EKO ComputeRhythm

The most valuable drum machine

Estimated value: £5,000+

Most classic drum machines are cheap. It might not seem like it if you’re saving up for, say, an 808, a 909 or a LinnDrum, but drum machine prices are yet to explode as much as they might be expected to in future. These are definitive classics which were produced for just a few years each and changed the course of musical history as we know it, but they’re still within reach of a lot of musicians.

Surprisingly, the most sought-after drum machine – and the one which commands the highest prices when it does occasionally come up for sale – isn’t an iconic model used on countless classic tracks. You probably wouldn’t recognise its sounds on a record. In fact, chances are you haven’t even heard of it. What is it? The EKO ComputeRhythm, a huge beast of a machine first produced in 1972 and available in a variety of revisions over the course of the decade.

So why is the EKO so valuable? Does it sound amazing? No – it’s a pretty basic analogue drum machine with a sound vaguely similar to the Roland CR-78. It uses an archaic six-row push-button matrix for programming beats (a revolutionary feature at the time), while punch cards allow patterns to be loaded by the user.

Its desirability is driven by two crucial factors. Firstly, it’s rare. Seriously rare. Reportedly fewer than 20 were sold, which means that if you want one you’re going to have to bide your time until one comes up for sale. Secondly, despite such small numbers being produced, the ComputeRhythm still managed to appear on records by two icons of electronic music: Jean-Michel Jarre and Manual Göttsching. So even if you are lucky enough to find one up for sale, you’ll then have to fight it out with other drum machine collectors and Jarre fanboys to get your hands on it.

Needless to say, with so few sold, the EKO very rarely comes up for sale. One seller recently advertised one on eBay for $10,000, turning down an offer of $7,000 before making a deal outside eBay. You’re going to need somewhere in the region of £5,000 to get your hands on one.

Author Greg Scarth
30th September, 2013

Comments

  • Fantastically thorough look into the value behind mouth-watering gearporn. Now time to start saving… ;-(

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  • Didn’t herbie hancock demo that Fairlight sampler on Sesame Street

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  • He certainly did, alongside a young Tatyana Ali (Ashley from The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKoisNv1ftw

    This video of him showing it off to Quincy Jones is also excellent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6QsusDS_8A

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  • no Waldorf Wave?!

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  • The Wave’s definitely right up there with the best of them.

    It’d be great to hear all your thoughts on this from a practical perspective too. As amazing as, say, a CS-80 is, would it necessarily be at the top of your shopping list if you won the lottery? We’ve got a feeling a lot of producers are probably more interested in slightly more affordable classics when it comes to actually making music…

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  • What about the GX1?

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  • I enjoyed this article as I continue to with Attack’s interviews and insightful cultural articles..

    In addition to the vintage/analogue gear, I’d add some modern controllers to the list which have huge expressive capabilities not available on the mass market, such as polyphonic pitchbend and sensing on multiple axes. For example, the Haken Continuum is US$5,290 (without its case or stand). The newly-introduced ROLI Seaboard Grand is US$8,888.88. Those are the prices of decent used cars.

    The CS-80 is an curious example of how performance controllers have regressed in some ways in the decades to come. How it takes something like an Arturia Origin (itself US$3,000) to include all those kinds of controllers. Not as much of a price delta change as you’d expect, given progress with home computers.

    While some contemporary tech like touchscreens thrive (tablet market demand, thanks iPads!) and the DJ market has seen interesting plays (Maschine’s rise despite doubters re: the Akai dynasty), more specialized-to-music stuff languishes or is still available at very high prices. I figure there needs to be more popular education for new instruments to resolve part of this chicken-and-egg Gordian knot — otherwise most people, clinging onto the familiar piano form, are too scared to transition to it, keeping prices high.

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  • Great point, Torley. Things like the Continuum and Seaboard are very niche products, but to a certain type of performer or musician they’re truly desirable – partly because there aren’t many alternatives at any price point.

    But you also hit on another interesting point. The touchscreen revolution led by the iPad virtually destroyed another product – JazzMutant’s Lemur controller, which eventually returned, slightly ironically, as an iOS app. And that trend for premium products to be replaced by cheaper alternatives is definitely mirrored in other markets – Maschine undercutting the MPCs, Moog introducing the Sub Phatty and dropping the Little Phatty, and so on (that’s without mentioning software, of course).

    There really aren’t actually many super high-end synths around any more. There are products like the Prophet 12, SE CODE, Voyager XL, etc, but while the market for budget (<£500) and mid-range (£500-1000) synths seems to be thriving, anything larger is a much riskier proposition for any company.

    Dave Smith acknowledged in our interview that the numbers today are much smaller, and that's despite the fact that synths are much cheaper in real terms than they were back in the 70s. Even with today's advances, the question of whether the market for a truly expressive, powerful performance-based synth in the vein of the CS-80 would still exist is open to debate.

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  • No GXs? No paper face Serge or Music Easel ? No Wave? No Fenix? And no Synthi 100?

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  • EMS?

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  • Wow! My CS-80’s “Slave to the Bass” video is posted here. (Blushes). It is a magnificent instrument. I used to sit in front of PBS Cosmos with Carl Sagan for a mind melding experience in the early 80’s after school. Our console TV had a good 6×9 speaker. Never expected to find a CS-80 of my own. I do not believe 2000 were ever made. So far, all functional CS-80’s are between serial numbers 1000-1800. It is believed that less than 800 were made. Cost prohibitive. There are 45 circuit boards, stuffed to the gills. Over 1200 internal trim pots to calibrate.

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