One Week With The Roland TR-8

It's been one week since FedEx delivered my Roland TR-8 drum machine and thus far, I'm pleased to report that it's a truly amazing piece of gear, especially if you're a fan of Miami Bass, electro, breaks, trap, techno, etc. One of my favorite features is that, in addition to the stock 808 kick drum, it also includes the infamous modded 808 kick that gives the drum a much longer decay which is ideal for that old school Miami Bass sound. For a warmer and more controllable sound, I've been routing the kick and snare to their own individual outputs (into my hardware mixer) and kept the other sounds (hats, percussion, etc.) going through the main outputs. The flexibility to route the sounds to each of the four outputs is pretty amazing, but even more amazing is the DAW integration. The driver can be downloaded for free from Roland and it gives you the ability to record audio directly from the TR-8 to your PC/Mac via USB, but more impressively; it will let you record each drum sound to it's own individual track. I tested this method within Live 9 and can confirm that it works like a breeze, and although I can't foresee needing this functionality in every scenario, it's still pretty cool to have.

Likewise, the onboard Scatter effect is fun to jam with, and once you understand the effect/depth parameters, it's almost an instrument unto itself, but I can't see using it in every scenario. I noticed that external audio (when routed through the TR-8) is also processed via the Scatter effect, but only when the machine is playing. If you want to use this effect without using the drums, just turn down or mute all of the drum channels and hit play. Viola; instant Scatter, but like any unique effect, just use it sparingly! Speaking of external inputs, if for nothing else but to free up channels on your mixer; use them! Currently, I'm running my Akai Miniak into the TR-8 and not only can I take advantage of the aforementioned Scatter effect, but I can also use the built-in sidechain compression for that classic ducking/pumping sound. I simply enable the effect and program where I want the sound to duck via the front panel, and with just a few tweaks, the drums and synths will be pulsating in rhythmic unison.

On the (dare I say) downside, the TR-8 cannot produce the trigger pulse sound which was made famous by The Egyptian Lover's eponymous Egypt, Egypt (if you listen, you'll notice a synthy/clicky sound that runs with the beat throughout most of the song). In some circles, this is known as the trigger click or trigger pulse, and whereas it's not a drum sound per se, it does add an additional element of percussion to the mix. On the TR-808, this sound was achieved by sending the trigger outputs on the rear of the unit back into the unit itself, and the resulting audio sounded a bit like a squashed metronome which could be step-programmed via the front panel. Since this sound was actually an electronic pulse which was intended as a pre-MIDI method for syncing a synthesizer with a drum machine, I can completely understand why it's not represented on the TR-8, but still; it would have been nice to see this implemented somehow, even in the form of an onboard sample.

Although only in my hands for a week, I think that I've figured out just about every element of the TR-8, but then again, it's not meant to be a very complex machine in the first place. The classic layout is very straight forward and just about all functions can be accessed via the front panel. Should you need to reassign the outputs, configure MIDI, or control the TR-8's attract mode, simply turn off the unit and restart while holding down the pattern select button to access these settings. Easy enough!

Stay tuned for additional updates, infoz, and reports on the Roland TR-8!