606 Day in October! Last week Roland unveiled their new TR-06 and TR-6S. So if you’re in the market for a little drum machine, how do they stack up?
The TR-6S is not a 606 – for that, see below. It’s a TR-8S, but smaller and cheaper. It’s a baby TR-8S, with a street under 400 bucks.
And wait – that’s excellent. It’s also very unlike the MC-101, Roland’s last attempt at a small drum machine, which has no single, clear workflow – instead, layers of functions and shift keys and menu diving and limited ability to manipulate either sounds or samples easily directly without a lot of advance work. If you like that, great, though … I think we don’t think alike. But it is the opposite of the TR-8 and TR-8S in having a straightforward, flat, hands-on workflow.
Enter the TR-6S, and suddenly all is well. Because lo and behold, Roland did actually take the controls we like on the TR-8S and manage to shrink them down onto a smaller box.
So you only get six parts – yep, there’s the “six” in the 6S. The fader throw is of course really short, and the three parameter controls do duty for the whole box – you switch parts for different parameters.
But crucially, everything that makes the 8S wonderful is also on the 6S. There’s the full 8S sound engine – including all of the new effects and the brilliant FM sounds added just weeks ago.
The sound engine alone might sell you, on a budget. But they got the rest of the usability features squeezed in there, too – light-up color coding, variations, last step, sub-steps, motion recording, rolls, fill-in triggering, and the crucial push-button simplicity of sequencing and selecting parts.
I mean, this is terrific. I almost want a TR-6S to go next to my 8S, doubling kits without switching them, or so I can keep the 6S with me at all times.
There’s this video that compares the Roland boxes.
I couldn’t fill a video with this, though. It’s like the easiest – uh, family friendly “kiss, marry, kill” ever. Kiss the TR-6S – small and inexpensive but all the sound features. Marry the TR-8S – it still has more controls, bigger faders, and all those outs – which can double as a multichannel USB audio interface. Kill the MC-101, because it’s really neither a full-featured sample manipulation box, nor an accessible all-in-one groovestation (maybe the MC-707, definitely the Elektron and Novation boxes do that), nor especially hands-on. It seems like that small size on the MC-101 was just waiting for … the TR-6S. The 6S still has the ability to load your own samples, and honestly if you want to add a melodic part, just add a synth. I hear Roland makes some little ones. (SH-01A, for example!)
The TR-6S is special to me in that it is a new generation. The other announcement last week from Roland isn’t especially innovative – but it is a handsome, usable, accessible take on recreating the 606, which is also really good news.
Plus there’s another way to think of this box – it’s a trigger sequencer as well as a drum machine.
Back to 1981 – the TR-606 has been one of the most-recreated drum machines in history, with everything from DIY projects to Eurorack. But it’s only naturally Roland would get around to it themselves, especially as they’ve already done pint-sized TR-808 (the TR-08 Boutique Series) and TR-909 (TR-09) renditions. Crucially, the TR-06 brings that line back full circle, since they resized the 909 and 808 into the form factor that’s roughly the size of the 606/303.
Like the TR-08 and TR-09, the TR-06 models the original analog circuitry with what Roland calls ACB – Analog Circuit Behavior. That was reasonably convincing on the 808 and 909, and arguably a 606 is even easier to model. The upside is, you get a stable recreation that runs on batteries or connected via micro USB, without external power. That’s no trivial point – four rechargable AAs are in the box and last for about five hours, according to the specs. Analog gear often requires a power dongle and/or chews through batteries.
The 06 is most appealing because it adds triggers – an analog trigger in, and separate triggers out for low and high toms, bass drum, snare drum, and accent.
I really wish there were an updated TR-09 or TR-08 with this capability. (Also, Roland, how about a TR-07 with both 707 and 727 sounds?) But meanwhile, even a few days of seeing this out – people want it. The 606 sounds are distinctive and beloved, and having those triggers makes this cute little box a fun toy with modular or other analog gear.
The design worked perfectly on the Boutique 303, the TR-03, so of course it works here, too.
The most fun part here is really watching people mess with modular sets, and I imagine this could be a big hit with the hardware jamming crowd – even with other clones available from other makers, Roland’s Boutique series have been really solid. (My studio mate won’t let us get rid of the TR-09, so I know she’s a fan, with it parked next to a much-more-expensive Erica Synths Techno System!).
Our friend Baseck is having a good time:
And Roland’s own look:
And it’s not hard to see the new TR-06 filling in for something like the Cyclone TT606 Cari is using here (alongside all the first-gen AIRA gear… in those greener days). The Cyclone is a different animal, and Roland’s Boutique definitely gives you a more conventional workflow/interface, but both are worth some consideration:
Also, because of how Roland’s ACB works, you get a software version of the 606, too, in Roland Cloud. There are some eccentricities to Roland’s software effort – clunky interfaces and patch storage makes it seem a bit like it was developed by a hardware company. So I do hope Roland addresses Roland Cloud usability and modernizes the software UX – and with or without that, it would make a ton of sense for them to include some free Roland Cloud license for the 606 plug-in in the box with the TR-06 hardware.
By the way, if you want something more exotic, my vote is still with the acidlab line. The Drumatix expands a bit on the idea of the 606 with additional parameters and sound possibilities.
DIYers, you can check the Dinsync kit, for added smell ‘o solder.
What about the MCs?
Okay, okay, just because I don’t like the MCs doesn’t mean you won’t like them.
And Roland has been gradually adding to what they can do.
Just before the ’06 unveil, Roland also added new features. These now have a driverless USB mode, which means you can use them with other devices (like an iPad, with adapter). There’s a cute little arpeggiator. Sub-step on Tone tracks and Note Tie on Drum Track is a really interesting idea, even having complained above.
I still have the MC-101 and I am dying to figure out how to do something useful with it, so I will tangle with it again. I would hate it if my love of small devices finally met my match and I wished something were larger. It’ll make me die inside. So stay tuned.