Roland TR-8S Review

Roland TR-8S Review

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The TR-8S is a very powerful drum machine from Roland that has Analog Circuit Modeling along with sample support. It’s an expensive machine, but it’s incredibly valuable to people who will utilize everything that it has on offer. 

Roland TR-8S

Key Features

  • Large collection of Roland sounds
  • 81 ACB tones and 150 samples
  • Step sequencer controls 11 instruments
  • Built-in audio interface works with DAWs
  • Designed for studio and live sessions
  • Layer your own samples from an SD card

80/100

The Roland TR-8 was an incredibly popular drum machine that combined the famous 808 and 909 machines to create an ultimate beat-making experience.

As the TR-8S came out, Roland discontinued the TR-8 soon after. When thinking TR8 vs TR8S, just know that the Roland TR-8S is a more colorful version with a few added features.

Those features are what we’re going to look at in this Roland TR-8S review. We’ll have a look at the sounds, build quality, playability, and interface of the machine, and see why it’s such a popular option amongst beat makers.

Roland TR-8S Ratings

Sounds

4

Build Quality

4

Playability

4

Value

4

Module

4

Sounds

The sounds are what made the Roland TR machines so famous. It’s no overstatement to say that the music industry changed forever when the TR-808 was released in 1980. Those sounds have been used in thousands of albums and are still being used 40 years later.

You get all those sounds here in the TR-8S along with the sounds from the TR-909 drum machine as well. On top of that, you get to add your own WAV or AIFF samples via an SD card. These samples can be integrated within the TR sounds, giving you unique layered sounds.

The machine uses a technology from Roland called Analog Circuit Behavior. This technology gives you impressive control over the sounds, offering you sound controls such as tuning and decay on each channel.

Out of all the drum machines on the market, you could argue that the Roland TR-8S has the best sounding samples. Roland is very well-known for their high-quality drum samples, and the TR-8S adds to that reputation. You get all the percussive sounds you could need along with some interesting synth sounds to add a bit of spice to the beats that you make.

The sounds work exceptionally well for styles like hip-hop, rap, and electronic music. You could potentially use the drum machine for adding beats to some rock tunes, but it’s a lot more preferable in the electronic music world.

Build Quality

If you’ve ever read a Roland TR-8 review, you’d know how solidly these machines are built. The TR-8S takes it up a notch by keeping the build quality and adding some great aesthetics to the machine as well.

There are so many knobs, features, and inputs on this machine that the thought of dropping and damaging it can be quite scary. Thankfully, the outer shell is quite tough, and dropping it won’t do much damage at first.

Some of the original TR machines are still playable today, and Roland has kept in line with the durability standards. Overall, the build quality of the TR-8S is excellent, and it will last a very long time if cared for properly.

Something that the TR-8S has that the TR-8 didn’t have is 8 separate outputs at the back. These outputs open a world of possibilities and will allow you to create a huge rig with the drum machine if you wanted to.

Another big difference between the design of the TR-8S and the older version is the colorful display. Each slider has an assigned color which makes it much easier to see what you’re doing in low-light environments. There’s an element of customization behind these backlights which you can utilize quite well for certain things.

Playability

The playability of the Roland TR-8S is where all the features shine through. You can play so many fills and patterns on this thing that you could potentially use it as a standalone instrument if you wanted to.

You can program a pattern while the previous one is playing, making this drum machine excellent for live performance settings. It’s quite easy to arrange on the fly. Whether you’re a DJ or someone who wants drum backing for your live set, the TR-8S has you covered.

The machine has top-quality sequencing capabilities, and you can play patterns that are up to 32 steps long. However, most of the patterns are locked onto 16th notes, stopping you from playing any other subdivisions.

You won’t be able to play triplets on the drum machine, which may chase many people away from it. It’s perfect for getting perfectly quantized patterns, though.

Seeing as the machine seamlessly integrates with DAWs, it’s an excellent studio tool as well. You could either use it to record all-out electronic drum tracks or you could use it to supplement a drummer before laying down some proper acoustic drum tracks.

Interface

The interface can be quite daunting when you don’t know what you’re doing at first. However, you’ll start uncovering how extensive this machine is when you get a grip on all the features.

\The initial beat-making is quite easy. You can set the machine up and start having fun straight away. The extra features add depth that can be heavily utilized once you know what you’re doing.

There are a few gripes that I have with the Roland TR-8S, though. The biggest one is that there are barely any slots to save your own custom patterns. The machine comes with so many fantastic factory ones, but you’ll have to delete a few of them if you want to save your own. The only way of getting them back is to factory reset the machine.

Another thing is that there isn’t a song mode. Most modern-day drum machines have a mode where making songs with verses and choruses is quite easy. This feature hasn’t been added to the TR-8S, so you’ll have to manually change patterns if you’re changing things up in a song.

Other than those two things, I’d say the interface is fairly decent. The buttons may be a bit small for some, but you’ll quickly get used to them.

Value

Drum machines are very vast in their price ranges. You can get some entry-level ones for around $100 while the top-quality ones will cost over $1000. The Roland TR-8S sits in the $700 to $800 range.

It’s fairly pricey considering that you can get drum machines that do most of the same for less. However, the more affordable drum machines from other brands don’t have those signature Roland sounds.

The TR-6S is the drum machine under the TR-8S in Roland’s product range. It’s basically a smaller version with fewer features that costs just over half the price. If you’re not big into sequencing and beat-making, that machine may be a better option to go with. However, the TR-8S is a much better product in almost every way. So, it’s worth spending the extra money on.

If you’re happy to spend a bit more money, the Roland MC-707 Groovebox is another good drum machine. However, it doesn’t encapsulate the classic feel of a Roland TR drum machine like the TR-8S does.

The TR-8S is Roland’s most extensive and popular drum machine at the moment. So, I’d say that its value is very high!

Verdict

If you’re new to buying drum machines and you just want something that will provide rhythmic backing, the TR-8S may not be the best purchase. Many of the features will go unused, and the extra money you paid for it could be utilized elsewhere.

If you’re an avid beat maker and love sequencers, this is one of the best beat machines that you could get. The 8 outputs will allow you to create the rig of your dreams, and the classic Roland TR drum sounds are second-to-none in the music industry.

There are several top-quality drum machines that closely compete with the Roland TR-8S, so I’d suggest checking those out as well. But if you decide to go with this machine, you won’t be disappointed.

What Comes In The Roland TR-8S Box?

  • Roland TR-8S
  • 81 ACB tones
  • Power cable
  • Instruction manual

Roland TR-8S At A Glance

Pros

  • Has the classic Roland TR sounds that have been popular for decades
  • Can be used as a standalone instrument thanks to all the sounds and features
  • Backlit sliders and knobs make it easy to see what you’re doing
  • Has 8 trigger outputs

Cons

  • Not much space to store custom sequences
  • Doesn’t have a song mode
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