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

You might not believe it, but if you’re older than 19, you can probably identify exactly what a classic, high-end Juno synth sounds like. If you’re craving that vintage sound, you can still find it by haggling with weirdos on Craigslist and repairing ancient circuitry, but it will cost you in money, time, and possibly aggravation.

Not any longer: Small, affordable, rechargeable, and portable, Roland’s new Aira synth line includes the T-8 drum machine, J-6 synth, and E-4 vocal processor. You can sync them up without a laptop to perform live or use them with an audio interface to record classic-sounding hits. Together they cost less than a Macbook Air.

The democratization of music production gear is nothing new. Top 10 singles have been crafted in bedrooms and home studios for decades, and producers like Finneas are making hits with gear that costs as much as a single day’s studio rental did in the early 1980s. The Aira is just the latest line to step into the land of old-school synths, drums, and vocoders for less than the price of a Walkman off eBay.

The ’80s Called

Roland Aira T-8

Photograph: Roland

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

On top of each unit are two 3.5-mm 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 a mixer. It’s a nice touch that lets you play them all at once. On the upper right of each unit is a volume knob, which is small but oddly satisfying to turn.

Below that, they become their own distinct digital instruments. I won’t get into how to use them (Roland’s excellent manuals and a few YouTube videos will take you further than I can in a few hundred words), but here’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 sounds. It has controls for bass drum, snare, hi-hat, toms, and hand claps. You can also add a bass or keyboard line. If you like the sound of ’80s radio beats, you’ll find those 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

Photograph: Roland

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