Original MSRP: $749
Current Price: $749
Roland’s AIRA system is likely one of the more divisive line of products on the market. AIRA, which emulates analogue synths with digital power via the Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) technology, is in its System-1 plug-out synthesizer and newer grooveboxes, the MC0-101 and MC-707. But, AIRA is also in Roland’s boutique line of recreations of their classic gear, including the TB-03, SH-01A, and TR-08. Analogue and digital synth aficionados haven’t exactly embraced AIRA, and many electronic musicians wondered why Roland didn’t just make all-analogue recreations of its iconic drum machines and synthesizers. And yet, the TB-03, TR-08 and its siblings do have something of a devoted following in the electronic music community, as they are affordable and very capable.
All of this is context, of course, for the Roland drum machine we are considering here: the Roland AIRA TR-8S Rhythm Performer. As its name indicates, it takes inspiration from the classic Roland TR-808 drum machine, but updates the sounds for contemporary electronic musicians with the AIRA technology.
The really cool thing about the TR-8S is that each of its 11 channels can load any audio from Roland’s other gear, including the TR-808, TR-909, TR-707, TR-727, TR-606, and over one hundred samples. So, users can mix and match sounds per channel to their heart’s delight. Users can also load their own samples into the TR-8S via SD card.
Like most other drum machines, each channel of the TR-8S features pitch and decay knobs. But Roland leaves one knob per channel as freely assignable, which means users can assign certain effects to that channel—a great feature for live electronic performance. Another great feature for songwriting, recording, or live performance is TR-8S’s sequencer. While it is a 16-step sequencer, each channel (or pattern) can be patterned-chained, giving users 128 steps to work with for rhythmic variation.
The TR-8S also interacts well with other machines. Eight analogue outputs allow musicians to process drum tracks with external effects or send individual channels into a mixer or DAW. It can also function as an Audio and MIDI interface, so that individual tracks can be tweaked in one’s DAW of choice. And its Trigger In/External Out gives the TR-8S the capability of controlling other instruments.
On a more aesthetic note, the TR-8S is a vast improvement over its predecessor, the TR-8. The latter was a pretty homely piece of kit. The TR-8 features a design aesthetic that is more in line with modern gear, like Novation’s grooveboxes, or Ableton and Native Instrument’s colour-coded controllers.