Roland Aira Series Review (T-8, J-6, E-4): A Backpack Recording Studio

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Maybe not believe it, but if you’re over 19, you’ll probably be able to identify exactly how a high-end classic Juno synthesizer sounds. If you fancy this vintage sound, you can still find it haggling with strangers on Craigslist and repairing old circuits, but it will cost you money, time, and possibly aggravation.

No longer: small, affordable, rechargeable, and portable, Roland’s new line of Aira synthesizers includes the T-8 drum box, the J-6 synthesizer, and the E-4 voice processor. You can sync them without a laptop to perform live or use them with an audio interface to record classical sound hits. Together they cost less than a Macbook Air.

The democratization of the music production team is nothing new. The top 10 singles have been created in bedrooms and home studios for decades, and producers like Finneas are making hits with material that costs as much as a one-day studio rental in the early 1980s. The Air is just the last line to enter the land of old school synthesizers, drums and vocoders for less than the price of an eBay Walkman.

The so-called 80s

Roland Aira T-8

Photography: Roland

The T-8, J-6 and E-4 come in compact plastic boxes with orange, blue and pink backs. A small USB-C port behind each synthesizer acts as a charging port (you can get about four hours of battery life if you want to take them off the grid) with 3.5mm midi input and output ports next to.

At the top of each unit are two 3.5mm sync ports (input and output, to pair with other units in time) and mix input and output ports to send audio through the three units without a mixer. It’s a nice touch that lets you play them all at once. At the top right of each unit is a volume button, which is small but strangely satisfying to turn.

They then become their own different digital instruments. I won’t go into how to use them (Roland’s excellent manuals and a few YouTube videos will take you beyond what I can in a few hundred words), but here’s what they do.

The T-8 acts as a 32-step sequencing drum box, like the classic Roland 808 (read: Kanye West’s favorite drum box), but with more sounds. It has controls for bass drum, drawer, hi-hat, volumes and applause. You can also add a bass line or keyboard. If you like the sound of 80s radio beats, you’ll find them here, as well as more than enough tuning and customization features to write EDM, indie, hip hop, pop, and other beats with ease.

Roland Aira J-6

Photography: Roland

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