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Page 2: ROLI Equator2


Equator2 supports up to 12 effects in a preset — which should be enough for anyone — accessed by a third tab. The available effects are basically the staples (chorus, flanger, filter, gate, distortion/bit‑crushing, EQ, various kinds of delays, a couple of reverbs). There are serial and parallel (six plus six) configurations for the effects block.

Lots of effects slots, though the effects are rather plain.Lots of effects slots, though the effects are rather plain.

The effects controls are pretty plain, and there’s no visual animation or level indication in any of them. Frustratingly, the compressor effect even sports a graphic of a VU dial but no needle to make use of it. So, as ever, you’ll have to use your ears.

Having slightly dissed the effects in general, I’m going to make an honourable mention of the grain delay, which can be pressed into all sorts of textural pitch‑varying services, and the modelled distortion effect which supports a range of algorithms and sounds rich and evocative. Handily, each of the effects algorithms comes with a menu of its own mini‑presets.


Equator2 is big on modulation, which is why it devotes half of its window to it. There’s a full modulation matrix behind the scenes, complete with transfer (shaping) functions, macros, mathematics and MPE gestural support.

We’ll start by looking at the visual cues for modulation. Any parameter knob which can be modulated is enclosed by two thin concentric rings. The inner ring shows the current value, which by default will match up with the marker on the knob, while the outer ring shows the extent of the programmed modulation on the parameter. In the nearby screenshot of Strike, the filter cutoff and envelope level knobs show actual values in purple and red respectively; both values are higher than the knob position because the parameters are being modulated by key strike which is highlighted in the centre. The blue of the strike modulator is reflected in the blue outer rings around the knobs. Click a different modulator (they’re colour‑coded in groups) and the outer rings will update to show that modulator’s influence. Click and drag the outer ring area to change the modulation amount; the inner ring will update in response.

As is usual, some modulation sources are per‑voice (envelopes, LFOs and MPE gestures), others are for the entire preset (macros, conventional MIDI controls like mod wheel). Per‑voice modulation sources can be applied to preset‑level effects parameters — there’s a setting to specify which voice supplies the modulation, or you can apply an average of all sounding voices.

For a more detailed view, you can right‑click a modulator’s title tab to see a table of the controls it is attached to, together with amounts and transfer functions — entries can be added, edited and deleted here. Right‑click on a control knob and you can see all the modulation sources which affect it. You can also pull up a global mod matrix table for the entire preset.

Table of modulation destinations.Table of modulation destinations.

Looking at the modulators themselves, there are five identical envelopes, although the first ‘AMP ENV’ by convention controls voice allocation. Envelope modes include ‘ADADR’ which loops the attack‑decay portion while a note is held, and ‘ADS‑PR’, which provides a pluck‑release section on note‑off. (The attack decay is still present, so there seems to be no way to make an envelope ‘pluck only’, as it were.) Most segments have adjustable curves. Segment times range from sub‑millisecond (at least according to the control readout) to 32 seconds maximum, and there’s a sync mode to use metrical times including dotted and triplet values.

There are five general‑purpose LFOs with multiple waveforms, and two ‘multi‑mod’ units which are essentially loopable grid‑based envelopes, the closest thing Equator2 has to a step sequencer. Once again, I found myself wishing for a bit of live visual feedback here: it would be good to see the current playback position of a multi‑mod (per voice, ideally), especially since the playback rate can be modulated, and multi‑mods can free‑run without notes being held. As ever, you’ll have to use your ears.

Strike (aka key velocity) as modulator.Strike (aka key velocity) as modulator.Also in the modulation arsenal is keytracking — again editable as a multistage curve. Unless you click on a tiny icon (or read the manual!) you may completely miss the fact that there are four independent keytracking sources. Keytracking is not applied to a parameter directly as a modulator: instead it influences the other modulators already on that parameter, by shifting, limiting or scaling their effect.

A collection of math modulators take one, or two, input modulation sources and process them in some manner: lag, quantise, add, multiply, threshold, etc. In the same group is a set of random sources which are sampled at note‑on, and a ‘flip‑flop’ which alternates between minimum and maximum on each played note.

The slide keyboard gesture, available with four different response curves.The slide keyboard gesture, available with four different response curves.Last, but by no means least, we come to the performance modulators associated with keyboard gestures, dominating the lower centre of the window. Equator2 believes in two kinds of keyboard controller: those which support MPE, and standard ones which don’t. Every preset is either configured for MPE or not. In MPE mode the five modulators are for the so‑called ‘five dimensions’ of gesture (strike, glide, slide, press, lift), available as per‑voice modulation sources. Switch to standard mode and the modulators switch to their traditional equivalents (velocity, pitch‑bend, mod wheel, etc).

The rest of the preset isn’t directly aware of whether modulation is coming from the MPE sources or not: switch to standard and mod wheel will have much the same affect as slide, albeit monophonically. This led me to wonder why Equator2 ships with many of its presets essentially duplicated, with a standard and an MPE version of each. According to ROLI, there are enough articulation differences between MPE and standard presets, even for the ‘same’ sound, that it makes sense to customise them.

As with keytracking, each of the five types of performance modulation is available as four distinct sources, with individual editable response curves. There’s a selection of preset curves and new ones can be saved into a library.

Wrapping up the tour of modulation sources we have five macro controls, which just so happen to resemble the five left‑hand controllers on a ROLI Seaboard. You don’t need to own a Seaboard to make use of them: they are MIDI‑mapped, and you can automate them from your DAW. Two of the five controls are presented as X and Y axes on a grid — mimicking the Seaboard hardware — which led me to reflect on how useful it might have been to have more X‑Y controls inside Equator2, especially for the routing and mixing of the six sound sources into the filters and effects. As a Korg Wavestation fan, perhaps I just want to vector‑mix everything.

Equator2 Sounds

Lots of options on the table in the modelled distortion space.Lots of options on the table in the modelled distortion space.

Equator2 comes with a shade under 1500 presets, of which about 40 percent are MPE‑capable, plus 360 legacy presets from Equator1. In addition, ROLI are putting out paid‑for soundpacks, as first seen in their Studio Player. Since I own Equator1 and Studio Player, the compatible soundpacks from both products appeared inside Equator2. As I write, four new Equator2 packs are available for purchase and download, and by the time you read this a free pack called Motion Waves should be part of the Equator2 bundle.

There’s a fair range of good‑sounding material on offer, more than I have space to describe here. Good use is made of Equator2’s modulation features, with a few rhythmic patterns that would fool you into thinking that you had some kind of arpeggiator on board. I was not that taken with vintage synth and SynthWave sounds, but only because my personal philosophy is that you’re better off crafting material like that for yourself. Orchestral fare is pretty thin on the ground, too. On the other hand, the cinematic soundscapes and ‘action sequence’ presets sound contemporary, rich and expressive. It’s the MPE presets which really shine in terms of expressiveness and control, so if you’re a soundtrack maker you should think about investing in a Lightpad or Seaboard Block as an input device.


I’m going to come clean and confess that I was initially slightly biased against Equator2. I can have a bit of an issue with sample‑based synths in general, probably dating back to my days with a Korg M1, and my personal take on the original Equator version 1 is that it was tailored to making a Seaboard sound good — which it does! — rather than being a fully rounded instrument in its own right.

If you have a ROLI Seaboard or Lightpad I’d say it’s a no‑brainer; even if not I strongly recommend it.

With Equator2, it’s clear that there’s been a rethink of the design to make it more rounded: six general‑purpose sources per voice, granular synthesis (which will always win me over to a sampler‑player), powerful audio routing, lashings of effects and a top‑notch modulation system. It is only let down slightly by the feature‑challenged sample player. Visually the controls are perhaps a little too understated — it’s a bit hard to see what’s enabled and what’s not at a glance — and such a powerful device would benefit from more animated feedback of audio levels and real‑time modulation. But overall there are no sharp edges or gotchas, accessibility is good given the complexity of the device, and it sounds great. If you have a ROLI Seaboard or Lightpad I’d say it’s a no‑brainer; even if not I strongly recommend it.


  • Great‑sounding, multi‑layered instrument.
  • Mix of FM, wavetable and granular synthesis possible within a single preset.
  • Powerful but accessible modulation matrix.
  • Some nice‑sounding effects algorithms.


  • A lack of visual feedback of audio signals makes editing a bit opaque.
  • The flat greyness of the interface causes some controls to get a bit lost.
  • Sample playback is rather under‑powered.
  • Distinction between MPE and ‘standard’ presets can be a little inconvenient.


Equator2 is a flagship soft synth from ROLI, and is oriented towards, although not reliant on, controllers with MPE support. Predominantly sample‑based, it offers a wealth of synthesis and modulation options in an easy‑to‑use package with no serious downsides, although the user interface could provide a few more clues as to what’s going on when it’s playing. For responsive, dynamic cinematic soundscapes with accessible controls it deserves a serious look.


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Test Spec

  • Equator2 version 2.2.0
  • Apple MacBook Pro (Mid 2014), Mac OS Catalina 10.15.7
  • Bitwig Studio 4.0.1
  • Ableton Live Suite 11.0.5