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

You might not believe it, but if you’re over 19, you can probably identify exactly what a classic, high-end Juno synth sounds like. If you crave that vintage sound, you can still find it by haggling with lunatics on Craigslist and fixing old tracks, but it will cost you money, time, and possibly aggravation.

No 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 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 equipment is nothing new. Top 10 singles have been made in bedrooms and home studios for decades, and producers like Finneas are making hits with equipment costing as much as a single day of studio rental 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 an eBay Walkman.

The 80s were calling

Roland Aira T-8

Photo: 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 use it off-grid) with 3.5mm midi inputs and outputs next to it.

On the top of each unit are two 3.5mm sync ports (in and out, to pair with other units in time) and mix-in-and-out ports for transmitting audio through all 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 knob, which is small but oddly satisfying to turn.

Below that, they become their own distinctive digital tools. I won’t go into how to use them (Roland’s excellent guides and a few YouTube videos will take you beyond a few hundred words), but here’s what they do.

The T-8 acts as a 32-step sequencing drum machine, just 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 them here, as well as plenty of tuning and customization features to write EDM, indie, hip-hop, pop, and other beats with ease.

Roland Aira J-6

Photo: Roland

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