Roland keeps adding to its Boutique series remakes of its classic back catalog. Here’s the scoop on the new SH-01A (SH-101) and TR-08 (TR-808).

What you get is shrunken-down, modeled editions of the SH-101 and TR-808. And the hardware improves on the originals with some extras, like USB (audio/MIDI), MIDI DIN connections and battery power. The 808 also now has a built-in compressor, real-time entry, and fills and sub-patterns. The SH-01A keeps the triggering powers of the original, but adds a powerful four-voice architecture for chords and thick unisons (which also works in conjunction with the classic sequencer).

Here’s a quick hands-on jam with myself and Roland’s Nick de Friez – I can tell you it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Having done some research with Roland and had a little hands-on time, here’s what we know so far.

They’re $349. US$349 means these are really competitive.

They’re digital models. Yes, Roland again are revisiting their analog past with digital remakes. But that’s producing hardware that’s affordable, low noise, and that runs easily off USB or battery power. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re perfect remakes. I heard some legitimate authenticity nitpicking about the TB-03, for instance, but those had to do with specific behaviors programmed into the new hardware that people didn’t like. The problem wasn’t analog or digital; it was more about human taste. (Given differences in taste, and variances in the originals, that means I suspect the remake game will continue a long time.)

Roland (via Japan) have also confirmed to CDM that they went back to the original SH-101 and TR-808 hardware to make new models of the originals. These are still assembled from the same proprietary analog circuit behavior modeling, but into a new finished product.

Upshot: these won’t sound exactly like the SH-101 PLUG-OUT for the SYSTEM-1, or the 808 model on the TR-8. I got to hear both new models enough to say they sound pretty darned good, but comparing them to the first-generation AIRA or to the original analog Roland classics will take more time.

For all the hang ups on those kind of detailed sonic comparisons, though, I think usability is actually where these things are differentiated.

Both have all the controls of their original predecessors. So Japanese – you get all the controls of the full-sized original, but scaled down (and slightly adjusted accordingly). And this is really what sets apart the Boutique line from the first-generation AIRAs. The Boutique line give you more or less the historical controls, if shrunk in size. Speaking of shrinking:

All the controls feel better than the earlier Boutique range. The knob caps on the TR-08 feature a ribbed, easy-to-grip surface and a smaller diameter. They’re still not for big fingers, but they’re a lot easier on the hands than the TR-09. (I know; I own one.) The SH-01A is improved over the previous synths, too – instead of sharp faders, you get a tapered design and better texture. It’s less painful and more fun. There are other touches, too, like a textured paint finish on the SH-01A; somehow with just minor adjustments, everything feels and looks a little better. (I still like the TB-03 and TR-09, but they’ll get a little jealous.)

The SH-01A has four voices. If you want to use the 01A in “classic” 101 mode – one oscillator – you of course can. That’s “mono” mode. But there’s more: Poly mode for 4-note polyphony, Unison mode stacking those four voices into a really fat (and very Roland) sound, and Chord mode for four-note chords. The chordal mode is especially nice to combine with the sequencer. It’s really like having four SH-101s.

101 patch memory! Now you get 64 patch memories for SH-01A sounds. Take that, analog.

The SH-01A’s sequencer is brilliant. The sequencer works over CV/Gate, MIDI, and USB. Even better, you can trigger the SH-01A externally – so take the trigger out from the TR-08 (or TR-09, or the rim audio out of another instrument like the TR-8), and you can make unique musical patterns. This is part of what defined the original SH-101, and now you can combine it with the SH-01A’s chords and so on.

In other words, the SH-01A does everything the 101 did. It just adds the ability to see what you’re doing on an LED, and to use chords as well as individual notes via the same sequencer paradigm. And it adds MIDI/USB to the trigger in – but you can still use the trigger in.

And the SH-01A has more than a sequencer. The 101’s arp modes, legato, and glide options (plus modulation) make for lots of additional playing flexibility.

That SH-01A paint is nice. I can say there’s a nice texture to the paint for the first time. (Yeah, so, after you get involved with talking to industrial engineers and working on manufacturing, you notice these things.) And Roland has confirmed alternative colors are coming, presumably in some sort of limited run – you can see red and blue on their site. As with shipping details, though, no word yet on how to get the alternates.

Sub steps and real-time entry on the TR-08 make it more fun to program. Sub steps give you rhythmic subdivisions of steps (16 each) for fills, rolls, and complex rhythmic patterns. Real-time entry lets you tap in parts without changing modes.

There’s a useful trigger out. Select by track, then send a trigger to … the SH-01A. Or other gear, of course – modular or desktop.

There’s a compressor on the TR-08. I really want this on the TB-03. (Dear Santa: firmware update?) But the TR-08 gets a useful compressor for the kick and snare. That can give you some really booming kicks; I tried it and it’s nicely transparent and … when you want it, aggressive.

Individual outputs are available over USB. The TR-08 works the way the TR-09 does. You get only stereo out (or split mono out); for more outs, you can parts separately over USB. I’m sure this will get some complaints – it’s nice for computer users, but means the market is still open for those wanting standalone hardware with lots of outs, especially if you want to use them live. (It is just $349, though, remember… and to be perfectly honest, I’ve been able to live with this on my TR-09. Ducks…)

Put them together with the trigger and enjoy. It’s the trigger out – to trigger in from TR-08 to SH-01A that’s really fun, because you get not just sync but the ability to create patterns by triggering individual steps. (That is hard to say in words, easy to see in a video.) You can also use the TR-09 this way.

We’re getting them soon, but… not sure when. Roland haven’t announced shipping dates yet. Expect these to be tough to get at this price. But we’ll have more hands-on time with them so you’ll be ready to make the most of them and compare them to what else is out there (including from Roland).

Now, more pics. Video/audio coming shortly.

Hands-on videos from Roland, featuring Mathew Johnson:

And round up some artist interviews:

Official product pages are now up:

https://www.roland.com/global/products/sh-01a/

https://www.roland.com/us/products/tr-08/

Also, if you own an AIRA TR-8 drum machine, you’ve now got a powerful way of triggering external samples via MIDI (including on the Roland SP-404SX / new black SP-404A). Our explanation of that:

Roland updates AIRA TR-8 so it can trigger samples, MIDI gear

  • Love that they used similar-looking buttons on the TR-08, that thing looks awesome!

  • I’ve been waiting for a Boutique 808 ever since. My only disappointment is that they apparently didn’t add any new features to tweak the sounds. I would have loved tune and decay pots for the clap and cowbell. And maybe some delay or reverb effect. Or flam/shuffle. [edit: I just saw there’s a shuffle label on the box, so that seems to be available!] Anyway, it looks cute and the price is great!

    • Yeah, they’ve been pretty true to the original – including to its limitations.

      I will try to do an exhaustive list of what’s new here versus the original…

      • Cool. I know I am basically asking for a TR-8 in 808 style box minus the stupid stutter effect. But heck, that’s what I want. 😉

        • Yeah, get a TR-8 used, cover up the green trip, ignore the stutter? 😉

          You also get 606, 707/727 sounds, now MIDI output, also higher res sample output…

          • I know. I just really like the Boutique form factor so much. But I also understand why Roland decided to stay quite true to the original feature sets on these boxes. Even though they gave the SH-01 four voices, chords and all that. But it makes perfectly sense to do it the way they do. I might just stay with my own custom Volca Beats samples in my Ableton Live Drum Rack. 😉

  • R__W

    both of these look good

  • Matt Jackson

    so tired of japanese ergonomics :/ would love to have these with enough space to really jam on the knobs.

    • Well, it depends on your ergonomics. For my rather small hands (and no, I’m not Japanese) they are just fine.

      • Yes, and to be fair it’s not just a Japanese thing – MFB have even more closely spaced controls on their drum machines, and they’re German.

        This does have to do both with hand size and playing style, though. Then again, even Roland offers you the TR-8 AIRA so there are choices…

        • And it certainly has to do with the economics of manufacturing instruments at smaller size to save costs on all levels of the production chain – for both boutique makers like MFB and large corporations like Roland.
          And it looks like there are enough customers in the world to sell each and every one of those small instruments, which means there is a significant market besides the naysayers.

          In response to the original comment: all of those who purchased all the previous Boutique boxes, made all the MFB boxes (and others) sold out might be “so tired of” the ever ongoing moaning about those who moan about the small form factor. Roland clearly landed a massive success with the Boutique range. If the first three hadn’t been such a success, Roland would not have continued with it any further. But since they all seem to sell extremely well, they would be stupid not to continue milking that cow. That might be boring artistically, but it certainly makes sense commercially.

  • Clums Clom

    I cant believe these things dont have motion sequencing. Who was the guy that created Korg? What was his name again? Well, whoever it was, Roland should make a Boutique recreation of his cock and go fuck themselves with it.

    • Space Captain

      Why even post here? It’s for adults or people that can talk without being sad.

      • Clums Clom

        LOL – you must be the guy no one wants to invite to the dinner party cos your sense of humour is just out of control

        buy 2 of everything 🙂

  • Jean Michel Pepin

    Very welcome addition to the line up. I’ll certainly treat myself to a TR-08!
    BTW Peter, the TR-09 does have a compressor for the kick and snare.
    https://rolandus.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/115000053363-TR-09-Editing-the-Compressor-Level

    • sorry, meant to say on the TB-03 🙂

      Thanks for the catch … too many Roland product names in my head. So it’s actually the TB-03 where I find I could use compression most, especially given the filter. But yes, the TR-09 has it — and is behind really only on its slightly less comfortable knob caps, etc.

  • Tony Scharf

    …YAWN….

    I remember when synthesizer announcements were about *new* things, not replicas and reissues. Synthesizers have become as dull as guitars in that regard. Sad I lived to see it.

    • Jaybeeg

      If you want a new design, look at the Roland SE-02 or something like the new Novation Circuit mono station. The electronic music industry is tiny relative to multi-billion dollar markets like cell phones and TV sets, and modern manufacturing has resulted in an explosion of new gear unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

      The fact that manufacturers are pushing reissues of classic gear has more to do with demographics than a lack of new ideas. The youth of the 80s are now middle aged, with significant disposable income. And they’re buying musical toys.

    • Yawn. Nobody in the guitar world moans about the 78 gazillions of recreations of that same six string. And yet, people are still able to create amazing music with that same old instrument. So what’s the problem? People still create great music with 808 drum sounds today. And now it’s available in portable form factor at 1/10 of the price of a 40 year old original.

    • R__W

      There’s been tons of new stuff, even from Roland. Turns out what people actually buy are replicas of classic gear.

    • YAWN.

      I remember when everyone with a hot take didn’t have a place to share it. Sad I lived to see every dull ass option from every dull ass dude everywhere I go to read about music technology.

    • Wait, are we pining for the golden age of Roland’s Sound Canvas and the MC-303, or … we’re really saying you’re sad to have lived to see Roland make a compact, cheap reissue of one of their most influential ever monosynths?

      Anyway, I haven’t seen a new product that wasn’t a reissue since …um … well, yesterday.
      http://cdm.link/2017/08/percussas-new-kickstarter-project-wants-to-be-the-brain-of-your-modular/

      Oh, and I think there are something like five new soft synths in the time this comment thread has been up. 😀

      • armando c

        Lol Peter, great point!

      • Question

        are these compatible with the roland mx-1 mixer?

        • DrüMünkey

          No one seems to know… Roland won’t respond to questions about it. And knowing the Japanese, if they won’t respond the answer is “no”…

        • Ludvig

          Yes!

      • Dopamine Addict

        Sound Canvas lives as part of Roland Cloud.
        https://www.rolandcloud.com/catalog/legendary/sound-canvas-va

  • nothingnatural

    There are red and blue versions on the main Boutique page, so we will see them at some https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7b285fb32dbc06c45b4010a33a72800e61d8a98d9d4b9597d4e6bd0cb51e706e.jpg point.

  • Foosnark

    Happy 808 Day 🙂

  • Fabio Di Mauro

    real-time entry and fills are ready implemented in my old original 808….

    • Right, but … you get modeless real-time entry and precise sub-pattern editing here, respectively … so an improvement on the original implementation. Subtle but meaningful … though speaking of precision, I will write a better comparison of what’s new, as I think it’s interesting (particularly in the midst of the reasonable complaints about whether this is new or not, which I think is fair)

  • Joost Mono-Amine

    I really don’t get the aira hype. I bought a tr8 by wishful thinking it
    was a usable instrument based on online movies, but none show that the
    ACBmodelling sounds terrible when being distorted or processed, one
    sound at a time not processed sounds something
    alike but it becomes mud when really used in production. I hope they
    will rerelease all these boutiques in analogue form so they can actually
    be used, i do like the form factor (and i am not an analog purist, love
    both analog and digital) but the digital has to be able to be used in a
    musical way

    • Well, but the dirty secret is, there’s some trick to handling an original TR-808 in production, too. 😉

      That said, I’m not sure what you mean by distorted and processed, exactly?

      • I guess it’s fairly safe to say that approximately 99% of what we ever heard of “original” 808s have been (as with 909s too) at least compressed, EQ’ed and probably also slightly overdriven, saturated or distorted in mixing and mastering processes. And the same goes for the countless productions that used clones, models or samples.

        The number of people who would have an 808, a TR-8 and a TR-08 (plus whatever clones like Miami, Yocto etc.) at hand to make exact side by side comparisons must be very small. I don’t want to diss anyone in particular, but my feeling is that most of the naysayers have no clue what they are talking about, really.

        • chaircrusher

          I don’t know. I’ve heard a LOT of 909 through club systems, where the only compression is the overall sound limiting. The whole mystique of those instruments is that it’s hard to make them sound bad…

          There’s something unique about the timing of the originals as well; I don’t know how carefully they model it. I can tell tracks that are clocked with a TR909 master when I warp them in Ableton Live, because the even and odd measures have slightly different durations. I don’t know if that goes to feel, but the TR808 specially has a really specific groove to it, even with straight timing.

    • Space Captain

      “ACBmodelling sounds terrible when being distorted or processed, one
      sound at a time not processed sounds something
      alike but it becomes mud when really used in production”.

      What does this even mean? It makes no sense. How can a sound that is effectively the same as another sound (TR-8 vs TR-808), sound very different when processed? What exactly were you doing? I’ve had no issues with the sound of the TR-8.

  • Punkyou

    There’s small and then there’s too small… That 808 remake has it’s tiny knobs packed so tight together that in a dark hazy club it’s impossible to play hard on (which is what the original 808 and 909 were designed for).

    • Punkyou

      It’s seriously TOO SMALL

      • So, there’s the TR-8 (the bigger AIRA).

        I disagree; I’ve used the TR-9 in dark, small, hazy quarters (actually they’re great to fit into the cramped quarters in a club…) But this depends on playing style, and sometimes playing live I’ve brought lights by.

    • William Paul

      Pretty sure the original was made to simulate a drum set ie replace a live drummer through programming steps in the studio. Not played gard in a hazy club. Js

  • coolout

    For the people that complain about size…the most of the knobs on the TR-08 look bigger than the original TR-808. The 808 had tiny little “knubs”.

    • True. But to be fair, the space between those tiny knobs on the original 808 is more than sufficient even for the largest hands. 😉

      • Yes, exactly, people are saying size but actually mean clearance…

        And as an industry, we’re totally failing when it comes to people with different abilities. Common disabilities in the hand will actually render *all pots* unusable.

  • Never had and SH 101 (though I have the System 1 Model.) I never really quite got a handle on the Trigger out to the 101 from the Drum Machine and I dont have anything that works like that. Hrrrrmmm

  • richard conrad

    what no one is discussing is affordability for those of us who arent deadmaus. i do t have 2000$ for an 808and another 850$ for a 101 …. so 700$ for both looks good to me …

  • + the new SP404A

    • Well, not really… the SP-404A is an SP-404SX with a different color paint scheme and some Loopmasters bundle on the SD card.

      So the real news there is actually the TR-8 1.5 firmware, which adds sample triggering (by sending MIDI note values from the instrument parts) and higher-resolution output over USB audio.

  • James Husted

    Too bad they only chose to make one trigger out. The original had three. I used to drive the sequencers in three Pro-Ones when I had mine back in the day.

  • cooptrol

    The reissues and affordability are great, but I think this speaks of the general lack of interest in the pursue of new sounds and timbres in musical composition, which is what personally drove me to make electronic music. It was doomed to stagnate at some point I guess. Won’t speak for others, but I am sick of listening to the same synth and drum sounds over and over. Kudos to the companies that try to create new sounds or at least new workflows.

    • cooptrol

      That being said, Roland is covering both areas. They are generating new ideas in some aspects, and propagating old stuff at the same time. It’s not a problem with Roland per se. It’s a matter of what new generations ask for regarding musical instruments.

      • Yeah, exactly. I hear you, but I’m not concerned —

        One, I think plenty of people still are into new sounds. It’s just there’s a software bias for those people. So even just looking at CDM stats, there’s loads of interest in Reaktor and Alchemy, etc. on the software side … and in the 303 and 101 on the hardware side, at least in desktop hardware.

        The modular market is meanwhile going into some new areas partly out of necessity. I’d hardly view our times as conservative ones, looking at the big picture. Of course the masses like the more accessible stuff – they always have.

        Two, you know, sometimes *with* all that choice, you get more unexpected sounds by pushing a really simple instrument than taking on some big, complicated, futuristic synth. So just because this is a simple architecture doesn’t mean you can’t get interesting sounds out of it.

        • cooptrol

          CDM stats! That sounds juicy… 🙂 I agree, there are many people into lots of approaches. It’s just that I know plenty of youngsters in love with the old school sounds, and the behaviour of synth companies seems to respond to that thoroughly. One’s view is always constrained by the surroundings you delve into I guess. When we started there was not enough electronic music old school to mistify like kids have now. Stuff made when the weren’t even born has a powerful influence on their creative psyche.

  • heinrich zwahlen

    Maybe i’d getl the 808 for old times sake:) but generally i’m just not too fond of this miniaturization trend. Since it is all about instant tactile control (vs just mousing around with plugins or spending time mapping stuff to controllers) i really like myself knobs and faders that are big enough to be ergonomic feel good. Kudos for the price point though, making these classic design gems available for the masses.
    I love the sound of the Roland AIRA plugouts and looking forward to a more detailed comparison in that regard!

  • Muzak

    If Roland “improved” the sounds on the TR-08 as this article seems to claim, why won’t Roland provide a firmware alternative version for TR-8 owners. Same processor/ sound hardware.

  • DrüMünkey

    Do you know if the SH ( or the SE for that matter),will interface via USB with the MX1? I can’t find it spelled out anyplace by Roland, but I can’t imagine they would cut of the MX1 so soon from product support… if these new boutiques interface with the MX1 USB channels, suddenly the MX1 is WAYYYYYY more interesting…

  • mr grabbit

    …does the sequencer / arp send midi out?