom/Ton­es­tar ranges. Roland have been im­pressed by SE’s work and, while their Bou­tique range has un­til now been all about recre­at­ing their past clas­sics us­ing dig­i­tal ACB tech­nol­ogy, with the SE-02 Roland have de­cided to work with SE and bring a fully ana­logue Bou­tique to mar­ket. Roland have had suc­cess with their re­cent JD-XA and JD-XI, (which fea­ture Roland’s own in-house ana­logue cir­cuitry with Su­per­nat­u­ral dig­i­tal en­gines) but, as a pre­cur­sor to the SE-02, Roland col­lab­o­rated with Mod­u­lar man­u­fac­turer Malekko for their 500-series mod­u­lar. So qual­ity ana­logue is firmly on their agenda!

The SE-02 is the de­but prod­uct in Roland’s new ‘De­signer Bou­tique’ line but fol­lows the same form-fac­tor as its ACB-driven Bou­tique sib­lings. This means it can be used as a desk­top mod­ule or mounted in Roland’s own DK-01 dock or their K-25M key­board en­clo­sure for a fully self-con­tained so­lu­tion. Un­like pre­vi­ous Bou­tiques, the SE-02 has a ded­i­cated power in­put for the in­cluded wall wart. This al­le­vi­ates one of my main pre­vi­ous con­cerns, as you had to use a com­puter/ex­ter­nal USB adap­tor to power them (or batteries, which was great for trav­el­ling). The flip­side is there’s no bat­tery power for the SE-02. There’s still an on­board speaker which is cool for trav­el­ling and for mik­ing up, al­though with no bat­tery power it’s less handy as you al­ways need an ex­ter­nal power source. Also con­spic­u­ously miss­ing from the SE-02 are pitch/mod touch strips, so if you’re us­ing it with the

Son­i­cally, it’s qual­ity and can go from warm and smooth to harsh and ag­gres­sive

K-25M key­board en­clo­sure you’ll have no pitch or mod wheel fa­cil­ity. I hope Roland launch an SE-02 spe­cific en­clo­sure, with proper pitch and mod wheels to get around this; per­haps they could put a recharge­able bat­tery in there as well! Of course, if you’re us­ing any other MIDI con­troller with wheels, you’re all set and most pa­ram­e­ters/di­als re­ceive/trans­mit MIDI CCs too.

It’s amaz­ing how much Roland/SE have crammed into the avail­able space. There are 37 di­als, 15 flick switches, 22 mul­ti­colour back­lit but­tons for se­quenc­ing and pa­ram­e­ter se­lec­tion, a two-digit red LED for patch num­bers/pa­ram­e­ter read­outs and func­tion se­lec­tion (with scrolling mes­sages for longer func­tion de­scrip­tions), plus a red LED for tempo and a green LED to show that the en­velopes are be­ing trig­gered. The switches all feel solid, though the knobs are of the plas­tic shaft type and have some give. I was wor­ried that they would be hard to use ac­cu­rately due to their small size and close prox­im­ity to each other but they work okay, though it’s quite easy to knock neigh­bour­ing di­als when tweak­ing. For per­form­ing, you’ll find clas­sic con­trol on­board in­clud­ing glide with lin­ear and ex­po­nen­tial modes, oc­tave up and down but­tons (with a large +/- 3 oc­tave range) and a ‘wheel mix’ dial that al­lows you to dial in how much of the LFO and XMod is trig­gered by a connected Mod wheel over MIDI. Un­der this dial is a click­able value dial used for quickly scrolling through pa­ram­e­ters and patches and for saving – some­thing I’d have loved on my JD-XA!

Now for the very well-fea­tured sound en­gine. Firstly the Os­cil­la­tors sec­tion. There are three very sta­ble and nicely fat/pre­cise-sound­ing, tem­per­a­ture-com­pen­sated VCOs, with an auto-tune func­tion that pulls them into line if they drift out (you can force tune the SE-02 when in Patch mode by press­ing Trans­pose/the Value dial). Each VCO has six MiniMoogstyle wave­forms (a throw­back to the Min­i­Moog’s front panel) and VCO2 and 3 can be de­tuned against VCO1 to add rich­ness and beat­ing/de­tun­ing. These are wide range os­cil­la­tors that have footage op­tions from 32’ to 2’, plus each VCO has a ‘Lo’ op­tion so

you can use them as ad­di­tional LFOs (in ad­di­tion to the global LFO). This es­sen­tially gives you three ex­tra LFO op­tions. The Lo op­tion is also handy for cre­at­ing polyrhyth­mic tex­tures, es­pe­cially when you em­ploy cross mod­u­la­tion be­tween the os­cil­la­tors. As you can see, there’s a lot of mileage in this sec­tion and that’s be­fore we even look at the great­sound­ing os­cil­la­tor sync func­tion and the abil­ity to mod­u­late VCO2 via the fil­ter en­ve­lope (via the bipo­lar Env1 mod dial) for more ‘out there’ son­ics. Fi­nally, you can de­cou­ple VCO3 from the key­board (for drones and evolv­ing sounds) and there’s a se­lec­tor switch to de­note which type of cross mod the mod wheel brings in via the wheel mix dial.

The com­pre­hen­sive and in­dis­pens­able XMOD sec­tion al­lows mod­u­la­tion of fil­ter cut­off via VCO2, mod­u­la­tion of VCO2’s wave­form via VCO3 and fi­nally, the pulse width of VCO 1 and 2 can be mod­u­lated by VCO3. There’s plenty of func­tion­al­ity for cre­at­ing sub­tle or crazy move­ment, FX, at­mo­spher­ics or more dra­matic clan­gor­ous tex­tures. Next, we have a Min­i­Moog-style mixer, with a level con­trol for each os­cil­la­tor, white noise and an­other ob­vi­ous Min­i­Moog throw­back: feed­back. This es­sen­tially routes the out­put (be­fore the de­lay) back into the fil­ter in­put in­ter­nally for thick­en­ing or de­stroy­ing your sounds; it’s yet an­other in­dis­pens­able tex­tu­ral tool and can do sub­tle or wild. As on the Min­i­Moog, push­ing the os­cil­la­tor lev­els for ad­di­tional drive into the fil­ter sec­tion/ VCA sounds great.

The fil­ter sec­tion features a self-os­cil­lat­ing 24dB low-pass de­sign with a ‘dual-gain-stage-am­pli­fier’. It’s a great-sound­ing fil­ter with plenty of range and balls! It goes from subby lows and growl­ing mids, to pierc­ing, liq­uidy highs. The res­o­nance sub­tly fat­tens things up at lower lev­els, while it can get re­ally vi­cious and crazy at higher val­ues (though it does ap­pear to step at these higher lev­els). As on a Min­i­Moog, the res­o­nance also robs a de­cent amount of low-end at higher lev­els but the flip­side is you can use the res­o­nance as a pseudo HPF. You can also play the fil­ter dur­ing self-os­cil­la­tion and it’s great for mak­ing qual­ity kicks, hats and ef­fect sounds. Add in some feed­back for grit/dirt and girth and you’re away!

The en­velopes go from nicely snappy to long, rang­ing from 10ms to 10secs. Again, they’re Min­i­Moog-style af­fairs; ADS type but with switch­able re­lease stages for en­ve­lope 2 (amp) or 1 (fil­ter), or 1/ 2 to­gether. Dual ADSRs would have been more flex­i­ble but this de­sign ob­vi­ously saved on panel space. You can also in­vert the fil­ter en­ve­lope, choose legato or mul­ti­trig­ger be­hav­iour, the con­tour con­trol can be ad­dressed via ve­loc­ity and the SE-02 also re­ceives af­ter­touch data for fil­ter/LFO. (Note there’s no ve­loc­ity to amp cur­rently.) To top things off, there’s a nicely fast nine-wave­form MIDI-syn­ca­ble LFO with ded­i­cated fil­ter and os­cil­la­tor amount di­als. It also has a free run­ning mode, one-shot mode and key trig­ger mode which adds to the ver­sa­til­ity, plus there are switches for as­sign­ing the LFO to mod wheel for con­trol­ling fil­ter/os­cil­la­tor mod­u­la­tion amount in var­i­ous strengths. Plus there’s a sync switch for sync­ing the LFO and de­lay to tempo (in­ter­nal/ex­ter­nal), sync­ing just the LFO or sync­ing the de­lay (or no sync). The de­lay (dig­i­tal) is fully by­pass­able, sounds lovely and re­ally puts the ic­ing on the cake, adding at­mos­phere and space to the sound. It can get long/trippy, or use it as a room-like re­verb at shorter set­tings.

Con­sid­er­ing there’s also a nice­lyfea­tured se­quencer on­board, the SE-02 is a very im­pres­sive piece of kit. Son­i­cally, it’s high-qual­ity and can do ev­ery­thing from warm and smooth to harsh and ag­gres­sive. It’s a bit Rolandy and a bit Mo­ogy/SE-ish but then with all the ver­sa­tile mod­u­la­tion and shap­ing on­board, it has its own vibe too and it’s hard to make it sound bad. There are a few down­sides but for just over £500 it’s a wellfea­tured and solid-sound­ing bit of kit, clearly show­ing that col­lab­o­ra­tions are a great way for­ward!

Sound: There is some Min­i­Moog DNA in the sound of the SE-02 but it does have its own sound – a mix­ture of SE, Moog and Roland. It works great as a smooth or dirty bass synth and for sweet/ag­gres­sive leads/FX

Inputs: The CV in­put re­ceives pitch over CV (OCT/V only). Gate re­ceives note on/off CV. VCF CV al­lows in­com­ing CV to con­trol fil­ter cut­off. Fi­nally, Trig­ger In al­lows ex­ter­nal ad­vanc­ing of se­quencer steps

Bou­tique Form-Fac­tor: The SE-02’s size is great for trav­el­ling light when tour­ing and can form a fully self-con­tained so­lu­tion when docked (try an ex­ter­nal bat­tery pack). You can also chain mul­ti­ple units

USB: Con­nect to your com­puter to backup/re­store/up­date. The SE-02 acts as a 2-in/2-out USB au­dio/MIDI in­ter­face at up to 192,000kHz, so you can trans­mit/re­ceive high-fidelity dig­i­tal au­dio di­rect to/from your DAW

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