The AIRA Series: Why Roland’s new line of interoperable instruments is a true game-changer for the music technology industry

When Roland released the MC-303 Groovebox, everyone was disappointed. And by everyone, I mean the artists of the then emerging electronica scene, who expected the Japanese manufacturer to present a modern-day incarnation of the by-then-defunct but much sought-after TB-303 Bassline, that little monster of a monophonic pattern-based synthesizer that defined the house, acid, and techno genres.

But that wasn’t the case. Maybe Roland’s engineers were unaware of the popularity that the TB-303 enjoyed in the electronic dance music circles, or perhaps they felt that – in the final years of the 20th century – releasing a monophonic synthesizer would be a poor demonstration of what the then modern music technology had to offer.

Whatever the case, during the 1990’s, artists didn’t get to enjoy modern incarnations either of their beloved TB-303 or the equally famous TR-909 or TR-808 drum machines.

However, Roland’s engineers hadn’t said their final word.

Deciding not to offer poor imitations of the original classics, which – quite frankly – would be easy for them to do, they began analyzing what exactly were the elements that made these old machines irresistible. And, in a typically thorough Japanese way, they meticulously examined each of these elements, namely the character of their sound, their intuitiveness, and their ability to inspire not just new music but new music genres, down to their circuitry and electronic components. Thus, the AIRA series was born. To present a sound as close to that of the original much-beloved analogue instruments, Roland chose to simulate through modeling each and every sound-producing component, a procedure that the company named ACB or Analogue Circuit Behaviour. Using ACB, Roland’s engineers went so far as to simulate every transistor, capacitor, and resistance of the original machines’ circuitry. They then proceeded not just to reproduce their intuitive interfaces but to revamp them, giving players more tools to manipulate sound and get inspired. In other words, they took the best and made it better!

But the key factor of Roland’s success was the element of interoperability that the AIRA series introduced. If a musician is on a budget, he/she can choose to acquire only one of the AIRA machines, for instance, the System 1 synthesizer, the TB-3 bassline mono-synth, or the TR-8 drum machine. Then, as soon as the paper in their wallet allows it, they can complement their initial purchase with other members of the AIRA family, building a system according to their needs. Each instrument is, on its own, inspiring, intuitive and powerful enough. However, when combined, the AIRA instruments create a system with unique performance characteristics, numerous sound-manipulating tools, and an extremely high quality of sound, perfect for either the studio or the stage.

Whichever path an AIRA owner chooses to follow, he/she will have completely covered a particular need – for example, that of a powerful drum machine with the TR-8 – but at the same time, he/she will have opened doors to countless possibilities. And having countless possibilities is precisely what creative people crave.

It was inevitable that the AIRA series would become a hit. Its elements of interoperability and integration will make that hit a classic.


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