Because it’s packed with digital models rather than analog circuits, Roland’s AIRA TR-8 can be more than just a drum machine. It’s a platform for expansion.

And today, as expected, Roland has gone further into their back catalog of genre-shaping drum sounds to expand on its hit TR-8. The 7X7-TR8 Drum Machine Expansion brings TR-707 and TR-727 sounds to the AIRA box and even builds on the 808 and 909 models included so far. The only bad news here is that it’s a paid update.

What’s new:

  • 30 original sounds from the TR-707 and TR-727 (by original, that means the sounds themselves are identical – these were digital waveforms on the 707 and 727, so they’re included verbatim)
  • Tune and Decay controls for all the new 707, 727 sounds
  • New TR-808 “noise” sounds, finger snaps
  • Modified TR-909 kick and snare with “enhanced attack characteristics

At top, you can listen in on the new sounds. The TR-727 are, of course, a bit more varied, adding some Latin spice. It makes for more fun, no question. If you want a value-priced drum machine, if you want to buy someone a drum machine for Christmas, the TR-8 is the obvious top choice.

But I’m actually most intrigued by the new 808 and 909 sounds. Keep watching in the video, because it’s when these grungy noises enter that you might perk up your ears. (The 707/727 you’ve … well, heard before; that’s sort of the point.)

One of the things I like about the SYSTEM-1 is its largely unsung default mode. It doesn’t sound like anything before, because it’s new – driven by the analog models Roland has built, but designed by the engineers to be something Roland hasn’t actually made before. The 808/909 additions are subtle, but they begin to give the TR-8 a character all its own.

The architecture of the TR-8 also expands on the original. The 909’s eight-stage flam interacts with the 707’s accent behavior. You get swing, rolls, and faders that the 707 and 727 didn’t have, either. For anyone saying Roland should have just re-released the originals, well – no, they shouldn’t have.

The total is greater than the sum of the parts. You get a more playable 707/727, and while the TR-8 sounds mostly like some very, very familiar drum machines, its accessibility and expanded variation options mean you are getting something that starts to come into its own.

Roland has released a behind-the-scenes video where they talk about their modeling work. In short, they worked from the original PCM samples, but also modeled circuit behaviors. They did a lot of work here – per-instrument circuit models, for instance.

Now, if you want unlimited sounds, you should go get a software drum machine – and you’ve got some amazing choices. And that may well be a good choice, depending on the music you’re making. (My answer to anyone who says they’re bored with these sounds – good! Skip the TR-8 and make your drum sounds in other ways!)

So that’s not what this is about. But this is a good way for the AIRA to close out the year (and just before the holiday buying period). It makes the TR-8 a hybrid interface that combines familiar sounds in a combination that didn’t exist before. I hope the Roland engineers can let loose in 2015 and make some new drum sounds, so their invention can sing in some new ways.

The 7X7-TR8 expansion isn’t free. Roland is charging US$95 / €75 (with VAT). The announcement was made today, but the expansion download will be available next Friday 19th of December. So far, it appears there’s no bundle for new buyers yet, either (a “buy a TR-8, get a voucher for a free 7×7 download” affair); that seems a no-brainer for the future, but may be unnecessary with TR-8s in high demand.

7X7-TR8 Drum Machine Expansion for TR-8 [Product Page]

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