Roland TR-909 vs Roland Aira TR-8 – “I May Never Use My TR-808/909 Again”

This video, via javd007, is described as an unbiased comparison between the classic Roland TR-909 and the new Roland TR-8.

There have been plenty of comparisons against the TR-808, but this is one of the first looking at the 909.

Here’s what he’s got to say about the comparison:

In this video I compare the Aira Tr-8 and the Tr-909. This is an unibased comparison. I am not being paid by any companies. I see too many comparison videos are poor and biased.

I am an analog purist and when I heard the new tr-8 was digital, frankly I was upset. But I bought it anyway. Anyway I must say Roland Nailed it. F***** A!

After playing it for a few days. I realized that I probably am never going to use my tr-808/909 again. May consider… selling the duo.(gasp) Still dont know. Anyway what are your thought? Maybe some of you can help me decide. Enjoy!

BTW I know my bald head is going to annoy some of you. If it does stop watching and go make some music.

Technical details:

AUDIO- Recorded at 16 bit 192. Compressed to mp3. Dry. Absolutely nothing in the chain. Volume matched as close as possible. Tuning was also matched as close as possible.

Check it out and let us know what you think: close, close but no cigar or does it really matter?

74 thoughts on “Roland TR-909 vs Roland Aira TR-8 – “I May Never Use My TR-808/909 Again”

  1. There’s some obvious differences in a few of the sounds, most notably the hats and clap. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter all that much. It would be quite difficult to tell the difference between the two machines when it’s all playing in a mix. I’ve never been able to get an 808 or 909 because of the price point they are at, so the TR-8 really has my attention since it’s far more affordable.

  2. The TR-909 sounds better in this clip. The swing is tighter, and the whole sounds seems to be tighter – it is close though and 500e for a performance drum machine is pretty hard to argue with.

  3. I’d love to see someone compare two 808’s or two 909’s. I’m pretty sure that you’d hear this much variance between two vintage drum machines.

    1. Absolutely. The analog components are never the same so each machine has it’s own “signature” sound. Let’s see what happens to the market as it becomes flooded with the Aira series.

  4. Keep the originals. They’ve served us for 30+ years and you’re making a snap judgment. You WILL regret getting rid of them. And for the record, the originals sound better.

  5. There are some granular sonic distinctions. Frankly, you’d have to A/B them and have a decent ear to hear the fractional variations.

    Blindfolded, you might still hear (or imagine) tiny artifacts, but not know which difference belongs to which machine. And perhaps some of that microscopic stuff is due to old components in the original, and might even represent minor tuning differences which you could compensate for on the Aira.

    The conclusion is that you can hear a little *something* in the clap or the snare. If this is worth a thousand dollars to you, by all means bid high on this guy’s eBay auction. But know that the Aira does more while maintaining 99.999% identical sound and function.

  6. I’d part with the original in a heartbeat. I actually thought the TR8 sounded better. As Vrianna said, you’d probably hear that much difference in two originals.

    TR8 on my want list now for sure. Tb3 is a different story…

  7. I thought the TR-8 clap and snare sound like garbage. The original is better in my opinion. For all the button combinations and patterns you have to memorize, it’s a pain in the ass and not really handy for live performance.

    1. Highly subjective.

      The TR8 reverb sounds a touch metallic, grainy and characterless. I wouldn’t use it at long settings. However it can very successfully thicken claps and snares and/or make for that gated/80s style sound quite easily, and being able to do that without external effects, auxes etc etc is a big, big bonus.

      The delays seem functional to me. Eh… it’s a delay. How often does one need a “character delay”? Not ALWAYS.

  8. I’m not sure if I would call either machine’s sound “better”, but the TR-8 is def capable of sounding close enough. I imagine some of the workflow differences will alter how people approach the TR-8… and that might be a bigger difference than the sounds themselves.

    As far as machine timing is concerned, I’d really like to see a detailed analysis by the Innerclock guys. They seem to be the top authority on swing and machine timing obsession….

  9. i stopped using drum machines 14 years ago
    – they are better and cheaper ways to get a “drum sound ”
    into my mix –for me–
    a sample with dynamics works out just as well

    in the 90’s i used RY30 ,808 ,909 , DR660 at the same time 🙂

    1. I’ve been waiting for someone to say this. I’ve been around a long time…I bought my first synth in 1973 and of course when the 808 came out I used it… then I used the Linn… I think I gave up with the Alesis because by then samples and midi sequencing had so many advantages over drum machine programming.

  10. Both drum machines are classic yet, by now, extremely boring. Obviously. The dance music market is made by robots for robots. Free expression born in 88, where is it now!? Be free of what you are told you should be. Do something original. At least try. If you want to hear my imperfect yet more original experiments, please feel free to ask. You see, I was a dj back in 88 . The music of that era changed my life. There was huge experimentalism occurring. I wish for my life and growth experience to continue developing, now, 26 years on. That is the point!

  11. TB3 is a toy, but TR8….
    The timing is supertight! And the hidden features are good fun (like type selection of compression and gate, plate reverb, etc etc). But the midi out is quite exhausting, i.e. my x0xb0x and Slim Phatty at times even detune from the clutter that is passing through my midi patchbay…
    Absolute value for money!

  12. TB3 is a toy, but TR8….
    The timing is supertight! And the hidden features are good fun (like type selection of compression and gate, plate reverb, etc etc). But the midi out is quite exhausting, i.e. my x0xb0x and Slim Phatty at times even detune from the clutter that is passing through my midi patchbay…
    Absolute value for money IMO

  13. I would have to disagree 100%. The Aira is not even close. It’s brighter and 2D. 909 is really warmer and deeper. I was pretty upset when I know they went for a digital version and nothing changed with this video. I see no point in comparing these machines. Aira is just a cheaper and digital copy of a classic analog hardware. Sorry Roland, I love you but you’re bringing me down.

    1. I just heard Aria live today for the first time at Guitar Center Expo. Take it from a guy who owns the originals, these things sound AMAZING! Aira, dare I say, sounds better. The deeper\warmer argument not valid, sorry.

  14. The only large differences I can hear are the Rim Shots and the Claps.

    Other than that, it’s awfully close. Much to the point that you wouldn’t be able to distinguish them in a mix.

  15. Am I the only one that hears the phasing when all the sounds play together?? (Approx 2:20)
    The sounds in isolation sound good..its hard to tell them apart..but when it’s all going i can hear sound phase and timing issues compared to the originals, especially the 808. Maybe a summing/amp issue. I saw another vid comparing the 808 and the tr8 and it was so obvious how much more expensive the real 808 sounds (super tight in sound and seq)
    I presume it’s something that can be adressed in a software update..but i wouldn’t buy one even though they are a cheap price.

    1. I have a TR-8 and their an awful phase problem between the Snare and Clap noise emulating circuits, when played together. The only way I’ve been able to resolve it is to send one (Clap or Snare) out to an individual output and flip the phase to that channel on the mixing board. But, for anyone that just powers on the unit and plays it as it comes through the stereo out put…the phase problem makes it sound pretty weak.

      I don’t have a 909, but it seems the TR-8’s Kick emulation doesn’t have as much fine tuning control as the real deal. I do have an 808 and while the clap and hi-hats are not quite as nice on the TR-8, it works much the same and can do more out the box.

      For the money, I think it’s worth it to have a real instrument to interact with.

  16. there is some wierd phasing sound on the tr8 when the pattern it played, Im not sold, the original sounds a lot weightier to my ears

  17. I hope every original 808 in the world explodes at midnight tonight. old drum machines for sad old men. There is an entire world of percussion waiting to be played, recorded, sampled, chopped up and made into new music and you dorks need to endlessly whine about a single 30 yr old drum machine. does anyone here actually write/record/produce music ? The Gear fetishization here is out of control !

    1. I guess old folks (you know, like Richard James) should not worry about those 30+ year old SCIs, Moogs, Oberheims, etc either.

  18. Folks are saying it doesn’t sound exactly like the hardware. I guess there is nothing stopping Roland for pushing out a software update to improve the emulation.

  19. @Uli you are talking rubbish. The guy doing the review has the two machines side by side, right there in front of him. Even he says he’d sell his old boxes! Come on, you have one of the old (slowly losing their value) boxes don’t you. Don’t feel sad, you’re not the only one hanging on to an old tired box…

  20. When you do comparison, you should have the same volume, tunes (for kick), snappy (for the snare). Because here your parameters are not the same, so difficult to have an real idea of the difference between TR909 an TR8. Anyway if you already have TR909 and TR808 , don’t sell it, but for new users if you want to have the sound of TR909-808 (and 707 for next update) buy an TR8, the price difference isn’t worth the difference in sound, mixed in a song few people can hear the difference…

  21. I am wondering if people that state the TR-8 sounds ‘2D’, or even ‘plastic’, have actually heard the thing in real life? I was lucky to have it somewhat earlier than the official release and have been using it for some weeks now. It sounds big and has a great deal of character. With regards to the swing function, I admit they captured that well for the 808, but it feels they copied the behaviour for the 909 kit, whilst the original 909 hardware had a slightly different timed note-off on the hats. As a result, the TR-8 in swing mode will not sound as ‘loose’.
    I am certainly not advocating people should get rid of their old drum machines. But this new one sounds great, I am quite happy with it and look forward to the 707 kit.

  22. What is the obsession with these overused sounds? Are we really just stuck in a feedback loop, is it because they are easy to use and recognized? Dam sad for electronic music. People should venture out of their safe little roland sandbox.. It a big world out here!

    1. I hear what you are saying, but there is a magic about 808 & 909 that’s with us for many years to come.
      Collect and use as many synths and sounds, as you possibly can and keep being creative,
      Put your own twist on old well known sounds… the possilbilities are endless. Heck, build your own drum machine if you want! 🙂
      Whatever the case, you were curious enough to check out this web page, so 808/ 909 sounds get your attention, for one reason or another 😉

  23. NEVER sell vintage analog gear if you can avoid it. Providing its fully working and in good condition, it will only appreciate in value and still sound just as good. I wish I’d never sold my original Korg MS-20 a year back.

  24. Wow. The comments here leave me in disbelief. Even on a laptop playing a YouTube clip, the differences in sound, timing (tightness) and swing are abundantly evident. Are we all listening to the same video?

    I own a TR-909 and I don’t care if the value drops to $10. It sounds so much better than that green thing. And trust me, I wanted the green one to sound good! My 909 is falling apart.

  25. wow awesome how there are so many golden ear experts on this site! MP3 youtube vid streaming and all! I liked the 2d quote, of course cos’ its not analog, anyone who argues with this is not hearing the pscho-acoustic properties correctly and should therefore go kill themselves

  26. I will qualify this remark by saying I have played with 707’s and 808’s and 909’s and I would NOT take them out of the studio if I had them, so if you don’t mind getting beer thrown at your vintage gear while gigging than stick to your analog argument. However if are just jammin an hour set or two and need some of those old vintage sounds and know your safe even if you drop it or get carried away and get too aggressive with the side chain knob than for the money can you really beat it?

  27. Even if the new machine sounded 100% identical in every way in a blind test, it is still a fake 808 or 909 .
    If you are lucky to own them, don’t sell the real thing. They are also far prettier to look at than the green slab.

  28. OMG, this debate and the vinyl vs. digital… People are sounding like the old grumpy guitarheads, who were complaining about the “new” music back in the days. People are getting older and technology chances, accept this or you’ll transform in an old grumpy man/woman crying about the fact that everything was better in the yesteryears.
    If you like the sound of the TR08 buy one, I’m not going to but i really like the concept/price. I’ve you really think you you need a real 909/808, try to get find one that’s properly working for a s**t load of cash. Sold mine a few years ago and invested the (s**tload of) money in things that matter to me. Never missed them. Seeing the TR08 coming out makes me smile! To the future and beyond!!!

  29. On crappy ipad spekers i hear the 909 to have a bit more air in it and some sounds seams a bit tighter. Don’t know what it is worth but i’m putting money to take the tr8 next month anyway 🙂
    First i need to make a couple more tracks with what I got so I can fool myself I don’t need it, then when i got the money we’ll see. Allthough we all know what’s gonna happen….

  30. A lot of people have commented that you might get the same level of variance if comparing two vintage machines. And to me that’s exactly why the old ones are waaaaay better. Nobody’s 808 or 909 will sound completely identical to another, whereas everybody’s TR-8 will sound the same if set equally. That’s like a 1% thing in the big picture, but it’s the 1% where a lot of the magic is…

  31. Just had a little play and I’m impressed with the tr8 – it sounds great! Don’t care if there are tiny differences in sound to the originals this is a very capable drum machine for the money!

    Design is hideous, really didn’t like it at all, bit too blingy, but whatever 🙂

  32. My maple drums sound sOo good compared to those..
    So does my brass snare and hand forged cymbals..
    What..No! ..Wrong thread??

    But then again you have to learn to play a real instrument.
    and who would want that………………………………………..

    1. That’s fine if you want to be a drummer, all respect to you 🙂
      Beethoven and Bach didn’t waste there time learning to play the Timpani, flute, etc… instead they concentrated on creating/ producing great music, mostly using piano to write each part.
      Can you imagine if they had access to modern day synths and computers! 🙂

  33. All those people bagging Vintage TR-808/ 909, if you have one, please send it my way, since you obviously don’t like them anyway 🙂 😉
    Im never selling my 808, it makes me smile, just as Minimoog Voyager XL does…that might have something to do with vibrating windows and internal organs, or even that they just look as good as they sound!!
    I have also have vintage Yamaha RX5, NI maschine and standard DAW drum machines/ samples too… they all bring something different to the mix. Can never have too many drum machines, how amazing is Mobys collection!
    TR8 definitely on shopping list, when budget allows. Would be great to have low stress portability for live situations, plus added performance options… scatter, etc. However, I still dream of adding a 909, to sit and play beside my 808 :))

  34. One thing haven’t really been mentioned in this discussion: Is there a difference between the swing of the 2 machines? Does the Tr 8 managed to captured the original 909 swing which i love and which is a big part of the ‘magic’ of the machine. After watching this video it sounds that there is a difference. Is there anyone owning the Tr8 and the 909 who could give an answer ? Cheers!

  35. there is definately a wierd phasing going on with the snare and clap on the TR8. somethings wrong there. im guessing they can fix that in a firmware update hopefully. also the toms and rim on the TR8 are lacking the initial attack…they sound like truncated samples at the start of the hit where they are missing the initial transients. making the real 909 much punchier.

  36. Although TR 8 goes quite close, I can hear difference in most of the sounds and the original 909 sounds better to me. However, I bought the TR 8 and I find the sequencer really amazing, better than 707, 808 and 909 in a live situation. Also the addition of the delay, the reverb and the two external inputs with sidechain effect are really handy on stage. In conclusion – I would use the 909 for recordings and TR 8 for gigs or just jamming at home. If you don`t need the money – keep them all. it would be amazing if Roland makes it possible for us to load our own drum kits, its a shame to have such a brilliant sequencer only for 808 and 909 sounds.

  37. I think it’s interesting that the recording was done at 192/16. What’s that all about? Bit depth and not sample rate (over 48 kHz, anyway) is what makes the major difference. Very interesting.

    Also, how many commenters here are on the Roland payroll?


    1. It’s not that simple. Super Audio CD is 4.7 gigahertz 1-bit. Bit depth gets into vanishing returns as quickly as sample rate does. Sample rate at a multiple of our hearing range and higher bit depth both help out anything you want to do as far as processing the sound. For instance, it’s better to run a digital filter at higher rates and then bring it down to 44.1 or 48k than it is to do everything at the lower rate. In general, everything you do in dsp to try to get high quality, if you have the horsepower, is easier if you run crazy oversampled.

    1. The only differences I heard were slight volume differences. Simply adjust the volume control and your problem is fixed.

  38. What does it matter, I think people are putting too much thought into this. The TR-8 isn’t a TR-808 or 909, It’s a TR-8!!

    I think the TR-8 gets really close. It might not be on par, but It’s close enough to make most people happy. In a proper mix, It could probably fool most producers and pros. And that’s what It’s all about: Making music and being creative. It’s obvious you can post process these sound and sculpt them to your exact liking. I don’t get what the fuss is all about. But I do know, most people have issues when they get angry about something not being made exactly. Even if Roland went true analog, most people would still grip and complain. Hence the expression: Nobody is ever happy!!

  39. Regardless, thanks for the wonderful demo. Because this machine has hit my radar. I think It will go great with my other gear. I think running it through some analog gear will warm it up and make it sound more analog. Like running it through a Moog Sub-37 or a Minitaur filter.

  40. I had a TR-808 way back in the 90s’ when i was a teenager, i made tonnes of amazing stuff with it and loved having it. I would have probibly slept with it too if it was not for other gear i had which got that honer. And i was forced to sell it when i needed money all those many years ago. 🙁

    I recently picked up a TR-8, and I must say i have been very happy with it. I too have been able to make direct comparison to the exact 808 i sold to my friend, who also has a 909 as well. I agree with this video when i say that the TR-8 is very close. Its not the same, but its very close in many ways. The old hardware however does have a certain characteristic that is very endearing. But when recording or doing any sort of performance with it, anyone in a blind test is unable to pick out either machine. Or unable to say “which one is better”. In any practical sense, the differences are down to usability and preference.

    However when i was able to pickup my TR-8 for about $400, 1/10th the cost of the old stuff, i now must admit i like my TR8 much much better……. I have no regrets selling my old beloved 808, it paid my rent and food at a time when i most desperately needed it when living on my own at 17.

  41. Hands down the TR-8 sounds great.
    The TR-909 just sounds a little better.
    The difference is really obvious in this comparison video.
    I would never ever trade a 909 for a TR-8.

  42. Frankly I think there’s psychological issues with some of the folks on here. Honestly they sound identical to my ear and any slight differences are whimsical dust fluffs at best. Check out the TR-8’s controls, you can simply adjust the rate, tone, volume etc to match whatever it is that you think sounds different but frankly to my ear those saying it’s not the same are BSing. I seriously doubt they would recognise the difference were the machines hidden and sounds played without knowing what unit is playing what.

    The bottom line from this demo is that obviously the TR-8 is capable of playing back the exact same sounds as the TR-909 period. Best of all think of all the money you will save. This unit has around twice the features and is a fraction of the insane price many audio buffs want for vintage TR-909 machines. I always wanted a TR-909 simply because Robert Fripp and Andy Summers used one on there ‘I Advance Masked’ album which I enjoy, but I see no reason why I can’t reproduce those rhythms identically with a TR-8 and best of all have brand new features into the bargain, the ability to update the unit and have twice the connectivity of the obsolete machine.

    Differences my foot in your ear. This is a most welcome TR-909 replacement and it’s not only most welcome, it’s about time.

  43. pretty sure that the producers who originally used 909’s to make electronic music were just using them because they were what was around and affordable. Had there been a cheaper option I am sure many would have used that instead… In fact I’m sure many records have been made with rolands little ddr boxes which sell for next to nothing compared to the mighty 909. that being said I have been to guitar center three times in the last couple weeks to buy this thing… played with it for an hour and left empty handed… why I do not know. Something about it just isnt cool… like maybe its the green light that turns me off… but everytime I spend an hour on it I decide to keep forging ahead with my s950 loaded with 909 sounds…

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