tr-08

The “new” 808 successor from Roland will be modeled in digital form, possibly using virtual analog modeling, and perhaps with some sample sources. Roland’s Aira-08, as readers noted, is already leaking in product descriptions as a “virtual analog” synth. (Among other sources: there was a Dutch retailer that revealed the info, before removing the page.) Unless Roland has managed some epic disinformation campaign, that means you won’t see an analog remake as KORG did with their MS-20 last year. What you should expect instead is one that uses digital models to capture the sound of its predecessor, in a new design. We’re even hearing from sources that it’s in fact a SuperNATURAL-derived synth, as I speculated yesterday. (But that was almost certain, anyway.)

So let’s consider for a moment what a modeled 808 from Roland would look like, at least while we wait to talk to them about specifics.

It’s worth looking at the most recent generation of emulated analog from Roland, SuperNATURAL. “SuperNATURAL” is simply catch-all marketing to describe a variety of Roland technologies. For acoustic instruments, this has to do with behavioral modeling, building a set of sound models that go beyond just looping PCM samples and the like. You can read Roland’s blog post on the topic, though it focuses on the acoustic:

What is SuperNATURAL Technology? [Roland Blog]

The results are very, very good, perhaps not exceeding what’s possible with big sample banks on computers, but certainly a leap forward in playability and expression for dedicated Roland hardware.

It’s not just acoustic instruments that get this moniker, though. In Roland’s virtual analog instruments, each analog SuperNATURAL sound is made up of a series of models of components, from oscillators to filters. For added confusion, “SuperNATURAL” may refer to voices that use PCM (sample) sound sources for oscillators. It would be nice to see Virtual Analog oscillators here, as they would seem well-suited to a drum machine. (PCM isn’t necessarily evil, as some comment threads would have you believe. But a modeled oscillator can offer more versatility in certain situations – as it can provide greater ranges of parameters to control. See, specifically, the Roland SH-201 I mentioned in yesterday’s article, which used virtual analog inherited from the Fantom.)

And those sounds are very good, too. Let’s take a moment to give Roland some credit. The recent Jupiters have some terrific analog engines in them, and the Aira will almost certainly use similar technology. Many electronic producers aren’t likely to go buy a Jupiter 80 or Jupiter 50, because these are workstation keyboards that are overkill for what you do. And the modeled acoustic instruments unfortunately distracted from some of the nicer work Roland did on the Jupiter’s VA components, associating those Jupiters with cheesy instrumental demos and not on the sound design and voicing underneath. For a good take on that, read Gordon Reid’s reviews for Sound on Sound. (David Lovelace also has a good review, focusing on its use as a stage keyboard, for the American Keyboard Magazine.)

These reviews take on new relevance as you can take what they say about the sound design for keyboards and apply it here to drum machines.

I was corrected by a reader that just because SuperNATURAL is described as “virtual analog” doesn’t mean there’s necessarily a model of a waveform; these oscillators may use PCM sample sources and a combination of layering and other component models to get the desired sound.

I am hopeful that what we’ll see on the Aira is a new architecture that is truly virtual analog.

The question now is just how much Roland has put into the modeling on the new instrument, and what that means for sound and playability. We’ll know soon enough. (There are some good signs. GearSlutz, who leaked this back in the fall, suggested collaborations with the likes of acid pioneer A Guy Called Gerald.)

I think if Roland can hit an affordable price with this, and if it’s reasonably playable, they’ll have a hit on their hands. And the form factor has a reasonably-nice layout, with big triggers.

The market should still be open for a faithful 808 clone, however. Producer Michel Morin, aka Sneak-Thief, reflected on this privately (and provided CDM permission to recall his thoughts). He deals with some of the more idiosyncratic features of the 808:

The big question if it’s modeled digitally: will it breathe like a real TR-808?

1. You see, the capacitors for the VCAs don’t always fully discharge before the instrument is next triggered which creates a kind of pumping effect. Also, the original clap circuit was poorly designed and you usually can’t hear the clap reverb on the first couple hits. Will they mimic this?

2. Some of the oscillators are free-running, meaning that the beginning of the waveform can differ each time the hats, cymbals and cowbell are triggered. Also, the kick drum uses a bridged T-resonator circuit – a fundamentally unstable analog arrangement where the trigger pings/excites the circuit which bursts into resonance then slowly fades. It’s a beautiful, natural & organic-sounding sound. Will this be emulated?

3. There are also many audible variations between drum hits due to the trigger circuits. Not only that, seeing as most of the original components have 5-20% tolerances, temperature changes create variations in the sound.

I don’t imagine these are important to Roland. Nor should they be important to someone who just wants a drum machine. They are important to people whose attraction to the 808 is to a specific instrument. The Aira, as Roland is already saying, is something new.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I am amused that people are criticizing Roland’s mid-1990s MC-303 groovebox, as that was a very nice instrument for its day. (It’s still a pretty good deal used.)

So if purists won’t be happy and people wanting a drum machine will, what about

  • surt_the_fire_giant

    LOL.

  • Artemiy Pavlov

    As someone who designed sounds for JUPITER-80 I can tell you that its “virtual analog” engine is NOT virtual analog! Analog waveforms lose high end when you pitch-bend them down, and also phases of mutually detuned waveforms restart on each keypress – signalling you that it’s just sample playback.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Right, I think “modeled” and “emulated” are probably accurate, but not specifically virtual analog as we just don’t know yet what they’ve done with the oscillators. Thanks for this.

    • Artemiy Pavlov

      If I sample a sound from a Minimoog, and then play it back while having its image as my desktop background, I am also modelling it. That’s how Roland does it basically :-)

    • TheShoeHorn

      I can believe it. Most the Roland “VA” stuff sounds like the old XV-series workstations (which is: like the JD-series, only with the rubbish, newer convertors that make everything sound like cotton wool).
      I’d guess PCM waves and an analog-esque filter algorithm or two.

  • Lion King

    Hey Roland: Why even bring up the damn 808 if the focus is on something new? Are you still not willing to admit your biggest successes were accidental?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Most of our biggest successes in music are accidental. ;)

      Heh, the Minimoog wound up with its keyboard size because the prototype was adapted with a hacksaw from spare parts.

    • Daniel Davis

      Also, the entire sound of the Moog filter was because of a mistake if I recall correctly.

    • stumm

      no

    • Lion King

      I fully agree, but it seems Roland has a real problem admitting this.

    • http://sequadion.com/ Sequadion

      To be fair, they do admit in the promo video that they never expected the original 808 to be used in the way it ended up being used.

    • http://sequadion.com/ Sequadion

      Well, they bring up the 808 to make the Aira-08 cool by association. Analog purists will scoff at the comparison, but the less well-informed masses might be influenced by this, and they are the ones Roland focuses on.

    • http://www.reaktortips.com/ Peter Dines

      It’s fine if your biggest successes are mistakes as long as you *learn from them.*

      Is Roland learning from their mistakes? Not as much as Korg is learning from Roland’s mistakes, I’d say…

    • Channadime

      Roland have got it wrong for 30 years now… but if the 808 was ‘accidental’ in a meaningful way then there would be a lot more drum machines out there that sounded as good. Sure, maybe the bizarre topology of the kick drum circuit is ‘accidental’, but the whole machine?

    • TROS

      Roland’s biggest successes are based on artists not being willing to take risks. It was/is really safe to stick with an 808 or a 909. It was understandable 20 years ago but come one now. I have a lot more respect for people using unconventional sounds/equipment to make their own drum sounds. Almost 30 years of the same tired ass drum sounds is a little much.

    • Chris

      This is rubbish, ppl use 808 samples bc nobody else has come up with bass that sounds that badass since, same for the 909 , they simply just need a lot less work and assist more interesting 0riginal sounds to hit through the mix at the right freq.
      Same for the Amen snare, that’s why these sound still get used, it isn’t fear , it just that they are a tool that works better than any other since.

    • TROS

      “they simply just need a lot less work” Yup, that’s exactly it.

  • cooptrol

    I’m more concerned about usability, internal sound mix, user interface and overall operative architecture than proper emulation of vintage stuff. I think the faders are a good plus, something almost no other competitor has ever included in a drum machine. Let’s see also if the effects algorythms are good, and if construction is sturdy enough. The knobs look faint, but maybe they are solid. Also important is the flexibility of the sequencer, if it has different lengths per track, fwd/bckwd, irregular signatures, roll trigger, etc. I hope it comes with digital AC adapter and the whole package doesn’t weight a ton.

  • mckenic

    Thank goodness for the Drumstation, Yocto, Tanzbar and Cyclone tt303! AND Thank goodness for Korg & Arturia!

    • Modern3

      I think that is a highly ignorant stance. You have not heard this unit yet and if you know anything about physics, you would understand that VA can surpass analogue circuitry!

    • TheShoeHorn

      Roland haven’t made a good sounding instrument since the JD990. They don’t care about quality – they’re just shifting flashy-looking plastic boxes running the same software you get in your plugins to people who are more impressed by flashing lights than sound quality.
      As for VA. Been waiting since the mid-90s for it to catch up with analog. I don’t think it ever got closer than the Nord Lead 1.
      Physics, eh? Okay mate

    • Modern3

      You’re right, I cannot win against abject ignorance. You win. Now shut up when adults are speaking.

    • TheShoeHorn

      Some of us actually make music for a living, chappie. Others mostly skulk around message boards cheering on some or other bizarre technology fetish from the sidelines.
      I remember your type when the Roland U-series sound modules came along, telling everyone to throw their Jupiters and Prophets in the nearest skip.
      Funny, still seeing a lot of Moogs around in real studios.

    • Modern3

      I am not mate, nor your chappie bitch. You make music, I make gear that makes the music. I write code 12 to 14 hours a day. And I have never pushed Roland in my life. Nor have I ever owned a single piece of kit from them! Yet ignorant little nats like you whom hardly can begin to understand what sound is, should never ever sound off! And Moog can continue to regurgitate the same synth in various iterations for “real studios”. Yet you are stuck in a time warp and your fetish for what you perceive as “real” only perpetuates your juvenile mindset for following the crowd. Take the road less traveled, and you might actually learn something, instead of kissing someone elses arse and repeating their nonsense.

    • TheShoeHorn

      Look, sweetheart, I wouldn’t trust the people who build Canon cameras to take the best pictures. You don’t need taste or attuned judgement to bolt things together.
      You’ve got a vested interest – I understand that. I can use whatever equipment I want though. I’ve got 3 decades worth of Roland gear right here and I can tell you what direction the sound quality’s been going in.

    • Modern3

      Alright, I can live with that. It is subjective, that we have some semblance of agreement on. However oddly, you seem to be taking on a more amorous tone with me with each successive post. I hope you recover.

    • TheShoeHorn

      When it comes down to it, technology can be a huge distraction. I’ve seen it derail so many musicians before they even begin.

      Douglas Adams once described technology as “a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.”

      When I look at the culture (on KVR and Music Radar), I see people avoiding doing anything – obsessing on the irrelevant, engaging in pseudo-activity, believing technology will someday take them that step further, so long as they keep engaged with it. (They’ll take someone being fooled on an a/b test as a personal victory … perhaps they’d be better off finding a football team to support)

      Sometimes, there is a lot to be said for just getting something that’s going to do the job properly – a Moog, a Fender Rhodes, an 808.

      PS passive-aggressive tone in your posts made me assume you were female (and up for it)

      PPS “subjectivity is an illusion”

    • Modern3

      There was nothing passive aggressive about my posts, rather I thought you were child, thus I did not wish to break your spirit and crush your fragile confidence.

      Thanks for proving me right again.

    • Modern3

      I am not your Chappie nor your mate. I write code 12 top 14 hours a day. You may think you are making music, I actually write the code for hardware!

      Your juvenile apparently is enamoured with with you perceive as “real studios” because someone told you to follow Moog right?

      And for the record, I have never owned a single piece of Roland Kit nor ever pushed any of their products. They are not my cup of tea.

      Please, you have exposed yourself enough. Try to take the road less traveled once in a while, you may actually learn something and not follow the crowd and repeat their nonsense.

    • Lion King

      Roland: The 808 is religion. This ridiculous thread proves it. Be careful!

    • Channadime

      Modern3, it only takes a quick glance at the Roland website to see what pieces of crap all their ‘re-imagined’ instruments. The adults remember this, because we remember buying the good Roland gear in the 1980s ;)

  • coolout

    Unless this thing sounds amazing (instead of just OK) Roland’s reputation and legacy has gone down the tube IMO. How many products have they put out trading on 80′s nostalgia that have fell flat? They should try to just give people what they want…reissues. I guess it’s to be expected, Roland as a company has always been late to the party on the drum machine front. When the 808 and 909 were first introduced they were considered failures. They didn’t sound “real” enough and Roland’s engineers spent the rest of the decade chasing realistic-sounding drum sounds in their machines. They had no idea that kids in the hood were creating whole new music genres with their abandoned technology. It took them years to catch up and the most they did was offer some half-ass samples on a expansion ROM card. With all that said if Roland was smart and did their research, there’s still hope. Most of the “808″ sounds used nowadays aren’t true TR-808 drums, but some overdriven, compressed, maximized, mutated samples. If the Aira is flexible enough to make these sounds out-of-the-box then Roland could have a winner.

    • DUHHHHHHHHHH

      “Unless this thing sounds amazing (instead of just OK) Roland’s reputation and legacy has gone down the tube IMO.”

      “If the Aira is flexible enough to make these sounds out-of-the-box then Roland could have a winner.”

      herpa derp derp derrrrrrrrrrrrr

  • Kurt James Werner

    I’ve been researching circuit modeling of the 808 and other analog drum machines for about a year now. I’m currently writing up some of my research for a few conferences, but you can see some of my notes at http://kurtjameswerner.tumblr.com/tagged/808.

    One thing I’ve found is that it will not take an unreasonably complicated physical / virtual analog / etc. model to do a good job of emulating many of the 808 voices. Although component tolerances will be a big part of the variation in tuning and such between different machines (5% resistors and 20% capacitors can cause rather extreme variations in high-Q filters, like the bridged-T networks used in the kick, and in the tuning of the square wave oscillators used in the cymbals / hi hats / cowbell.), a virtual analog model could actually be a simple way to recreate the effect of free-running oscillators (avoiding the “machine gun effect”) and allow proper behavior for envelope circuits that are retriggered when they haven’t discharged completely.

    In my papers, I’ll be making the claim that the 808′s magic lies in its ingenious and minimal circuit design and architecture, not in some “analog” property or esoteric nonlinearity. It will be interesting to try to piece together Roland’s modeling design philosophy once it comes out!

    • MatthewWillox

      These tutorials are really cool. http://vimeo.com/59949567

      He goes after some of those analog-esq esoteric properties.

    • http://flexyvoid.com/ Yanakyl

      Really cool!!!
      I’ll get some inspiration for developing my drum app :)

      Reaktor looks a lot like the nord modular editor with more depth, cuz I got the micro one and with mac os x I’m in trouble for programming it.

    • Owen Vallis

      Glad you liked those tutorials. I haven’t had the time to get back to working on the project, but I spent a lot of time crawling over the schematics to try and figure out how they worked. As Kurt said, I think many of the x0x drum voices can be digitally modeled. Specifically, Michel Morin’s comment about capacitors not fully discharging can be modeled using low pass filters and step functions (among other ways). Check out the wiki on Capacitors for the decay function.

      However, I did run into a digital sync issue trying to reset the phase on the kick in the 909, but there are some good solutions to that. The other tricky bit was the noise circuit in the 909. I modeled the logic, but I think the aliasing might be messing with the sound… could always try to upsample though. Anyways, fun stuff!! Analog sounds great, and digital keeps getting better all the time. Lots of new toys to play with, and lots of greats as well.

  • AT

    I assume Aira is the name of the app for connecting/recording TR-8, TB-3 etc. There is already Air Performer and Air Recorder listed under http://www.roland.com/apps/

    “Air Recorder lets you wirelessly send and receive data between your Roland instrument and iPhone. You can jam along with songs stored on your iPhone, and even record your performance to your iPhone.”

  • Ali

    I think when Sneak-Thief says “breathe like a real 808″ the operative word is “breathe”, not “real 808″. The sense of sounds constantly shifting subtly (or not so subtly, actually) is highly desirable for some of us and also hard to come by in a lot of gear and software, at least in the way that the 808 just does it without a lot of dicking around.

  • Aethelred the Unsteady

    The world needs more programmable drum machines in a good price range, analogue or digital. The demos have been promising…

    • http://flexyvoid.com/ Yanakyl

      Yep! More drum machines to be played live:full on controls and no menu diving.
      Demos??? What?

  • johnny

    i have no doubt this unit will sound excellent. but true analog gives an aesthetic that (many) users want, irrespective of whether there is any sonic difference (or advantage).

  • Andy Cartridge

    i dont know what it is with Roland, i never really liked the MC 303 or the whole MC series to be fair.. i had a Yamaha RM1x and an AN1x, i think around about the time the MC 505 came out…

    i almost got a Roland JP 8000 – which i think is abit better sounding than the AN1x … but it was quite abit more expensive at the time… it also had alot of sliders and knobs… far better to program than the matrix of the Yamaha..

    Point is – the JP 8000 was the LAST bit of Roland kit i have been really excited about, i have a feeling already i will feel very MEH towards this new box … just will have to wait and see..

  • Zangief

    KILL IT WITH FIRE.

  • Jyoti Mishra

    I believe a lot of the antipathy towards Roland is not because of the analogue vs. digital divide but simply because people haven’t been wowed by Roland gear for a long time. Look at Elektron ~ nobody gives a damn that the Machinedrum or Monomachine are DSP-based digital machines, people love them! I love my Virus TI, it is one of the best synths I’ve ever played ~ why is it made by Access and not Roland??

    I will always, always check out new Roland gear because I love my old Roland and Boss gear. However, I haven’t been wowed by a new piece of Roland gear since the awesome VP-9000, a trailblazing machine. And that was fourteen years ago. :-/

    Again, I hope I am wrong and this new machine is brilliant. *prays*

    • JJ Black

      I just went and looked up the VP-9000. This demo video is amazing : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_d_R4n00of4 (and by amazing, i mean kinda hilarious)

    • Jyoti Mishra

      Ah, man, I remember getting my VP and time stretching the shit out of everything! Good times!

    • Matt

      This is really well said. I totally agree.

    • Jyoti Mishra

      I think platform wars are just part of being human. Mac vs. PC, Xbox vs. PS, analogue vs. digital. But they really are rather silly! :-D

  • Guest101

    Another roland misfire from what I have seen of this box. Roland continues to short change their legacy and produce iffy sounding modeling synthesizers. This last round of Roland va stuff sounded okay, but they still don’t sound even as good as the first nord lead, very little character.

  • heinrichz

    Could it be something similar like the drumsynths in Maschine 2 ? Modeling with a few simple controls.

  • http://avene.org/ Glenn Thomas

    Whatever the synthesis they’re using is, I think we should be thankful that it’s a standalone unit. Akai no longer make a standalone MPC, which is really sad. Arturia’s Spark and NI’s Maschine also rely on computers. So it’s good to see any kind of drum box that doesn’t follow that trend, like the Tempest, any Elektron gear, Korg Volca’s etc.

  • surt_the_fire_giant

    Stop fetishising old gear.

  • jonah

    pretty sure the image is inverted hit command option f5* and choose invert. super cool 909ish

    *or cmd opt 8 on 10.7 and lower

  • Matrixxman

    My two cents on the matter: analog is what made the TR-808 and 909 the beasts that they are still to this day. Going digital in this case is a waste of everyone’s time. That being said, if Roland would step up and do a modernized take on the analog versions of these drum machines at a fraction of the cost of the originals but with added functionality, it would be a game changer.

    I would kill to have an updated combo 808/909 with features like wide range pitch control on all drums, ASDR envelopes, white noise, USB midi functionality, basic onboard effects, etc.

    I have tried to use virtual analog synthesis here and there and while it does have it’s applications, it still just fails to compete with the robust warmth of the analog circuitry. Particularly when it comes to authentic house and techno.

    I am not going to rule out the possibility that this machine will be cool but I have my reservations.

    Sincerely,
    matrixxman

  • Tony Scharf

    Personally, I am glad Roland is trying for something new. I am not at all surprised their marketing would try to connect that past instrument to whatever this new one is. It’s just obvious why they would do that.

    I was actually a little disappointed that Korg phoned it in by recreating an exact replica of the past. That is the exact opposite of being innovative. They make up for it in other areas, sure, but the MS20 was basically just a way to grab a bunch of cash from musicians who *had* to have that piece of history. It accomplished nothing new. I have zero interest in it for that reason.

    My hope for this new Roland box is that someone will *finally* be taking on the MachineDrum as a VA/Drum machine. Its an area that has been terribly unexplored (there was the ER1 and the MachineDrum and….I can’t think of any other modeled drum machines…were there any?). So Kudos to Roland for using *modern* technology to make something *new* rather than just phoning it in with a completely uninspired replica.

    • Shane Warne

      The only problem is that it sounds great in theory but I still have my doubts if Roland can/will actually pull it off. The SH-201 was a massive let down to me personally. As was that new Juno.

      I’m not an analog buff by the way, I only actually own 1 analog instrument and the rest are digital (and yes I have a machinedrum and love it). However, going by past performances I really do wonder how good (in my interpretations of the word) this new machine will be? There are so many other amazing instruments and new drum machines out there on the market in this day and age. It’ll have to really blow my socks off for me to get one haha :-)

    • Tony Scharf

      I think price will determine that. If this box is $2k+ then it will fail before it gets out of the gate. If they can keep it well under $1k I think it could have a chance. I’d really like to see this priced in Korg Electribe territory, which I think is reasonable.

      It sounds to me like they are adopting the model of the MD in that you will be able to select different models for each sound (hopefully it’s not kit dependent). But it’s all speculation. let’s just wait and see.

  • FactChecker

    The writer of the article wrote: “I was corrected by a reader that just because SuperNATURAL is described
    as “virtual analog” doesn’t mean there’s necessarily a model of a
    waveform; these oscillators may use PCM sample sources and a combination
    of layering and other component models to get the desired sound”.
    I was the reader who corrected you, but your sentences are still mistakable.

    There are two completely different SuperNATURAL sections:
    1) The SuperNATURAL Acoustic engines, which are dedicated engines for each acoustic instrument group, e-piano and tonwheel organ.

    2) The SuperNATURAL Synth engine, which is an analog-modeling (VA) engine, with the option to replace the vintage analog-modeling (VA) waves with 350 PCM waveforms as Osc source. So Virtual Analog does mean analog-modeling Oscs, Envs and Filters, but the Osc source can be a vintage analog-modeled VA waveform (Saw, Pulse, etc.) or a PCM waveform. One single SN Synth Tone consist of three complete VA synths Partials, resp. layers. A LiveSet has 4 such Tones (=12 synth Partials resp. layers) and a single Registration (Jp-80) has even up to 30 synth Partials!

    BTW:What do you mean with “other component models”. Those words of yours are just nonsense, sorry…

    Good luck and best wishes

  • Chris

    I owned quite a few groove boxes many Roland, at to author , they were generally shite, had crappy outputs and the O.S was never finished, they were all crippled.
    Some of the things were superb, like the synth on the MC-808 or the sp808s fx section, or the usability of the 505 , as an whole instruments they sexed, the mc303 probably sucking the hardest.

  • Artest4president

    Roland created the greatest drum machine ever to exist, why do they have such an issue with making it again. Korg got this totally right, they remade one of the best synths ever created and it has sold out since on sale. Roland should take a tip from fender who has been making the same guitar for years, no one complains about that because it is still one of the best out there, get off your high horse Roland and give us what we want!!!

  • Old Skool Guy

    If Roland don’t get this Aira release right after all the hype they’ve created online then I feel that they’ve in danger of totally blowing their remaining credibility….without prejudging the Aira kit,as a guy who used to sell this stuff for a living for years I’m as sure as I can be that the original 303/909/SH101,remade in the original designs with modern connectivity would still outsell any VA version by ten to one….it’s so simple and obvious….musicians have been asking for Roland to faithfully remake their biggest selling kit,rather than make lame digital MC303 style name cash-ins for years…if Korg can do it with the MS20,then why not Roland?

  • TS

    Because of their launch, I’m betting they do the Kick and Snare analog, and the rest digital… similar to how they explain the 909. It wouldn’t make sense to dive in hard on the 808 and 909 being analog (at least in part) and then turn around and release a VA machine in full. If we get analog kicks and snares, I’m personally happy.

    Not buying it’s VA only because a couple random retailers posted it.