Second-hand value: £250-400
Produced: 1981 – 1984
The 606 is probably the first of the genuine vintage classics on our list. This simple all-analogue unit was released in 1981 as the partner to the TB-303. As the budget unit in Roland’s range at the time, its feature set was much more basic than the flagship TR-808, but what you get for your money is a bare-bones analogue unit with just as much character as its bigger brothers.
There are only seven sounds on offer with the 606, but they’re all excellent. The kick is a little flat but comes to life with compression. The snappy snare cuts through the mix incredibly well. The toms and crash cymbals are less distinctive but classic analogue sounds nonetheless. The 606 also boasts some of the best analogue hi-hats you’ll find anywhere. Silky and organic, somewhere between the sound of an 808 and a 909 hat. Sync the 606 to an external DIN SYNC clock signal and you can even manipulate the decay of the hats in real time using the tempo knob. Is it a deliberate feature or a lucky accident? We’ll probably never know.
There’s no clap, but if you really need one then the omission’s easily remedied by using the trigger outputs to control a Boss HC-2 (essentially a TR-808 clap circuit in a stompbox-sized case):
Some might argue that the only way to get the most out of the TR-606 is to modify it. Even if you don’t go all the way and add knobs to control the pitch and decay of the sounds, individual outputs are a must, allowing the drum sounds to be processed independently. If you do decide to go down the full-on modification route, the 606 can be turned into something altogether more flexible. There are plenty of DIY guides to be found, or companies such as Real World Interfaces and The Beast who can do it for you.
The sound of the 606 never achieved the iconic status of the 909, 808 or even the 707, but it crops up in just about every electronic genre you can imagine, whether it’s being pressed into classic techno mode by Richie Hawtin for his Sheet One album, laying the groundwork for electro-house on Mr Oizo’s ‘Flat Beat’ or being turned inside out by the likes of Autechre, Aphex Twin or Squarepusher.