SH-101, the next generation? Superlative Instruments launch the svelte SB01

There’s an all-new keyboard instrument, born in the USA. It’s got the spirit of the Roland SH-101, but with modern design features. And CDM is getting an exclusive first look.

It’s analog for the 21st century – rechargeable and thin, like a smartphone, but with analog circuitry and instrumental interaction, like the classics that inspired it.

Updated: now with sound demo –

Superlative Instruments showed a non-final version of this instrument back at the Superbooth show in Berlin, but the company tells us they’ve been hard at work developing the design through the summer. So what you see here is not a render – this is the revised product, and represents a significant leap forward from what they had in Berlin.

What’s new? They’ve changed materials, including upgrading to an all-aluminum chassis. It’s rechargeable, with up to 16 hours of battery life. And they’ve updated the design.

We’re seeing some new keyboards these days, but generally with big manufacturers behind them. SI is a real indie hardware label, and they tell us they have some ambitious progressive ideas about keeping the design open and supporting good causes (we got talking about bee health, for one). There will even be open-source firmware.

Of course, the irony of this is that, wonderful an instrument as it may be, the engineering on the SH-101 was anything but luxurious. So curiously what you get on the SB01 is like a deluxe remake, retaining the workflow and basic layout but re-imagining the 101 in a much more attractive “space bee” look.

If original synth designs is what you want, this isn’t it – it is intentionally a clone of the analog essentials, which on some level puts it in contention with the likes of Behringer. But rather than cloning being a race to the bottom, here you get more of the equivalent of what happens in boutique sports cars – recreations that modernize the form and engineering while retaining basic function.

What’s actually inside?

  • Analog circuitry, inspired by the original Roland (in collaboration with Open Music Labs)
  • 3340 voltage controller oscillator + 4-pole OTA filter (that’s what makes this sound like a 101)
  • USB-C connector for both power and data (MIDI)
  • MIDI in and out (on minijack)
  • Pedal input
  • Full CV inputs, too – CV (1v/octave) for pitch, gate, trigger, and mod CV input for the VCO/VCF
  • And CV output – 1v/oct, gate, trigger
  • Phone and line audio outputs
  • 32-key keyboard with octave transposition, portamento
  • A new “performance” bender – 360 degree joystick for pitch bend, filter, and vibrato
  • Keytar grip (as on the Roland) 3-axis accelerometer control (that’ll be new) – this can be optionally attached if you want it, or left out if you don’t.

There’s also a new step sequencer. This basically expands the original, with 256 notes x 64 different locations. It’s got the signature SH sequencing (LOAD, PLAY buttons, rest, slide), but also an arpeggiator and chord mode/hold. There’s also a CHAIN mode and JUMP for immediately triggering sequences, so you get deeper sequencing possibilities but still oriented around live performance.

Sequencer specs:

  • Dual sequencer / arpeggiator
  • Arpeggiator modes: up, down, up&down, random
  • Sequencer: play directions, live editing
  • Key transpose, latch, hold
  • Bi-color LED layer indicators
  • 256 steps per sequence
  • 2 banks x 32 pattern memory locations

The keys are actually full size, but fit into a slim casing – so they say this is carry-on friendly (and they’re offering a tote bag as accessory). The action is a quiet rubber dome switch to allow that slim shape.

The whole package is 491mm x 249mm x an incredible 24 mm (that’s 19.3″ x 9.8″ x 1″)!

No pricing details yet, but Kickstarter is launching shortly. 200 “Early Bee” units will be available in the preorder.

Now there’s a Kickstarter video:

Slightly outdated as they’ve updated the design, but here are some videos from Superbooth, earlier this year:

And an extended talk with the developer:

They’ve also posted stretch goals – including what one of you asked for (and I definitely want), microtuning:

  • after US$200K in funding – Microtonal tuning options with for preset and custom tuning tables.
  • after $300K – USB Host mode which would let you use additional USB devices and not just MIDI – no computer/phone required.

More info:

https://playsuperlative.com/

Kickstarter campaign (pre-notification)

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