One of the first manufacturers to embrace portability with the TB-303, Roland pulls out all of the stops with its latest incarnation of grooveboxes.
Roland has always been at the center of innovation. With a history filled with ground-breaking instruments, they are no stranger to portable devices beginning with the TB-303 in 1981. Since then, they have continued to produce instruments with mobile musicians in mind. Their latest creations called AIRA compact combine some of their most popular sounds and functions into three tiny units: the T-8 Beat Machine, the J-6 Chord Synth, and the E-4 Voice Tweaker. These devices use the latest technology to provide the user with powerful functions that are normally found on larger, more expensive devices.
Masters of the universe
All three AIRA compact devices contain a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery that conveniently provides hours of continuous use between charges. Roland has also included some clever connections to help you get the most out of these portable instruments, including sync in and out ports, midi in and out, USB-C ports for charging and connecting with your computer or tablet, headphone out, and mix in and out ports. The latter provides a convenient way to chain the audio output of each device to a single headphone output, eliminating the need for a separate audio mixer. With so many connections, these devices can be integrated into a much larger system with ease. Each device also includes a bright LED display, back-lit buttons, knobs, and sliders for hands-on control-providing a uniform user experience throughout the line-up. Manufactured with Roland’s legendary build quality, these devices will provide years of service.
T-8 Beat Machine
In another clever move, Roland has combined the most popular drum sounds from their TR-808, TR-909, and TR-606 drum machines with the bass tones from the TB-303. Using their Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) found in the TR-8S and TB-3, the T-8 has that classic Roland character. It features six rhythm tracks, including bass drum, snare drum, hand clap, tom, and closed and opened hi-hat. The bass and snare drums have individual level, tune, and decay controls, while the hand clap and tom are grouped and have a level control and a tune control. The closed and open hi-hat are similarly grouped together and have level and decay controls. The seventh track is the bass track, which includes level, pitch, decay, cutoff, resonance, and envelope modulation. There is a universal effects section that includes controls for adding delay and reverb. The T-8 also features an overdrive effect and side-chain compression. The T-8 includes a 32-step sequencer with 64-pattern storage. There is also advanced rhythm programming options, including probability, sub-step, shuffle, and velocity. The T-8 also includes many real-time performance features, like step loop, mute, fill, reload, and pattern shift. Bass notes can be traditionally programmed in step mode with accents and slides or recorded live by playing the buttons.
J-6 Chord Synth
The J-6 packs the incredible sound of the Juno-60 into a tiny device that features a 4-voice synth engine with filter and envelope controls and 64 synth presents. The J-6 also includes 100 chord sets spanning classic and contemporary genres, 64 user patterns with up to 64 steps per pattern, and an arpeggiator with 9 styles and 12 variations per style. With the built-in keyboard, you can play single notes and chords or use the chord sets to play chords with one key and change the chords in real-time. You can also program chord changes into the chord sequencer which allows you to record chord changes, style variations, single notes, and tempo changes in each step. Once you have your chord sequence programmed, you can continue to tweak your masterpiece by selecting your synth sound, adjusting the filter and envelope settings, and adding some delay and reverb. Another amazing feature is that the chord sets, styles, and variations are transmitted over MIDI and USB, allowing you to use all of these powerful features to drive other hardware synthesizers or softsynths on your computer or tablet.
E-4 Voice Tweaker
The E-4 is an audio playground in the palm of your hand. Go from subtle pitch correction to full-blown voice transformations. Choose from a wide variety of harmony types like octave up or down, 3rd, 5th, and 7th giving you creative control over your backing parts all in real-time. With the vocoder, you can change your vocal gender or turn yourself into a robot. Use the onboard synth waveforms or an external MIDI keyboard to control your pitch. Turn your voice into a full band with the 24-second looper, building up layer after layer. Once you have your masterpiece just right, chop it up with the scatter knob! Everything syncs with the tempo and there is even an option to use a gamer’s headset or your phone’s earbuds with an inline mic. One of the coolest features is the ¼” microphone jack and level control. To me, this opens up the possibilities to use the E-4 with other instruments as well as voice. With the looper, you could build up guitar parts or other synth parts and use them in conjunction with the T-8 and J-6, for a complete song-writing package. You could also use it to record the T-8 and J-6 to free them up for more parts.
Overall, I am very excited about the new AIRA compact devices. It seems Roland has been patient and has introduced these three devices that provide tools that were missing in the market. Never content to copy what other manufacturers have done, Roland has taken things a step further with some handy features that were missing on other devices, including the mix-in and out connections, rechargeable battery, and class-compliant USB connections that allow users to connect them to computers, tablets, and phones without a fuss. Roland has really set the stage for some interesting music to be made. For the mobile musician, the AIRA compact devices address many of the issues we have been facing when trying to put a rig together. These devices will easily integrate into our current rigs, and they provide the tools that have been lacking in our systems. I can’t wait to see what else Roland has planned for AIRA compact in their future designs.
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