Roland, it seems, is not interested in reissues. Each time the company has revisited its past classic models, it has reinterpreted those nameplates with new designs. And for lovers of the originals, that has caused mixed emotions.

The obvious comparison is Korg, who dominated last year’s NAMM headlines with a surprisingly-authentic remake of the MS-20, to say nothing of MS filter recreations across their products. Moog, Dave Smith Instruments, Novation, and others have also more faithfully reproduced some earlier models.

But the Aira TR-08, a new drum machine Roland is now teasing, could still be a new direction. Labeled the “evolution” of the 808 – and with videos recalling the instrument’s history – the Aira seems unlike anything Roland has done in recent years. For one thing, while Roland focused on dance music gear and grooves in the 90s, even seeing a flagship drum machine is itself news.

And the simple truth is, we don’t know which way Roland is going this time. Will they follow industry trends and add some analog circuitry? How much of the original will they remake? Innards aside, how does Roland see their history through the filter of 2014? We know how they’ve reinterpreted their legacy in the past, but what about now?

Those clamoring for an 808 (or 303) re-release, you probably won’t be happy. Roland is keen to remind you that you want something “new and exciting.”

On the other hand, we can already see from the images that the new hardware emphasizes tactile control, and the video featurette on the 808 does talk about the importance of the distinctive 808 sound.

The design itself is telling. I wrote a favorable review for Keyboard when Roland unveiled the SH-201. You have to remember, this was 2006, before we were spoiled by loads of brilliant analog monosynths – it was nice to see Roland embrace one-for-one synth controls, with no screens. (Madonna liked it, too.) The TR-08 appears to come from that same commitment to accessibility, so even if it eventually offends 808 aficionados (or even me, for that matter), it could still be an important release for a market hungry for new drum machines.

And there really aren’t many entry-level drum machine options out there, apart from something like Korg’s volca beats. There’s a market opportunity there, no question, whether Roland successfully fills it or not.

But just as I wouldn’t hope for a “reissue” of an 808 (obvious already from the marketing and photos), I expect that the sound engine will build on existing products. Remember that the SuperNATURAL line already includes models of vintage instruments. That’s a PCM-based engine, which can then be processed through a selection of other models to approximate the sounds of the original. (Various speculation online has suggested the same, as seen in the FA/Fantom and Integra series. Roland tends to iterate on those designs.)

We’ll of course be watching very, very closely indeed and working with Roland to get more on this.

In the meantime, since this is wide open, speculate away. Armchair quarterbacking will be just the thing between now and the start of the NAMM trade show next week.

All we know for now: Roland thinks you don’t like the colors of the old 808, and do very much enjoy Matrixsynth. (No argument on the latter!)

Via De:bug, Synthtopia – yes, had limited Internet access on the road in Belgrade, Serbia this week!



  • frodo

    I honestly can’t think of anything more new and exciting than faithful reproductions of analog gear, with maybe just a little bit more connectivity. Korg’s MS-20 Mini case in point.

    Apart from this, new and exciting gear now usually just means a 3 month shelf life at Guitar Center before being consigned to the growing scrap heap of digital fatigue.

    • Henry

      Connectivity is one of the key words in here. Any “retro” gear these days would only make sense with proper (USB-) MIDI implementation and all sorts of automation enabled for as many synth/beat machine parameters as possible. Despite the love for hardware (step) sequencers, most people would obviously look at how any new synth or beat box could be integrated with their DAW.

    • Jyoti Mishra

      Their intransigence towards reissuing classic gear is baffling. I and many others would pay big money for a modern 808, providing it was not some VA flim-flam but as faithful as Korg’s baby.

      Roland, just give it up, stick out a new 808, 909 and 303.

  • kconnor9000

    Man, those are some clean desks. Oscilloscope, little monitors, very very clean. Fun to get an insight into Roland Corp. engineering.

    • Henry

      As if…

  • Ben Jarvis

    New and exciting = 50% more D-Beam!

    • a_w_young

      I had a good chuckle at that. :)

  • Yanakyl

    Oh man, I hope so much it’s a 808 with some digital fx in sends, maybe parmeters that go somehow beyond the usual 808 and no much more.

    • tommm

      and any parameter locks on every step.

    • Yanakyl

      Well I not sure on that matter, if they save a couple hundred euros I might be more happy. But then I might be asking for it later, so yeah…ideally you’re right. We’ll see

    • AMD

      That’s what my guess is as well (Analogue/Digital hybrid here Roland TR-808 with Digital effects, and parameters that go beyond the usual 808), lets wait until NAMM 2014 (Not Available until Maybe May :p )

    • Yanakyl

      With a colder head I’m thinking they’ll be using the virtual analog technology they’ve been developing all the last years. Even though as long as it sounds good I’ll be interested, I’d like a couple analog sounds..Kick first ^_^

      Also don’t want any demo pattern and template sound bank crap all around, just one knob/button/fader for every parameter and never having to stop the machine.
      Can anybody tell me, in the jupiter 80 there’s any percussion instrument modelled?

  • Brand B

    I just hope it can be used without a computer and that it can switch between step write and pattern play mode on the fly.

    • heinrichz

      what’s wrong with using a computer ?

    • JJ Black

      I think he means he doesn’t want it to be like the NI Maschine…. a stand-alone unit. @brandb:disqus : I have a feeling it won’t be dependent on a computer.

  • sinfm

    i don’t care if it’s analog or digital, as long as it’s hardware (without a computer) and sounds good. but if it’s not analog, they have had their heads buried in the sand in 2012-2013

  • Jeff Laity

    It’s like if Marshall just came out with a new digital modeling amp one year after another.

  • AMD

    Let’s wait and see what the Roland Aira turns out like. The fact that Roland is consulting Hardfloor & A Guy Called Gerald (so far) fills me with some cautious optimism. In fact here is what Oliver Bondzio of Hardfloor wrote a while back in October of this year


    He did say Prototypes, My interest is peaked

    • bitSmasher

      My first thought when I saw this announced was “please, no fixed pattern presets” – nothing needs fixed presets except the most mundane of toys. unfortunately Roland’s previous “vintage references” were mainly toys…
      Seeing those names mentioned, has me fearful they’re going to load it with rhythms programmed by big artists and use that as a selling point… argh, no more presets!

  • AMD

    That should read October of 2013, my bad.

  • Lion King
    • Jyoti Mishra

      – Easy operation
      – Such buttons
      – Many controls


    • heinrichz

      physical modeling or additive synthesis

  • xyz023

    Just get Acidlab’s Miami –

    • Henry

      Sure, it sounds alright, but if only it would not look so hideous with these round buttons – just like the eye cancer producing Elektron machines these days… This video proves it all…

    • jacob k

      in my opinion there are 3 projects that reflect the authentic tr-808 sound at the moment.

      1: xlargex´s 808 circuits

      2: the MB808 project

      3: Yocto

      i picked the first in the list, took a while building but worth it!!!

  • Jyoti Mishra

    I hate to be negative but based on their recent form, I predict an under-powered VA drum box with only name-relation to the mighty 808.

    I have an 808 and it’s still my gold-standard for timing and triggering (though my Machinedrum comes close). If Roland made a properly powerful box, like Elektron do, there’d be no problem. But I expect an arcane UI, waiting time for loads, waits between modes, waits to save, the same as my MC-505.

    In the ’80s, I worshipped Roland and didn’t much go for Korg. Since the late ’90s, it’s been very much the reverse.

    I’m really, really, *really* hoping I’m proven wrong!

  • DJ Bump

    Analogue or Digital makes no difference whatsoever if its done properly – there are plenty of shitty sounding analogue drums and synths out there – most people cant program them properly anyway – the analogue hype is just bandwagon grandstanding for the most part – my guess is they will have put the effort in with the amount of pressure and market expectation they are under. Brave move on Roland’s part.

  • Daniel Davis

    I’m still trying to figure out why creators of forward thinking, futuristic music still long for the same old sounds that everyone has been using for the last 30 ears. Man, let’s retire the x0x sounds, let them go, and move on.

    • angstrom

      Exactly my thoughts. It signified the future in the 80’s but this is thirty years later and now it signifies the past.
      I certainly still enjoy using retro sounds, or having those direct control and sound facilities available – but if someone told me they were bringing out an innovative drum machine which built on the success of the old beast, I’d be more impressed than by a faithful recreation of the past.

  • A. Campbell Payne

    “We started developing the TR-808 in 1980 … at that time, electronic music and dance did not yet exist”. Sounds like Roland were not too keen on Moroder. Or Kraftwerk. Or…

  • heinrichz

    I dont see how another analog drummachine can be new and exciting..

  • Walter

    You wrote in your article: “Remember that the SuperNATURAL line already includes models of vintage
    instruments. That’s a PCM-based engine, which can then be processed
    through a selection of other models to approximate the sounds of the

    Which isn’t correct. There is the SuperNATURAL SYNTH engine and the SuperNATURAL ACOUSTIC Engine.

    The SN SYNTH engine is a VirtualAnalog Modeling Synth (which apart from the modeled analog waves can also use PCM waves as OSC source).

    The SN ACOUSTIC engine instead is based on processed samples, while each intrument group has its own engine principle. There are no sample velocity switchings or sampling loops, etc. involved.

  • Downpressor

    I would prefer the old and trusted to the new and exciting when it comes to Roland.

  • Ben Jarvis

    I’m really glad they are bringing back the MC-303. It’s about damn time.

  • Foosnark

    With so many emulations and samples of the 808 out there, I don’t really understand why anyone would want a re-issue. If it’s just nostalgia, wouldn’t an original 808 be better for that, even as a re-issue lowers the market value?

    I don’t really get the value of a standalone drum machine in 2014, but then I’m a recent Maschine convert so I guess I’m biased. Software with a good tactile controller and friendly, immediate editing seems like the best of all possible worlds. A bunch of little boxes that sort of talk to each other, connected with cables and plugged in to wall warts, sounds a bit like the worst.

  • Frontal Lobe

    Wait a minute…he says that electronic music didn’t exist before 1980!!! I guess he never heard of “Autobahn” by Kraftwerk which was out in 1974.

  • romulss

    I would like it to be a digitally controlled analogue circuit using the same components as the orignal TR-808. Plus additional DSP (I can see ‘reverb’ in the pic above) and possibly ADSR/pitch controls for each sound given the slider (although this could be a basic volume slider).

    Or an entirely analogue drum machine that uses completely new voice circuitry, so we have an new drum machine that’s like the 808 of 2014.

  • bob

    FUKIN GROOVEBOX.again and again.Kids stuff