Roland AIRA TR-8 and TB-3 First Impressions

Roland AIRA TR8 TB3
Roland AIRA TR8 TB3

Yesterday I walked into Shimamura Music Store in Nagano-city about an hour after it opened and there on the display they had just assembled the new Roland AIRA TR-8, TB-3, and VT-3 over near the DJ area. It was interesting they elected to display the Roland AIRA equipment in the DJ area and not the traditional synthesizer area. I understand this as the Roland AIRA stuff is also geared toward’s DJs but it’s the first time I’ve seen this. Shortly before this I picked up the Roland VT-3 from the same store so basically I was in there to check out if they had the TR-8 and TB-3 in yet.

Quite frankly I was VERY surprised the store had the TR-8 and TB-3 in stock and out on the floor. They literally had placed it out there right when the store opened, so I figure I was lucky with my timing. Throw in the fact that I’m in Nagano ( the countryside ) and not in central Tokyo, I suppose it was natural that I’d have a good chance at getting a first shot at buying these early. I think I played everything for about five minutes and I was then SOLD!!! Oh My! The TR-8 and TB-3 were amazing!

First, I have NEVER owned a real TR-808, TR-909, or TB-303 before. I also have never seen nor heard them in real life other than on a record or Youtube video. So I must first announce that I have absolutely no idea if they are the same or near the same as the real thing. However, I can say that on their own, they sounded incredible with lots of bass, punch, and warmth. Those three things are basically what sold me on the trio. I likely will never find nor be able to fork over the thousands of dollars to get the originals. The TR-8 and TB-3 quite frankly are close enough to a sound that I like and can integrate with my analog poly and mono synthesizers here at home without issue!

I haven’t had much time to play with the Roland TR-8 and TB-3, but I have had some experience now so I can comment on a few things. First I connected the TB-3 into the external input of the TR-8. I then midi’d up the TB-3 to the TR-8. I did this so that I could just throw on some headphones and jam for a little bit. I haven’t hooked these up to my mixer setup yet but I plan to tomorrow so that I can add in a Juno-106 or Polysix for example to hear how they sound together. I then just pressed play on the TR-8 and had fun without the manual tweaking and checking out all the parameters of both machines.

What I found was that everything was pretty easy to figure out without the manual. I have seen a few videos which helped already, but really both machines are very easy to use. The sound as I mentioned above is better than expected which means GREAT!!

Now since I am sort of a one man band during practice, I found the Roland TB-3 had some exceptional capabilities. First the patterns could be changed seamlessly from one to another. This made it easy to create a “verse”, “chorus”, and then “bridge” sort of bassline and be able to swap them easily and seamlessly. I also found the Scatter to be really cool for a couple of reasons. I discovered that Scatter allows you to tap up to about 10 different variations that work very well as fills or even sections of a song if you momentarily hold them in place. I could jam on a bassline verse and the use the scatter to create an improve chorus bassline or bridge based on the original line. Sure it kind of glitches the bassline, but not as you might expect. It can be controlled a little because of the several variations you have. The other thing is that Scatter is very consistent in that you can get the same result each time so you could use it in a song played live easily. It’s not random unless you want it to be. Thus I find the Scatter function to be ideal for creating fills and creating a live momentary verse/chorus/bridge bassline. It’s beautiful for “one man band” setups.

The effects are also pretty good on both machines, but in particular the Roland TB-3. I actually thought the distortion was excellent and it had several variations too all of which fattened the sound up nicely. In addition, the accent was marvelous. I did have to crank it a little to get the desired effect, but once I did it was driving hard on the accents I wanted. With regards to pattern creation I haven’t dived into that yet, but it doesn’t look hard. I think the Roland TB-3 is going to work VERY well layered with something like a Roland Juno-60 arp on the bottom or on top. I can then switch patterns on the TB-3 or simply hit the desired scatter point and change things up really fast.

Finally, I noticed that adding accent on the TB-3 along with some swing on the TR-8 really made the music groove. I mean my butt was shakin with these two machines not too long after I fired them up. Along with the VT-3 Voice Transformer, the Roland TB-3 and TR-8 are exactly what I’ve been waiting for. These machines groove and they make you smile. I have no idea at this point if Roland could have done a better job. I’d say today I really wouldn’t care as they just sounded awesome to my ears. Perhaps my opinion may change as I incorporate them into my setup and perform with them live. For now I can safely say I will have no problem dropping my lust for a real TR-808, 909, and TB-303. These will do and I can now finally move on and enjoy.

I didn’t comment much on the Roland TR-8 mainly because it worked fantastic right out of the box. The preset patterns kick and you really don’t need to tweak them much to get a good sound. I found myself migrating more to the TB-3 simply because the TR-8 was doing it’s job so well straight away. I did however go back and tweaked the bass drum, snare, and claps with much satisfaction. The effects were a bit tricky to figure out and so I may have to consult the manual on that. I wasn’t quite getting the effects placed on the right drum sounds as I wanted but that is a user issue and not a problem with the TR-8. I also didn’t find the Scatter on the TR-8 as useful ( to me ) as the Scatter on the TB-3. The scatter on the TR-8 was a bit more random which is nice, but I’ll have to again consult the manual to see how much control or variation I have. Again, it’s probably me and not the TR-8.

Let’s see what else… flipping between drum kits was simple. Changing patterns was easy and it was nice having an A/B selection. Bringing the sliders down would effectively mute each part. The buttons and overall build quality on both machines was good. Are they durable? Yes, but I did feel that if I dropped them even once they could break. That’s not good really so I would definitely say you should be a little careful with these on stage. Many people are saying they are solid and built well which I would agree with, but I don’t think they will sustain too many drops. The colors, especially on the buttons of the TR-8 are really cool. It just gives it a great retro feel even if one might not like the green all the time. The green is not a problem for me, but I have heard not everyone likes the color.

I have not seen or heard of the Roland AIRA System 1 yet. To be honest, I’m not that interested in it yet basically because I have quite a few capable old analogs that will work including the ones which the System-1 is trying to emulate. The videos haven’t excited me much and so I’m still on the fence with that particular piece of the AIRA setup. We’ll see how that goes after more info. I believe the System-1 is set to be released in Japan sometime in June which is actually quite far away.

I can highly recommend the VT-3, TR-8, and TB-3 if you do not have the originals nor plan to ever get or afford them. The AIRA set will work in their place just fine. I’m not saying better though because I am not qualified to give that info, but I can definitely say they will hold their own nicely!!

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11 thoughts on “Roland AIRA TR-8 and TB-3 First Impressions

  1. Jim I have a TR707 already, do you think the TR8 would be redundant? more of the same? or a nice compliment to it? ( plus the fact that it maybe easier to use as a MIDI control device etc)

    Cheers from Canada

    1. Hi Robert,

      My answer will probably be a bit subjective. I don’t have the TR-707 but I do have both the TR-626 and TR-606. The only reason I have them is to trigger the arps on my analog synthesizers with which I think the TR-626 works the best for the money. I looked at getting the TR-707 but couldn’t find one at the right price. I probably would have bought one out right for the sync abilities if I wanted that 707 sound, but instead elected to stick with the TR-606/626 because I found them really cheap and didn’t need the sound. I was very lucky. So I stopped looking for the TR-707.

      The two sounds I’ve always wanted were the TR-808 and then the TR-909. I grew up in the 80’s and I remember when the TR-808 sound hit the airwaves. I am reminded of it with the Roland AIRA TR-8. Later when I started hitting the dance clubs in the late 80’s and 90’s I started hearing the TR-909. I now also am reminded of that with the TR-8. So I’m a happy camper now that I’ve got those two sounds the way I want them. The swing is great on the TR-8 by the way which is very important with these machines.

      Long story short, I couldn’t get those sounds on the TR-707. So if I had to choose between the two, I’d hands down go for the AIRA TR-8. I’d then find a cheap sync to midi for my analogs like the TR-626. The TR-707 is great for doing the sync to midi stuff for analog synths so I’d probably want to keep that if I had one. With regards to the TR-707 sound, I’ve heard that it’s coming to the Roland AIRA TR-8 as a sound expansion. Then you’ll have all three!

      In my opinion. what keeps the Roland TR-707 valuable is the sync to midi, multiple outputs, and overall functionality of the drum machine. The sound is great, but I’ve never really considered it for the sound alone. On the other hand, the TR-808 and TR-909, I think most people consider for the sound alone.

      I think you’ll end up liking the TR-8. I think Roland hit a home run with this one along with the other two ( TB-3 and VT-3 ). I just can’t pry my hands off them…laugh.

      Thanks for visiting my blog. Much appreciated.

      Jim

  2. I haven’t checked the manuals yet, but one thing I’m definitely going to have to investigate is if I can dump the patterns from the TB-3 and TR-8 to the computer as sysex files. I can just see myself running out of pattern storage but will not want to lose the patterns I’ve created. I’m not too worried about losing patterns on the TR-8, but the TB-3 might be more difficult for me to reproduce. Some people are talking about software editors for the TR-8 and TB-3, but I honestly don’t think that would be necessary. I do however think a way to offload pattern data will be important and sysex should do fine. I’ll have to check on this.

  3. There already is a new update for the Roland AIRA TB-3.

    TB-3 System Program (Ver.1.04)

    Update history
    [ Version 1.04 ] Bug Fixes The following bug was fixed.
    The sensitivity of the aftertouch differs depending on the touched position when the product is used in the XY PLAY mode or ENV MOD mode.

    How to tell the version
    Please check the version of the system working on your TB-3 before downloading the archive file.
    1. Hold down [ STEP REC ] button and [ REALTIME REC ] button, and switch on the power. The step number “1” of the 16-step indicators and the [PLAY/STOP] button blink.
    2. Press the [PLAY/STOP] button. The current version is displayed with three digits on the display. ( For example: When Version 1.03 is used: you will see “103” )
    3. After checking version of the product, power off the TB-3 without performing any button operation.

  4. Another interesting aspect of the Roland AIRA TB-3 is about the “SLIDE” function on the original TB-303. I can hear it on the TB-3 but I can’t seem to figure out how to create it yet. Just another point that I’m looking into.

    1. Found it! “To program a sequence using Step Record, you scroll through steps with the Value dial (each step has a green light at the top of the panel) and use the red keys on the touch keyboard to enter a note, or a green key to add accents, rests, SLIDES/ties or octave up/down data.”

  5. Hi Jim, thanks for the comprehensive review, I’ve picked up my TR just yesterday, and ran into something strange. It seems th 909 OH isn’t working for some reason, do you know of any bugs?

    Thanks in advance! Gr. Joe

  6. Michael

    Hi Jim,

    I’ve just picked up my TB-3. Really pleased with it. However I’ve found the touch/pressure sensitivity is pretty inconsistent across the pad. I’ve adjusted the sensitivity as per the manual and updated to 1.04. Do you know whether this is “normal” or should I take it in?

    Many thanks,

    Michael

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