Second-hand value: £250-350
Produced: 1984 – 1987
In the sub-£350 range you probably won’t quite be able to stretch to a killer analogue machine loaded with features. You won’t pick up one of the holy grails of dance music production. But you can still get your hands on a genuine classic: a unit which has appeared on countless dance tracks over the years, which has its own distinctive sound and a workflow which continues to inspire house and techno producers to this day.
Roland’s ever-popular TR-707 is our pick at this price point. On paper its specifications are relatively humble: as Roland’s first all-digital drum machine it features a versatile implementation of the x0x step sequencing approach and it’s relatively flexible for syncing with other drum machines thanks to its MIDI and DIN SYNC connections, but its main weakness is the fact that you’re limited to the built-in sounds. Some of those samples (the kick, clap, rimshot and hats) are pretty good in a slightly harsh, plasticky way, but others (the snare) leave a lot to be desired.
But those sounds formed the basis of countless electronic classics. Most notably, the 707 was one of the definitive machines in early Chicago house and acid. Just check out Mr Fingers’ ‘Washing Machine’ or Marshall Jefferson’s ‘Move Your Body’:
The 707 is sometimes considered the poor man’s 909, a tag which flatters it a little. It’s got a similar colour scheme and there are obvious similarities between some of the sounds, but the 707’s hardly likely to knock the 909 off its pedestal as a holy grail for house and techno producers. Without any pitch or decay controls, your options are much more limited. It’s a very basic spec, but it just works.
But the 707 isn’t about having the ultimate sound palette. It’s not even about having the most versatile sequencer, the most adjustable parameters or the best MIDI spec. It definitely won’t beat its rivals on many of those counts. Instead, the 707’s appeal lies in the way all of its features come together so well, making it a budget choice but one which is still thoroughly desirable and genuinely useable. There’s a reason you’ll still find it in the studios and live setups of countless producers.
The 707 works exceptionally well as the centrepiece of a hardware-based workflow. Hook it up to the sequencer or clock input of something like an SH-101 or Arturia MicroBrute and you’ve immediately got the basis of an all-hardware production setup. Sync the drums with a bassline or chord progression, bang out a couple of quick variations on a pattern, then see how far you can push its sounds. Before you know it half an hour’s passed and chances are you’ve got an idea for a track or even a live recording ready to be edited into a final arrangement.
It’s about as simple as hardware gets, but it’s such an inspiring, intuitive way to make dance music that it’s totally unsurprising how ubiquitous this budget drum machine remains. Prices have risen dramatically over the last couple of years, but the simplicity of the 707 has won over a loyal cult following, making it a budget classic.