Roland Aira 7X7 TR-8 Drum Machine Expansion Review

We’re playing a bit of Aira catch-up with an update for the TR-8 drum machine. Andy Jones TR-ies it out. Oh stop it…

Details
Price €75
Contact 01792 702701
Web www.roland.com
Minimum System Requirements Mac or PC needed for install plus latest firmware and drivers

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Now that all the Aira fuss has died down a little, the overall plan is now a little clearer with various models in the range getting updates, including the System-1 keyboard and now this for the TR-8.

While System-1 was always designed to be the shell for classic Roland mono synth upgrades, TR-8 was touted very much as a standalone 808/909, so the addition of some more classic sounds is welcome, if a little unexpected. At €75 the expansion – which takes in both the Roland TR-707 and 727 drum machines – isn’t cheap.

But what the hardware should offer with them is total control over the sounds, so you can generally mess with them just like you would on the originals. And, of course, you should also be able to create patterns using the very intuitive TR-8 front panel.

Not only that but the download offers four extra 808/909 sounds for the TR-8 plus the ‘flam and accent’ features found on the 707 and 909.

Download to Upload
You buy the sounds – or indeed a download code (after registering your details at Roland.com). Before installing your download, you’ll need to make sure you have the right version of the latest TR-8 driver (I didn’t and needed to) and its system software (v1.11 at time of writing which I fortunately already had). If you don’t have them, both (plus a lot more) are rather neatly available at www.roland.com/support.

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Once these are installed, uncompress the 7X7 download and activate it using your Roland account details. It’s a bit of a faff – we had trouble with the actual activation process and it required a Mac restart or two – but such code shenanigans are a necessary evil these days.

Up and Running
Finally we’re good to go with the sounds and this is where it gets good. Really good. There aren’t extra patterns as such included – you still make do with what TR-8 starts with or your own – but the extra 7X7 sounds are easily wedged into these kits and use a clever colour coding system so that you can do just that. Simply hit the Drum Select Inst button and then choose which of the 11 kit sounds you want to change (kick, snare, hat, etc).

Hit one of these and you now have a choice of not just the original 808 and 909 sounds that ship with the TR-8, but also the newly uploaded 707 and 727 sounds to boot, all cleverly colour coded. So hit Bass Drum, for example, and you get two pink 808 options to choose from, plus two yellow 909s, an orange 707 and a blue 727. Hit another kit and again you get different options, each sticking to the 808/909/707/727 colours as described.

With a maximum of eight sonic options (mostly on the toms), there are plenty of choices to change existing kit setups, with a variety of sounds from all four classic kits and, of course, you can then easily program your own patterns. Interestingly, there are still plenty of sound slots (a minimum of eight) for other possible uploads so some more kit options could become available in the future.

All real-time sound edit options are, or course, available for your new 7X7 sounds (thanks to Roland Analog Circuit Behaviour modelling circuitry), so you can tune; add accent, scatter and reverb; and change the attack/decay parameters at will. As we expected, then, this is a lot more than adding a bunch of samples and really opens up the TR-8.

The only misgiving I had with the TR-8 when I reviewed it originally was the lack of pattern spaces and this still needs to be resolved. And with the 808 and 909 sounds that ship with it, you arguably have the best that Roland has ever offered beats-wise, so does the 7X7 offer enough for the cash?

I would say it’s a worthy addition, if only to expand TR-8’s sonic arsenal. The performance capabilities it already offers (including Scatter Mode and the easy pattern creation facilities) combined with these new options take TR-8 into new rhythmic territories so nicely open up its creative options.

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