ROLAND TR-8S Rhythm Performer – The latest addition to the Roland AIRA Series
When Roland launched their Aira range 4 years ago, the TR-8 drum machine was the star of the show. Answering the prayers of thousands of Roland’s core audience, it offered superb models of Rolands most iconic rhythm machines at a price, and with a user interface that was accessible to all. Plus adding some natty new-school features including its sequenced internal sidechaining, and USB audio amongst others.
At the time of launch, the criticisms levelled at the TR-8 were typical, “It’s not analogue, so it is not any good”. More often than not from people that had never even heard or physically encountered the unit. Or it was churlish nitpicking… “I don’t like the colour” and so on. I guess that lurid acidic green on black combo was not for everyone… Despite this, the TR-8 was the huge success it deserved to be. More recently, the introduction of the TR-09 and TR-08 units in their boutique range improved the authenticity of the ACB models, while mirroring the design aesthetic of the original units beautifully.
Once again, bless the web, they were not without their detractors, but again, mostly from nitpickers, and people that had not even tried these lovely little machines hands on. Plus, it is fair to say they received a fair bit of shade from the modular community. Most probably from people that had just spent X thousand of pounds building TR emulators into their modular systems. This undeserved pattern of derision was the case for almost all of Rolands lovely little Boutique range… Haters gonna hate I guess.
Not wishing to rest on their multicoloured LED laurels, Roland this week announced the TR-8S. Sporting a more refined, elegant front panel, more connectivity, more internal sounds out of the box (utilising their improved 808 and 909 models and including the optional 7X7 sound pack) and most importantly the ability to import samples via the TR-8S’ built-in SD memory card slot. Coming out of the gates at a higher price point than the original TR-8, which at this point it is worth noting will continue to be produced alongside the new model, a super smart strategy in our opinion. The Roland TR-8S is set to go head to head with the likes of Elektrons popular Digitakt, but on paper, it seems to outgun all-comers.
The multiple analogue audio outputs now total 8, a feature that will be a real boon for many in particular those using it live. The addition of an analogue trigger out, plus more flexible effects and sonic manipulation, all with individual assignable real-time control make this a real heavy hitter both in the studio and on the road. Think a more refined Electribe ESX, with even more one button/knob function, more flexible i/o and a built-in fully expanded next-generation TR-8.
Of course, all of this is for nought if the sonics are not up to par. Suffice to say everything is in order that end in terms of their improved ACB implementation, naturally, of course, the sample content you upload to the TR-8S is up to you. That said, the overall fidelity, with its master effects section gives this machine a truly concerted sound, something which is very often amiss in some of the purely sample-based drum machines and hybrids of late.
So there it is, a new, higher-end, fuller featured drum machine altogether rather than an evolution, or MK2 of the existing machine, despite what naysayers have said. Its features place it really well in the market, and we love the fact that the ‘original’ TR-8 will run alongside the production of the new model, further widening the range and appeal of the already ubiquitous AIRA range. Hats off to Roland indeed, no one saw that coming.