Everything We Know About the Roland TR-8S

What's inside Roland's new magic box?

Rarely does a drum machine turn as many heads or generate as much of a buzz as Roland‘s new TR-8S Rhythm Performer. Announced on live video, supported by a half dozen demos and showcases around the world, the latest addition to Roland’s AIRA line has been at the center of conversation.

It’s not easy to iterate on a classic, but what’s most interesting is that the people who cherish those old machines and are the most committed, aesthetically, to the classic Roland drum machine sounds are some of the biggest users and enthusiasts of the AIRA ecosystem.

The biggest problem with products like this is often a closed development cycle – after a product is launched, it goes through a short cycle of bug-fixes and minor alterations. Yet the TR-8S is pretty much exactly what people called for: a versatile machine that could be a production workhorse or adaptable to live settings. Roland packed an incredible amount of power in this small machine. And they did it without crippling existing capabilities or adding significantly to the price ($699).

Among the features that we know about so far:

  • SAMPLERIFIC: the TR-8S allows you to load your own samples as well as use one of 300 presets. User samples can be imported via SD card, with a maximum duration of about 180 seconds each (at 44.1 kHz) and a total of about 6 minutes of user sampler space.
  • I/O: An incredible eight analog outputs. Six of these can be re-assigned to trigger outputs.
  • REC: “Motion” recording for parameter automation, both live and per-step, allowing you to record the movement of all those glorious knobs (Tune, Decay, Reverb, Delay, Master FX and CTRL).
  • UNBUGGED: Patterns can now be copied between them (addressing a major flaw in the TR-8).
  • READ TO RIGHTS: An actual user’s manual and readable documentation.
  • COLOR COORDINATING: A level of customization that many companies would shy away from. The fader LEDs can be customized for brightness and color, useful not just for the visual factor but for grouping instruments together.
  • NO MORE ROPELIGHTS: And on that note, it should be added that the green piping of the TR-8 original unit is gone, making the TR-8S look less like an edgy teenager’s gamer PC.

Essentially, Roland took a nice product and made the revision better, listening to users and fixing things that were broken. This is how hardware companies should function. They rarely do.