you may not Believe it, but if you’re over 19, you might be able to accurately identify the sound of a classic high-end Juno synth. If you’re craving that retro sound, you can still find it by haggling with geeks on Craigslist and restoring old circuits, but it’ll cost you money, time, and possibly even a heavier burden.
No longer: Small, affordable, rechargeable and portable, Roland’s new Aira synth series includes the T-8 drum machine, J-6 synth and E-4 vocal processor. You can sync them for live performances without a laptop, or use them with an audio interface to record classic hits. Together they cost less than a Macbook Air.
The democratization of music production equipment is nothing new. Top 10 hits have been produced in bedrooms and home studios for decades, and producers like Finneas are finding success with equipment priced as high as a single-day studio rent in the early 1980s. The Aira is just the latest entry into the realm of vintage synths, drums, and vocoders, and it’s priced below the price of a Walkman on eBay.
The 80’s were called
The T-8, J-6 and E-4 come in a compact plastic case with orange, blue and pink backs. There’s a small USB-C port on the back of each synth that acts as a charging port (you can get about four hours of battery life if you want to take these off the grid), alongside 3.5mm midi inputs and outputs port.
On top of each unit are two 3.5mm sync ports (in and out, for pairing with other units in time) and mix in and out ports for sending audio through all three units without using a mixer . It’s a nice touch that lets you play with them all at once. On the top right of each unit is a volume knob, which, while small, is quite satisfying to turn.
Below that, they become their own unique digital instruments. I won’t cover how to use them (Roland’s excellent manual and some YouTube videos will take you farther than I can with a few hundred words), but that’s what they do.
The T-8 acts as a 32-step sequencing drum machine, much like the classic Roland 808 (read: Kanye West’s Favorite Drum Machine), but with more sound. It has controls for bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, tom and clap. You can also add bass or keyboard lines. If you like the sound of ’80s radio beats, you’ll find them here, along with enough tuning and customization to easily write EDM, indie, hip-hop, pop, and other beats.