Roland TR-8 image


Who wants to talk about the TR-8? I know I do. This is the Roland TR-8 Drum Machine Review.

In 2014 Roland released a series of machines under the name Aira. The TR-8 is one of five of those machines, of which I own four. (I do not own the MX-1 which is the mixing board specifically made for hosting all of these machines. I use the Mackie Mix12FX, a more affordable mixing board and good enough to do everything I need it to do.)

The TR-8 is a newer drum machine designed to duplicate the sounds both the TR-808 and TR-909, released in 1980 and 1983, respectively. The newer TR-8 features all of the sounds from the original 808 as well as the 909, plus new sounds unique unto itself. Of course, the older models have been discontinued for decades now, and because their sound helped to sculpt much of the 80’s and 90’s hip-hop and electronic genres, the originals are in high demand.

Roland TR-808
TR-808 – Circa 1980

The TR-8 is an affordable alternative, more reliable in its technology, readily available and still in production, and with newer features including a new library of sounds, and new effects such as “scatter”, a glitch processing effect – similar in a way to different slicers available – that creates staggering computer-y sounds from the TR-8 rhythms. The scatter effect is built into all of the Aira series machines, effecting them differently but in similar ways. On the TR-8, there are 10 different Scatter effects, each with 10 different “depths” to choose from, so 100 different preset ways to affect your beats.

Roland TR-909
TR-909 – Circa 1983

Other overarching effects include reverb and delay, as well as an accent feature to accent particular hits in your rhythms. The TR-8 also includes a USB port which enables you to use the machine as its own audio interface. If you can interface the TR-8 to your preferred DAW (digital audio workstation), then you can record the stereo track as a whole, but you can also record each individual drum onto its own recorded track. There are 11 spaces for drum sounds on the TR-8, so I like to use Track 1 and Track 2 in my DAW as the left and right main input, and then use Tracks 3-13 for the 11 individual drum sounds. This way, you can capture the stereo track which include the effects from the TR-8, while simultaneously recording each drum sound separately onto its own track and unchanged by the effects.

Roland Aira TR-8
TR-8 – Released 2014

The TR-8 functions like many other sequencers, by which I mean that it runs through loops of rhythms at a determined tempo (beats per minute), separated into 16, 16th notes. For each saved pattern area, there is a part A and a part B which can be set so that your rhythm alternates between the two patterns back and forth. In this way you can create a rhythm that is twice as long before the loop ends and it repeats.

There are 16 patterns you can choose from and/or write over, and there are 16 drum kit selections – but each of those selections offering a choice between “808”, “909” and “TR-8” kit sounds. For example, you could chose Kit 1 as your overall drum kit, but you could choose between 3 different types of kick drum sounds (the 808 kick drum version, the 909 version, or the new TR-8 version), and so on.

You can record new patterns in advance and also in real-time. You can select “Instrument Play and then mute, unmute, and adjust the volume for each individual drum sound that occurs within your rhythm. There are also different electronic drum rolls you can produce: in 8th notes, 16th notes, and in two different variable rolls as well.

The TR-8 is my MIDI Master, meaning that I use it to control all of my other MIDI-connected machines. If I start the TR-8, all following machines start. If I stop it, they stop. If I change the BPM (beats per minute), all of the machines change BPM. And using scatter effects on the TR-8 affects all proceeding machines so that they all scatter along with it. But the TR-8 is also MIDI In-capable, so you can integrate it into your MIDI chain where you see fit.

Along with dual 1/4″ Inputs and Outputs, the TR-8 also has dual 1/4″ Assignable Outputs (for a secondary PA, etc.), a single 1/4″ stereo headphone output, and dual 1/4″ inputs labeled “External In”. The External Inputs allow you to introduce another machine, such as a synthesizer, into the TR-8 output, and that external instrument can be affected by certain functions of the TR-8 such as the Side Chain.

TR-8 Rear Panel

“Side chaining” is a ducking effect, where the input instrument sways up and down in volume to the rhythm of the drum machine. This creates a synchronous effect between the drum machine and the external machine, as they operate in rhythmic unison. The side chain can be introduced by a gradient knob that allows you to control how strong or how weak you want the effect to be.

There is a lot to know about the Roland TR-8. Stay tuned for more posts by me on this one!


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