You can write, record, edit, mix, and publish a song using nothing but a collection of apps on your smartphone, but musicians, even those producing electronic music, like physical instruments with buttons and knobs they can fiddle and perform with. Roland’s new AIRA Compact line is a trio of miniaturized music makers, and while not as small as a smartphone, they still manage to squeeze physical controls into a very portable package.
Similar to Teenage Engineering’s affordable Pocket Operators and Korg’s pricier Volca lineup, Roland’s AIRA Compact devices are designed to be portable instruments you almost always have on hand when musical inspiration strikes, even while out and about. Unlike classic devices like the Roland 808 drum machine, the AIRA Compact units aren’t true analog electronic instruments that rely on components like resistors and capacitors to make sounds, but instead use the digital Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) that Roland developed for its larger AIRA and Boutique machines. Leveraging the power of modern processors, they reproduce similar sounds to classic analog machines and offer the same level of tweaking and manipulation, but through digital means.
The AIRA Compact line currently includes three options: the T-8 Beat Machine, the J-6 Chord Synthesizer, and the E-4 Voice Tweaker. The former features sounds from classic Roland instruments including the TR-808, TR-909, TR-606, and TB-303 drum machines. Meanwhile, the J-6 Chord Synthesizer is based on Roland’s JUNO-60 synth. Finally, the E-4 Voice Tweaker comes with a microphone jack that allows vocal samples to be enhanced, pitch corrected, effected, and, yes, even used to create neat robotic voices. Each unit can be used individually, connected to a PC or other instruments with a USB cable to be used as a MIDI device, or connected together, with a main unit allowing connected headphones to monitor the sound from all three.
Professional musicians can justify the cost of filling studio racks with classic Roland offerings like the TR-808 and its predecessors, but those just dabbling in music making should find more than enough of an outlet for their creativity with the six-track (plus a bass line too) T-8 Beat Machine drum sequencer. The sounds in its built-in library can be customized using filters like delay, reverb, and decay, and up to 64 patterns with 32 steps each can be created and triggered on the fly during a performance.
Also catering to amateur musicians, the J-6 Chord Synthesizer already has 100 chord sets pre-programmed and built-in so users don’t have to create and record their own, which would actually be a little tricky using that tiny eight-key keyboard. Chord customization options include filter and envelope control knobs, delay and reverb effects, and simple + and - octave pads for making pitch adjustments.
Part experimental toy and part vocally-driven instrument, the E-4 Voice Tweaker does exactly that with a microphone connected to its line-in port. (The lack of XLR input and phantom power is a little disappointing for those with access to professional-grade mics who’d rather not have to reach for adapters.) Voice effects include pitch-shifting and auto-tune, harmonies, reverb, a vocoder (for making robot sounds), formant adjustments, and even a Roland-developed effect called Scatter which slices up and stutters audio playback, controlled in real-time using a dedicated knob.
All three AIRA Compact units are available starting today for $200 each.