Roland’s TR-8S and the pint-sized repackage TR-6S just keep getting better. The latest update expands on the TR’s unique FM sound set and adds probability and step looping, with an updated software editor to match.

And wow, is this a heck of an update – 2.5 for TR-8S and v1.5 for TR-6S (though they’re equivalent):

  • Six new FM-based drum models. Kick, snare, tom, clap, percussion, and cymbal, with new parameters for each.
  • Probability on the TR sequencer. You asked, you got it. Probability, sub step probability (!), and master probability.
  • Random kit and random instrument with restore. Yeah, so you can also go wild live, even.
  • Repeat STEP during STEP LOOP
  • Four new MFX: Tone Fattener, Vinyl Simulator, Pitch Shifter Delay, and Ha-Dou Reverb. So basically, it’s got 404 effects now, too.

The TR-EDITOR 1.5 version syncs up with all those other changes so you can do FM and probability editing on-screen. That’s fine and makes sense, but it’s still not the TR-EDITOR update we’ve been waiting for – the one that allows more management of sample content (as rival tools from Elektron et al can do). It’s nice to have, though I still expect to prefer editing on the hardware.

The firmware update though? That’s terrific.

Why TR – with FM

Just to review:

The TR-8S already launched with what is to me a perfect combination for a drum machine. It’s covered in faders! It’s easy to edit patterns! The 606/707/727/808/909 sound as they should! Effects! Did I mention faders? Faders.

All of that makes for an eminently playable package. (The TR-6S is just a smaller version with the same engine inside, so it’s a good choice if you want to add the TR to your rig but you’re short on space.)

But I think the TR-8S/6S hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit for its FM drum set. Breaking from the “how many times can we remake the 707/808/909”, the FM kit sounds genuinely unlike anything else. You get a ton of crispy, organic percussion in those patches. Since it’s FM, little knob twists can have a dramatic effect, making them far more fun to tweak than just altering the decay on a hat again. Roland’s sound designers did an exceptional job voicing the sound content.

It’s easy to put this up with Elektron’s Syntakt and model:cycles as far as must-have FM drum synths – and it sounds unmistakably different from the Elektron sound, too.

2.5/1.5 update details

Part of what I admire about the TR is that Roland has made some powerful sound facilities really dead-simple to operate, with a flat UI. These FM instruments stick to that mold – really simple models, really simple controls. That frees you up to focus on jamming, even speaking as a sound designer who loves climbing down rabbit holes. But it’s still useful to be able to look up what’s in there.

Make sure you download both the 2.50 version of the TR-8S Reference Manual and Preset INST Tone List (or 1.50 for TR-6S) – check manual downloads. Roland sometimes even cross-links to the outdated “TR-8S Owner’s Manual,” etc.

New FM models

You’ll find the new FM stuff in FM MODEL INST – this on top of previous FM entries. Note that the FM cymbal model gets a peculiar name – CC_RC (so it is both a cymbal and a ride):

BDFM Kick ModelFM
SDFM Snare ModelFM
HCFM Clap ModelFM
CC_RCFM Cymbal ModelFM
PERC1FM Perc ModelFM

These are in addition to a ton of existing FM models – basically, what Roland have done here is to add TR-style FM additions to each part. So the “FM Kick Model” is now appended to the list of all the more exotic FM Kicks from firmware 2.0 – FM Taste, Zap Kick, Simple Kick, HolloKik, WoodKick, Clicker, Knocker, KikBass (a sort of FM-enabled 808 bass), Zapdisk, Hardcore, and BrokenJack. That approach follows for each respective part, SD, tom, clap, cymbal/ride cymbal, and percussion.

I’m traveling so I’m not next to the TR to get the parameter values, but… because I love you and love the TR, I will do that in a couple weeks.

New effects algorithms

The new effects are tucked away similarly as additional types in the MFX master effects section – though 404 users (past and present) will recognize these:


These models are different but the parameters remain the same.

The new “looping STEP LOOP” feature is really cool, if buried in the updated manual. It lets you ‘hold’ a step loop.

STEP LOOP was first introduced in firmware 1.10 – it loops a single step repeatedly – the whole pattern, all instruments – while you hold down that step’s pad, then return to the overall playback. Here’s how to use it:

While a pattern is playing back, you can make the selected step play as a loop.

All instruments sounded by the selected step play as a loop.

1. Press the [START/STOP] button to play the pattern.

2. Hold down the [SHIFT] button and press the [INST PLAY] button.

The [INST PLAY] button blinks, and the unit is in step loop mode.

3. Press the pad [1][16] of the step that you want to loop. The selected step begins looping.

When you take your finger off the pad [1][16], you return to pattern playback.

I even shot a video of that feature back in the 1.10 days:

The video should also make clear what the manual does not – you can loop multiple steps, not just one. Now, in addition, you can make those steps loop without having to hold down your fingers. That means you don’t mangle your hand the way it appears I did in the video – and you’re freed up to mess with other parameters as it loops.

Here’s how:

Making the loop hold (keep playing back)

You can make a step keep playing as a loop even after taking your finger off the pad.

1. Hold down the instrument select buttons [BD][RC], and press pads [1][16].

The loop keeps playing, even after you take your finger off the pad.

2. To stop the loop, press any pad.

TR-REC sequencer probability

Buried in the manual? Check. Stupidly simple to use? Check.

I love how TR-REC this version of probability is:

Long-press a pad, and press COPY (for probability) or UTILITY (for sub-step probability).

Dial in the probability you want with the VALUE knob.

That’s it.

With updates to the SP-404MKII and now the TR-8S/6S, Roland is back on top with their classic SP and TR workflows, respectively. And the new MCs are coming into their own for people who want to go that route.

This could be a very good time for live performance on these machines and some others. More on that soon.

Updates are labeled “System Program” V1.50 (6S) and 2.50 (8S):

TR-6S Updates & Drivers Downloads

TR-8S Updates & Drivers Downloads

Updated TR-EDITOR you get via Roland Cloud:

Roland Cloud Manager