Roland 909 day product announcements

For any Roland nerds who have been following their “909 day” product announcements, I had to give my two cents worth.

The new 909 looks cool, but if you already have a TR-8, (which I do) I can’t imagine wanting one. There are conflicting reports on how different the analog modelling is from the TR-8 on the new 909, but I can tell you that the TR-8 sounds great, and can’t imagine them changing it too much, other than to model the knob behaviour to be specific to that machine.

The new 909 does not have a second set of physical outputs, so if you want to keep your kick and snare separate for processing, you have to use the USB as an audio input – something I would never do in a live situation. The TR-8 does have the alternate outputs.

Roland claims that their reasoning for recreating the 909, when the TR-8 already exists, is that they wanted to recreate the tactile feel of the 909 not just the sound (which you get in the TR-8). However this is one of the largest complaints heard time and time again on the internet about the boutique series, is that they sound great, but with such minuscule controls, they are hard to use, and you can’t fine tune anything. This is certainly worse on the synths that use faders, because it’s nuts trying to find a particular sweet spot measured in microns. I think the frustration of using the boutiques may be why I see so many of them regularly on Craigslist.

Conversely of course, the TR-8 has regularly sized faders and knobs which make for a superior “tactile experience”. Ultimately when discussing ease of use, which is so important when playing live, Roland has included lots of hidden features that require a shift button on the 909, and yeah, that just sucks. It’s also one of my biggest complaints with the TR-8, they didn’t include enough knobs and buttons to allow for a logical expansion of features – you have to memorize crap, and that defeats the whole core concept of these things, the thing that helps differentiate them from software.

Roland always has weird compromises in their gear., and I understand that compromises must be made, I’m just not sure they always choose the right ones. They need a real world user as a consultant. Get some world famous DJ or even better, get the guy who writes his songs.

The 909 does have more pattern memory, and a few other sequencer features that the TR-8 does not have. This may not matter if you are writing your patterns on a DAW. It would matter if you were using the 909 un-triggered live and needed that pattern memory.

For those of you who are extra nerdy – the pattern copy function of the 909 uses that method where you start with the destination slot. I’ve only ever owned a few pieces of gear over the years that use this method, and I’ve always found it to be confusing as shit. I’ve lost patches because of it. The sheer amount of gear out there that allows you to hit copy, and then select a destination – has made this the intuitive gold standard. Roland has no fucking clue that other gear exists, or even what standards have existed in their own gear for the past 30 years. If you are as nerdy as I am, this will bother you on a regular basis.

The product announcement that I am excited about is the new System-8. I have a System-1 and it’s a seriously under rated synth. With all the controls on top, it’s fun to tweak and easy to use. Although once again, they later added some new oscillators, and you gotta remember some button combos. They should have initially just included an “extra” osc, which allows you to choose numerically whatever new ones they wanted to add later, always in that slot, and not affecting the functionality of the other oscillators. Well it appears that this is sort of what they have done with the System-8!

When the Boutique synths first came out, many System-1 users where asking where their plug-out versions were? Now there will be plug-outs for the Jupiter 8 and the juno 106. The Roland site indicates: “Support for SYSTEM-8 on previously released plug-out synths to be available soon.” I think that means you will be able to load the 106 on your System-1? If so, I’m sure they won’t sound the same without some of the of the core features of the System-8.

Anyway, the System-8 will allow you to have three plug-out synths onboard, pre-loaded with the Jupiter 8 and the Juno 106. It also allows you to do a split mode with two sounds. It will also have a TR style step sequencer. It will have a vocoder and more effects than the System-1 (chorus of course to make that Juno 106 complete).

Having the Jupiter 8 and Juno 106 sounds in the System-8 is a good response to the criticism of the boutique versions, that are just too fiddly and frustrating to use. Also, one synth, not two. They may not need to release a JX 3P plug-out, as the System-8 without any plug-out use, can handle so much of what that synth did. So can the System-1 for that matter.

To be honest, I love the System-1, and find it to be a nice compliment to my other synths, in short, it really has that “Roland” sound. It can do really crazy experimental stuff, but also basic bread and butter sounds as well. Just to have an expanded version of that, with modulation effects a step sequencer and split mode, would make me want to upgrade. So far I have just not been that impressed with the plug-out offerings for the System-1, as they are not that much different than just using the System-1 on it’s own. However adding the Jupiter 8 and Juno 106 emulations is a really welcome addition.

When I get one, I will review it.