How to get the most out of your Roland TR-8 drum machine

I have been an owner of a Roland TR-8 since 2015 and it’s still today one of the best drum machine I ever owned. And over my 20 some years of music making, I have been the owner of many different drum machines.

  • Boss DR-220
  • Boss DR-550
  • Yamaha -RX17
  • Sequential Circuit -Tom
  • Alesis D4 (drum Module)
  • Simmons SDS8 and SDS9 (drum module)
  • Roland TR-8
  • Korg Volca Beats
  • Teenage engineering OP-12

My humble beginnings

I started creating music in the early 90’s using a Boss DR-220, a Yamaha DX-21 (FM) a small boss mixer, a Vestax Delay FX pedal and a boss Heavy metal FX pedal. It was noisy and fun, I was heavily into underground industrial electronic sound of the time like Skinny Puppy,  Front Line Assembly and Nitzer Ebb. Wow, Flashback. I’ll try to get pictures of that era for a future post.

Hardware versus software

Today, after a dozen years of software dominance for music creation tools, there is a return to hardware. I’m into that and I see many reasons for this:

  1. It’s fun to play with a physical interface, it creates an interaction with the sound.
  2. It’s a piece of dedicated gear. It’s limited but it always does what it is meant to do.
  3. It’s quicker, more stable and better integrated than software in a computer using controllers.
  4. After many years, a piece of hardware it is still a musical instrument, not just an old obsolete software.
  5. It has resale value ( in some cases, high vintage resale value).

The Roland TR-8

The TR-8 was my pick in 2015 and still is today a beast of a machine. Of course it’s not perfect, but the sounds and features make it one of my favorite drum machine of all times! It’s made to recreate the subtleties of the original analogue cult classics TR-909 , TR-808, and …. TR-606, TR-707, TR-727. With the release of the Roland TR-09 and TR-08 (yes I know it gets difficult to identify each of them TR-808, TR-8, TR-08) it is still in my best choice of a drum machine.

TR-808 versus TR-8 versus TR-08

The original TR-808 is a cult classic for music. And not just for electronic music but all (pop) music. It is a sound that you know even if you don’t know the device. It was so identifiable yet sonically powerful that it left a dent in the music fabric of time. FOR GOD SAKES THE MACHINE EVEN HAS IT’S OWN MOVIE!!!!!

But even if it is a cult classic, the TR-808 today is a vintage drum machine… meaning the units that are still in action are old, used, abused, somewhat unstable and possibly noisy…something that makes every TR-808 unique. And like all vintage instruments, they are a piece of history that come with a cost. Cost of acquisition and maintenance.

The TR-8 came out in 2015 as the drum machine of the Roland Aira line of products. The whole Aira line at the time was using Roland ACB technology or Analogue Circuit Behaviour that aims to simulate the reaction and interaction of analogue circuit. In the case of the TR-8, Roland has been able to capture the essence of the TR-808 : Great sounds coupled to a very intuitive interface. Let it be clear, the TR-8 is made for real time performance, the amount of knobs and faders is amazing. It might be the reason why the manual for the TR-8 is tiny, it’s just a single piece of paper. I remember the old Roland manuals superbly written and prepared. I guess people dont’ read anymore :-(.

So here is my TR-8 Walkthrough

Even after Roland came out with the TR-08, I still think that the TR-8 is my best choice. The fact that the TR-8 can mix sounds from the TR-808, TR-909, TR-707, TR-727, TR-606 on top of having real nice effects and a very clean and efficient interface is just a dream to play music with.

The hidden features of the TR-8 to get the most out of it.

As I was using my TR-8, I was looking for missing information (in my view) for features. I expected a drum machine of this level certain fucntions : how to control the Pan, the ability to have delay and reverb only on one sound. I looked around the web and tried and test some things and finally made a list of hidden features that are present but not jumping out.


Other online ressources for the Roland TR-8: