The Roland Corporation has been responsible for so many classic drum machines over the years. With the TR-8, Roland sought to deliver a performance-ready controller loaded with 808 and 909 sounds at a fraction of the price of their vintage counterparts.
The TR-8 uses Roland’s Analog Circuit Behavior to digitally recreate a fairly convincing emulation of their classic drum machines. Does it sound just like an original 808 or 909? Certainly not. But, if you listen closely, you will definitely notice that each successive hit of a sound is slightly different than the previous one; the sort of subtle sway and variability of an analog drum machine is definitely present here, even if some of the heft is lacking. Users who want to go beyond the preset 808 and 909 sounds are now able to load any sample into the TR-8 using the separate SP-404A linear wave sampler, but this addition costs about twice as much as the TR-8 itself. Roland also offers the TR-8S model, which makes loading samples cheaper and easier through the use of an SD card slot.
Even if you just plan on using the included sounds, however, you can get some great mileage out of this drum machine. The unit feels sturdy and sits at a comfortable angle on the desk. The buttons, sliders, and knobs feel great and make live performance incredibly enjoyable. The buttons themselves are extremely well-lit; performing live in a dark space would not be a problem here. The 16-step sequencer is incredibly simple to program and is capable of doubling it’s loop length to 32 steps. The Shuffle features can add a bit of groove to your loops and the Scatter function is a fairly nifty effect that can alter the sound in a variety of ways.
The onboard accent, delay, and reverb effects can be recorded in real time across your sequence, or can be statically set to each sound in your kit. The delay and reverb are just okay; it’s clear that Roland didn’t put too much effort into their sound, and with the myriad of other features present in the TR-8, that seems acceptable.
Connectivity is achieved through the usual ¼ inch cables and the rear panel includes two pairs of audio outs, making parallel processing easy to patch up. You’ll also find a jack for external side-chaining and both MIDI in and out. Alternatively, audio and MIDI can be sent using the included USB cable.
In summary, the TR-8 is a great machine for live or studio use. Roland did a wonderful job creating a fun controller interface with a ton of features. The sounds themselves are close enough to their vintage counterparts to satisfy most musicians, especially when considering an actual 808 or 909 will cost well over ten times the price.
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