Roland unveils Aira TR-8 drum machine, TB-3 bass synth, System-1 'Plug-Out' synth and VT-3 vocal transformer

To say the full announcement of Roland's new Aira has been eagerly awaited would be something of an understatement.

Between the company's drawn-out teaser campaign, the various leaks and rumours, and the online speculation around how the new products relate to Roland's hardware classics, the Aira hype machine has successfully churned-up one of the most high-profile gear launches of recent years.

Today, after a month of teasers and musings, we're able not only to finally reveal details, but also bring you full reviews of three out of four of the Aira range.

Read our full reviews

As many had suspected, the Aira range comprises four products, all of which are inspired by 'classic' Roland units. There are three instruments - the TR-8, a drum machine which models both the TR-808 and TR-909, a TB-303-inspired, touchscreen-equiped bass synth named the TB-3, and what Roland calls a 'plug-out' synth called the System-1. There's also a vocal effects unit called the VT-3, which is inspired by the Roland VT-1.

All four Aira products are completely digital, but are based around brand new modelling technology that Roland claims intricately replicates the sound of the original units.

System-1 plug-out functionality

While the TR-8 drum machine will likely be the most exciting of the range for many, the System-1 is possibly the most interesting. Roland describes it as a 'plug-out' instrument, because it's able to host software synth emulatons alongside its own built-in sounds.

As Roland puts it, "The System-1 can control and even host software recreations of classic Roland synthesizers. That's right. The System-1 can control plug-in versions of now legendary Roland synths, and those same plugins can be hosted in the System-1 itself - with no computer required. You can even switch between the System-1's internal sounds and those of the hosted plug-in. We call this wizardry Plug-Out - and we're pretty excited about it.

"And we think you'll be excited too once you experience the supreme authenticity of the upcoming SH-101 soft-synth, with the System-1 providing an intuitive and fully automatic one-to-one control interface that just works."

Shared features

While all four units obviously perform different functions, there are a few shared features - other than the obvious aesthetic similarities - that unite the Aira range. For one thing, all four Airas feature Roland's brand new Analogue Circuit Behaviour (or ACB) technology, which the company claims is able to meticulously analyse and model each component of the circuitry of the original instruments.

Also, each unit in the Aira range is able to send and receive audio and MIDI via USB, whilst the three instruments can also be tempo sync'd via MIDI.

All four of the Aira units also feature Roland's new Scatter effects feature. The Scatter function manifests itself as a large dial on front of each instrument, which can be used to introduce a variety of rhythmic effects, including Reverse, Glitch, Gate and Truncate.

Check out images and key features of each Aira product below.

TR-8 - £399

Read of full review of the Roland Aira TR-8

TR-8 main features


Just like the original:

  • Full reproduction of the original TR-808 and TR-909 rhythm machines based on original design spec sheets and detailed analogue circuit analysis of various specimens including Roland's own pristine units
  • Newly developed Analogue Circuit Behaviour (ACB) technology allows part-by-part analyses and faithful recreation of tonality and behaviour including the smooth variations of tone that occur when you work the controls of each instrument
  • Obsessive attention to detail - like reproducing the original TR's unique variations in tone that occur when multiple instruments are entered in accented steps

TR Evolved:

  • Build dream kits made up of different instruments from the TR-808 and TR-909.
  • 16 stunning kits made up of 11 instrument types.
  • Control the intensity of the Accent function with a dedicated knob.
  • Per-step Gate Reverb and Delay effects with dedicated, real-time knobs.
  • Mix sources connected to the external inputs
  • Built-in Side Chain function creates rhythmic ducking effects on external Inputs with per-step control.
  • Two assignable analogue outputs and full parallel outputs via USB for total mixing flexibility.


Just like the original:

  • Faithful TR-REC behaviour for pattern creation
  • Large tempo control knob and a Fine adjustment knob for total tempo control.
  • 16-step sequencer allows you to switch between variations [A] and [B] as well as continuous playback
  • Play drum instruments and record to steps in real-time

TR Evolved:

  • Scatter lets you freak and tweak your grooves with real-time control and perfect sync
  • 16 per-step pads with bold, full-colour LEDs clearly show the current status
  • Real-time pattern creation up to 32 steps
  • Change the pattern step count seamlessly and on the fly
  • Rec/Play modes have been eliminated enabling seamless pattern making and performance
  • Seamless switch between step input and playing pads in real-time to create patterns
  • Real-time play of 4 different types of rolls to suit your beat
  • Quickly Mute/Unmute individual instruments during performance or production
  • Shuffle function from original TR-909 now has a knob for continuous real-time control
  • Pattern randomising function induces creativity and brings spontaneity to live performance
  • 7 segment, 4 character LED display shows the current tempo and has Tap function
  • Pattern copy makes it easy to create pattern variations

System-1 - £TBC

System-1 main features

  • Four oscillators for buckets of fat synth tones
  • Oscillator colours create continuous waveform changes from simple to complex
  • All parameters can be controlled with physical knobs and sliders with LED indicators
  • Advanced Arpeggiator with Scatter
  • Scatter jog dial offers 10 different phrase variations with dynamic, real-time control over 10 stages of depth
  • Variety of modulation functions including ring modulation, cross modulation and oscillator sync
  • Filter types vary between -12dB and -24dB and include independent high pass filters
  • Tone knob for easy tonal balancing
  • Crusher knob for modern edge
  • Integrated Delay and Reverb effect units
  • Tempo syncing for LFO and Delay
  • Innovative thin keyboard with 25 normal sized keys that are
  • Comfortable to play and yet the most compact Roland synth ever

TB-3 - £245

Read our full review of the Roland Aira TB-3

TB-3 main features

Just like the original:

  • Meticulously crafted using a pristine unit, original spec sheets and archival data
  • ACB technology models each component and every aspect of the original TB-303 sound
  • Faithful recreation of the original saw and square oscillator waveforms
  • Elements that characterise TB-303, such as attack, slide, and tie have been fully reproduced, including how they interact with each other
  • Authentic filter behaviour with smooth response and authentic sound

TB Evolved:

  • Pressure sensitive Touch Pad
  • 134 captivating sounds including effects-processed waveforms.
  • - Bank A: Original TB-303 sounds
  • - Bank B: Aggressive bass sounds that use 4 oscillators and effects
  • - Bank C: Aggressive lead sounds that use 4 oscillators and effects
  • - Bank D: A rich array of SFX sounds that use 4 oscillators and effects
  • Dedicated Tempo control with Shuffle and Tap Tempo
  • Control built-in effects with smooth, responsive knobs
  • 7 segment, 3 character LED display
  • Seamless switch between pattern creation and performance
  • 16-step indicator lights to aid in pattern creation
  • Pattern support for up to 32 steps
  • Easy access to Shuffle control for bass lines that groove
  • Enter steps manually or record realtime on the Touch Pad
  • Change Step Count during playback to create different length phrases
  • Random pattern generation and pattern modification
  • Pattern copy
  • Shuffle

VT-3 - £159

Read our full review of the Roland Aira VT-3

VT-3 main features

Choose from 9 types of voice characters:

  1. Pop and electro sounds with two distinct "AUTO-PITCH" effects
  2. VP-330-style VOCODER sounds without need for a keyboard
  3. Glitchy effects that sound like something broke (in a good way) with SCATTER
  4. Loads of lo-fi character with MEGAPHONE and RADIO settings
  5. Synthetic sounding voices with the ROBOT button.
  6. Synths you can sing with SYNTH, LEAD, and BASS
  • Change Pitch and Formant in real-time with smooth dedicated sliders
  • Large dedicated REVERB and MIX BLANCE sliders
  • Save your three favorite settings for instant recall
  • Footswitch control for live performance
  • Pure green LEDs and brightly lit controls for great visibility
  • Lightweight and durable construction for easy portability
  • XLR standard combo jack with phantom power and 1/8" inch powered mic jack
  • Stereo outputs can be configured as separate mono Wet/Dry channels
  • USB audio interface with loopback recording to overdub vocals on existing tracks
  • Great for podcasts and live web streaming
  • USB bus powered

Si Truss

I'm Editor-in-Chief of Music Technology, working with Future Music, Computer Music, Electronic Musician and MusicRadar. I've been messing around with music tech in various forms for over two decades. I've also spent the last 10 years forgetting how to play guitar. Find me in the chillout room at raves complaining that it's past my bedtime.