Roland’s new Aira Compact range puts TR drums, 303 basslines and Juno synth sounds in your pocket

Roland’s Aira instrument range is being expanded once again with the launch of three ‘Compact’ instruments that draw on the company’s rich heritage: the T-8 Beat Machine; J-6 Chord Synthesizer; and E-4 Voice Tweaker.

It can be difficult to work out what distinguishes an Aira product from a standard Roland one - the Aira microsite, for example, features the TR-8S drum machine but not the TR-6S, its slimmed-down close cousin - but it’s pretty clear what the Compact range is all about.

These are “fun, affordable, and easy to learn” boxes that are designed to be used either individually or together, in a similar way to Korg’s Volcas. This being Roland, though, everything is completely digital.

Once again, Roland’s Analog Circuit Behaviour (ACB) technology is in play, and each model comes with a built-in rechargeable battery that promises plenty of run time.

Roland Aira Compact

(Image credit: Roland)

The T-8 looks like the most straightforward of the three: it’s a six-track drum machine that includes sounds from the TR-808, TR-909 and TR-606. You also get a bass part based on the TB-303, taking the device tentatively into groovebox territory.

There’s a sequencer, obviously - this can run to up to 32 steps - with features such as step loop, pattern shift and probability enabling you to add variation to your grooves. You can tweak your bass sound, and there are reverb/delay send effects.

Roland Aira Compact

(Image credit: Roland)

The J-6 Chord Synthesizer is arguably a more curious proposition - it blends a Juno-60 synth engine (presumably the same one as you’ll find in the new full-size Juno-X) with a chord sequencer. It’s very designed to be used by non-players; 100 chord sets are included, with each enabling you to trigger chords and create progressions using the built-in keyboard. You can also dial in variations (arpeggios and guitar-style playing, for example).

Of course, you could just use the J-6 as a synth (like the other Aira Compacts, it has MIDI connectivity) though beyond choosing the sound itself, editing is limited to filter and envelope controls. Again, there are also delay and reverb effects.

Roland Aira Compact

(Image credit: Roland)

Finally, we come to the E-4 Voice Tweaker, a compact vocal effects box that promises everything from standard processors to full-on vocal transformers. There are pitch and formant sliders for instant gender switching and robot voice effects (among other things), and you also get the customary automatic pitching/harmonising and vocoder options.

You can capture your performances with a 24-second looper, while the Scatter knob enables you to dial in slice effects.

The three Aira Compact devices are available now priced at $200 each. Find out more on the Roland website.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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