Roland TR-909 retro 1980's advert
Pic: retrosynthads.blogspot.com

Roland TR-909/TR-808

Second-hand value: £1,500 – £3,000

Produced: 1980 – 1983 (TR-808); 1983 – 1985 (TR-909)

There’s very little left to say about the 808 and 909, so we’ll spare you the usual flowery language about booming kicks, crunching snares and silky hi-hats (there’s enough of that in the rest of this feature). Instead, let’s focus on something that’s discussed far too infrequently when examining the importance of these two iconic 80s units: their practical use as instruments.

The earlier 808 is the more limited of the two in many respects: it’s an all-anlogue design but the kick drum can’t be tuned, there’s no MIDI as standard and there’s no swing option. The 909 is much more modern, with sample-based hi-hats and toms, more options for shaping the sound, adjustable swing and reasonably good MIDI implementation.

Regardless of these differences, both the 808 and 909 are still excellent in the studio or a live setting. Their step sequencers are among the best you’ll find and the hands-on control allied with iconic sound engines makes for a much more engrossing experience than triggering a set of 808 or 909 samples (although whether that justifies the price premium is a different matter).

Both units benefit greatly from careful processing. Compression and EQ make the sounds come to life and allow them to be shaped into the tones we all know from the last 25 years of house and techno records. The 909 in particular also takes on an entirely new character when its sounds are distorted. Run that kick into an analogue mixer, crank the gain and hear it get angrier and more abrasive until it’s a harsh, fuzzy mess. These are serious instruments which reward thoughtful production.

It’s impossible to say which model is ‘better’: that’s a value judgement too far for two units which helped define the sound of electronic music as we know it today. Both are excellent instruments which justify the plaudits. You probably don’t need us to tell you that you want one. The bad news is that it’s now virtually impossible to find a bargain. We’ve all heard the stories of people discovering 808s in bins and 909s being given away by unwitting owners. Those days are long gone. Both units command a premium on the second-hand market and prices continue to rise seemingly every month. Will they continue to rise? Only time will tell. But put it this way: we thought they’d peaked about five years ago. They hadn’t.

 

14th January, 2014

Comments

  • Wow no Tempest !
    Great Great Post ! Thanks

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  • Roc – the Tempest’s in there!

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  • SP1200 > SP12

    http://youtu.be/iAZO3XBtUzE

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  • thanks for this. i was looking at the tanzbar but i didnt know how cool the machinedrum was. another one to check out.

    do a feature like this on analog synths! 😉

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  • no oberheim dmx? no dynacord ADD-one?

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  • Jomox xbase 888 is killer once you change the sounds in it

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  • @KV the 1200 has no ROM sounds so it’s definitely a sampler and not a drum machine. I agree it’s better than the Sp12. Both incredible though.

    Attack, please do a Ten Of The Best on samplers. MPCs, SP1200 etc. Keep up the great work!

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  • id replace the 606 with the 808, but then again I haven’t owned either of them :p

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  • IMHO, the video featuring the Machinedrum does not make it justice.
    Some thing like the link below or any demo video from Mr Dataline can provide a deeper idea if its capabilities, just my 2cents…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtxX0VEpMSI

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  • 707 is boys noize go to drum machine. He’s got a super modified one and an orignal

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  • 707 clap isn’t so bad imo!

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  • Casio RZ-1 is truly horrible. Worst $25 I ever spent.
    Volca Beats?
    Any MPC should of been on there.

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  • Repeat until fade: an MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine; an MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine; an MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine…

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  • korg volca toy

    yet….
    no oberheim dx/dmx
    no sequential drumtrak
    no sequential tom
    no simmons :-O
    no dynacord add one
    no pearl syncussion
    no LINNDRUM?

    really poor list made by roland fanboy

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  • Too true on the Volca, didnt think as first look but when you get on one its fun as hell!

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  • @Gertie i love lots of the drum machines you mention but i suppose this feature is meant to represent the ideal proportion between money, fun and sound you can get nowadays, and, let’s face it, the best part of roland tr series can match this.

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  • I’d add jomox 999 here as well as linndrum

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  • you are a douche for missing mpc

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  • @won… MPC is a sampler, not a drum machine. Doubled-douched.

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  • “MPC is a sampler”
    What do think a SP12 is? It plays samples……

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  • Bull. If the SP is mentioned here, then the MPC series should have been represented…

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  • Tr 808 is the best

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  • What the hell??? Why isn’t the Linn LM-1 on here? And if you’re gonna add the DRM1, you guys might’ve well put the SDS-V on this list.

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  • Guys complaining about drum machines not being mentioned…..
    MAKE Your own LIST.

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  • Hi guys! Which make of drum machines do you recommend me?

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  • where is the Analog Rytm?????

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  • Why an SP12 and not a SP1200?? Why a Tempest and not a LM1??? Best hardware drum machines in what sense? Poor columnists here…

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  • Wow I like these reviews. I’ve been using drum machines for about 7 years now, and I’m thinking of switching over to a simpler version of one, well at least simpler to use (not simple in functionality). Anyone ever used the BeatBuddy (their site is http://www.mybeatbuddy.com )? It looks pretty cool, but I am not sure if I should get it. I’m really thinking of getting it, can anyone tell me if it’s worth making the switch??

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  • Best drum machine ever: The one that has the sound you want.

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  • RZ-1 is *horrible*. It is so bad, I actually bought one new in like ’83 and played with it for like 2 weeks… it’s timing was sloppy, sounds were dull and I ended up taking it back and getting a TR-505… which was no great DM either, but at least had a snappy kick.

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  • Zoom RT-234? It’s cheap and incredibly flexible.

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  • I agree with dagan,
    I have the orginal Zoom RT-123.
    The button layout is very intuitive – unlike anything else in this review.

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  • The RZ-1 is actually really useful, just not as a main instrument. I find it is best used being run by another box to cut sounds in as accents and fill. As a main or only piece, it’s really going to let a lot of folks down, it’s all about the faders and the outputs, one per instrument, give you all manner of processing options to takes it’s admittedly cheesy sound to a level far beyond it’s capabilities.
    Now for the “why not this…” part, Electribes, personally I would replace the Volca with them, but that’s me.

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  • Where is the Sonic Potions LXR???

    Amazing drum machine for the price.

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  • lol how the hell you put aSP12 and no MPC. this is bullshit preference based article

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  • nice to see the Tanzbar and MDS-1 in there…
    but I NEVER see a list like this include any of the Zoom RT-series, which had a kind of sequencing that has yet to be re-created in any other machine.
    Their “Groove Play” mode allowed you to play multiple patterns (of arbitrary length/meter) simultaneously… with velocity and time-alignment control by pads… somewhat a hardware pre-cursor to Ableton clip launching…

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  • Don,t forget the sounds u hear r fatten up with a analogue filter (white box on top) a Niio Iotine ?. Only whant to say the sounds r more thin without the filter.

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  • I mean the dsi ?

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  • I think they missed the awesome Anolog Rytm by Elektron. This thing is a real killer.

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  • I don’t think the Analog Rytm had been released when this article was written had it? Same with the Roland tr-8 which probably would have made the list too if it had been available at the time

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  • For me Elektron Analog Rytm far ahead!

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