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Roland SH-4d

Synthesizer & Sequencer By Simon Sherbourne
Published May 2023

Roland SH-4d

Roland’s SH‑4d is an ambitious amalgam of synth and sequencer in a battery‑powered box.

The SH‑4d is a mash‑up: a four‑part tabletop synth with a drum machine thrown in, plus an onboard sequencer and effects. I can’t shove it squarely into one of the usual categories, but I’d say it lays its picnic blanket on the synthy side of the synth/groovebox fence. Although it’s Rolandy in design, and makes a lot of very Rolandy sounds, you feel the influence from multi‑engine desktop boxes like the Elektrons, Teenage Engineering’s OP‑1 or Arturia’s MiniFreak.

The SH‑4d is slightly out on its own in the Roland line‑up. Although it’s somewhat like a re‑worked Jupiter‑Xm, it’s not a native ZEN‑Core device: the sound engines are apparently made from ZEN building blocks, but they’re simplified (thank goodness) and can’t load ZEN‑Core sounds. The rhythm section uses digital synthesis, but it’s not the same as on the TR‑8S. And the SH‑101 and Juno‑106 synth modules are new, despite Roland having multiple other emulations of these in ZEN, Boutique and plug‑in forms.


The SH‑4d packs a wealth of controls onto a roughly foot‑wide unit. Along with the baggable size, portability is supported by USB‑C power and a battery port for four AAs. The USB connection can transport multi‑channel audio for each Part when connected to a computer. The panel has the same screen and button cluster as the Jupiter‑Xm, with a button strip for sequencing, Part/Pattern selection and numerous Shift functions. Along the bottom is a ‘keyboard’ comprising non‑velocity‑sensitive buttons.

As a synth the SH‑4d is conceptually similar to the Arturia MiniFreak that we recently had on test, in that various synth types can be swapped into the main oscillator block, where a set of controls take on different functions for each engine. Everything on the right‑hand side — filters, modulators and effects — behaves the same for each synth type. The difference from the Freak is that the SH‑4d has four fully independent Parts, plus the fifth rhythm Part, each channel of which gets full use of the panel controls. There’s a total of 60 voices in the shared polyphony pot, which should cover most situations.

There’s no Project concept on the unit, instead you work inside Patterns like on a drum machine or groovebox. As well as sequence data, Patterns store the settings for the five Parts and the effects, just like the Scenes on the modern Jupiters. This means you can seamlessly recall complete setup states for the whole device. Pattern launching during playback is always queued (instant takeover never seems to be a thing on Roland devices). Rather than lumping all the data within the Pattern, Parts point to instrument patch slots in a central pool. The downside to this is that when you save a Pattern you’re prompted to save out each Part to a slot, naming each. It’s horrible and could be massively improved with some shortcuts and auto‑naming. At least on subsequent saves you can choose to overwrite everything.

The back panel is home to a USB‑C port, MIDI I/O sockets, clock in and audio in on 3.5mm sockets, quarter‑inch audio outs and a quarter‑inch headphone output.The back panel is home to a USB‑C port, MIDI I/O sockets, clock in and audio in on 3.5mm sockets, quarter‑inch audio outs and a quarter‑inch headphone output.


Each of SH‑4d’s four synth Parts can run one of 11 synth models (detailed in the ‘Synths In The Box’ box). The first knob in the osc section always selects the model; the other controls adapt to fit the available parameters. The default model is simply called SH‑4d, and is a four‑oscillator virtual analogue affair. The four oscillator waveforms are shown on the display and the two encoders below are used to focus one at time and dial through wave types. The sliders act as a mixer for the oscillator layers.

All the usual wave shapes are available, as well as various hybrids, a supersaw and a modulating ‘Juno’ saw. Each oscillator can be tuned separately via the second osc encoder. The last encoder sets pulse‑width modulation per oscillator, a mapping shared by many of the models. Shift with this encoder sets the pulse‑width position. Shifted parameters can’t really be reached with one hand, so it’s hard to tweak these while playing notes. Further oscillator controls are accessed by hitting Enter to reach a standard Roland select‑and‑set list on the display. For the SH‑4d synth model, the menu has an option to sync osc 1‑2 or 3‑4, apply ‘Fatness’ to each, and adjust detuning for the supersaw. The Fat process introduces some kind of pleasing saturation or shaping with a one‑octave subharmonic component.

After the oscillator comes the filter section, which provides a useful 6dB/octave high‑pass filter in addition to the main multi‑mode filter. The filter offers 24dB/oct high‑pass, 12dB/oct band‑pass and 24dB/oct low‑pass modes. The filter has a wet, whistley resonance that’s nice when tracking the keyboard but doesn’t quite self resonate. It’s inherently clean but has a Drive control to grunge things up. A dedicated ADSR envelope is provided in the same section. The single filter model makes do for all the synth types, so although there are 101 and Juno emulations they are...

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