The New Roland Aira Compact Series

T-8 Beat Machine + J-6 Chord Synthesizer + E-4 Voice Tweaker

Perfect Circuit · 05/10/22

Roland has announced the release of their new product line: the Aira Compact series, a collection of compact, affordable electronic music tools for artists with any budget at any level of experience. Each of these compact desktop devices is designed to tackle a specific aspect of electronic music production. The T-8 Beat Machine gives you classic Roland TR-series drum machine capabilities, while the J-6 Chord Synthesizer uses a Juno-like voice architecture to provide rich, lush harmonic accompaniments. Lastly, the E-4 Voice Tweaker is the newest generation of Voice Transformer—handling everything from autotune and harmonizing to robotic vocals, vocoding, looping, and glitchy scatter effects.

Each of the Aira Compact series feature MIDI input and output on 3.5mm TRS connections, USB-C for MIDI and connection to your DAW, 3.5mm sync input and output, and 3.5mm audio chaining. This means that they're all designed to live alongside one another: they can sync to one another's tempo, and you can even listen to them all together without the need for an external mixer. What's more, they can all be battery together, they comprise one of the most interesting and powerful compact, portable production setups around. Whether you're using them in the studio or at the park, we're sure that they'll prove to be an absolute blast—so that in mind, let's take a closer look at what they all can do.

Aira Compact T-8 Beat Machine

Considering the impressive legacy of Roland's drum machines, it should come as no surprise that one of the first AIRA Compact instruments is designed for infectious beats and driving rhythms. Despite its small size, the T-8 Beat Machine packs in favorite sounds from the TR-808, TR-909, and TR-606 across six tracks, modeled with Roland's Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) platform. But in electronic music, drums often go hand-in-hand with bass, so Roland also included a dedicated 303-inspired bass track for those beloved slippery, acid-style lines. And remember, this is all in a compact, battery-equipped enclosure, so you can take advantage of inspiration striking anytime, anywhere.

Like the devices that came before it and inspired its sound, the T-8 continues the TR-style sequencing philosophy, supporting up to 64 patterns of up to 32 steps each. With a slightly modernized take on this classic workflow, T-8 offers a number of dynamic features like probability, velocity, and real-time recording methods to build more engaging tracks and performances. Streamlined controls for each voice ensure that you've always got your hands on the essential parameters to shape your sounds, while onboard effects including delay, reverb, overdrive, and compression extend your sonic palette to new aural hues.

But even with all that it can offer, T-8 doesn't have to be a solo act. Sporting full I/O for audio, MIDI, and sync connections, T-8 pairs well with the other members of the AIRA Compact family, as well as many of the other solid desktop grooveboxes and synths that are out there. Add in its capabilities as a class-compliant USB-C audio and MIDI interface, and it becomes clear that the T-8 can easily bridge the gap between just about any combination of hardware and software instruments, all while pushing out fire beats. T-8 is definitively a Roland drum machine through and through, distilled down to the essentials and yet still more flexible than ever.

Aira Compact J-6 Chord Synthesizer

The new Aira Compact series leverages their Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) technology to present a simplified take on the beloved sound of the Juno-60 analog synthesizer: the J-6 Chord Synthesizer.

J-6 takes a creative and producer-friendly approach to song structure and creation. In a traditional band setting, J-6 can be used for keys or harmonic and textural backing. In a solo-electronic creative position the J-6 works beautifully for creating ambient harmonic progressions and symphonic grounding. Of course, even with genre-specific chord sets and rhythmic phrasing, J-6 is open to your interpretation—adding complex and inspiring harmonies to your productions and performances.

J-6's sound engine replicates the analog warmth of the Juno-60 with a beautiful collection of 64 patches derived from the original's preset collection and sound palette. Of course, there is carefully-thought out opportunity for editing the presets or live tweaking—with filter and envelope controls for adding timbral depth and changing how the patches play over time. Additional sonic depth can be applied with the onboard, hi-fi delay and reverb controls, each with customizable settings for a flexible sound design experience. Designed specifically to produce harmonic figures and progressions, J-6's patches are built around plucks, pads, and synth-keys for smooth and powerful movement…a perfect complement to the T-8 and E-4!

Speaking of harmonic movement, the J-6's chord collection and sequencer are built in such a way that you don't need a music theory background to start making music. Any of J-6's 100 chord sets (each containing eight harmonic figures) are designed to suit classic and modern genres without the need of traditional theory, making it simple for anyone with musical interest and passion to play along with others. That said, movement can be sequenced in a variety of ways, including a 64-step sequencer, arpeggiator, and rhythmic phrases. Each step delivers a world of creative possibilities, allowing you to enter single notes, full chords, and even tempo changes for odd step-rates to extend it beyond the capabilities of a traditional sequencer.

Apply pattern changes on the fly for fully thought out songs and even send your progressions out over MIDI to sequence other gear! You can even hook up a MIDI controller for personalized chord progressions with that great Juno-60 sound. The J-6 provides a tactile yet straightforward way of creating and developing density within any style of music.

Aira Compact E-4 Voice Tweaker

Vocal effects are a great way to add a special sauce to your recording or live performance…and the E-4 Voice Tweaker is perfect for quick access to unique sounds as well as handy utilities. Based in part on the classic VT-1 Voice Transformer and its descendants, the E-4 is perfect for everything from layered looping, glitch effects, vocoder patches, and peculiar robotic vocal lines. It can harmonize, auto-tune, separate affect your voice's pitch and format region, and much, much more. Out of all of the new Aira Compact series, this is probably the one we're most excited about.

The 1/4" input and the 1/8" headset jack are ready for whatever you throw at them. Of course, these inputs are not limited to vocals: any instrument can work, giving you a portable 24s looper for your instrument or voice, as well as a reverb, pitch effects, and a unique scatter setting.

After you record a loop, you can overdub with effects, and using the Scatter knob you are able to slice up the loop to different sections in a musical and playable way—applying slicing, panning, filtering, bit-crushing, and more. The dedicated Reverb slider makes creating luscious ambient pads a breeze. These can evolve nicely by using different Harmony effects. The Voice Tweaker is designed to be a playable instrument/effect hybrid, so experimentation is highly recommended.

Connect other Aira devices, or anything else that can use the built-in Sync In/Out—or simply connect using the USB-C port for audio and MIDI communication. Easily pack this little friend in your gig bag and integrate it without extra power by using the built-in battery that offers you up to 3.5 hours of charge. Ideas will magically appear before you with this device, relying on its simplicity and quality to tap into your musical mind.

A Powerful, Portable Synthesizer Studio

All in all? Well, it's certainly worth noting that the form factor of the Roland Aira Compact units is...strikingly similar to Korg's Volca Series. Here's the thing—the Volcas are a tremendously popular range of products, and for years, they've really been the only thing that combines their form factor, price, and functionality. It's surprising that it's taken so long for another company to come along with products that fit this mold.

But here's what makes us particularly excited: despite their similarities, these aren't Volca knock-offs. These take the compact form factor of a Volca and expand the functionality considerably—adding easy audio daisy-chaining/mixing and USB connectivity is a big deal that opens these up to many more people's workflows. Moreover, we're thrilled that they've embedded each with a distinctly Roland flavor, borrowing concepts from some of their most interesting devices and bringing them to a completely new audience. These will prove to be fantastic for people getting into music-making, and I suspect we'll start to see at least the E-4 Voice Tweaker in a lot more studios and performance rigs going forward.