Roland has updated the firmware for the first full AIRA line (TR-8 drum machine, TB-3 bassline sequencer, VT-3 vocal processor, SYSTEM-1 synthesizer) today to version 1.10. There are no new sounds – in case you wanted, say, a 727 drum kit for your TR-8. But instead, the whole range gets USB backup and restore, and functionality around working with patterns and MIDI gets a whole lot smarter.

This isn’t just a few fixes; it really does polish off the AIRA series and address a lot of the points I found a bit limiting using them some months ago. And just in time: all the AIRA kit has shown up here at CDM, meaning we get to be the last review, but also the review that goes into depth as these machines grow up a bit.

The SYSTEM-1 synth/keyboard, for its part, has just gotten its SH-101 Plug-Out model – and support for the Plug-Out scheme in this update. I’ve been playing with that in advance, and we’ll have the full review and sounds next week.

The full changelogs are below. But let’s cut to the bottom line.

You can use USB for backup/restore. This is huge, especially with patterns on the TB-3 and TR-8. You can now use your computer, as it should be used, as a way of managing your work on the hardware.

The VT-3 vocal processor just got useful – smoothed out, and with MIDI control. I’m not going to mince words: I hated the VT-3 when I first tried it. The presets were weird, and the sound quality was inconsistent because of erratic levels. It appears 1.1 fixes the sound quality issue, by gating noise and managing volume levels as you work with characters. And most importantly, it turns into something more of you might actually want to use, with external MIDI keyboard control of pitch (including on the vocoder). It happens to be fun to route the TR-8 into the VT-3, so this could be a lot of fun.

The TB-3 has a full range and more MIDI control options. With more octaves out, and local on/off, MIDI controller modes, the TB-3 is a better sequencer. With more octaves in, it’s a better synth. And Roland has ticked off my list of complaints – you can record external patterns, you can record and sequence slide and accents. You can also organise patterns. All in all, the TB-3 appears to be morphing into what I hoped it’d be: a brilliant touch sequencer.

The TR-8 is more playable. From roll tweaks to external patterns to better pattern playing, the TR-8 is easier and more fun to play. And that’s a good thing, as I’ve been finding some baffling omissions in firmware in products this year when it comes to managing grooves and patterns – Arturia Beatstep, Elektron Analog Rytm, I’m looking at you. (And we’re getting back to you soon.)

I don’t think the AIRAs are necessarily for everyone. (Well, why should they be?) And … I’m still not fond of neon green. But while I fully expect some online comments to continue to pile on the “overrated cheap plastic crap” complaint (this is the Internet), the AIRAs have already won over some very happy users, and they’re looking genuinely mature with this update. I’m going to have to work a little harder with any criticisms, which is how it’s meant to be. And I’m really, really happy to be revisiting them. I must have been in sync with a lot of other AIRA users, because this gets to the heart of the kinds of changes that would make me use them more.

Check the full list of changes:

TR-8 Version 1.1 Update
– Manage your kit and pattern library with easy backup and restore over USB.
– Customize kits by adjusting the gain of each instrument to suit your individual style.
– Rolls are now easier to engage, offer more control, and sound better overall.
– Alternate unlatched trigger mode engages only while “On” button is held down.
– Scatter will enable for one cycle and then automatically disengage.
– Get back in the groove by instantly starting a pattern from the top.
– Lock the contents of a pattern so you can experiment without losing your original groove.
– Now you can edit both A and B parts of a pattern without stopping the sequencer.
– Local On/Off and MIDI Controller modes determine how MIDI data is sent and received.
– MIDI velocity is variable by the accent setting.
– Select kits using MIDI control change messages.
– Scatter On/Off, Type and Depth can be controlled via MIDI control change.
– Record patterns in real-time from external MIDI devices.
– Disable sending of all MIDI messages.
– Toggle whether or not TR-8 responds to PLAY/STOP messages.
– Control effects using MIDI control change messages.

TB-3 Version 1.1 Update
– Manage your pattern library with easy backup and restore over USB.
– Control both pattern tune (-700 to 700 cents) and master tune (430-450)
– Assign a specific tone to a pattern so sound will change automatically when pattern is selected.
– Transpose a pattern during performance by simply pressing a note on the touchpad’s keyboard. No need to hold “Keyboard” button.
– Organize your favorite patterns for quick access in live performance with a custom user bank.
– Lock the contents of a pattern so you can experiment without losing your original groove.
– Quickly change the root note of a pattern by shifting its pitch.
– The sequencer now supports notes from C0-C6 for added flexibility and dramatic slides.
– Extended Transpose Range.
– Local On/Off and MIDI Controller modes determine how MIDI data is sent and received.
– Record patterns in real-time from external MIDI devices.
– Implementation of both slide and accent pattern by MIDI control change.
– Scatter On/Off, Type and Depth can be controlled via MIDI control change.
– Disable sending of all MIDI messages.
– Note range has been extended from C0-C8 when controlled by external MIDI device.

VT-3 Version 1.1 Update
– Manage your presets with easy backup and restore over USB.
– User presets have been doubled to six locations.
– Volume level of voice characters are more evenly matched for smooth transitions.
– Control pitch of voice characters, including vocoder, with external MIDI keyboard.
– Cuts low frequency sensing to improve performance of Auto-Pitch characters.
– Gates noise to reduce chance of feedback or howling sound.
– Adjusts level of audio over USB.
– Change program memory with MIDI controller message.

And the SYSTEM-1 gets some significant changes/enhancements, too, not only the ability to run PLUG-OUT synths.

  • Take snapshots of controllers
  • USB data backup/restore (as on the others
  • Improved LPF CUTOFF resolution,/li>
  • Improved behavior of the volume knob/slider.
  • Pitch bend range can be changed
  • MIDI Local On/Off and MIDI Controller mode (as on TB-3

Via Twitter, here are some videos of that 1.1 update on the TR-8, which I’m sure will be a highlight for you:

  • Peter

    I learned a lot about how superficial I was when I thought the tr-8 looked mega cool with blue leds:

    • wndfrm

      blue looks nice in theory, but it’s too ‘active’ for your eyes to avoid when you are trying to look ‘past’ them, you know, at the knob/fader/board tape?? hehe .. i prefer any LED’s to be subtle, dim, etc.. tired of glowing stuff. tr8 is great fun though, regardless of colour scheme.

  • Suneth Music

    It’s nice to see Roland continuing to update and support these products, I’m really liking the idea of hardware that can continue to get better with time!

  • André et Michèle

    Happy to see the gain update! A+B editing sounds cool too, though would love a quick copy function of A to B as well. Here’s hoping the next update brings new sounds . . .

    • André Godoy

      i was hoping this copy A to B feature too, damn thats really a need for me 😛

  • Mutis Mayfield

    How is supposed to be midi controlled the VT-3… By usb? It haven’t midi din io, right?
    I don’t want to carry a computer to perform with it… Maybe I missed something?

    Any news about the sync box?

    • Casey Bishop

      At this time you will need a computer to send MIDI notes into the VT-3 over the USB. Because the VT-3 requires a driver I do not believe a stand alone USB to MIDI class compliant device such the Roland UM-ONE would work. The VT-3 also does not have the correct USB port type to support such a device. With the VT-3 connect to a computer running any multichannel Audio/MIDI program you would route MDI notes coming from the System-1 for example through that program and back out to the VT-3.

      The Sync-Box is scheduled for production in August.

    • Bill

      How does it complicate things if I have the VT-3 hooked into an MX-1? Can I still use a separate small MIDI keyboard to control pitch (like an LPK or something)? What mode would I need to have the MX-1 set to in order to do this?

  • zeed

    “MIDI Local On/Off and MIDI Controller mode ”

    does this mean system-1 be used as a general midi controller for daw’s etc? via usb?