With the number of instruments now available which celebrate Roland’s strong history of drum machines, you could be excused for thinking that these products all do the same thing.
However, while all contain the same genre-defining sounds of classic Roland drum machines, there are a huge range of differences in purpose and functionality between the original models, the AIRA range and the new Boutique products.
Designed specifically with live performance in mind, the AIRA range takes all the feel of playing an acoustic instrument and applies it to electronic instruments. This has resulted in hands-on control such as the sliders and knobs on the AIRA TR-8. Thanks to this tactility, the focus on live performance at the design level and of course the superb sound, these instruments are extremely easy to use and give instant gratification, with very little need for prior programming.
While a lot of performers used and still use the original TR-909 live, its intention was never for that purpose. Even though it’s quite a large unit, the control knobs are spaced reasonably close together, making tweaking a fine process. As such, bringing in and out specific drum sounds requires a lot of precision.
The Boutique series continue the tradition of classic Roland instrument designs, complete with the original look and control of iconic models such as the TR-909. Both the TR-909 and TR-808 were designed as backing machines for musicians to play over the top of, i.e. all sequences were pre-programmed and not intended to be played live. The TR-09 Boutique continues this tradition and enables you to pre-program a whole track by chaining patterns together to create a song from start to finish.
The TR-8 does not just recreate the original TR-808 and TR-909 sounds, but also has a wide range of modern takes on classic sounds. It has 16 kits built-in and has the ability to add 606, 707 and 727 kits via the 7X7 upgrade. This differs to the TR-09 Boutique, which only contains the TR-909 sounds.
As the Roland Boutiques are recreations of classic Roland machines of the 1980s, many of their features are accessible by holding down a combination of buttons, something that was common on machines of that time. However, not all features have hands-on control. For example, the rim shot, clap and hats were not tuneable on the original TR-909. On the TR-09 Boutique, these sounds are tuneable, although it’s not immediately obvious and takes a little digging. If you’re used to an older style of sequencing, using button combinations will be familiar to you.
The AIRA TR-8 has onboard tuning knobs for all its sounds. If you’re new to using drum machines or are used to software, then the TR-8 is more straightforward.
The TR-8 includes step programmable delay and reverb, making effects use easy by being part of the actual unit. It also has a step programmable SIDECHAIN function, which is perfect for creating ducking effects when the kick comes into your performance.
The TR-8 also has a range of live styled effects in the SCATTER function, for slicing, reversing and gating the sound to create complex synced variations to your performance. Scatter is a new feature that truly shines in live performances.
The AIRA range takes power from wall PSU, perfect for stage and studio where it’s important to ensure that nothing goes down halfway through a set. The Boutiques are portable, powering off battery or USB, great for capturing ideas on the fly or jamming while sitting around on the couch. Being smaller, the Boutique format is easy to take with you to capture an idea wherever you are.
As you can see, there are a number of differences between the AIRA and Boutique range and it’s really your application that will help you determine which one is right for you. Of course though, you may need both!
So if you’ve always wanted an original TR-909 but couldn’t get one, perhaps the TR-09 Boutique is perfect for you. If you love the sounds of the TR-909 and TR-808 but want all the advantages of modern technology and playability, then the AIRA TR-8 combines the best of both worlds.
There is a full comparison chart here: