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Roland TR-8S Rhythm Performer - A First Look

Roland have expanded on their famous TR series of drum machines with the latest edition, the TR-8S. Not replacing the TR-8, this unit instead takes that foundation and adds a range of new features behind its sleek new design. Here's a rundown of some of the key ones:

The first feature of note is the ability to play samples (that's the 's' in the product code). The unit includes all of the TR drum sounds found on an expanded TR-9 (TR-808, 909, 707, 727, 606) as well as additional onboard samples - more drums, as well as pitched instruments - bass tones, vocal and synth stabs. Users can also load their own samples via SD card and save them on the unit.

In addition to new sounds, the 8S also has an expanded effects section. In addition to Master Delay and Reverb, there is a configurable Master Effect, as well as the ability to insert effects on each instrument (sound). These range from compression and distortion to filters and EQ's and modulation effects. The effects sound great out of the box, but are easy to program if you want to change the parameters on any effect. The setup of kits is very flexible - users can save any combination of sounds (laid out in any order) with different insert effects on each.

Each instrument has standard features - Tune, Decay and Control. Control is assignable, and can be set to an attribute of the instrument (Snappy control on a snare), a send to one of the master effects, or to control an insert effect. Each of these encoders are automatable with the Motion Recording controls - giving users the ability to add movement to their patterns. Automating the Tune encoder give users the ability to turn pitched samples into melodies or basslines. Each kit also includes an LFO - another great way to automate instrument parameters.

Patterns setup has been improved - there are now eight variations per pattern. It's easy to copy and paste between the variations to quickly build up a track or performance. Scatter is still available, but is now just one of a selection of fill/auto-fill options, with the others user-programmable. The ability to select Last (last step) has been added for each instrument, not just the kit - opening up polyrhythmic programming. Sub-steps have also been added, giving users the ability to add notes at increments finer than 16ths - great for snare rolls, or trap/hip-hop hi-hat patterns.

On the physical side, a few additions of note - a velocity sensitive pad has been added for playing in notes at various volumes. Outputs have been expanded with the Master L+R, plus six assignable outs (which can also be used to expand the Trigger outs from one to seven) and external signals can be used for sidechaining and routed in a number of ways through the unit. As with the TR-8, the onboard USB can be used to send and receive MIDI, as well as sending multitrack audio (so you can record each instrument on a different channel in your DAW software). With all of these new options, the addition of a two-line LCD display helps you keep track of where you are.

Overall, Roland's TR-8S sounds fantastic. It feels familiar, but is really versatile and customisable. It's super-quick it you want to put together a jam on the fly, but with plenty of depth if you want to program.

More info and order you TR-8S here

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