Roland hasn’t been this buzzed about in a very long time. But in its carefully-calculated teaser campaign for Aira, the company is back in a big way. And we’re slowly getting to see the four Aira devices to be introduced this week.

We know Aira will include a drum machine. We know there will be a TR-08. We know there was a video recalling the history of the TR-808. Now, Roland is talking TR-909 history. You can either take that to mean something about the TR-08, or that a TR-909 reboot will accompany the TR-08.

Teaser campaign aside, fans of drum machine history will certainly get a warm, fuzzy feeling watching this video. Atsushi Hoshiai, the engineer behind a lot of the best-known 80s Roland machines, recounts the story of the original 909 sample – and then shows you the very cymbal that he used for the sound.

Roland may also be priming us for a bit of the philosophy behind these remakes. The 808 video emphasized the importance of making something “new and exciting” – a reboot, not a remake. (Think more KORG volca than KORG MS-20 mini; Minimoog Voyager rather than Minimoog clone.)

Now, we’re reminded that some of our favorite drum machine sounds from the 80s were digital, not analog. And that’s a point the unwashed masses do often miss, assuming “vintage” and “analog” equate.

Conventional wisdom is that some hybrid of analog synthesis (for sounds like the bass drum) with digital synthesis (for sounds like the hats) make a whole world of sense. The former isn’t hard to do with analog circuitry, the latter isn’t hard to do with clever sample manipulation.

But this could, in turn, explain why we’ve seen conflicting rumors about the Aira machines. “It uses SuperNATURAL digital sounds.” “It’s analog.”

The TR-909 video could give away the answer: the Aira drum machine might actually be both. It’s a fair bet, and certainly what a lot of us might wish for. (That or else it’s all digital, and this is just a sort of pro-digital story – but doing analog drum circuitry still makes a lot of sense from an engineering standpoint, even before you get to marketing. I may have to change my money to “hybrid” before the big race. Now I remember why CDM doesn’t usually do rumors, though we couldn’t quite resist this one.)

Bored by a techno drum machine? There may be more…

What’s unclear is what hardware we’ll see come from Roland. We know there’s a drum machine, and that there’s a vocal effects box / vocal transformer with vocoder. There’s other vintage Roland gear on the testbed in the video, but that doesn’t necessarily mean each is getting its own remake – least of all when Roland specifically say they’re making new things. It may be that the 909 video simply tells more of the story of the TR-08.

You may have noticed what Roland hasn’t mentioned is a synth. At least one source tells CDM to expect the drum machine and vocal effects to be accompanied by a keyboard and synth. We’re hearing about a fascinating synthesizer that might just be more interesting to readers here than the 808-style machine.

We’ll know soon enough.

It’ll be interesting to see this as it evolves. Like KORG, Roland still has many of its earlier engineers working on new projects – check out Mr. Hoshiai’s impressive patent portfolio. Recently, all three major Japanese companies – Roland, Yamaha, and KORG – have begun to let those of us outside Japan know a little more about those personalities, and to consider their history in new ways. I hope these videos mean more exposure to the design process at Roland. Either way, we’ll know a whole lot about what the company views as important when we see the resulting hardware.

In the meantime, this is probably the most effective teaser campaign before NAMM in recent history – including those by Roland’s rivals.

808, 909, side by side. One thing you definitely don't want Roland to recreate is the size. Photo (CC-BY-SA) bdu.

808, 909, side by side. One thing you definitely don’t want Roland to recreate is the size. Photo (CC-BY-SA) bdu.

  • jack

    Aren’t you tired from all this 808 crap?

  • eshefer

    I guess it’s the same box. if it’s a virtual analog emulation it would make sence to model both a 909 and a 808.

    • Blue Monster 65

      I would be happy if they released some sort of good-sounding, inexpensive “groove box” (the hated word). Toss in an 808, a 909, an SH-101 and call it good. It doesn’t need to be completely ground-breaking: just different from what they’ve offered in the recent past, but building on their history. Make it fun to use like a Korg EMX or the Volca series and I would imagine they’ll have a decent selling product that they can follow up with more involved, expensive models (and follow the MC-303, 505, etc. path once again). I guess we’ll find out in a few days what they’re up to …

  • Bruno

    Isn’t it weird that they use an 808 as the soundtrack for a video about the 909?

  • lematt

    I really can’t trust Roland anymore

  • surt_the_fire_giant

    With all the innovation in electronic music in the last 30 years, and the free-thinking and experimentation that made it possible, it’s amazing how people want to keep using these same sounds over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

    • Peter Kirn

      Well, Roland did say they wanted to make something “new and amazing,” so they’re with you on that front. The question is what that sounds like.

      I’m not working on an 808 clone. But does that doesn’t mean every instrument needs to be entirely new. Variations on basic designs are the essence of a lot of musical history – not to repeat sounds verbatim, but to try nuanced iteration.

    • surt_the_fire_giant

      True, they’re not just sticking out a straight re-issue 808, like Korg did with the MS-20 (not knocking them for it), but at the same time, when they released that video, saying that, in their opinion, people wanted something “New and exciting” a lot of people replied that what the people wanted was an 808 re-issue, not innovation.

    • Dogshit McPukeface

      “The question is what that sounds like.”

      Kind of. I think for most people the more important question is how it *performs*

    • eshefer

      With all the innovation in music in the last 3000 years, and the free-thinking and experimentation that made it possible, it’s amazing how people want to keep using these same sounds over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

    • surt_the_fire_giant

      I get your point, but leaps in technology in the last 30 years, and the subsequent palette of sounds available to the average musician make it all the weirder as time goes on.

    • eshefer

      I agree, in theory, and I do love new sonic experimentation.

      in practice some sounds became known as iconical sounds – when we hear them they evoke a feeling which is almost universal. the 303, 808 and 909 are examples of this. and so is a cello or a piano or a strat.

      my point is that it shouldnt be suprising that instrument makers are catering to address this need, as it would not suprise us that devices that sound like pianos and cellos continue to be manufactured.

      that said, I doubt I would by this new box.

    • danski

      Yeah. And it’s amazing how these same sounds are being layered to create new variations over and over and over again.

    • SaintMarx

      Innovation is overrated. Just play something good.

  • jack


  • Peter Kirn

    Yes, it’s amazing – it’s almost as though the impact of Roland engineers on decades of music history was greater than what the comment threads below will have.

    But, no mind — keep spending as much energy as you can yelling at a Website.

    I can also suggest shouting at walls: “WHY DO PEOPLE KEEP MAKING TECHNO???!!” Also: “GET OFF MY LAWN, YOU STUPID HIPSTER BLOGGER!!” can be intoned, gently or harshly, into the sensor on the bottom of your mouse. It just might redirect the course of musical creativity.

    I mean, you could also try more constructive things. But that’d be the easy way out.

    There will be … um … other hardware than what’s above, even from Roland, even *with the Aira label*. But I don’t have to tell you that, because presumably you’ll be back at this Website the rest of the week in order to yell at it some more.

    • surt_the_fire_giant

      Okay guys. No more commenting. Commenting not allowed.

    • Peter Kirn

      I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over this exactly-symmetrical, four-on-the-floor 808 kick drum. BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM ….

    • surt_the_fire_giant

      Okay, that was a good comeback, I’ll give you that.

    • Dogshit McPukeface

      well said. the only ‘old’ or ‘trite’ part of this whole thing is all the roland haters making noise on all the fora and various social media outlets. Ya, we get it, roland make accordions. LOLZ indeed.

  • Earl Dixon III

    The cymbal is a Paiste Formula 602. Anyone know what kind of hihat that is?

  • jack

    I think someone should make an AIRA emulation. Why? Because we need more Roland emulations

  • Alessandro Automageddon

    Is that a 4×4 or a 4×3 grid?
    It would be nice to finally hear something or get some real details, the week before NAMM is always painfully void of details…

  • Henry

    Actually, I just came to think of the 707 and the 727: All sample based (if I remember correctly) and almost no sound shaping possibilities on those boxes. But they’ve got fantastic sequencers, a relatively large LCD (for mid-80s standards), and a rather small form factor while keeping things tactile enough for live performance. I’m not saying it’s a strong contender for the Linn Drum, but it’s got quite some punch and a very distinct sound that could fit many productions styles. Interestingly, it seems that the 909 sported the Windows PC office-grey-inspired design that was the blueprint for Roland’s later offerings.

    And btw, retro is not always bad. Just because it has been tried a million times, doesn’t mean that there is nothing new to discover in old, limited technology.

    • ToneHead

      The 909 (1983) preceded Windows PCs, so it couldn’t have been inspired by them. Its color is similar to Apple products of the time, but not the same.

    • Henry

      Sorry to be nerdy here but nope, the IBM PC was from 1981 and had exactly that colour scheme I mean. But anyway, that doesn’t change what the 909, 707 et al have done to music ever since then. :)

  • pinta_vodki

    Those history bits are fascinating. Makes me wish for a longer (say, 30 minutes or more) Roland-made inside-look documentary on the history of these machines and the people that made them.

    • Gideon Waxfarb

      That would be awesome :)

    • Chris Faux

      Yeah, that would be awesome!

  • Jorge from Madrid AKA Laguna

    Uhm… I just wanted to say that I would love a TB-303 re-issue, although I love the x0xb0x. Volca Bass it’s grittier, crunchier, not quite the same sound… although that’s what makes it so cool.

    I’ve never seen a real 303 “in person”. My MC-303 rompler sounds thin and dated, but that pushed me to try new things to make it “squelch”. Back in the Amiga Tracker days we use to play multiple samples with different resonances (painstakingly slow to program, but still interesting). Phoscyon VST has great slides and envelope tweaking. Guess you could tweak your Minibrute or whatever gear you have to make good acid… Any Mopho users out there making their own Higher States of Counciousness?

    Anyway, for all the haters, simply don’t listen or don’t buy it. I would love not just to have a new TR-808, but a reissued CompuRhythm 78 (greatest RIM on history!)

    If you think it’s just a hype, then pass. If it sounds good enough, I’ll be interested.

  • foosnark

    For people questioning the sound of the 808 and 909… why not take it a step further? Why do we use the combination of kick/snare that started in… what, the 1920s or so? That’s not just “techno” (heh) but basically all mainstream music and a lot of farther-out stuff. It’s time to retire it, I say. Let’s go thundersheet and shime-daiko! Who’s with me?

    • ToneHead

      That’s a good insight into how attached folks are to certain concepts.

      Kick.Snare/Hi-Hat as an organizational paradigm for rhythm allegedly dates back to New Orleans circa 1880 (maybe earlier), when the modern stationary drum kit was invented. Ken Burns included in his Jazz movie a photo of a young kid on a street corner in New Orleans playing a kick/snare/hi-hat setup circa 1900, so the concept was already well established by the turn of the last century.

  • bnzlovesyou

    tr-03 ~ 300 €
    tr-08 ~ 500 €

  • johnny

    also, space echo on the bench near the end!

  • D@rth T@ter

    Well that was fun…as someone who uses both original machines regularly, that was very entertaining…but it’s bizzare that an 808 emulation playing in the background..and I would argue, not quite as cool sounding either.

  • SaintMarx

    I like the size (of the original 808 and 909)!