Prepare for a few controversial decisions as we run down our list of the best drum machines of all time.

3 – Roland TR-909

Introduced: 1983
Original RRP: $1,195 (£999)
Current price: £1,000-£1,500

Ah, the mighty 909. If the 808 was the rhythmic godfather of hip hop music, then the 909 is the same to techno and a fair slice of tougher-edged house.

The 909 was launched three years after its 808 forebear, changing the game slightly by offering a part-analogue, part-sample-based sound generation hybrid. As with the 808, the 909 sounded a long way from the more realistic alternatives from Linn and Oberheim that had all but secured the upper ends of the drum machine market.

The fact that second-hand 909 prices plummeted when Roland released the sample-based TR-707 helped it become a mainstay of early dance music. When techno and house pioneers got their hands on the machine, its analogue sounds – which, in the bass end particularly, provided the relevant thump – kickstarted a generation of 909-heavy rhythm tracks.

The simple step sequencer was ideal for four-to-the-floor beats, and its abilities to save a number of patterns made the box ideal for full-track studio work as well as live duties. Add to that its swing control and basic MIDI capabilities and it became a flexible beast for its time.

Attempting to list all the significant users of the 909 is a pointless task; you’d be hard pressed to find a techno or house producer who hasn’t used a 909 kick (whether real or sampled) at some point.

Author David Felton
1st August, 2012

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