Roland has been teasing new entries in its black-and-green AIRA series for about a month. Now, it's pulling the wraps off of the new lineup that's led by the new TR-8 drum machine. It's worth noting that this isn't the first time the instrument maker has revisited the legendary 808, 909 and 303 units that debuted in the '80s. If you've listened to a bit of hip-hop, dance or techno, you've likely heard the trademark sounds of the trio already -- like the iconic snare of the 808. Building on decades of TR-808 and TR-909 use, Roland "obsessively analyzed and faithfully recreated every detail and nuance of the analog circuitry" of those machines and packed it all inside the TR-8 Rhythm Performer. There's "full reproduction" with new Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) tech that recreates the tone and behavior from the original pair. If you're thinking that this sounds like the new device is all-digital, you're correct. However, Roland says the tone and character of the analog units have been enhanced with new features like tune and decay controls on each instrument and an added scatter function. The latter feature is said to "freak and tweak" sounds with real-time adjustments and accurate sync. Needless to say, we're anxious to try it out.
Like the 808, the TR-8 houses a 16-step sequencer that now has full-color LED lighting for visual status updates. In terms of recording, an improved version of TR-REC is also modeled here for creating patterns, while toggling between programming and performance modes can be done easily. For keeping tabs on tempo, there's an LED display and tap functionality for quick adjustments. A USB jack allows audio and MIDI connections (which the original didn't have) and the device can use MIDI clock info to sync with external instruments -- like the other AIRA series units that we'll examine after the break. If all of that sounds too good to pass up, the TR-8 will retail for $499 when it arrives next month.
Roland TR-8 press imagesSee all photos
In another look back into its archives, Roland's System-1 harkens back to the System 100, 100M and 700 synthesizers. ACB is on board once again in order to recreate the fine details of the analog circuitry that debuted on those three machines in the '70s. The main selling point here is Plug-Out tech that allows you to load plug-in versions of other Roland synths onto the System-1, making for a quite versatile instrument. What's more, all of that content addition can be done without the need to tether to a computer. Inside, four oscillators handle the tones with scatter control of 10 different phrase variations and a smattering of modulators. Roland is touting this as its "most compact" synth ever, despite the unit wielding 25 regular-sized keys for playing duties. A price of $599 nets you a System-1 in Q2 2014, in all of its green-lit glory.
Roland System-1, TB-3 and VT-3 press images
The TB-3 also pays homage to a classic instrument: the TB-303 bass synth. You may recognize the 303 as a popular choice for techno/house music. Here, the TB-3 Touch Bassline uses that ACB technology to model "each component and every aspect of the original TB-303 sound." The sawtooth and square oscillator waveforms have been recreated with attack, slide and tie elements along for the ride. So what's been added? Well, there's now a pressure-sensitive touchpad and 134 sounds including four oscillator tones across four separate banks with that same programming/performance mode-switching that we mentioned on the TR-8 and more. As you might expect, the $299 TB-3 is also USB- and MIDI-compatible for use with a computer or other rhythm-making gadgets -- starting next month.
For those looking to lend some processed vocals to their musical exploits, the VT-3 will do just that for both studio tracking and live performances. With nine different voice characters (including auto-tune and synths), the Voice Transformer serves up pitch, formant, reverb and mix balance sliders for needed adjustments alongside footswitch control for on-stage access. There are standard XLR and 1/8-inch mic jacks with stereo outputs and USB audio for recording to those previously recorded tracks. At $199, the VT-3 is the most affordable new entry into the AIRA series and it ships in March as well.
Pre-orders for the entire line are live now from Roland and select retailers.
Update: We've added a video of the AIRA series in action from the folks over at DJ TechTools.