The Toraiz AS-1 is an analogue synthesiser, and its simplicity is its biggest draw: Pioneer DJ has packed a lot of power and usable, high-quality sounds into this little box without making it overly complex for the DJ who isn’t necessarily a producer. Highly recommended for those who want to explore beyond mixing two tracks together. If it were cheaper, this would get five stars.
First Impressions / Setting up
The Toraiz AS-1 is a small, desktop box. It’s made of metal with hard plastic sides, and has a nice weight to it – this is not cheap kit, for sure. The face of the unit is divided into two parts: the single octave keyboard and the control panel.
The keyboard is a touch / ribbon surface, so there are no physical piano keys to press. It may seem a bit cramped at first, but you get used to it after a while. It also has a touch slider beside it that you can use to add a modulation or effect to your sound. It is also a monophonic synth, meaning it plays only a single piano key at a time – that makes it ideal for basslines and lead melodies, which play one note after another, but not ideal for chords, which play two or more notes simultaneously.
The control panel consists of a tiny OLED display that shows synth patch names, and settings, as well as 11 knobs: six of them are for directly controlling the sound, such as filters, and the rest are used for navigating the display, changing parameters, and controlling tempo and volume.
Round the back you’ll find a 1/4″ jack for hooking up headphones (no 1/8″ here folks, better have that adapter ready), a pair of 1/4″ outputs, a 1/4″ trigger input for hooking up a foot switch, Midi In and Midi Out jacks for connecting to other Midi-enabled devices, a USB port for hooking up to your laptop, and a receptacle for the included power brick.
The AS-1 is easy to operate: you hook it up and power it on, and then you turn the Program knob to select a sound. Once you’ve picked a synth sound, you then play it using the onboard touch / ribbon keyboard, tweaking the filters and adjusting the envelopes as needed. That’s it.
The Toraiz AS-1 has an incredible bank of sounds – 495 presets in all – and they are fantastic straight out the box. This is because the AS-1 is based on the Dave Smith Prophet-6, which is a sought-after synthesiser costing almost US$3000.
Dialling in a sound is as simple as twisting the Program knob. I had absolutely no problem searching for deep bass, distorted leads, and smooth, airy pads. Producers will love the staggering number of quality presets, and DJs who are new to producing and live production will appreciate the fact that you don’t have to do any synth programming to dial in a usable sound. In fact, I prefer the presets of the AS-1 over my Moog Lil Phatty, which says a lot (I love that synth!).
What makes the AS-1 simpler and more effective than other analogue synthesisers is that it has got a limited selection of knobs to fiddle with, and most of them will be familiar to DJs. There are filter knobs here just like on a DJM mixer, though they appear as separate high pass and low pass knobs. You’ve also got a BPM knob that allows you to change the tempo of the AS-1, for when you are playing a sequence or arpeggio (more on that later).
It also comes with an FX on/off button, which lets you apply any of the seven effects, including delay, distortion, and chorus.
The AS-1 comes with a single octave touch-sensitive keyboard. It’s very responsive, sometimes too responsive even: I found myself accidentally triggering adjacent keys when I wasn’t too careful. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you’re used to keyboard controllers, but it should be no problem.
You can change the octave of the keys by pressing the octave down and up button, and you can also assign a specific scale to it – this means that every single piano key will be in a musical key that you’ve chosen, perfect for improvising leads and melodies. This is also great for DJs who don’t want to bother with having to memorise musical scales: you just pick a scale (eg A minor), and then all the keys will turn into notes from the A minor scale. Great for riffing on the fly, even if you aren’t a piano virtuoso.
Hold and Arp
For live performers and DJs wanting to include the AS-1 in their rig, the coolest feature of the keyboard, though, are the Hold and Arp modes. When Hold is enabled, you just need to press a single piano key once and, when you let go, the sound continues to play back. This means you free your hands to do other things, such as tweak the filter and envelope knobs, or mess around with your drum machine or DJ controller / CDJ.
Arp turns a key press into an arpeggio, meaning it’ll turn the key press into a rhythmic pattern. Arpeggios are plentiful in dance music, and arguably are the bedrocks of styles like acid house and techno. This is also ideal for live DJ performances because you can easily create basslines and melodic rhythms at the touch of a piano key.
The AS-1 also comes with a step sequencer. That means you can program notes one by one using the keyboard, and have the AS-1 play them back as a sequence over and over. You can program up to 64 steps in it, and save them to memory.
You can hook it up to your computer and, with the accompanying Sound Editor LE software, edit the presets and create your own synth patches. You can also do this directly on the unit itself, but for those who prefer a graphic interface when editing sounds, you have that option.
The AS-1 is one of the simplest analogue synths I’ve used. It’s also very easy to get a good sound out of, thanks to all the presets included. The thoughtfully selected knobs on the face mean you can tweak them and hear obvious changes – I do favour simplicity that gets results over having too many controls that tend to be overwhelming.
If you’re a producer making dance tracks, I can’t recommend it enough. At just under US$500 it’s not cheap, but consider for a moment how much a quality analogue synth really costs, vis-a-vis the sounds you get from this, and you’ll realise that it’s still great value even at this price.
Now, if you’re a DJ and you’re looking to add a bit of live production elements to your performance, the Toraiz AS-1 is a solid option: its two main strengths are the ease of use / simple controls, as well as the great presets that come stock.
I’ve done “live DJ sets” where I’ve got a pair of CDJs running and some synths running in tandem, and those are a nightmare to set up and perform with just because there are so many “moving parts” and things that could go wrong, but I tried jamming with the Toraiz AS-1 and a couple of tracks I had running on my DDJ-RZ, and it was just so… simple. I can’t think of a hardware synth that’s easier to use and that will get you results as quickly as the Toraiz AS-1.
Simplicity is its biggest draw: Pioneer DJ has packed a lot of power and usable, high-quality sounds into this little box without making it overly complex for the digital DJ who isn’t necessarily a producer (yet). Highly recommended for those who want to explore beyond mixing two tracks together.