Another one of those “best synths ever made”! Have there been too many “best of” analog synths? Comparing the SH-5 with other instruments simply leads to the conclusion that this particular machine is in many ways unbeatable.
It’s the peak of the Roland SH-series, so to speak. The “best of that bunch”, as Martin Newcomb (Museum Of Synthesizer Technology) says.
The SH-series, that’s the SH-1, SH-2, SH-3(A), SH-5, SH-7, SH-09, later on even the SH-101 that offers a totally different design. And don’t forget those early preset-synths SH-1000 und SH-2000. Latest instruments (virtual analog) with nostalgic SH-names (SH-32…) might not have too much in common with the classics SH-5, SH-7 or SH-09.
And of these the SH-5 might be the best of all. I owned the SH-1 (lovely synth, not too many features), SH-09 (even more cut-down, but sounds wonderful!), SH-101 (great little sequencer!) and others.
SH-5’s predecessor SH-7 offers vast modulation possibilities, but concerning its filter quality there are pros and cons as well among musicians.
In 1975 Roland was …
- … not a tremendously serious name on the synthesizer-market. Moog and ARP dominated the field and Oberheim was starting to come into its own. Korg was little known, although Kitaro already made loads of music with his all-time-favourite Korg 700S (maybe Korg’s team used all the money developing the PS-series?). Yamaha, too, was little known for its synthesizers. SY-1 and SY-2 had no chance on a synth-market dominated by Minimoog- and ARP-instruments.
- … making the SH-5. In order to be attractive, Roland had to feature its instruments with special modules. SH-3 e.g. offers a five-stage oscillator (and a really dull filter, what a shame!). Its successor SH-5 was even better-designed.
The instrument’s design
The SH-5 comes in a solid case. This makes the instrument with its cover really heavy. But that lovely case is the reason that many SH-5 are in excellent cosmetic condition these days. Massive wood – no comparison to ARP-2600’s scrimpy pseudo-case. Take off the cover, and the instrument is ready to play. The power cord even has its own compartment on the backside (with a little door). True mid-70s vintage-style.
The keyboard is a nightmare. Sadly that’s a feature of many Roland vintage synthesizers, such as SH-1/2/3/5/7/09 and Jupiter-4, VP-330 (first version) etc. No pleasant feeling at all, and double-trigger usually is really a problem. At that time – 1975 – Yamaha, Korg and Moog were offering keyboards of much higher quality.
And yet – overall, the design of the instrument is brilliant! The control panel sits at a perfect angle in front of the musician (as with the Minimoog). It offers good orientation – you never get lost on the SH-5.
Well, they’re really ok for an anlog synth:
- 2 VCOs
- 2 LFOs
- ring modulator
- band pass filter
- one and a half ENVs
That’s all packed in a sort of half-modular concept. Well, and there are heaps of connections. Those controllers (pitch bend, etc.) next to the keyboard are not bad either.
Band Pass Filter
Talking about being unique! One of the best sounding filters ever produced. Overwhelming power, aggressive sounds and “pure analog”. The BP filter can be faded in and out. Most of the SH-5 soundfiles we attached use this simple feature – listen to them!
Beside the band pass filter there’s also the instrument’s …
Multi Mode Filter
Really unusual design considering this is a Roland! Do you know any other SH with more than a LPF? At the most there’s usually a additional manual HPF …
The multi mode filter offers LPF, BPF and HPF. Resonance is extremely brilliant, giving the sound a lot of musical depth.
To sum it up: what the SH-5 offers is a switchable LP/BP/HP-filter with a separate band pass filter in parallel. Not too bad, hm?
That means this synthesizer goes far beyond all other SH-instruments when it comes to sound quality and -variety. Although the SH-series generally sounds superb. We have to admit the small SH-09 e.g. produces enormous musical textures, not versatile, but surprisingly powerful.
By the way: VCF-IN is offered on the backside. Just connect a Midi-CV-interface or use your analog sequencer to control filter frequency. What a shame the separate band pass filter offers no CV-IN! That would make it perfect.
Ringmodulator and Noise
These two modules are quite important for those crazy fx-sounds. Roland’s rather usual RM can hardly be compared with Yamaha’s state-of-the-art- ring modulator of the polyphonic CS synthesizers. But still, it’s flexibly designed with its small source-matrix. Lovely, really…
And you get pink and white noise too (although switchable, not continuously available as on the ARP-2600).
Each of the five audio sources can be mixed individually: VCO1, VCO2, RM, NOISE and AUDIO-IN (Ext-IN). That’s very useful. Think of a hard-synced VCO-sound coupled with a shimmer of ring modulation… But mixing audio sources isn’t all it can do: the SH-5 offers a switch-matrix to run each source – either through the VCF, VCF and BPF, through the BPF alone, or directly via the VCA.
So you have 5 audio sources with 4 different routing-possibilities.
This is a dangerous synth: those who play it usually want to keep it! That powerful band pass filter, especially, produces pronounced sounds no other analog synth is capable off.
The SH-5 is your favourite instrument if you like:
- Powerful basses [this is always mentioned first, why?]
- Percussive sequencer-sounds
- Experimental RM/FX-sounds
Don’t look for the SH-5 if you prefer:
- Naturally sounding lead voices (keep an eye out for the polyphonic Yamaha CS instruments)
- String sounds (my SH-5, at any rate, has no clue as how to create them)
The Roland SH-5 today
Estimating the value of the SH-5 isn’t easy. Sound character and some features are totally unique, and how can that be priced? If you really want one you might be willing to pay up to 3900 Euros now, in 2018.
Well, there is no substitute for this machine, so its price is theoretically open-end. I am exaggerating, of course. There “is” a limit, there should be one, at least. Street prices range somewhere between 3000 and 3500 Euros.
SH-5 synthesizers usually come in very good cosmetic condition (thanks to that lovely case-design). Double trigger is a problem with every SH-synth, but cleaning the key’s inside helps. Apart from the low-quality keyboard, the SH-5 is ingeniously designed and well-equipped.
Listen to the sound files and decide what you’re willing to pay …
Monophonic Analog Synthesizer
Vintage Synth Explorer
Envelopes are not fast at all , they’re linear , general sound
is quite thin , but in a warm kind of japanese way , not comparable to american synths , good for fx sounds and external filtering but not much else , glad i sold it at a good profit (bought at about 500 euros , sold at 3 times at much) , at current prices to avoid like hell :)
A friend gave me an SH-5 in 1989 with one stipulation, I could NEVER sell it. The 1st night I had it home, I knew that would not be a problem. Anyone complaining about “thinness” of sound, did not get to know this machine. From ear piercing squeals to foundation shaking thunder bass, it will create sounds like no other synth it’s size, period. The only thing that could have made it any better would be polyphony, but I’m not complaining at all. I will have mine until I die, my kids can fight over who gets it.
Hey Theo, great review! I love the pics as well – classy.
As an owner for the last 3 years of an SH-5, I can guarantee that the last thing this synth is is thin!! Unless you want it to be, of course. What a glorious example of mono synths.
… absolutely. This is Roland’s most excellent monosynth (o:
The best thing about this site aren’t great pictures and well written reviews but amazing sound examples and demo songs. Where I can buy your music? :)
Great Article. Thanks
Happen to have one in storage – used only for 3 months and stored away safely for 25 years. Now it is out of the box again. I understand that it is still highly regarded but I do not see myself using it again.
Thanks just the same
This synth is amazing. The sound of the filters are pure warm creamy analog. The interface is well thought out and beautifully designed. The case is rock solid and protects the synth beautifully. It is the ultimate in sound and design. I’m glad i bought this instead of the Roland SH-7. It is “art” very inspiring in its simplicity and form and the sound it produces is living.
If it ran thin, you needed to adjust the BPF, if set to high it produces a very nice, but squelched tin can sort of signal, lower setting are sometimes to low for some amps to even work with. With the volume set at 2.5-3 through a 75W amp, set on 2 or 3, I can rattle the windows two floors up with the bass tones alone. While the SH-5 can produce a cornucopia of thin sounds, I have never heard it’s overall description use that term, usually “fat, phat, heavy and thunderous”.
You should see if the folks at RL Music would be interested in either brokering it for you or buying it outright, don’t let it gather dust if you aren’t going to use it, there are a lot of folks looking to pick these up and the availability has dwindled as the years progress. RL Music’s email is richard (at) rlmusic.co.uk, they restore, rebuild, customize and sell vintage analogs.
I would like to buy it off you if you’re considering selling it Romano.
I have to disagree with one little part of your article, minor point
“At that time – 1976 – Yamaha, Korg and Moog were offering keyboards of much higher quality.”
Slight correction on the date, the SH-5 came out in 1975, the same year as Korg’s biggest overlook bit of gear, the MakiKorg, of which I am a proud owner. While neither the SH-5 OR the MaxiKorg would have what I’d call sophisticated keys, the Korgs are far from better, just different, but for the sounds and the machines, those keyboards, while not great keydecks in general, both perfectly suit the synths they are on, the ONLY complaint I would level on the SH-5 keyboard is if you are really going to town, they click. Doesn’t bleed into the signal, but a mic will register it
Every time I see the “thin” complaint all I read is “I didn’t actually try much on this gear”. I’ve seen it in reference to many pieces I own and not only do not think of as thin, but my 1st thought’s if you ask me what my impression of it is, 9 times out of 10 it’s “hella Phat!”
I’ve seen it slapped at all manner of gear, old and new alike and it is almost always not true.
… hi Steve. Thanks for the great comment. The SH-5 was released in early 1976, as far as literature tells (Mark Vail, Julian Colbeck, Matthias Becker,…). And yes – you’re absolutely right – the MaxiKorg (800DV) is a marvellous piece of analog music synthesizer (one of the best mono/duophonics, in my opinion). Cheers …
I missed your response and would like to ascertain whether you still are interested in a the Roland SH5. I have not done anything with it as yet but I am in the market for a Roland V Piano. Regards Romano
Not sure whether my previous mail worked. I still have my SH5 and would like to know whether you still are interested in this vintage synth.
If anyone is looking for an sh5 I am selling one of these and its up on ebay at the moment for 3900, make an offer, (oct 14). It’s amazing I have 2, so selling one to buy a P5.
I am interested in your SH5, you still have it?
I have to agree with Paladium on the envelopes, they’re certainly the biggest letdown on this otherwise great synth. It’s weak with regards to generating percussive tones imho. The bandpass and highpass modes of the VCF were not among its highlights either, but I found lowpass mode in conjuction with the static highpass to sound excellent. Otherwise I found it to be a unique and compelling instrument. A fabulous ambient drone generator. Possibly the greatest feature of the synth imho is the routing/mixer section. Every analog synth should have one of these!
People seem to fall into two camps in the SH-5 vs SH-7 debate. Either they love the 5 and hate the 7, or vice versa. Imho they’re just two very different synths, with different strengths and weaknesses.
For comparison with the SH-5, here are a couple of snippets containing only SH-2 and SH-7:
… thanks !!!
The only reason I say that it was from 1975 is mine has 1975 stamped on it.
… so, probably synth literature is wrong. I just changed the date to 1975. Thanks, Steve!
I sold my SH-5 to Stereo MCs for £2000 few years ago… What a shame! Amazing, the best SH synth…
I just wanted to pass on my knowledge of how to trigger the lfo’s seperate from when triggering the envelopes of the vca when using an external cv sequencer to trigger notes. I use doepfer dark time for envelope gating and pitch cv. To trigger the lfo I use a cv/gate signal from roland tr-808.
First I connect dark time pitch cv out to the ‘keyboard voltage input’ of sh-5. Then I connect gate out from dark time to ‘external input trigger’ on sh-5. Make sure to set adsr and ar envelope trigger on front panel to ‘ext’. By triggering envelopes via ‘external input’ rather than the ‘computer keyboard voltage input’ the lfo’s are effectively free-running. I then send a cv gate signal from an 808 into the ‘computer keyboard voltage input’ at the start of every 2 bars so that the lfo’s restart every 2 bars in time with the tempo.
Hope this helps someone. Please repost to the necessary forums if helpful.
Hi Romano! You still have that Sh-5 for sale? I would like to buy it …
Sammi: Yes, helpful, thanks !
Just to confirm that I still have my SH5. I did not place it into market due to work overload in my business.
Missed your note but I confirm that I still have it. Due to work pressure put the sale on hold.
I might be somewhat late, but have you sold your SH-5 in the meantime?
Just saw your note. I have not proceeded with the sales enquiries due to work commitments. However I do still have it.
Still interested in the Roland SH5?
I am looking to buy 88 key workstation and wish to sell mine.
Still have the SH5 for sale? I would be interested in purchasing it.
The SH5 is available. Happy to send you pics etc.
Hi Romano it’s a long time since you first posted but …
Do you still have the SH-5 for sale ?
Been long time. Do not get notification of responses.
I certainly do have it. I have been involved in running business and not dedicated myself to this issue.
I don’t comment on synths I haven’t owned – and I’ve been blessed to have owned some Amazing Mono Synths – incl an ARP 2500, ARP 2600, Modular Moog, Odyssey, VCS3, SH1, SH2, EML 101, etc…
Of all of these, the SH5 would be the one I’d take to a Desert Island! (Limit of 3…the Prophet VS and the Synthex being the other 2).
Why? It’s Perfect!!! (Although, yes, a CV into the BP Filt would be welcome. I’m sure it could be modded).
A Synth can have everything…you can always add features. But, the SH5 has EVERYTHING You Need – and Nothing you don’t – certainly, as far as covering 90% of most people’s musical needs.
You’re making some of the most incredible sounds imaginable in Analog Synth History in mere minutes…
I had an SH5 beside a Sequential Pro 3, a synth Dave Smith said might be the “Only” Mono Synth you’ll ever need (We won’t hold him to it. He was “selling”). While the Pro 3 has some nice features – the Tuned Feedback, Filter Drive, and the Wavetable Osc – it simply cannot beat the stunning Musicality of the SH5. The Resonance on the Filter of the SH5 is simply Sonic Magic. The Band Pass Filter on the Pro 3 does not have the subtleties and musicality of the 45 year old Band Pass Filter on the SH5. Unbelievable. Imagine if I told you that the cell phone in your hand right now sounds “better,” and is clearer, than the one you’ll be using in 45 years!
Now, I don’t mean to directly compare the Pro 3 and the SH5. They’re different. You could def own both, as they cover different sonic territories. I’m simply saying that, when you strip away the reverbs, the delays, the Technology, the gimmicks…, and you run One Osc from each synth into their respective Filters, well…try it and see for yourself.
In (overly long…) conclusion, I’ll leave you with this. The SH5 can hold its own against any Analog Synth Ever Made. It’s just about as Fat as a MiniMoog (certainly sounds as good), it can be as Trippy Sounding as an Odyssey. It’s got one of the most Magical Sounding Band Pass Filters ever made. It’s got maybe the most versatile, usable and functional Mixing Section on a Pre-Routed Synth ever made. Then, add in the musical sounding Ring Mod, Multi Mod Filter, Re-Triggerable Envelope, Sin LFO, Env “Modulatable” Osc (on one Osc), etc…).
YES, they threw in the Kitchen Sink, but they did it Right! They didn’t sacrifice the One Thing that matters most when you do that, Great Sound! That’s why the Roland SH5 is My Desert Island MonoSynth!
ToTally Agree with You!
Was certainly developed in ’75, and some would have been mfg’d in ’75. Shipped in ’76.
Great – and very informative! – comment. Thanks a lot !!!
… alright – thanks!
Romano, still have that SH-5?