How To Use Your Roland TR-8 Drum Machine As An Audio Interface

In this post, I’m going to go over how you can use your Roland TR-8 drum machine as an audio interface.

Steinberg UR44

Audio Interfaces

When I’m recording audio on my digital audio workstation (DAW), I typically use my 4-channel audio interface by Steinberg called the UR44. I’ll talk more later about the UR44 in a separate blog.

If I were to run my main quarter inch outputs (left and right) from my TR-8 drum machine into Channels 1 and 2 of my UR44 interface, I could record them onto my DAW, in two different ways:

  • either I record the left and right channels onto two separate recording tracks,
  • or, I can record both the left and right channels onto a single stereo track

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Assigning Inputs to Tracks on Your DAW

In the ways I’ve described above, you could afterwards mix the left and right channels of the master output. But ideally you want to record each drum sound from the drum machine onto its own separate track, and since you can use up to 11 different drums per rhythm*, you don’t want to have to record them all one at a time, 11 times over.*You can actually create more than 11 drum sounds per rhythm, by accessing the “alternate sounds” that some of the TR-8 drums feature. But this is a different topic for another day.

Why Separate Drums to Individual Recording Tracks?

It’s ideal if you can separate each of the drum sounds that you’re using onto a separate recording track within your DAW, so that you can mix them all separately later on. This is a crucial advantage during the mixing process that can give your drums a three-dimensional sound by placing each drum into its own sonic space.

TR-8 Rear Panel

And this is exactly why the Roland TR-8, as well as many other drum machines, can act as their own audio interface. Regarding the TR-8 specifically, you would do this by running a USB cable out from the back of your TR-8, directly into your computer. You don’t need any other interface, only your TR-8, your computer, and the proper USB cable (which is a USB-A to USB-B).

Roland Aira TR-8
TR-8 – Released 2014

Selecting Your Audio Device

Once you’ve connected your TR-8 to your computer by USB, go into your System Preferences. I’m using the Reaper DAW with an iMac, so the shortcut is [command]+[,].

From the drop-down menu, select TR-8 as your audio interface.

Select Audio Device

Selecting Your Inputs

Now you can begin assigning sources for each of your track inputs. If you click “Input” on any given track, you can see a new menu opens to the right, and here is where you can select the source input for this track. Hovering over “Input: Mono”, you will see numbers 1 through 14 appear.

Mono Input Sources

Reaper has 11 drum sounds, and yet there are 14 sources for input. This is because mono inputs #1 and 2 are assigned to the TR-8’s main output. Selecting mono track 1 will assign your track to record the Left side of your main stereo output; selecting mono track 2 will assign it to record the Right.

In descending order, mono tracks 3 through 13 will individually assign your TR-8’s 11 different drums – Bass, Snare, etc.

Roland TR-8 Drum Machine

TR-8 External In

This leaves only mono track 14, which has been set aside for any potential External Input you may be utilizing via the TR-8’s dual Left and Right External Inputs in the back of the machine.

Check out my TR-8 Review!

In my YouTube video above, I am running a Roland S-1 synthesizer through the TR-8’s external input. This is because the TR-8 can affect or control certain aspects of the external instrument that is running through it.

Roland TR-8 External In

I’m using the TR-8 sidechain control, which causes the synth to pulse to the beat of my drum rhythm. I would not be able to record my synth pulsing like this if the drum beat were not playing along with it.

Thus, I can record the synth as an external input through mono input 14 at the same time as recording all of my other drums. Because this synth is a part of my overall Output from the TR-8, it will also show up in mono inputs 1 and 2, which are my stereo Left and Right outputs.

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The last thing I want to mention, that I think is important to note, is that any effects added to your overall drumbeat on the TR-8 (such as the Scatter feature, or reverb, delay, etc.) will ONLY show up in your overall Left and Right Output (Mono Inputs 1 and 2). They will NOT show up on individual drums such as the kick or the snare.

Start Recording!

If this is the first time you are trying to use your drum machine as its own audio interface for recording, maybe it sounds a little complicated, but in actual practice there are only a few steps and it might take five minutes or so to set up. Once you’ve got your 14 mono inputs assigned to 14 recording tracks on your DAW, you are completely ready to start checking your levels and then recording your beats. Have fun!

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