Roland are back up to their old tricks—er, Drumatix? In an unexpected announcement today, Roland has brought back the TR-606—the much-loved pawn shop drum machine of yesteryear. Based directly on the sound and look of the original machine, the Boutique TR-06 is a modern improvement that adds sound-shaping options, new sequencing potential, and the ability to interface directly with modular synthesizers.
The 606 has always been an underdog, overshadowed by the TR-808 and TR-909—but while it is relatively less flexible than its bigger siblings, its sound is highly distinctive. This sound (and its relatively lower price) has led it to be cult classic in the world of vintage drum machines. If you're curious to know more about the original TR-606, check out our Signal article here, where we muse about its niche place in electronic music history and share some examples of how it sounds. Here, though, let's take a closer look at this new offering, so that we can start to understand why 2020 needs a 606-inspired drum machine.
The New Roland Boutique TR-06
While the look and tone of the TR-06 should be instantly familiar, it is fairly different under the hood. The unit's shape has been modified for the Boutique form factor and, happily, it has a steel top and overall super solid construction...which, let's face it, isn't necessarily applicable to the original. Like many recent Roland releases, this unit relies on Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) modeling for its sound production. So it is indeed digital, but don't let that worry you—the sound is excellent.
The first revelation the TR-06 offers is pretty huge: unlike the original, you can modify the sounds to a considerable extent. Complete with options for altering the tuning, decay time, and panning for each track, you can push this 606 into new directions—and when coupled with the onboard compressor, delay, and overdrive, you have an entire new set of sonic possibilities. And of course, the integrated USB audio streaming and built-in speaker / battery-powered operation mean that you can take its sound anywhere, and use it in a wide range of applications.
Of course, the built-in sequencer is one of the most important features of a Roland drum machine—and you'll find that this iteration offers the same intuitive workflow as the classic 606. However, it has been upgraded with a host of advanced features from ratcheting, per-step probability control, and step looping for evolving rhythms with as much internal variation and performance interaction as you want. What's more, the TR-06 adds even easier modular integration than the original...with five trigger outputs and one trigger input, it's easy to synchronize your drum machine to your modular system, or to use it to trigger voices in your Eurorack system, desktop semi-modular synths, and more.
The TR-06 was, for us, and unexpected announcement—but not an unwelcome one. While a new 606 isn't exactly something we've had on the top of our wish list, it is exciting to see Roland thinking more about interfacing with modular gear, and we're super eager to see just how much fun it is to combine the 606's old school sound with some of the weird possibilities presented by a Eurorack system. At a price like this, it seems like the TR-06 just might find a place in a lot of setups...and with its expanded connectivity and modern conveniences, who knows? It might just spin off into a whole new genre of music...again.