TR-8 and Effects – Part 1: Onboard Effects

Effects are a great way to expand the sounds of your drum machines. While you may never get tired of the classic sound of Roland drum machines, adding effects can take your rhythms to new and exciting places. There are plenty of ways to get the most out of your TR-8. These can include making use of the expansive onboard effects, adding guitar effects pedals or experimenting with modular effects units. Over this 3 part series, we will look at the benefits of all approaches, starting with the onboard effects built into the TR-8.

The TR-8’s onboard effects offer incredible depth, while remaining extremely intuitive. They are a powerful tool for live performance and are equally useful for studio work. By properly utilising the TR-8’s onboard effects, your sound palette and creative options will be significantly expanded.

The TR-8’s onboard effects include 6 delays, 8 reverbs, 8 sidechain types, as well as a scatter section, flanger and a bit crusher.

Contributed by Gareth Psaltis for the Roland Australia Blog


To change the type of delay, reverb or sidechain:

  1. Press [INST] in the Drum Select section.
  2. Press [STEP] under Reverb, Delay or External In, depending on which effect type you wish to change.
  3. The first 8 pads of the sequencer will light up. These are your 8 selections, which correspond with the tables below. The selected pad will blink.

To select which instruments are affected by the delay, reverb or sidechain:

  1. Press [KIT] in the Drum Select section.
  2. Hold [STEP] under Reverb, Delay or External In.
  3. Use the individual INST select buttons to choose which instruments will be affected by the selected effect. When the INST select button is lit up green, that instrument will be affected by the effect.

To sequence the delay, reverb or sidechain:

  1. Select [TR-REC].
  2. Select the effect with the [STEP] button, under Reverb, Delay or External In.
  3. Use the sequencer section to set which steps will trigger the effect.

To check you have the latest Firmware:

  1. Turn off the TR-8.
  2. Hold down pads 14 and 16, while turning on the TR-8.
  3. The display will read N-1. Press Start.
  4. The latest firmware update is V.1.2.0. The display should read 120 to access the most recent functions. Some of the functions described below require the latest firmware update. To update click here.


Delay has the ability to transform the most stagnant sound into something with life and feeling. Delay is a time-based effect in which an incoming signal is delayed and played back at a determined time after the original signal.

Early echo units were magnetic tape-based systems and used a loop of tape to record the audio signal. The signal then passed through multiple playback heads, where the distance and speed dictated the delay time. Although these units produced a desirable tone, this method was relatively unreliable and was limited by the length of the tape loop.

Solid state delay units were developed in the 1970’s, using bucket brigade delay chips (BBD) to pass the signal along in stages. Smaller and more reliable than their tape-based counterpart, the BBD chip allowed the delay effect to be implemented into stompbox form.

With the advent of sampling, digital delays were developed in the 1980’s, providing longer delay times and cleaner signal reproduction. In a digital delay, the audio passes through a memory buffer and is then recalled from the buffer to be played back at a later time. This difference in time is the ‘delay time’ and is a measurement of how long the delay takes to be played back.

Delay times can range from a few milliseconds to several seconds and can include a single echo or multiple echoes. Multiple repeats can be created by feeding a percentage of the delayed material back into itself, creating a more intense delay effect. On the TR-8, this principle is controlled by the FEEDBACK knob. All six delays are synced to the tempo of your TR-8, keeping your rhythms locked and tight.

The TR-8 offers eight onboard delay effect types that are designed to be explored and exploited.

TR-8 Delay

1. One Head Tape

The One Head Tape delay recreates the classic one-head tape delay sound. Higher frequencies are filtered out as the feedback fades, replicating the authentic sound of classic tape delay. Whether a replication or the real thing, tape delay is one of the most common delay types found in electronic music production. It can add a character warmth to your electronic sounds due to the way the feedback is filtered out.

The TIME knob controls the rhythmic divisions by multiplying or dividing the tempo of the TR-8. This can result in great syncopated rhythms, which can be brought in and out of the mix via the Delay LEVEL knob.

In the sound example, the One Head Tape Delay is used to multiply the rhythms of the TR-8. Adjusting the TIME knob can create unusual, pitch-shifted sounds. Try shortening the delay to create a flange/chorus effect. You may also notice that the texture of the decaying delay sounds get nicely distorted and blended as sounds layer and feedback on top of each other.

2. Three Head Tape

The TR-8’s Three Head Tape delay recreates the sound of vintage three-head tape delay units like the RE-201. The Roland RE-201 Space Echo is one of the most famous delay units in modern recording history, having shaped the sound of genres like dub and reggae. Its timeless, warm sonic character makes it one of the most sought after delay sounds in contemporary electronic music. This delay is similar to the One Head Delay, but creates a ping-pong effect, panning across the stereo field. Similar to Delay 1 when the feedback is driven, a nice blended analog style tape distortion occurs.

3. Digital Single Delay

This is a Single Mono Delay similar to digital delays like the BOSS DD-3 and DD-5 pedals. Digital signal processing through a computer chip gives this delay a clean, crisp tone. Due to the reliable nature of its components, digital delays are generally more accurate to the original sound source compared to analog and tape based delay units. This precise reproduction makes it ideal for a sharp delay sound that sits easily in a mix.

4. Digital Pan Delay

The Digital Pan Delay follows the same principles as the Digital Single Delay, with the addition of hard left and right panning. This pan delay is similar to the DD-6 and DD-7 pedals, offering a stereo field. Panning can be used creatively to generate movement and provide space in your drum mix. Take advantage of the tempo sync and create a ping pong-style beat delay. Use a very short delay TIME to create a stereo flange/chorus type effect, which sounds great paired with hi-hats, cymbals and snare.

5. Reverse Single Delay

The delay takes the Digital Single Delay and reverses the signal. This effect sounds great paired with the 808 clave and can produce interesting sound effects on your cymbals. A cool stuttering effect can be achieved when using a very short delay time, perfect for glitch beats and more abstract sound design experiments. Try creating new rhythms with only one or a few instruments of your choice and sampling/chopping them into your DAW. Reverse delays are a great way to create something slightly more unusual than the traditional delay effect.

6. Reverse Pan Delay

This is like the Reverse Single Delay, panned left and right across the stereo field. This provides a fuller sounding delay, with the character reverse delay sound found in the reverse mode of BOSS pedals like the DD-6 and DD-7. You can create really interesting flange/stutter sounds with the snare, as heard in the sound example below. With the addition of the full stereo field to pan across, this delay type is a great dramatic effect and can be used to build tension in a set, create interesting drops and breakdowns, or as an unusual sound effect.

Found within delay numbers 7 and 8 are great bonus effects that can greatly shape the tone and character of your drum sound.

7. Stereo Flanger

Flanging is the process of combining two identical copies of the same audio signal, with the second signal delayed slightly to produce a whooshing, swirling effect. Traditionally, two copies of the same audio signal were played back through two different tape recorders. The flanging effect was created when the speed of the second audio signal was slightly delayed, typically done by lightly pressing on the tape reel by hand. This time delay creates the flanging effect. Digital reproduction of this technique follows the same concept – an audio signal is duplicated and the copy is delayed using an LFO to vary the speed of playback.

The sound of a flanger is commonly likened to the sound of a jet taking off. Try using this effect to create movement on the cymbals, hi-hats, snares and claps. Adding flange to percussion is also a great way to help your drum sounds ‘cut through’ the mix. Use the FEEDBACK knob to send the processed signal back into itself, to create a more intense effect.

8. Bit Crusher

The Bit Crusher is a great way to add grittiness to your clean drum sound. It works by reducing the resolution of your audio signal and is a common tool used in modern music production. Your favourite jungle and house tracks from the early 90’s have that unique, warm tone due to the distortion caused by the low bit rate of the samplers used.

On the TR-8, this effect is equipped with a Low-Pass Filter, which is useful for shaping the sound to suit your mix. The FEEDBACK knob controls the filter cut-off, while the TIME knob determines the sample rate. Try sequencing the Bit Crusher to add slight timbral variations to your hi-hat patterns. Experiment between full-blown distortion or add a subtle grittiness to your drum sound!


TR-8 Delay Tricks

  • Try leaving the feedback level up high, so it is continually screaming. Drop the level of the delay and watch it evolve on its own. This works best with the Tape Delays (delay types 1 & 2). Move the time knob to hear interesting screeching sounds. While the delay is evolving on its own, turn the reverb up and use the Scatter effect. Find an interesting rhythm using the Depth and the Scatter setting. Move the delay time while it is feeding back.
  • Create interesting timbres by shifting the TIME knob erratically. Record long sessions into your DAW and cut up the most interesting sections for later use. You could use your new samples to create a Drum Rack in Ableton Live or use the sampler plugin in Logic.
  • Keep experimenting! Don’t be afraid to use your gear in the way it wasn’t intended. Do the ’wrong’ thing and take your gear to new levels.

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Reverb, short for reverberation, is a time-based effect that simulates the echoes that occur as sound moves through a space. It refers to the way sound waves reflect off various surfaces and the ways in which these reflections travel before reaching the listener. As sound waves travel and reflect off surfaces, the reflections lose energy and are delayed in time before reaching the listener. This time delay and loss of energy is dependent on the size, shape, spacing and construction materials of the reflective surfaces. These are all contributing factors to the character sound of the reverb.

Reverb has traditionally been used as a way to replicate the natural ambience of a sound source or acoustic space. It is now also used as a creative tool, adding the illusion of space to a drum sound for effect, whether accurate or exaggerated. Use the TR-8’s onboard reverb as a traditional effect and add the illusion of space to your drum sound. Alternatively, experiment using the reverb as a creative effect, playing with the TIME and GATE knobs to create unusual tones and additional rhythms.

The TR-8 hosts 8 different reverb types, each with its own unique sound. With just the onboard reverb effect alone, you can create some incredible variations on the TR-8 rhythms and tones. Spend time exploring the character of each reverb, as each reverb type sounds vastly different and can be used in a number of ways. Finding the right reverb for your sound will depend on the desired function of the effect and the characteristics of the accompanying sounds.

TR-8 Reverb

1. Non Attack

The Non-Attack reverb leaves mild pre-delay between the initial sound and the beginning of the reverb, which produces a more immediate sounding reverb effect. Navigate between a nice short reverb or extremely long one for those large warehouse type sounds on your drums. The TIME knob will dictate the length of the reverb, while the GATE knob controls the number of reverberations that occur up to a certain point. You can use it to abruptly cut off the reverb tail for dramatic effect, add rhythmic variation and to add size to drums.

2. Room

As the name suggests, the Room reverb emulates the reverberation of a room. The size of the room is set using the TIME knob, with the higher the reverb TIME, the larger the space and size of the room. This reverb is perfect for adding a realistic ambience to your drum tracks.

3. 16 Note Pre Delay

This reverb has a pre-delay that is a 16th note in length. If you turn the gate and time down, you can add a rhythmic reverb effect to your drum sounds. It can also produce a strange shuffling effect to your rhythms. Try pairing it with the CH and OH for interesting, reverberant rhythms. Set the hi-hats to a short DECAY time and the reverb to very low TIME and GATE settings.

4. Plate and Filter (Manual)

Plate reverbs replicate an early method of reverb generation. A plate reverb uses a sheet or plate of metal, which vibrates when a sound wave hits the surface. At one side of the plate is a transducer that releases the sound waves across the plate. As the sound waves spread across the metal sheet, another transducer receives the sound waves, at varying times and levels.

A plate reverb has minimal initial reflections, which gives it a full bodied sound. This reverb type is particularly useful for adding size and length to a sound source, without washing it out or muddying your mix. Unlike other reverb types, plates do not add depth or distance. Rather, they extend the sound source and create the illusion of reverb without that additional muddiness.

The TR-8’s onboard plate reverb emulates this tone with the addition of a filter. You can manually adjust the cut-off frequency using the GATE knob. Try adding some plate reverb to your snare drum, for a stronger sound with more presence.

5. Plate and Filter (Auto)

This Plate Reverb emulation has the addition of an auto filter, which sweeps the cut-off frequency automatically. This keeps your hands free for other performance elements and allows for interesting and creative variations on rhythms. Plate reverbs are typically fuller sounding, with less ambience due to the lack of depth and distance the sound travels across. What we are left with is a denser signal that has a two dimensional quality to it. Use the Auto Filter to create movement and add a sense of depth and space to your mix. The Auto Plate Reverb can be used creatively as a powerful sound effect, and can also add cool washy effects to the reverb sound. Set the speed of the filter sweeps using the GATE knob.

6. Spring

Reverb 6 emulates the classic sound of a spring reverb, found in units such as the RE-201 Space Echo. A Spring Reverb consists of a metal spring that reverberates when the sound hits it. This emulation has a very unique tone and can create interesting (and sometimes distorted) springy sounds when pushed to a higher level. When used subtly, a nice bouncy reverb can be produced.
Spring reverbs were initially developed to provide an artificial reverberation for home organs, but have become a staple in guitar amplification design. Use it with your drum tracks to create a unique, psychedelic sound. When accompanied by a Tape Echo (Delay 1 or 2) your TR-8 will sound like it has been put through a real analog tape delay.

7. Non Attack and Metal

This reverb is reminiscent of a metal plate reverb. Set a short TIME setting for a tinny reverb sound. With a longer TIME setting you can create a harsher reverb sound. This reverb is great for cavernous techno and other industrial sounding music due to its metallic tone.

8. High Pass

As the name suggests, this reverb has a high-pass filter. With a short pre-delay and an adjustable decay TIME, it is great for creating luscious, long, shimmery reverbs, as well as short, clean reverbs to add space to your percussion. The filter cuts out the low end, which typically brings a muddiness to reverbs. This reverb is great for adding a natural sounding ambience to your drum tracks.

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The sidechain compression effect is extremely popular in electronic dance music and is often used to create a ‘pumping’ or ‘ducking’ effect. Sidechain compression works by using two input signals. The first input is the signal being affected by compression. The second signal is used to trigger, or turn the compressor on. When a signal is coming into the second input, the level of the first input will be reduced. A common use of sidechain is to duck the sound of one instrument, using the kick drum as the trigger. This creates a dynamic, pumping effect and is often used to give prominence to the kick drum within a mix, by adding a subtle duck to other sounds when the kick drum hits.

To access the TR-8’s side chain effect, send an external sound source like pads or a bass line to the EXTERNAL IN on the back panel. The signal coming into the EXTERNAL IN will be affected by sidechain compression, allowing your TR-8 percussion track to cut through the mix. To activate the sidechain effect, press [STEP] under the EXTERNAL IN section and use the pads to indicate when the sidechain compression will be in effect.

TR-8 Sidechain

1. Sin Curve

The Sin Curve Sidechain is the most typical sidechain effect found in modern electronic music. A short, smooth ducking occurs when a pad is activated.

2. Square Curve

The Square Curve has a similar effect to the Sin Curve, with the difference being that the curve is sharp. You can use this to create new rhythms to the input sound when the SIDECHAIN knob is turned fully clockwise.

3. Saw Squared Curve

This sidechain has a slow attack with no release. As you increase the SIDECHAIN level, the incoming sound will duck in a ‘sucking’, swung style. This works really well with hip-hop and trap beats. Think Flying Lotus pads ducking under a boomy 808.

4. Square Gate

This is like the Square Curved sidechain, but reversed. Every lit pad is a square pulse that lets out the input signal (i.e. it works in reverse to typical sidechain). This is a great tool for adding rhythmic variation to the input signal. Using the TR-8 step sequencer, write your rhythm and increase the SIDECHAIN level slowly to hear the gate take effect. You can also use it to add abrupt, stab-like envelopes to your sound.

5. Sin Very Short Curve

Sidechain 5 never ducks completely. The EXTERNAL IN will duck when a pad is left unlit. It can be great for adding extra rhythmic movement to your pads or string sounds.

6. Saw Squared Long Curve

This sidechain has a very long attack time. Try spacing the lit pads (e.g. only 1 or 2 lit across the 8 pads) to hear the longer attack time in effect.

7. Square Short Gate

Sidechain 7 will let very short amounts of the sound through when the light is lit. It is perfect for creating entirely new rhythmic patterns from the original sound source.

8. Up Down Curve

This sidechain produces two very short curves when a pad is lit. It is great for creating interesting rhythmic variations.

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The Scatter function works by chopping up the master output of the TR-8 into new rhythmic variations. By working your way around the rotary dial and depth knob you will find an abundance of rhythms that can be used as drum fills or complex beats. There are 10 Scatter types with 10 levels of depth, meaning there are 100 different Scatter variations.

The Scatter section offers a number of interesting effects including slicer, reverse, pitch and filter effects. Some of these effects can sound quite extreme and the more instruments you have playing, the stronger the effect will be. It can be particularly effective when used during breakdowns, where fewer parts are playing. Spend time exploring the Scatter section and practice using it as a performance element. Turning the Scatter on and off manually allows you to use it as an expressive rhythmic effect.

You can find additional information on the Scatter Section in our Ultimate Guide to the TR-8.

TR-8 Effects Tip

TR-8 EFX Type List PDF Link or Image

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Created by Roland V-Drums specialist Simon Ayton, these patches were designed using the internal factory sounds and many of the techniques covered in the TD-50 guide. Enjoy exploring the possibilities!