The hotly anticipated TB-3 and TR-8, plus a lesser-hyped synthesizer and vocal processor, are all coming soon from the Japanese hardware manufacturer.
The announcement follows weeks of intriguing videos, tantalizing photos and lots of chatter about exactly what form AIRA would take. As originally speculated, AIRA is at its heart a hardware series that draws on the sound and functionality of its '80s classics: the TB-303 bass synthesizer and the TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines, all three of which were foundational for house and techno (and have long commanded high prices on collectors' markets).
The TB-3 Touch Bassline updates the 303, maintaining the sound of the original's sawtooth and square wave oscillators and the cutoff and resonance of its signature -18dB/octave ladder low-pass filter. The original step entry keyboard, though, has been replaced with a pressure-sensitive touch pad that Roland says encourages the sort of real-time performance that the 303 made difficult. The step sequencer also features "automatic pattern generation and random pattern modification" in an effort to maintain some of the unintentional sonic curveballs the original would occasionally throw. To top it off, the device features a USB jack that provides bus power and transmission of audio and MIDI data.
The TR-8 Rhythm Performer combines elements of the 808 and 909—we're told to expect "the boom and snap of the 808. The thud of the 909. The robotic click of an 808 rim shot or a classic 909 snare roll." Tune and Decay knobs will feature on every instrument, and Attack and Comp knobs have been added to the bass and snare drums for tonal variation. There are also some contemporary touches, like built-in sidechaining on external inputs and full parallel outputs through USB. Like the TB-3, the TR-8 will bring over some of the quirks of the original hardware, like the effect assigning multiple instruments to one accented step would have on their tone.
Neither instrument will be analog. Instead, they achieve the sound of the original through something called Analog Circuit Behavior technology, the result of "part-by-part analyses" to recreate the behavior of the machines these were based on. (One of the teaser videos explains Roland's approach.) Another new feature common to both is something called Scatter, which as the name implies lets you add variability to your patterns.
While the TB-3 and TR-8 are likely to steal the show, the AIRA series features two other units. The SYSTEM-1—a "plug-out" synthesizer based on Roland's System 100, 100M and 700—boasts a sound also achieved through Analog Circuit Behavior. The keyboard acts as a host for software recreations of other Roland synths, like an upcoming plug-in version of the SH-101. Last but not least is the VT-3 Voice Transformer, a tool for transforming vocals, with treatments like hard-tuning, classic vocoder, synth and robot-voice. All four of the devices have been designed to work seamlessly with one another, as well as with other MIDI-enabled instruments.
The AIRA series is coming soon from Roland, with estimated retail prices as follows: £245 for the TB-3; £399 for the TR-8; £159 for the VT-3; and £495 for the SYSTEM-1.