Analog Modelling: Recreating the iconic sound of the Roland SH-101
Although select purists may prefer the sound of SH-2 or the functionality of the MC-202, the iconic Roland SH-101 remains one of the sought-after mono synths of the 80s. The simple yet highly intuitive design and architecture make it an inspiring creative tool to use, capable of producing a diverse range of sounds from the noxious to the irresistible and anything in between.
Which are the best Roland SH-101 plugins?
In a DAW environment, however, creating a software instrument that is as exciting to use as the original hardware unit is never an easy task.
In this post, we’ll check out some of the best SH-101 plugin emulations available, instances where the 101 has been used in popular music, and we’ll cover a few techniques for producing a more authentic sound with software. Hopefully, we can add some spark to your DAW workflow in the process.
Togu Audio Line Bassline 101
As with most of the TAL plugins, the interface is an almost identical replication with some added features which aim to improve the user experience. The overall sonic quality of the TAL-Bassline 101 is distinctively dark for a plugin, which immediately makes it more realistic.
A conscious effort has been made to preserve the aspects of the SH-101 that make it such a unique instrument. The source mixer remains with the addition of Filter FM, and even the built-in sequencer feels remarkably similar, despite the changes to the original note input method.
- Looks, sounds, and feels authentic without major deviations from the original
- Encourages you to design sounds from init. patch
- Not a real SH-101
D16 Group LUSH-101
The D16 LUSH-101 takes the original architecture of the SH-101 and puts it on steroids. This is no longer a monosynth at all, but rather a multitimbral polysynth with expansions in almost every avenue possible.
The interface is divided into 3 sections: The main patch editing controls, the extensive modulation matrix, and the mixer, for balancing the 8 layers.
With the endless added features and effects, the LUSH-101 comes across more like Sylenth or Massive and makes the user slightly more inclined to dive into the patch library than design sounds from scratch.
- Can produce SH-101 style sounds, and then some…
- Overelaborate interface
- Feels more like other well-known synth plugins rather than being an authentic emulation
Roland Cloud SH-101
Roland was late to the software synths game, but they came to the party with decades of development experience and very little budget constraints if any.
This emulation will produce any of the SH-101 sounds accurately, but as you’d expect the finer details and idiosyncrasies are harder to replicate on software. This means the synth obviously behaves slightly differently in terms of how one part of the instrument interacts with another.
Modulation, especially when automated over longer timeframes produces a different result, and the sequencer has a slightly different feel and approach.
- Gets all the basics right sound wise
- The interface is close enough to the original
- Nothing new or particularly innovative about the design
The Roland SH-101 in popular music
The 101’s sound has almost always been synonymous with dance music. Its architecture generally favors leads and basslines, and the onboard sequencer provides a great starting platform for any loop-based ideas making it quick to create new rhythms or melodies.
Artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Orbital and The Chemical Brothers have used the 101 extensively in their productions. It became a tool for bringing a sense of uplifting euphoria to their music.
Meanwhile, other artists like Portishead have used it completely differently. Instead, creating almost theremin-like sounds as they did on Mysterons, the opening track from their classic trip-hop debut album, Dummy.
Techno artists like Mathew Jonson and Sebastien Mullaert from Minilogue have taken things even further, using the 101 so extensively that they have become virtuosos, expanding the possibilities far beyond what the instrument was ever intended to do. The SH-101 and MC-202 are also favorites of RHCP guitar hero John Frusciante with his Trickfinger project.
Recreating the classic 101 sound
Like most hardware, the experience of using a vintage Roland SH-101 or even the more recent SH-01A from Roland’s Boutique series is impossible to match with a software plugin. However, there are some hallmarks of the 101’s design that you can keep in mind if you are trying to create a more organic sound:
- The limitation of the envelope section, as the filter can only be unlinked when controlled via CV
- The onboard sequencer can offset the grid of your DAW quite nicely, giving patterns a different feel
- Portamento or glide control is crucial for more authentic sounding leads or basslines
- When creating basslines with range, setting the filter keyboard tracking amount to zero will reduce the dynamics considerably, producing punchier results when compressed.
More about vintage gear and software modeling:
- Roland SH-101/SH-01A User Group
- Emu Emulator II upgrade
- The best Roland drum machine plugins
- Recreating the 80s Linndrum sound
- Everything vintage
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- The TAL Bassline 101 is the most authentic software emulation of the SH-101.: Togu Audio Line
- D-16 Group's LUSH 101 expands on the basic 101 design.: D-16 Group
- Roland Cloud's SH-101 plugin has some decent features inspired by the original. : Roland
I’m a big fan of SH-101. I own all of plugins here and original red Roland. My favorite is SH-01A hardware because of the versatility, controllability, size and the sound
Kinda still seems weird that Uli made a stone ripoff for peanuts, and articles like this never mention them. Yeah it’s filthy, but it’s closer in sound and feel than the tiny tiny roland toys. Uli the elephant in the room
I heard it failed at reproducing the envelope. But yeah, at least it deserved a mention here even only for a verdict on wether or not it is worth it.
Intentionally not mentioning it is utterly ridiculous.
Many were not mentioned as I felt hardware SH-101 mods and clones deserved their own article, this post is just specifically focused on the software plugin emulations.
Great tip about removing filter tracking. Is that always a good idea? I always have it switched on – even for basslines. Never thought to turn it off.. thanks for idea!
It depends on what you are going for, I really liked the mechanical 80s feel of it especially with the sequencer running. If you’re playing Moog style it might not suit it.
The Roland System 1 does a great SH101 when loaded as a plugout. It’s the same as the ACB cloud version but with reverb, delay and 64 presets. The green LEDs on the System 1 may make you a bit ‘synth-sick’ but it sounds identical. Also does a pretty good 3 note polysynth too.