Roland's Aira—which the company has been teasing since before NAMM last month—has finally been revealed to the public. As many had deciphered, Aira is in fact four products in total, with more to come; it represents a new initiative for the company and a new team within it, based inside a new Tokyo studio. As all the pre-release hype would suggest, this is a big step for Roland; for the first time in years, it feels like the company is embracing the tastes of modern producers.
The new gear is as follows:
• TR-8 Rhythm Performer - $499
• TB-3 Touch Bassline - $299
• VT-3 Voice Transformer - $199
• SYSTEM-1 PLUG-OUT Synthesizer - $599
They're all slated for release in the second quarter of 2014, with the SYSTEM-1 hitting shelves slightly later than the rest of the lineup.
As evidenced in the photos, the TR-8 clearly references the company's classic TR-808 and 909 drum machines, while the TB-3 is in many ways a modernized TB-303 bass synth, with a pressure-sensitive touch pad and step sequencer. The VT-3 is built for fast, hands-on vocal processing in live set-ups, while the rather cheekily named SYSTEM-1 PLUG-OUT synthesizer can host software recreations of classic Roland synthesizers. Simply “load” the synth model you're after (read: SH-101), and the knobs and sliders will be mapped appropriately; you're able to easily switch between the SYSTEM-1's internal sounds and those of the plug-in it's hosting.
Rather than recreating the analog circuits of its touchstone gear, all of these products are based in the digital realm, using something Roland is calling Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB)—the precise, component-for-component modeling of its now-legendary analog circuitry. There are no samples to be found on these guys, but rather a detailed analysis and recreation of each analog circuit in Roland's own units. Interestingly, to hone in on the sound they were after, the company's engineers referenced both pristine originals, as well as those with varying degrees of "wear," as well as modified versions thereof.
Based on what we experienced at a private NAMM demo—this is the stuff we couldn't talk about in our previous NAMM report, Roland has taken some rather great strides with Aira. The units all sounded fantastic, and are all built to compliment one another in a live or studio-based set-up. Various touches, such as the exceptionally fun "Scatter" knobs—which effectively glitch and randomize certain parameters for more variation in live situations—are present on all of the units. And particularly when taken together, the machines present quite an intuitive, tactile palette for live performance. While analog purists may be disappointed, at first listen the sound is very much in line with Aira's analog lineage, and those prices are tough to argue with. Roland, it appears, is back in the game.