Roland TR-8S Review – High-End Drum Machine

Roland TR-8S


Value for money






Sound quality


Ease of use



  • 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


  • High price tag

With the new TR-8S, Roland is getting even closer to a perfect rhythm performer than before, as the new unit brings a lot of improvements compared to the original TR-8 model.

Judging on the name, you would probably think of it as a kind of update, but it is actually much more than that. Besides software upgrades, it also comes with some physical changes, so we can look at it as a completely new model. All in all, it brings more sounds, more convenient use, improved functionality and much more.

New Look

Let’s start with the things you’ll notice first. Of course, that would refer to the hardware, which clearly shows that this is not just an update. Compared to the original version, the housing has been modified for a bit. First of all, the board is not angled anymore, but rather flat. Some will find this more convenient, some will hate such a design. I would say this is a matter of preference. I would also say that you would probably get used to it.

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.

Tons of Beats

By far, the most important thing about the new Roland TR-8S is a significantly expanded sound library. The original model is already pretty good in this aspect, as it includes all the sounds from the legendary 808 and 909 drum machines. You can now count on 606, 707 and 727 units as well. 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 amazing 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. This particularly refers to Scatter effects, which now sound pretty 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.

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.

More Styles Covered

It’s not just about numbers, but also about a variety of sound colors that come with the new TR-8S. Benefits are obvious. 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.

Easy and Convenient

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.


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.

Therefore, you should check some of the alternatives.

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.

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.

To learn more, check out our article on the best drum machines, as we go through different options in more detail. Otherwise, check out the Roland TR-8S in more detail!

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