Roland Aira TB-3 and TR-8 Reviews – TB Or Not TB?

Roland Aira: never has a music technology product enjoyed such hype, but the first two products in the range are here and we have THE review. Enjoy exclusive audio and words by Andy Jones plus there’s a massive, more in-depth review of Aira plus hands-on tutorials and a first look at Aira System-1 (the third in the Aira range) in MusicTech magazine on sale 20th February…


So finally we know what ‘Aira’ is (pronounced ‘Ira’ for the record). It is all about classic Roland gear reborn for the 21st century.

I was the only UK journalist at the secret demos in a hotel room opposite the NAMM show last month, and I must say I was impressed at how well all four products in the range work together – the other two being the VT-3 vocal processor and System-1 synth – here’s a still I took of all four…

The first two items from the Aira range – on test here – are updates of three of the most coveted items in music technology history. The TR-8 represents the TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines while the TB-3 is a brand new TB-303.

The original TB-303, TR-808 and TR-909 are the machines that defined, started even, the Acid house scene of the late 80s. The 808 provided the repetitive beats to rave and the 303’s basslines literally tore through the heads (and stomachs) of the dancers. Bluntly speaking, a resonating 303 line would enhance an ‘ecstatic’ brain and take it to a euphoric place.


Acid house then gave rise to hundreds (if not thousands?!) of new dance genres, essentially the seed for a megabucks dance music industry, and over the last three decades the sounds of the 808, 909 and 303 have lived on. Yes, they’d go out of fashion, but they always seem to come back into fashion too. The original hardware fetches silly money (£1500 for a good condition TB-303 and over £2000 for the drum machines) and people have constantly demanded that Roland remake them.

But Roland’s founder, Ikutaro Kakehashi, refused because he always wanted to produce new products. But that didn’t stop the company producing inferior, digital machines with elements of all three machines – I remember getting way too excited about the MC-303 for example (and that’s as much of a public apology as I’m prepared to make).

But Kakehashi is no longer in charge at Roland so it’s probably no coincidence that we now have the Aira TR-8 and TB-3 which, on the face of it, seem to be the most direct relatives of the originals that the company has yet produced. But hang on, there’s a catch…

You Had to Ask, Didn’t You

‘Analogue or digital?’ is the first question many people asked when we first announced/teased Aira, and those people are bound to be disappointed with this news. OK, are you sitting down? They’re digital. With so many analogue products coming out these days you’d have thought that Roland would have gone that way too. The holy grail of Roland rereleases would always be analogue in nature but, deep breath, let’s give Roland a chance to explain.The TR-8 and TB-3 use ACB – Analogue Circuit Behaviour – a brand new modelling technology that the company claims is as close to the original circuitry that you’re going to get. They even got the original team of 808 designers back together to check in on things so A1 for effort at least. Anyway, enough background, let’s get on and see – and indeed hear – how Aira fairs…

The Dignity of Labour

I talked earlier about Roland not always revisiting its past with grace, but I have to say that first impressions are that the TB-3 and TR-8 look just stunning: a real homage to the originals but bang up to date. When I switched on the TR-8 I actually said ‘wow’ out loud because, after a pause of about a second, the thing came to life… and light. And when you leave it on its own for a while it switches into a fantastic auto light show. Both units feel rock solid too: sturdy, chunky and much weightier than their price, which we’ll come to later…

Next Page- TB-3 Overview

Page 3 – Audio Examples

Final Page – TB-3 and TR-8 Final Thoughts and Verdicts