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Author Topic: Phil's review of the Roland Aerophone Pro AE-30 wind synthesizer  (Read 336 times)

Offline philpedler

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Review of the Roland Aerophone Pro AE-30
comparing it to the Yamaha YDS-150

In my last review of the Yamaha Digital Saxophone, I mentioned that I would be getting a Roland Aerophone Pro. So here now is my review of the Aerophone.

The Aerophone Pro comes with 305 easily selectable ‘Scenes’, which is Roland-speak for what we might call ‘instrument voices’. Over half of these sounds are in the Zen-Core set, which are the selection of synthesized voices, and the smaller half is in a group called SuperNatural, which (I am assuming) are supposed to be based on real instrument sounds. I must admit that I haven’t delved far enough into the various Roland keyboard synthesizer videos to learn more about the two sets. See more about the sounds below.

The keys of both instruments are very clicky, with a feel like depressing one to nine keys of a computer keyboard all at the same time. That is such a different experience than playing a real clarinet or even a saxophone. Although I didn’t get to play both instruments side by side, I would give the Key Action award to the YDS. The YDS has a very sax-like set of keys. The Aerophone is just plain weird, but has the keys positioned like a sax. One huge advantage for the Aerophone (and something hard to get used to) is that it has four octave keys, two below and two above the center thumb button. These can be set to play 7 octaves, with holding down two at once. I preferred to use the 5-octave setting, so I didn’t have to be particular as to whether two keys were being held down at the same time, or just one of the two. As a clarinet player who also plays sax, I found that the octave key situation caused a lot of mental gymnastics. I decided not to confuse myself with using the right sax-like pinkie keys very much, or the left hand side keys. This means I needed to train myself to switch octave keys when passing C or C# going in either direction. Once I got used to that, I found it to be a wonderfully logical system. The Aerophone can also be set to use EWI recorder-like fingerings (with the un-recorder-like addition of the octave keys).

There are TONS of settings for the Aerophone for all sorts of things. Like do you want the tone to growl when you depress the thumb pad? Or do you want it to turn on the vibrato? Do you want a different effect if you raise the Aerophone? Or what about if you tilt it left or right? You will want to set how the pitch bender works (also operated with your right thumb). There are settings also for controlling Midi settings. And most importantly, how changes of lip pressure affect the pitch and vibrato. The settings are totally bewildering, and the user manual is next to useless.

Of course there are many demo Youtube videos for the Aerophone. If you are serious about getting an Aerophone, before ordering be sure to listen to those by Alistair Parnell. If you actually get an AE-30, you really must watch his video on making the initial settings and updating the firmware.

Lip pressure affecting pitch and vibrato:
I was looking forward to being able to make my own vibrato on the Aerophone. I found that it was not as easy as I thought it would be. (The Yamaha Digital Sax had the option of automatic vibrato on or off.) On the Aerophone, one thing I wanted above all was good intonation. But if you are going to have good vibrato, one needs to be able to change the lip pressure at least +/- 20 cents. That means that if I get sloppy with maintaining my lip/jaw pressure, I could find myself playing 20 cents flat! I was surprised that this 71 year-old clarinet player wasn’t as good at maintaining a steady lip pressure as I thought I would be. I probably could have made better settings for changes of lip pressure. On my clarinet, I do play with vibrato, but my jaw movements are very slight and my vibrato is not wide. With the Aerophone, I found that I needed to make jaw movements more like I might on an alto sax. This is just something one will need to play around with changing several different settings to find the best one for you.

Sound quality of the ‘Scenes’:
If you are interested in hearing how realistic the saxophone sounds are between the three brands (Yamaha YDS-150 vs. Roland Aerophone AE-10 vs. Akai EWI Solo), I suggest watching this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hf4910pIG34
The video is in German with English subtitles. This is one of the clearest sound comparisons I have heard, because the player in the video made sample saxophone quartet recordings for each of the different instrument brands. All four similar-setting parts were played by the YDS, then played by the AE-10, and then by the EWI Solo. In this case, the fact that guy was playing the earlier model Roland AE-10 versus the AE-30 probably makes no difference. I wish we had a similar video with comparisons of all the clarinet sounds.

Clarinet: I am so disappointed that Roland didn’t do a better job of capturing really natural sounds of real instruments in the SuperNatural set. They probably took a sample of a Japanese player’s tone. How many notes did the player record for the clarinet sound? Maybe just one and not more than four! Then the rest were mathematically extrapolated by increasing the beats per second. The ‘Classic Clarinet scene’ doesn’t display any difference of sound in the throat tone area, as it would if they had captured some sounds in that range. The low chalumeau sounds are totally ugly. Any reedy boldness of a real clarinet in that range is absent, and the tone gets kind of buzzy. The SuperNatural Classic Clarinet sound would be about right for playing the clarinet part for the Antiques Road Show theme music. It won’t do for the Mozart clarinet concerto. It is certainly better than some of the so-called SuperNatural sounds for other instruments.

Other instruments:
harmonica: This scene is pretty good. The harmonica voice I picked was from the Zen-Core set, which sounded a bit fuller than the SuperNatural harmonica. But both were pretty good.
flute: Very disappointing in several different options for this instrument. I chose the Zen-Core synthetic alto recorder sound to use for flute. Problem is, it kind of has overtones of clarinet and harmonica.
tenor recorder: This had kind of a reedy sound. I have used this sound for a flute substitute also. Evidently the SuperNatural set cannot be pushed much beyond the normal range of the instrument intended.
oboe and English horn: The oboe was too thin sounding. Very ugly. By combining with other sounds (as one can do on the Aerophone), I was able to combine the English horn scene with a different synthesized sound to get a rather nice oboe/English horn sound. The sound gradually morphed to be more like a harmonica in the upper register.
bassoon: I was able to use this voice. It got kind of metallic sounding in the highest octave. Again, it is better to add something to the bassoon to get a better tone.
French horn: This scene is also rather good. I preferred to combine it with another sound, or just choose a somewhat similar synthetic sound.
trumpet: Yuck.
violin: Double yuck. It is really strange how a violin sound can begin to sound like a thin soprano sax or harmonica when a sax/clarinet player is trying to imitate a violin.
percussion: If you need to play timpani on your wind instrument, I thought that the sounds in the percussion section were pretty good. You’ll definitely get people’s attention with them!

Synthetic Zen-Core scenes:
Many of these are outstanding! There are a lot of these that are totally weird. I was mainly interested in finding sounds I could use in worship services, so I rejected all the ones that reminded me of bad sci fi television shows from the 1970s. The Zen-Core scenes start with Hard Lead and Soft Lead scenes, then there are Zen-Core scenes that mimic all sorts of instruments, even various Asian ethnic instruments I have never learned about.

My favorite Zen-Core scenes:
The thing I liked about the Hard and Soft Lead section of synthesized sounds was that they were full-bodied sounds that kept their boldness even over 5 octaves.

Somewhere from long-ago information about early synthesizers I vaguely remember hearing about the Saw Wave and the Square Wave. A lot of synthesized sounds seem to be combinations of those two basic waves. I mention these two because it seemed to me that scenes including the Saw Wave might give a sort of brass-instrument sound. And the Square Wave must have odd partials, because it sounds quite like a clarinet. And I don’t mean a thin ugly clarinet. My favorite scene of them all was combining the Square Wave with the Classic Clarinet sound. That is truly beautiful! I wished that I could play my real clarinet with that consistent sound over 5 octaves. And imagine being able to play extremely high notes at a triple pianissimo! Of course, at either extreme end of the five-octave range, the scene no longer sounds like a clarinet.

I have played the Aerophone Pro in our worship team for four Sundays now. Since this is such a different animal than anything I have ever played, it was a significant outlay of my time to learn to play it. My family— who are my best critics— were unstinting in their criticism.
Too much reverb: This had not bothered me until my son complained about it. If you are going for authentic instrument sounds, there is way too much reverb in the settings for many scenes for this instrument. I think the over-reverb became obvious when joining a group where the other instruments do not have much reverb going. There is an effect called Tap Pan Delay enabled on my Aerophone scenes which causes an echo 3-4 times after playing an ending note. I quickly learned how to disable that one.
My wife characterized my tone as often being buzzy and harsh. She said, “Why would you ever want to play an instrument that sounds like an early electric piano?” My son said everything I played sounded like a harmonica. Another person from my small group said that it kind of sounded like an electric guitar. All these comments were true, depending on which sound I was playing.
My wife only gave me one plus for the aerophone, “Well at least now you are always in tune.”
This last Sunday, a young woman who played saxophone in school asked what that ‘thing’ was that I was playing. When I asked her to say more, she said, “It looks like a cross between a saxophone and a vacuum cleaner. Kind of sounds like a synthesizer.”
For some reason, the Aerophone sounded lovely when playing along with professional artist recordings of the upcoming Sunday’s arrangements, but when playing the same sounds with the team using our worship center’s excellent sound system, the low partials of my tone seemed to get soaked up by the other instruments, leaving the high buzz of the upper partials. This made the different scenes I was playing for each song sound more alike than different. OK, like a harmonica.

So it turns out that I am a very poor person to play or review this instrument. If you listen to Alistair Parnell play, you will be able to hear that the Aerophone is a fantastic instrument for synthesized jazz. The other thing is that the Aerophone is terrific as a Midi controller. In that way, you can have access to richer real-instrument sounds and many other options that I have not explored. Others have, and you can hear some fantastic playing on YouTube videos.

For the rest of this review, I am sharing sound combinations that some of you might like to try if you get an Aerophone Pro.
And it is much easier for me to make a table at the clarinetpages.net site. So please click the link to see that part of this review:

Combining the SuperNatural sounds with others can be tricky, whether that be another SuperNatural scene or one of the synthesized ones. The reason is that combined sounds may not all react the same way to differing breath pressures and lip pressure. The result will often be slight intonation problems between them. Or if the mixed scenes are in tune, they often sound like multiple instruments playing together. (This can be fine, but it was not what I was shooting for.)

« Last Edit: October 26, 2021, 01:48:31 PM by philpedler »

Offline DaveLeBlanc

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Re: Phil's review of the Roland Aerophone Pro AE-30 wind synthesizer
« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2021, 01:05:22 PM »
Brilliant, as always. Thanks for this Phil!
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Offline kewald

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Re: Phil's review of the Roland Aerophone Pro AE-30 wind synthesizer
« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2021, 04:22:33 PM »
Well said and interesting, young man.
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Offline Airflyte

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Re: Phil's review of the Roland Aerophone Pro AE-30 wind synthesizer
« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2021, 12:20:12 PM »
Yes. Excellent review Phil. Thanks.

I will continue the journey with real woodwinds!

Roland sound samples never seem to advance with the times. Analog Juno sounds wont be found in a MIDI controller at the AE-30 price point.

Yamaha always has nice "chimey" sounds based on 4 to 6 operator FM synthesis that still sounds good.
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