The Roland SH-4d is a groovebox disguised as a synthesizer

The company's latest intsrument has plenty of hands-on controls and a dedicated sequencer track for drums.


A lot of Roland's recent instruments, that aren't just rehashes of classic gear, take an "everything and the kitchen sink" approach. Sampling and drum synthesis? Why not. Presets numbering in the thousands — plural? Of course! A dedicated vocal effect section and phantom power for running a condenser mic? Would be silly not to. The SH-4d follows the same basic formula, it has basically any feature you could want, and few you wonder who would want them, but sticks it in a box focused synthesis and sound design (mostly).

Unlike most of Roland's newer fare though, the SH-4d has plenty of hands-on controls. There's 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 just glad to see Roland adding controls instead of stripping back more.

Under the hood is a robust sound engine with 11 oscillator types, ranging from emulations of classic analog sounds from Juno-106 and SH-101, to metallic FM tones, PCM samples and 31 different wavetables. There's a multi-mode filter, an amp envelope, and LFO and a multi-effects engine with 93 different options, including nine reverb types and five choruses. The 128 x 64 LED screen isn't the sharpest, but it's definitely an improvement on the somewhat archaic seeming displays on the Verselab and TR-6S

Based on the demo clips, it seems like the instrument is leaning heavily into Roland's legacy as a cornerstone of techno, house and other electronic dance music. But it's it will likely be versatile enough to work for other genres as well. As long as you're pairing it with other instruments.

But the SH-4d doesn't stop at sound design. There's 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 selection of 439 different samples and virtual analog waves.

The sequencer and rhythm section turn the SH-4d into more of a groovebox than a synth, which has kind of been Roland's specialty over these last few year. But its interface definitely screams synthesizer, which is a welcome change from the menu-divey affairs the company has been pumping out recently.

At nearly four pounds and over a foot wide, not to mention almost eight inches deep, the SH-4d isn't super portable, but it can be powered four AA batteries none the less. 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 desk space. The Roland SH-4d will be arriving sometime in March for $650.