It’s 1984,and I’ve just started my first ever job as a trainee engineer. And as a B-Boy and fledgling DJ, I was a frequent visitor to my local music shop, pining over a Roland TR-808 that had been sat on the second hand shelf for a while. But at £499, it was considerably outside my £29 a week wages. Jump forward a few years, and I was equipped with a Korg KPR77, a Roland TB-303, a Fostex (or was it Tascam?) 4 track and a belly full of fire to knock out an Acid house LP. It never happened, and in the early 90s, I’d offloaded the lot. So you can imagine my utter delight upon seeing Roland’s updated versions that embrace the spirit of the originals, and bring much of what is cool and good in the digital age. Say hello to the Roland Aira range, and specifically for me, the TR-8 drum machine and TB-3 bassline.
I know that there’s also a synth and voice box, but I think that most of us are really only concerned with the TR-8 and TB-3. But for completeness, here’s the full rundown:
Los Angeles, CA, February 14, 2014 — Roland is proud to announce the long-awaited series of AIRA products. With roots in the very origins of electronic music, the new AIRA line is designed to meet the evolving needs of today’s electronic musicians. In the studio or on the stage, AIRA brings genre-defining sound and modern performance features to a new generation. The first four products introduced in the AIRA series are the TR-8 Rhythm Performer, TB-3 Touch Bassline, VT-3 Voice Transformer, and SYSTEM-1 PLUG-OUT Synthesizer.
At the heart of AIRA is the newly developed Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) that faithfully captures the sound and feel of some of Roland’s most revered classics. ACB is the technology behind the authentic sound and responsive behavior of the AIRA products. It utilizes original design specs, consultation with original engineers, and a detailed part-by-part analysis of each analog circuit using Roland’s collection of pristinely archived drum machines and synthesizers.
TR-8 Rhythm Performer
The TR-8 is a performance rhythm machine that melds the legendary sound and vibe of the TR-808 and TR-909 with features and functions for the modern age. Unleashed upon an unsuspecting world in the 1980s, the TR-808 and TR-909 produced arguably the most influential drum sounds in modern music. With the authentic tone and character of the original units and with new sound-tweaking capabilities and performance functions inspired by legions of users, the TR-8 breathes new life into these iconic sounds.
TB-3 Touch Bassline
Based on the wildly influential TB-303, the new TB-3 Touch Bassline is a performance-ready bass synthesizer with authentic sound and intuitive controls engineered to play. The TB-3 contains the unmistakable character of its predecessor wrapped in a modern package sporting a pressure-sensitive touch pad that makes both playing and programming a total joy.
VT-3 Voice Transformer
Aggressively processed vocals are common in electronic music today, but producing these effects easily and reproducing them live continues to be a challenge – until now. The VT-3 can smoothly alter Pitch and Formant and can introduce Vocoder, Synth, lo-fi and other heavily processed vocal sounds into studio tracks and live performances with zero hassle.
SYSTEM-1 PLUG-OUT Synthesizer
With the unmistakable character associated with Roland synthesizers for nearly four decades, the SYSTEM-1 not only sounds amazing but has a totally innovative design with performance-ready controls, quality construction, and a dizzying array of lights, knobs and sliders. PLUG-OUT technology means the SYSTEM-1 can control—and even host—software recreations of classic Roland synthesizers with no computer connected and can even switch between its native sounds and those of the PLUG-OUT synthesizer.
All AIRA products are designed to work seamlessly and look great with other products in the AIRA series.
AIRA products will be available by the end of second quarter 2014. For more details, please visit www.RolandUS.com/AIRA.
A Trip Back In Time
There have been many iconic instruments over the years, but the 808 (alongside the DMX) is the drum machine that really kicked off Hip Hop for the masses. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried to replicate Soulsonic Force, Cybotron, and Hashim beats but badly failed because I didn’t have an 808. And although various options have presented themselves over the years (Rebirth and countless VSTs trying to be 808s and 303s), nothing really beats (see what I did there?) the physical feel of tapping actual pads, and twiddling the finer points of a 303 baseline with real if tiny knobs.
Thankfully having a proper wage these days, finding this sort of cash to relive my youth is a total no brainer for an old school head like myself. Yes, I could do much the same thing with software, but just like DJing there’s nothing quite like the physical touch. Turning the knobs and hitting the pads makes it real for me, especially if performing. So as far as pricing goes, the TR-8 will be $499/£399, the TB-3 is $399/£199, the VT-3 comes in at $199/£159, and the System-1 will set you back $599/£495. The first 3 will be available pretty quickly, and the System-1 will be a little later around June.
Roland Aira – Opinions Vary
There’s already a whole world of content via reviews, NAMM showcases, and first looks, and a deluge of opinion is waiting for you if you’re interested. So do check out Synthtopia, Gearjunkies, Sonic State, and Point Blank for a lot of additional 3rd party content. There’s also a noticeable wave of displeasure with the digital path taken by Roland, as well as the actual digital voicing of the kits. I’d say wait until you actually get to hear the sounds from something other than a Youtube clip and then decide. From what I’ve heard so far, I’d say that any track created with these is going to sound very faithful to the original. Check Sonicstate’s quick audio comparison, and then bear in mind that you can do what the hell you want with them in the your DAW anyway.
My old schooler’s take
Having an open mind (a prerequisite for this job), I’m a very long way from a purist on just about everything. Granted, I’d love a 303, 707, 808 and 909 sat in the Worxlab, but I don’t have tens of thousand pounds spare to trawl eBay to achieve that. But what I and a lot of less fussy people have is a few hundred quid to grab a TR-8 and TB-3 to chuck together basic as well as probably more complex dance tracks, with sounds that are very faithful to the originals, and that also embrace new workflows.
Essentially, this is just another revolution, where modern technology supplants the older analogue ways, and finds a fresh new audience. In the same way that vinyl purists threw endless hissy fits via forum rants about CDJs and DVS, it’s not hard to find analogue synth purists spitting dummies out already. But I have no doubt that the TR-8 and TB-3 will find favour with old schoolers, as well as a whole new young audience chomping at the bit to fill Soundcloud with their new generation of Electro, Detroit Techno, and Acid House. And I also suspect that the same naysayers will eventually be grabbing the new hardware and making music with it too, even if it’s with a muttered “it’s not like the old days”. You’re right, it’s not. That was then and this is now — live with it and make music anyway. I absolutely guarantee that the dance floor won’t give a crap if it’s 808 and 303 or TR-8 and TB-3
I’m going to close this with a short performance video from our good buddies at Gear Junkies, who scored a good look for themselves at Roland’s European HQ in Belgium. As for the rest of us, the Aira system gets its first public airing at Dancefair 2014 which starts today in Utrecht. And for UK people, the Brighton Music Conference will be the first place that we Brits can lay our hands on these magical dance music machines. But we’ll be pawing them at Musikmesse in March for certain.
Footnote: for those you wondering what kind of noise I was making, I found this video of a KPR77 and x0x0x today. Although I was a few BPMs slower, this is essentially what I was creating. And I have no doubt that I will be doing again.