It used to be that software had all the fun, being easily upgradable, always evolving and ready to kick audio dust into the face of crusty old hardware less able to move with the times.
These days, however, you can have the best of all worlds, with a dedicated machine fulfilling a dedicated role (be it sequencer, synth and more) with its brains sufficiently opened up to new ideas and new ways of making music.
And Roland’s TR-S series drum machines are perhaps the most notable examples of such fresh, expandable hard+software combinations with new upgrades over the years adding sounds and features to help keep the hardware ageless.
And here are two new such upgrades – the V2.5 firmware for the TR8-S and V1.5 for the younger (smaller, less-featured) TR6-S.
Of course, most exciting for any drum machine is the addition of new sounds, and after adding FM-derived tones in the last upgrade now these six FM sounds are fully editable with multiple parameters spread across the TR8-S's plentiful edit knobs.
Previously the FM tones featured a simple Morph setting to introduce some variation. V2.5’s new six FM sounds are therefore actually much more than ‘six’ sounds, each being a fully editable drum model with controls such as FM Depth, FM Ratio, Feedback, Color and more.
There’s a model for kick, snare, toms, claps, percussion and metallic cymbal (ideal for hi-hats and cymbals) each with the power to bend the source default sound far into the realms of its neighbours.
It’s really launching the TRs into drum synth territory with gritty and nasty sounds previously unattainable from an all-digital kit now being within your grasp.
The two new effects are a Ha-Dou reverb, being a familiar Roland/Boss reverb available across its hardware ranges, best described as a subtle plate-like wet reverb that introduces welcome, pitch modulation and natural frequencies and movement to what could otherwise be a monotonous predictable machine drum tone.
Pitch Delay on the other hand can be anything but subtle, giving retriggering of drum sounds at different pitches to create complex, unpredictable and unexpected new rhythms and ‘happy accidents’ through application and experimentation.
On the master bus, there are two new effects to enjoy.
A new Vinyl Master FX effect does exactly what you’d expect, adding analogue warmth and fuzz to a machine that’s obviously 100% digital. Teamed with the classic analogue sounds recreated on board it’s a helpful further step to making your TR8-S sound just that little bit more like a TR-808.
And if you’re after something a little more upfront, the new Master Fattener does exactly what it says on the tin and makes your drum tracks subtly ‘slammable’, increasing transient impacts, pumping with a little compression and giving a wider, fuller stereo field. Once you’ve switched it on, you might never go back.
Finally there’s an intriguing randomizer for self-programming with two layers of probability. Set the parameters and let the machine generate a pattern to your rules, with the results being as predictable and sensible as you want or crazier than the human mind could rightfully devise. Set probability parameters to zero and that part will never play. Set to 100% and it will always play.
There’s even a new ‘random kit’ feature which will mix up the sounds from the various kits on board. Perfect next time you’re looking for ‘that kick’ and ‘that snare’ but just can’t find a combo that works with your rhythm.
And of course, in order to cater for the new features in hardware there’s a new V1.5 version of its TR-EDITOR plugin for your DAW too, giving control of the hardware’s ever-increasing features in easier, well laid-out, virtual-knobbed form.
To download and update your Roland unit go to the TR-8S and TR-6S webpages to get V2.5 and 1.5 respectively. To get your hands on the TR-EDITOR V1.5 head over to the Roland Cloud.