Zoë Blade's notebook


Not to be confused with Roland's later fully modular System-100M.

System-100 tech specs

Roland System-100
Roland System-100

The System-100 was a semi-modular synthesiser made by Roland in the mid-to-late 1970s.[1] It's sort of halfway between a simple monosynth from their SH range, and its fully modular successor, the System-100M.

In terms of visual aesthetics, it matches the SH-3A and SH-5. Both of these seem to functionally be somewhere between a lone Model-101 and a 101 & 102 combination.

This is quite possibly the first synthesiser to use smaller 3.5 mm phone jacks.


The Model-101 itself is a pretty rudimentary single-oscillator monosynth, albeit one with a few patch points. It makes more sense when you see it as the more affordable first step towards buying a more complete system.


The Model-102 is more or less another Model-101, minus the keyboard. It adds a second ADSR envelope generator, LFO, VCO, mixer, highpass filter, lowpass VCF, and VCA, as well as sporting oscillator sync and ring mod (which only work with two oscillators, so the Model-101 can't do them by itself), and even adding sample and hold.

In practice, while it can be used as a second single-oscillator synthesiser, you're much more likely to combine the Model-101 and Model-102 together into a single dual-oscillator synthesiser, in terms of how you most often patch them up.

The combination's much more than the sum of its parts, and gets you much closer to the flexibility of the follow-up System-100M.


The Model-103 is a small mixing desk. I've never been clear on why the System-100 and System-100M have these. Using a simple passive mixer to blend different sounds together on the way into a filter or VCA makes sense to me, but this is essentially a small, four-channel mixing desk, complete with level faders, panpots, and effect sends to an external delay or its built-in spring reverb. This would be useful if it wasn't for a synthesiser that plays a single part at a time. Presumably it's intended to also plug other equipment into, such as a drum machine and microphone, or a four-track cassette tape recorder that inexplicably doesn't have its own level and panning controls. I'm not sure...


The Model-104 is an analogue step sequencer. It has 12 pairs of knobs, allowing it to output either 12 steps of pairs of values in parallel, or 24 steps of single values in serial. It's more simplified and straightforward than a Moog Sequencer Complement, and was in turn further refined into the System-100M's 182 Sequencer module.


The Model-109 is a pair of speakers that completes the set. The overall System-100 certainly looks better without any gaps, though built-in speakers tend to have connotations of cheap consumer home keyboards rather than expensive professional synthesisers. Much like the mixer, I can't imagine these are terribly useful when using the System-100 in the context of a full studio, though when it comes to recording a short session of sample fodder they might well save some friction.


Model Description
101 Keyboard synthesiser
102 Synthesiser expander
103 Mixer
104 Analogue sequencer
109 Pair of speakers

The two speakers, sequencer, and mixer flank the wider pair of synthesisers, making a neat set.


The good thing about the System-100 is that there are no illegal patchings, you can't actually fuck anything. We've found some really strange things by attaching outputs to outputs, for instance — you'd think that nothing would happen, but often it does.

— Martyn Ware, Heaven 17, 1982[2]

I've always fancied an analogue sequencer, and the Roland is great because you do all your tuning by first twiddling the knobs, so you make the tuning up as you go along. You can also take the CV out of one of the Model 100s, and instead of controlling pitch, you can have it running from MIDI so that while it's playing it's opening and closing the filters, which is interesting. The system has a typical Roland sound like the SH-09 and Jupiter-6 — very pure sounding.

— Paul Hartnoll, Orbital, 1994[3]

I asked [Martyn Ware] what the first [synth] he had was. It turns out he used to have a Roland System-100 — you know, the one in the suitcase with speakers, not the modular version that I have. So I phoned around and managed to get hold of one for him, gave it to him, and said: "There you go, welcome back."

— Vince Clarke, Erasure, 1994[4]

I've still got my System-100. It doesn't get used much, but when I do use it, the difference in sound quality between that and any digital synth is huge.

— Martyn Ware, The Human League, 2020[5]

Notable users


  1. The A-Z of Analogue Synthesisers, Part Two: N-Z Peter Forrest, 2003, ISBN 0-952437-73-2, pp. 135—137
  2. "Penthouse and Statement" Tony Bacon, One Two Testing, Nov 1982, pp. 12—14
  3. "Music of Spheres" Nigel Humberstone, Sound On Sound, Apr 1994
  4. "Home is where the art is" Ian Masterson, The Mix, Jul 1994, pp. 112—116
  5. "Heaven 17's Martyn Ware: 'Kraftwerk were only brilliant because they were rich!'" Music Radar, 2020
  6. "Richard's at Door of Disc Dreamland" Jeremy Ridge and Dale Webb, The West Briton and Royal Cornwall Gazette, Jan 1992
  7. "Live and Kicking" Andy Crysell, DJ Magazine, 1993
  8. "Machine Heads" Dave Robinson, Future Music, Nov 1995, p. 80
  9. "Paul and Phil Hartnoll (Orbital). Ask Me Anything. Streamed live on 27th February 2023." Orbital, Feb 2023
  10. Obsessive Surrealism Parallel Worlds, 2007
  11. "Parallel Worlds Studio"
  12. "China" 1979
  13. "L'Arbre de Vie" 1979






Service notes

Analogue step sequencers: 100 Series (Behringer) | 900 Series (Behringer) | Sequencer Complement | System-100 | System-100M

Roland: DCB | JV-1080 | Juno-6 | Juno-106 | MC-4 | MC-8 | MPU-101 | R-8 | RS-101 | RS-202 | SH-101 | SN-R8 series | SN-U110 series | SO-PCM1 series | SR-JV80 series | System-100 | System-100M | TB-303 | TR-606 | TR-808 | TR-909 | U-110 | VP-330 | W-30

Semi-modular synthesisers: 2600 | K-2 | MS-20 | System-100 | VCS3