Roland Aira

Roland system-1Digital Remakes Of ‘80s Dance Classics

EDM and electronica would not exist in the shape they are today without the critical influence caused by the iconic drum sequencers, the Roland TR-808 and the TR-909. The bad news is that a good condition unit will set you back on ebay anywhere upwards from $3500.

Noticing that there is a market for a classic sound resurfacing in new producers, Roland has released the AIRA series, which includes the highly anticipated TR-8, which faithfully combines both drum machines into one sleek new box. The AIRA line also includes other classic updates, including the TB-3 Bass Line, VT-3 vocal transformer, and the, the System-1.

The TB-3 is by far the most simple of the group, simulating the TR-303. It has a gorgeous translucent touch pad that can be used both as a keyboard, XY pad, envelope mod, and a pattern selector. Interestingly, the entire AIRA range, including the TB-3 uses digital simulation ACB (Analog Circuit Behavior) to do a very pleasing simulation of an analog audio chain. The tone of this simple bass box is always going to have that classic late ‘80s quality, which is more of a mid compared to today’s bass lines, but from all accounts coming in, the tone is faithful to the original.

Moving up to the synth lead, the System-1 is the update from the System 100. Having listened to this myself, this seems to be the furthest departure from its namesake, and I’m happy they have done so. The delay and the LFO are ridiculous. The delay can continue feeding back hard like a Monotron delay causing big noise scape leads, and the LFO can go so high it turns into an oscillator of utter hatred. This will be a very powerful addition to any artist looking for big spacious trance leads and aggressive tones, and is also very capable of filling out the bottom end of the bass spectrum.

The VT-3 vocal transformer seems to fall a bit flat in comparison. Any device that has a vocoder setting, but no carrier wave input, seems to be lying. However, it’s a super cheap and simple way to add robot voices and autotune to your DJ or live performance kit. The synth, bass, and vocoder settings all use built in carrier wave settings and have no possibility for choosing a different sound other than the default tone. Where everything falls apart is the scatter setting. This gives your voice the radio announcer reloop sound so synonymous with cheap theatrics, and I can already tell that this is going to become the bane of the club scene as soon as the popped collar top 40 DJ community gets their hands on it.

Finally, the TR-8. Having been lucky enough to have used an 808 in the past, the TR-8 is almost identical in tone.  Given that it is using the ACB modeling system, it contains both the circuit models for the 808 and 909, plus a myriad of extra parameter changes. The step sequencer is polished and snappy without feeling too plasticy, and the auto quantization helps to keep everything in check for improvisation. The addition of vertical faders for every sample gives instant kill and level control, which was a lot trickier on the more traditional pots of the 808 and 909. The single giant knob on the deck also breaks with tradition, rather than being tempo or master volume, it controls a new feature called scatter. This dial makes it instantly easy to slice up your programmed loop into some intense glitch and loop groupings.

Tully Jagoe


Top: Roland System-1

Bottom: Roland TB-3