We compare the Roland AIRA Compact range with the Volca series from KORG and find out which synth or groovebox you should add to your set-up and why

Mini synthesizers are a firm favourite of ours at PMT. No matter if you’re a beginner taking your first steps into synthesis or you’re a seasoned professional looking for inspiration on-the-go, these pocket-sized bits of kit give musicians access to iconic sounds on a budget.

As Roland introduces the AIRA Compact range with a trio of innovative mini-synths, we decided to take a closer look at some of our other favourite compact machines in order to find out which is the best mini-synth for your collection, including the Korg Volca series and some other portable alternatives.

Keep reading for our complete guide to mini-synths and grooveboxes, and get the lowdown on the awesome new Roland AIRA Compact range..

Roland AIRA Compact

Roland AIRA Compact 

Affordable and portable, the all-new AIRA Compact range offers classic Roland sounds without compromising on quality.

Boasting the familiar articulation of machines such as the TR-808 and JUNO-60, these mini-synths succeed in combining modern power with a construction that makes them feel instantly playable.

Beginner synthesists will be attracted to the intuitive makeup of the AIRA Compact range which makes creating music a breeze, whilst enthusiasts will find plenty of scope for experimentation with the connectivity options available across each of these instruments.

Take a closer look at each of the new AIRA Compact models below..

Roland AIRA Compact J6 Chord Synth

Roland AIRA Compact J6 Chord Synth

Jam-packed with iconic tones plucked straight from the Roland JUNO-60, this machine features 100 chord sets, 64 ready-to-play synth presets, and 64 chord sequencer user-patterns.

With a four-voice JUNO synth engine and authentic Analog Circuit Behaviour (ACB) technology you can create lush sounds on the fly, with a powerful programmable chord sequencer that offers unlimited versatility and guaranteed results.

Boasting a 4.5hr battery life, the J6 even manages to fit in detailed filter controls combined with a high-quality customizable delay and reverb effects section - so you don’t need to worry about using additional FX units to achieve your desired sound.

Built with high-quality rubber pads that are designed for use on the road, the AIRA Compact synths are ready to link up with each other straight out of the box for a complete music-making experience no matter where you are.

Roland AIRA Compact T8 Beat Machine

Roland AIRA Compact T8 Beat Machine

Fusing together some of Roland’s best-loved TR Drum and TB Bass synths, the AIRA Compact T8 Beat Machine offers a staggering selection of sounds directly from the TR-808, 909, and 606 drum machines alongside the TB-303 bass.

Once again featuring the awesome ACB technology, you also get access to a classic TR-REC drum sequencer with 64 user patterns and up to 32 steps per sequence. Use the advanced rhythm programming with probability, sub step, last step, and velocity settings, or take advantage of real-time recording and powerful performance features like step loop, mute, fill, reload, and pattern shift.

Process your sounds with built-in delay, reverb, overdrive, and sidechain compression for a truly personalised sound - all inside a mini-synth that weighs just 310g.

Roland AIRA Compact E4 Voice Tweaker

Roland AIRA Compact E4 Voice Tweaker

For innovative voice manipulation and industry-standard vocal effects, look no further than the E4 Voice Tweaker.

Get access to Auto Pitch, harmony, and vocoder settings that can be easily shaped with pitch and formant sliders, then dial in unique rhythmic settings with the Scatter knob.

Add additional processing with high-quality reverb, echo, tempo delay, and chorus effects, in addition to a super-useful low-cut filter and noise gate that helps to eliminate unwanted sounds.

If you’re feeling experimental, play around with the 24-second looper that features unlimited overdubbing, undo/redo, and automatic BPM detection, allowing you to beatbox, harmonise, and add melodies. When used in conjunction with the other AIRA Compact models you have access to a fully-fledged beatmaking studio experience from the palm of your hand.

Korg Volca

Korg Volca

Originally released in 2013, the Korg Volca range now comprises a selection of analog and digital units which offer a voice for every kind of musician.

Sleek, unique, and groovy, these machines opened up a world of synthesis for beginner musicians and those looking to experiment with different kinds of tone. Moreover, they’re genuinely usable no matter if you’re playing live or recording in the studio, giving you access to a selection of awesome sounds at any level.

We’ve selected some of our favourites from the line-up below..

Korg Volca Keys

Korg Volca Keys

Fun to use yet surprisingly powerful, the Korg Volca Keys is a true-analogue synth that features a built-in sequencer and recording capabilities.

Suitable for searing leads, rhythm parts, and even bass tones, this unit is built with 3VCO, 1VCK, 1VCA, 1LFO and 1EG, making for versatile tones that can be shaped to your needs.

Alter the behaviour of the 3 oscillators with Poly, Unison, Octave, Fifth, Unison Ring or Poly Ring modes, and add built-in delay or overdubbed sequences for full compositional control.

You can even take advantage of the Motion Sequence function and record knob movements for time-varying changes, meaning loops are especially dynamic when performing live!

Korg Volca FM & FM2

Korg Volca FM

If you’re more interested in working with FM synthesis then the two options in the Volca series are superb options for channelling DX-influenced sounds and more.

With a simple interface, on-board chorus effect, and Motion Sequencing, these synths offer intuitive control and make digital synthesis accessible to all.

The original Volca FM features 3-note polyphony, whilst the updated FM2 grants you 6-note polyphony in addition to a built-in reverb effect to team up with the impressive chorus sound.

Korg Volca Beats

Korg Volca Beats

By combining an analog drum machine with a PCM sound engine and Electribe-inspired loop sequencer, Korg has created a truly epic beatmaker that is portable and suitable for all musicians.

The looper here includes a step-sequencer that makes editing easy, whilst still maintaining the improvisational approach that makes composing on Volcas so addictive. The fusion of analog drum sounds for Kick, Snare, Toms, and Hi Hats with the lo-fi PCM Agogo, Crash, Claps, and Claves mean you can experiment with a range of moods in your beats, offering the best of both worlds between analog and digital.

Korg Volca Bass

Korg Volca Bass

Making great use of the loop sequencer from the Electribe once again, the Volca Bass is the go-to solution for your low-end needs.

Making use of 3 oscillators that can be set-up in a variety of ways, this synth also features a legendary analog filter which has been fine-tuned specifically for pulsing bass tones.

Fat and funky, the Volca Bass makes sounds that defy its smaller stature due to the quality of the analog makeup, with a presence and nuance that is hard to find in similar digital units.

For fat, funky, and aggressive tones you should consider adding this mini-synth to your set-up!

AIRA Compact & Volca Alternatives - Teenage Engineering

Teenage Engineering PO-128 Mega Man Synth

In addition to the AIRA Compact and Volca series, we love the range of kit designed by the synth connoisseurs at Teenage Engineering.

The Pocket Operator range, as the name suggests, consist of pocket-sized synths that are built with high-quality components. They’re infinitely playable and hugely inspiring - check out the entire range in our video below:

Alternatively, if you’d rather splash the cash on one mini-unit that does it all instead of linking up a range of budget machines, we recommend the OP-1,OP-Z, and new OP-1 Field models. Check them out below for a full range of features!

There are also a great variety of Mini and Micro models from Arturia, as well as portable keyboards from Yamaha - including the awesome Reface series!

Which Mini-Synth is Best For Me?

The mini-synth that you opt for mostly comes down to taste - if you’re a big fan of vintage Roland sounds, then the AIRA Compact range will certainly satisfy your cravings for those tones.

The Volca series, on the other hand, has amassed a huge following since the first model was released in 2013 - and with good reason. Check out some of our videos to hear them in action here:

Each of these mini-synth collections will undoubtedly offer you a wealth of opportunity. Beginners, enthusiasts, and recording artists alike will all find something to love, so make sure you consider how you plan to use them, whether it be for writing, performance, or in the studio, before making a decision.

For a full range of synthesizers at PMT click here:

Want to learn how to make synth noises without a synth? Need help picking out a cheap synth? Call us on 0151 448 2089 or check out your local store to speak to one of our Experts about your needs.