The Roland TR-8S is a drum machine by Roland which really builds upon its previous generation model (the TR-8). This model brings it much more in line with modern music production, including sample import, better design, improved effects, and automation.
The TR-8S is an absolute joy to play. I got pretty hooked on playing with this drum machine since the first time it came to my local music store.
Value for money8.0/10
Ease of use10.0/10
- Extremely flexible and easy to use
- Tons of quality sounds
- Custom sample import
- Perfect for live performances, but great for the studio as well
- Amazing on-the-fly effects and capabilities
- A bit pricey!
Though it comes with quite a price tag! Is it worth it for you needs, and how does it compare against other high-end drum machines?
Samples and Memory
By far, the most important thing about the new Roland TR-8S is a significantly expanded sound library.
You can now count on 606, 707 and 727 drum sounds in this model. All sounds are emulated through the company’s amazing Analogue Circuit Behavior. Additionally, you can tweak all of these sounds and add a bit of modern flavor, which is significant for all those who want to use this unit for some more up-to-date beats and styles.
Additionally, you can upload all kinds of extra sounds, either some samples from Roland’s large library or something of your own work, via SD card. The unit supports both WAV and AIFF formats.
The unit offers a lot of flexibility, as you can replace up to 11 samples in each kit. Moreover, each sample has its own, separate channel, which includes controls like volume fader, tuning, and decay. Sounds pretty impressive!
All digital effects sound good, and this is one of the aspects where we can see a lot of improvement compared to the original TR-8 models. In particularly, the Scatter effects which sound very decent!
Also, additional effects like delay, snap, reverb and others sound more realistic and offer much better dynamics. In practice, this brings a lot of versatility and opens notably more possibilities in creating specific flavors and atmosphere. There is no doubt that the new TR-8S brings a lot more variation than the original.
Design and Build Quality
Compared to the TR-8, the overall design of the Roland TR-8S is a bit more streamlined. First of all, the board is not angled anymore, but rather flat. Besides new ergonomics, the buttons have been reorganized as well, but you shouldn’t have much trouble to locate all the important controls at once.
Also, it is good to mention that knobs and buttons, as well as the rest of the board, feature new, improved materials, and that everything seems more upscale than before.
Also, I should mention that a USB audio connection is included as well, so you can combine this unit with your DAW software as well.
A huge sound library is great, but the simplicity of use is an even better thing about this rhythm performer. Controls are super simple, while the new screen ensures super-easy navigation, in Roland’s typical manner.
Therefore, dialing the desired sample is pretty much a piece of cake and doesn’t take any kind of learning curve at all.
This update brings a lot of improvements in terms of sound variety. The new version features 128 patterns to start with, as well as 16 pads. Also, every pattern has eight variations, as you can use some of A-H buttons to change the sound character.
Suitable for More Genres
It’s not just about numbers, but also about a variety of sound colors that come with the new TR-8S. While the original model was focused on specific, old-school electronic genres, predominately techno, we can easily say that the new one covers pretty much everything.
With the new one, you can get pretty much any kind of vibe, including modern ones like Deep House, new hip-hop styles and more.
How Easy is it to Use?
With the extended range of sounds and even better functionality, the TR-8S is already hard to beat. Still, the best thing about it is that everything works so simple. You would normally presume that all these features would require a lot of skills and time to get used on it but in reality, everything just flows.
Playing with patterns is easy and you can do most of the things by using a well-known step-sequencing approach, no matter if you want to place beats across patterns, or to copy/paste/delete them. The same principle is used for another programming as well.
If you want to play some of the sounds in real time, the Instrument Record mode is a perfect feature for that, as it lets you record each sound individually. Of course, velocity programming is as simple as previously mentioned things.
There are several ways you can do this, but a familiar method that includes holding the Shift button and brightness indicator is definitely the most convenient.
Which are the Best Alternatives?
The TR-8S is definitely an amazing unit but, as I’ve already mentioned, it could be a pretty expensive toy for those who don’t have the intention to use all of its potentials. In that case, it would be much wiser to consider some more affordable products.
To learn about some of the best alternatives in more detail, check out my article on the best drum machines, as we go through different options in more detail.
For those who are seeking for genuine vintage beats only, it would be far more reasonable to go for some of the resurrected legendary drum machines, like TR-08 and TR-09. New boutique versions deliver a genuine sound of the original units, despite the fact that complete sound library is now digital.
The look and the sounds are so realistic that only experts would notice the difference. Also, it is important to notice that these new units make less noise and that there is a USB port in both units on backsides, both for more convenient use.
If you want a little bit more than a classic drum machine but still don’t want to spend a huge amount of money, there is a couple of decent alternatives. Arturia DrumBrute is one of them. Of course, it can’t compare with the TR-8S in terms of flexibility and overall quality but definitely can do a lot of things.
It is an analog drum machine, which looks classic, sounds classic and can cover all the classic electronic genres without bigger troubles.
Given all the novelties that the TR-8S has brought, we can only say that you definitely won’t go wrong with this unit. Simply, it comes with such an amazing sound base, which covers pretty much everything, from classic to modern beats. So, if you need such an all-in-one product, this is definitely something you should consider.
There is no doubt that this is a great product but the real question here is – do you really need it? It does bring a lot of upgrades compared to the original model, but it also costs significantly more. If you are not willing to use all the potential of this one, then it could much better to look for something else.
This particularly refers to those people who are primarily relying on vintage vibes. For the price of TR-8S, you can easily get at least two vintage drum machines.
All in all, the TR-8S offers and exceptional flexibility, functionality and overall performance, but if you’re not going to use all of its potentials, it’s probably not worth the money.
I hope this has been a useful review of the Roland TR-8S. Thought it’s certainly not the cheapest drum machine out there, it packs a lot of punch if you want to sink you teeth into something with a lot of depth.
Image Credits: Roland TR-8S Image by Kazuhisa OTSUBO from Tokyo, Japan [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]