Wed. May 25th, 2022

It might seem hard to believe, but until now Roland hasn’t had a true competitor to Korg’s seemingly ubiquitous Volca line. Sure, the Boutique The range is portable and battery powered, but they’re also twice the price of a Volca. And that’s without the keyboard accessory. Now, though, the company finally seems to be taking the entry level seriously with the Aira Compact series.

These new $ 199 instruments borrow tech from their big siblings in the Aira line, like the VT-4 Voice Transformer and the TR-8 Rhythm Performer. The T-8 is a drum machine that uses Roland’s Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) to recreate sounds from the 808 and 909, and the J-6 Chord Synth does the same, but for the Juno-6. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with having more portable budget synths and drum machines, it’s the E-4 Voice Tweaker that really stands out. It brings pitch correction, a harmonizer, vocoding, plus pitch and formant shifting and a looper to the world of mobile music hardware.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Before we get too far into specifics, though, let’s go over what all three have in common. They’re all quite tiny, for one. While they’re only slightly smaller than a Volca, the cumulative effect is obvious. On the back are ⅛ ”MIDI in and out jacks, as well as a USB-C port that’s used for charging the internal lithium ion battery, but can also handle MIDI and audio over USB. Across the top are ⅛ ”sync in and out jacks, as well as mix in and out jacks, which allow you to daisy-chain multiple devices together.

The ability to connect all three Aira Compacts, without the need for an external mixer, is undeniably huge. When you’re trying to craft a portable music making setup the less gear and cables, the better.


Roland Aira Compact

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

The T-8 is definitely the most straightforward of the three, and probably the most immediately usable. While it has more advanced features, anyone who’s ever used a step sequencer before should immediately be able to start putting together basic beats. While I guess I should be thankful that you get 32 ​​steps instead of a measly 16, it doesn’t feel like it would strain the hardware terribly to go for a full four years.

Thankfully, there are some tools at your disposal to switch things up. There is a fill mode, plus step looping for creating instant custom fills by just holding down a few buttons. There’s also per-step and master probability options for introducing a touch of unpredictability, plus substeps, send effects, accent and velocity parameters. In some ways, it’s a more capable sequencer than you’d find on a Volca Beats. That said, Korg has automation in the form of Motion Sequencing, which the Aira Compacts lack.

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