Drum machines

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Since ancient times when humans danced around a fire with animal horns on their heads, drums have been the foundation of dance music. Some people like to do their drums on DAW tracks using individual drum samples, but for the entire history of electronic dance music the usual starting point for drums has always been a drum machine...
The first drum machines were tape loop playback devices or electromechanical units, all pretty much designed as stand-alone boxes to accompany keyboards & organs. These early electro-mechanical machines were essentially glorified metronomes, providing 'drum beats' to play along with either at home or in something like a gigging working mens club band, and as a consequence were manufactured by companies like Wurlitzer & early iterations of companies which went on to become Yamaha, Roland & Korg, all of whom developed a strong presence in the keyboard & organ market. The early electro-mechanical drum machines created drum sounds as different frequency tones of electrical thuds, pops & clicks with a hiss of electrical noise for hi-hats & shaker sounds.

Transistors arrived in the 1960's yielding non-mechanical & non-valve pattern generating methods, reducing the size of machines which then became table-top sized or built in to the actual keyboard or organ casing itself, providing an onboard accompaniment rhythm section.

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Analog drum machines

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Classic analog drum machines

Eko Computerhythm

1972, Italian company EKO releases the worlds first programmable drum machine and these units are museum pieces nowadays, demanding thousands If you can find one for sale. The Computerhythm was designed at EKO by Aldo Paci who did the electronics & Guiseppe Censori who designed the cabinet & it used Transistor-Transistor Logic (TTL) to create sequences which triggered the sounds.

The analog sounds (two per programming channel) are: Rollingdrum + Cymbal 1, Cymbal 2 + Snare, Timbal 2 + Charleston, Triangle + Clave, Block 2 + Timbal 1, Block 1 + Bassdrum.

Each of the six instrument slots (A-F) has its own dedicated 1/4" output on the front right horizontal panel below the card reader section, while round at the back there is the main L & R 1/4" outputs which carry the balance of all drums as set by their volume faders on the front.

Each of the six instrument channels can play a single drum sound or both drums sounds on its channel, with the volume control adjusting the level for both. To the right are the On/Off buttons for each channel, which act to mute and/or solo sounds.

The Computerhythm was the first music machine of any type to feature (up to) 16 step sequencing using button rows which became the standard thereafter (best known in Roland's TR style row sequencers), with the orange buttons being the six rows of 16 steps; one row for each instrument channel. Further buttons on the front allow the user to select pattern step length, with the choices being 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15 or the default 16 steps.

Plastic covered cardboard punch cards allowed the user to easily create their own loadable 'programmed' rhythms by using a pencil tip to punch holes in the cards to create the pattern for each of the six drum rows, and these cards are then inserted into the card slot on the top of right panel where they pass through & are read by an optical photo-electric cell reader which then sets the pattern switches per drum instrument row.

The Computerhythm was vastly expensive when in production, with only around 50 - 60 of these machines ever being made across its three revisions: the MK1, MK2 & final MKIII, with only an estimated 15 or so units left in existence world wide. As used by Jean Michel Jarre on tracks like Oxygene and Equinoxe, Tangerine Dream and others.

Roland CR-78 CompuRhythm

1978, Roland releases the world the first microprocessor based programmable drum machine, augmenting the 34 presets rhythms with 4 user RAM memory slots you could write your own patterns to, and these patterns were saved in memory on power-down via a battery backup. 100% analog & could be used with the optional and very rare WS-1 programming box. The CR-78 drum sounds are: bass drum, snare drum, rim-shot, hi-hat, cymbal, maracas, claves, cowbell, high bongo, low bongo, low conga, tambourine, guiro, and "metallic beat" which is an accent that can be overlaid on the hi-hat sound. The CR-78 also has an accent control that increases the loudness of desired steps in a pattern.

The seventeen CR-78 built in patterns are titled: Rock, two Disco patterns, Waltz, Shuffle, Slow Rock, Swing, Foxtrot, Tango, Boogie, Enka, Bossa Nova, Samba, Mambo, Chacha, Beguine & Rhumba, with each pattern being available in two variations via the A / B switch, yielding the machine's total of 34 patterns. It is possible to select more than one rhythm at a time, and also mute drum sounds from a pattern using the balance knob and the four dedicated Cancel buttons, one each of which is available for: Cymbal/Hi-Hat, Bass Drum, Snare Drum & Cowbell/Claves. Patterns can be adjusted for Tempo using the front panel Tempo control and additionally can be controlled via an external V-trig clock, allowing a control voltage to run the CR-78 tempo. The CR-78 also features two switches to perform automatic Fade In & Fade Out with a choice of Fast or Slow for either.

Many famous artists have used this drum box in tracks, including Gary Numan, Peter Gabriel and more. The CR-78 famously does the analog drum intro to 'In the air tonight' by Phil Collins.

Korg Mini Pops

1978 & Roland releases the world first widely available programmable drum machine, augmenting the 34 presets rhythms with 4 user RAM memory slots you could write your own patterns to, and these patterns were saved in memory on power-down via a battery backup. 100% analog & could be used with the optional and very rare WS-1 programming box.

Roland TR-66

1978 & Roland releases the world first widely available programmable drum machine, augmenting the 34 presets rhythms with 4 user RAM memory slots you could write your own patterns to, and these patterns were saved in memory on power-down via a battery backup. 100% analog & could be used with the optional and very rare WS-1 programming box.

Roland CR-5000 Compu Rhythm

1978 & Roland releases the world first widely available programmable drum machine, augmenting the 34 presets rhythms with 4 user RAM memory slots you could write your own patterns to, and these patterns were saved in memory on power-down via a battery backup. 100% analog & could be used with the optional and very rare WS-1 programming box.

Roland TR-808

The TR-808 'Rhythm Composer' was Roland's next drum machine after the CR-78. Released in 1980 the TR-808 is entirely analog with no samples used for cymbals. What can you say about this drum box that hasn't been said already? It's basically a legendary unit. Hear it in action in a more naked form on tracks like Loc'in On The Shaw by Tone-Loc. Very expensive to buy secondhand with only 12,000 ever being made but widely available for DAW use from a variety of software houses. If you really must have the classic TR-808 in hardware form but cant afford a rare original, then of course you can now get the Behringer RD-8 which is as near as dammit a full-on real analog clone of the TR-808 for a staggeringly low price of around £369 GBP. There's also the Roland official reissue, the diminutive TR-08, but while it has the sound modelled extremely accurately it's not real analog and doesn't have separate outputs, but it is a space saver in the studio being so small.

Roland TR-606 Drumatix

Manufactured between 1981 & 1984 the TR-606 was designed to work with the TB-303 to create drums & bass parts together working in sync. At the time there was nothing like it, but as better digital drum machine & synth technology arrived, by comparison neither sounded much like real drums or bass and thus we know them for other stuff, first finding favour with other cheap gear in the 80's techno & acid scene. The 606 hi-hat is particularly in vogue right now & the snare actually delivers quite a lot of body with it's classic midrange rock-hard bucket tone if you roll off the top end and then boost the overall level. The TR-606 can be fairly easily modded to add separate outputs.

Sound Master SR-88

Manufactured between 1981 & 1984 the TR-606 was designed to work with the TB-303 to create drums & bass parts together working in sync. Neither sounded much like real drums or bass and thus we know them for other stuff, first finding favour with other cheap gear in the 80's acid scene. The 606 hi-hat is particularly in vogue right now & the snare actually delivers quite a lot of body with it's classic midrange bucket tone if you roll off the top end and then boost the overall level. The TR-606 can be fairly easily modded to add separate outputs.

Boss DR-55 Dr. Rhythm

Released in 1981 this was the first of the Boss Doctor Rhythm drum machines and runs entirely from battery with no mains power. It was basically sold as a drum box to play along with for guitarists & the like, almost like a pedal. Very basic with only 4 sounds: kick, snare, hats & a rimshot which sounds more like a click, the DR-55 can be step programmed by selecting one of the 3 drum sounds (kick, snare or rimshot) & then using the PLAY/STOP buttons to add in steps & rests across any of the six 16-step pattern slots or the two 12 step slots. Hi-hats can then be added from a preset pattern selector playing either 8ths or 16ths or 12ths if the DR is set in one of it's two available 12 step pattern slots.

Korg KPR-77

Released in 1982, the Korg KPR-77 was actually quite a bit more advanced than the TR-606 from Roland, offering more 'real' sounding analog drum emulations, separate outs for snare & hats/clap & a TR-707 style set of faders to adjust the drum levels to achieve any mix you wanted.

Boss DR110 Dr. Rhythm

Released in 1983 as the follow up to the DR-55, the DR110 Doctor Rhythm Graphic was an analog pocket sized drum box running off 9v battery or BOSS DC pedal power supply and featuring six drum sounds: Kick, Snare, Open & Closed Hi-Hat, Clap & Cymbal. The Dr-110 was quite advanced for the time, having an LCD display with a step sequencer grid. The DR-110 featured 16 preset patterns, a further 16 user writable patterns & 2 Song slots, each of which can hold up to 128 patterns. Mono output only on this unit via a 1/4" socket, with an additional 3.5mm headphone socket.

MPC Electronics The Kit

1982 saw British company MPC Electronics release The Kit analog drum machine & it sold like hot cakes shifting 10,000 units in its first year alone, while winning the NAMM 'Product Of The Show' award when it was previewed for pre-orders before release, with MXR taking up distribution rights State-side. The Kit was at the time of release unique in that you could now bash out drum patterns manually which was a first, and the analog drum sounds themselves were quite decent for the day.

Most older musicians have bashed out beats on The Kit, & if you walked into any musician's squat back in the day you'd usually see one of these, more often than not being fed into a guitar combo to provide blasting raw finger-played beats to accompany ganja-fuelled jam sessions, or even to record a drum track onto any of the new 4-track porta-studios which had started to appear, or onto some old stereo reel to reel. It's a lot of fun playing one of these!

The Kit is played with fingers while having a switchable hi-hat which can play preset patterns to jam along with via the Hi-Hat section Start/Stop switch. The hi-hat pattern choices can be 4:4 or 3:4 time signature combined with either 8 beat, 4 beat or 'disco' patterns. These choices are then further augmented with the 6-position rotary switch giving a total of 36 high-hat patterns.

Once the selected hi-hat pattern choice is made, you can further adjust the Tempo of the pattern as well as Volume level. The manual hi-hat pad can also be triggered while pre-set hi-hat patterns play.

The Kit has four main drum pads for kick, snare & two toms, plus smaller metal pads for crash/ride cymbal & open/closed hats. In addition to the main Mix output, each drum sound has its own individual 1/4" output with accompanying volume control. The cymbal also has a Tone control.

The Kit also has two trigger outs which take their voltage signal from the Toms, as well as a foot-switch input allowing the user to start/stop the hi-hat pattern player hands-free.

The Kit works off either 9v PP3 battery or an optional 9v power supply.

Underneath the unit there are 11 recessed resistor screws to tweak the sounds with a supplied small adjuster tool, allowing the user to vary pad sensitivity & drum ring/decay for the Kick, Toms and Snare as well as Snare noise & Cymbal pitch and decay to vary the cymbals between either a ride or a more crash type sound.

MPC Electronics took their name from their main product the Music Percussion Computer, and The Kit was the centre-piece of the MPC range which included The Tymp, delivering Timpani sounds, The Synkit which did Syndrum and other electronic drum sounds, The Bass Drum, & most famous of all The Clap which soon found favour with producers & was heard on a string of hit records of the time.

The Kit retailed at around £149.00 GBP on release.

MPC Electronics The Clap

1982 saw British company MPC Electronics release The Kit analog drum machine with additional units being added soon after to compliment the main drum machine unit. The most famous of these add-on units was The Clap unit, dedicated to making clap sounds only & it was streets ahead of other choices at the time, soon finding it's way onto many top 20 records of the day.

Like it's bigger sibling The Kit, The Clap also works off either 9v PP3 battery or an optional 9v power supply & can either be triggered from it's front-panel pad or via the trigger input.

The Clap sound itself is constructed from two different layers comprising the body 'Clap' sound & the noise sound, and the relative trigger timing of both can be adjusted against each other with the Spread control making the two sounds trigger further and further apart to simulate slightly 'out of sync' real hand clapping, adding width to the overall sound. Additionally the Clap body & noise layer have a Mix control allowing the user to balance them to taste, while the noise layer also has a Decay control to adjust how long the noise lasts relative to the clap body sound. Finally there is an overall Volume control to adjust final output level via the rear 1/4" jack.

MPC Electronics took their name from their main product the Music Percussion Computer, and The Kit was the centre-piece of the MPC range which included The Tymp which did Timpani sounds, The Synkit which did Syndrum and other electronic drum sounds, The Bass Drum, & most famous of all The Clap which soon found favour with producers & was heard on a string of hit records of the time.

The Clap retailed for an R.R.P of £69.95 GBP on release.

MPC Electronics M.P.C

The M.P.C or Music Percussion Computer was first shown at the Frankfurt music show in February 1983. MPC Electronics had previously wowed the 1982 NAMM show with their The Kit portable drum machine, but this was the company's big flagship product & it's a very unusual and interesting bit of kit in that it was designed to interface with the Sinclair ZX81 personal computer.

The M.P.C was actually sold complete with flight-case, special rubber tipped drum-sticks to cut down on pad noise, and a special 25-pin D-plug & ribbon cable to connect it to the optional ZX81 computer. All connectors are situated on the vertical sides of the unit, and when the flight-case top is removed these connectors sit just above the case bottom tray edge, being easily accessible without the unit having to be physically removed from the case bottom tray.

On the right vertical side of the unit, accompanying the front-panel drum channel Labels, you'll find the 9 physical outputs, one for each drum; as well as stereo Mix & headphone outputs, all on 1/4" jacks. On the top vertical side of the unit you'll find the multi-pin computer connector, Din Sync In/Out, Tape sync In/Out, a 'Run' foot-switch socket as well as a male D-plug multi-pin Stage-Pads socket (which was for planned additional drum pads to be added), as well as sockets for Pad-Select via a foot-switch & adding a Bass-drum pedal trigger unit.

Internal processing is done by a Zilog Z80 microprocessor, as used in the early E-mu Emulator samplers, the Prophet 5  and the Sega Master System & Game Gear consoles. The front panel keyboard is used to program the unit.

The 8 pads are divided into two rows, with the lower row dedicated to Snare, Kick, Closed & Open hi-hats, while the top row defaults to Toms 1-4, but can be switched to access a second bank of Toms 3 & 4 plus Cymbal & Claps. This makes sense because Toms 1 & 2 cannot be sequenced to patterns, but can be played live over the top of recorded sequences playing back; so essentially Bank-2 with Cymbal & Clap is more for recording patterns, while Bank-1 with all 4 toms can be thought of as for live performance.

On the right side of the front panel is the mixer section, with the 4 tom channels each having controls for 'Bend', Tone/Noise Mix, Pitch, Decay & Level. Additionally the 4 Toms share a master control section labelled 'All Tom Toms Skin Resonance', which adds two further shared controls to adjust the Pitch and Decay characteristics of the skin resonance effect helping add realism to the analogue drum sounds.

The Cymbal, Kick, & Snare channel each have Pitch, Decay & Level with the Snare having an additional 'Noise' amount control. Finally the Hi-Hats channel has controls for Tone, Tighten & Level, while the Clap has a simple Level control only.

None of the drums have a Pan control. Drums appear at preset pan positions on the stereo mix output in keeping with a traditional kit layout, but you can of course use separate outs and mix on a console adding effects, Eq etc.

Internal sequencing allows the user to create patterns which can be assembled into a single 'Song' playback sequence with usual features for things like tempo, pattern length etc, plus other features like adding accents to beats etc, but for full power you would add the Sinclair ZX81 which allowed for on-screen display working, more patterns and more songs.

The M.P.C retailed for an R.R.P of £875.00 GBP on release.

Roland TR-909

Released in 1983, the TR-909 was mostly analog but added in sampled cymbals. It was also Roland's first drum machine with MIDI. The TR-909 arrived just when sampled drum machines like the Linn Drum started to appear & thus it was actually a commercial failure, with it's synthesised drums sounding 'fake' by comparison.

Due to this the TR-909 was only in production for a year & hence it's rarity today. Despite all that, with it's big thumping kick drum the TR-909 became THE drum machine sound of house & other related dance music genres for several decades & to a certain extent still to this day. Like the TR-808 they are quite rare with only 10,000 ever being made and they command big money on eBay etc.

If you really must have the classic TR-909 in hardware form but cant afford a rare original, then of course you can now get the Behringer RD-9 which is as near as dammit a full-on real analog clone of the TR-909 for a staggeringly low price of around £269 GBP.

There's also the Roland official reissue, the diminutive TR-09 which you could pickup s/h in the free ads because for some bizarre reason Roland discontinued it, but while it has the sound modelled extremely accurately it's not real analog and doesn't have separate outputs, but it is a space saver in the studio being so small.

Sample drum machines

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Classic sample drum machines

Linn Electronics LM-1

Released in 1980 with a price of around $5000 the 8-bit Linn LM-1 was the world's first ever sample drum machine, featuring twelve 8-bit drum samples, but no cymbals due to them requiring longer sample times. Like the later LinnDrum that followed, the LM-1 was a pre-MIDI instrument (MIDI didn't appear until 1983). Famously used by Prince amongst other artists.

Oberheim DMX

Released in 1980 just after the first Linn LM-1 for a princely sum of almost 3 thousand dollars, the DMX is - like it's follow up sibling DX machine - a classic drum box. From early hip-hop to Prince, this box has seen a lot of use in huge selling tracks in various genres. 8 note poly with 8 separate outs. You could get an Eprom blower and "blow" your own samples onto the chips if you had the money. The DMX is famously featured on the 1983 single 'Blue Monday' by New Order which really shows off the machine.

It's slightly later & cheaper Oberheim DX sister unit was much used in early electronic dancehall with it's heavily de-tuned side-stick sound being a hugely famous sound as heard on the classic Rumours Riddim.

Oberheim DX

Released in 1983 the DX was a cut down version of its bigger sister machine the original Oberheim DMX, and due to its reduced feature set was cheaper, costing around 1400US$, about half the price of the DMX on release. The DX has a max 6 voices versus the DMX's 8, but still retains the 8 outputs & EPROM voice card chips which could be switched out.

The DX was popular in early hip-hop but was particularly popular in electronic dancehall with it's heavily de-tuned side-stick sound being a hugely famous sound as heard on the classic Rumours riddim, originally debuting on Gregory Isaacs 'Rumours' & extensively used on other hits like Nuff Respect by Lady G.

Linn Electronics LinnDrum

The much fabled 1982 8-bit LinnDrum which was actually a joy to use at the time with it's dedicated faders & individual outputs per-drum making mixing a breeze. The Linndrum has short sample times typical of all sample drum machines of the era, but they were high quality 35kHz samples, giving the Linndrum its classic impactful & tight drum hit sound with the hi-hat offering a decay functions which made it superb for getting just the right open-hat length to suit any particular groove you were creating. Additional sounds could be added by plugging in Linn sound ROM chips. No MIDI on these as MIDI didn't come in until 1983, but most owners were pro studios or signed artists so they could usually afford that to be retrofitted, and thus you'd more often find yourself using one of these in a pro studio facility with an early computer pattern-based sequencer rather than the internal pattern arranger. You can hear the LinnDrum on tracks like Solid by Ashford & Simpson.

E-mu Drumulator

1983 & E-mu unleash the forerunner of the sampling SP-12, the Drumulator, a non-sampling drum box which uses real drum samples rather than synthesised drum sounds. If that sounds rather unimpressive one should remember this device was released the same year as the TR-909 which only used samples for cymbals. Basically in the very early 80's this was one of the only 4 sample drum boxes with the other two being the DMX & the two Roger Linn offerings, but the Drumulator was released at a competition-crushing sub-£1000 price point. The Drumulator featured 64k of memory & has 12 separate outs - one for each of it's 12 sounds which were: Bass Drum, Snare, Claps, Rimshot, Open Hi-Hat, Closed Hi-Hat, Low Tom, High Tom, Mid Tom, Clave, Cowbell and Ride, with the three toms all being separate samples rather than being 3 different tunings of just one tom sample as it was done in the LinnDrum. The Drumulator only has 4 buttons/pads to trigger sounds with however, so you have to build patterns 4 drum sounds at a time.

Roland TR-707

Roland's first all sample drum box from 1984 costing around £525 GBP, and it really caused a stir on release, not just for the sounds which nowadays are total retro 80's classics, but for the individual outs with built in front-panel drum level fader bank which made tweaking the balance of patterns super-fast while allowing live dubbing of patterns with judicious fader tweaking. In that respect it was pretty much was like owning an affordable LinnDrum, but with the added bonus of TR pattern sequencing on-board.

Pattern creation itself was an absolute breeze with the easy to program TR style 16-step button sequencer along the bottom augmented by the large LCD screen, all of which left other drum machines programming methodology eating dust frankly. You can create a maximum of 64 Patterns of up to 16 steps each which can be chained into a total of 4 songs, but adding an options M64C cartridge bumps this up by double to 8 songs. Patterns can be sequenced using the TR grid step style, but can also be played into the unit with good old fashioned button mashing if preferred, playing along to a metronome.

The TR-707 featured 15 drum voices: 2 x Bass drums, 2 x Snares, 3 x Tom toms, Rimshot, Cowbell, Tambourine, Handclap, Ride, Crash & Open/Closed Hi-Hats. Round at the back there are 10 individual outputs (meaning some secondary drums share outputs) as well as stereo L/R out and a headphone socket to boot.

The TR-707 could DIN sync'd to it's sister TR-727 Latin Percussion unit for a full on drum ensemble setup. The TR-707 almost defined an era of street based beat productions with its super clicky kick 2nd kick drum easily cutting through on ghetto-blasters which couldn't reproduce super-low bottom end & which therefore brought about the requirement for the very clicky kick drum sound of the era found in Electro, Techno, and even early hip-hop.

Sequential Circuits Drumtraks

The Sequential Circuits (or SCI) Drumtraks was released in 1984 for a quite reasonable sub £1000 price of just £950 squids. It's loaded with 13 voices - bass drum, snare, snare rim, toms 1 & 2 (shared sample at different tunings), crash and ride cymbals, open & closed hats, a handclap, tambourine, cowbell & cabasa - and each drum sound has it's own dedicated pad/button to trigger with. Output wise, drum sounds other than the kick drum are assigned to logical shared outputs (pretty much how you'd track a kit in a budget 8 track studio) with Output-1 allocated to bass drum, Output-2 for snare and rimshot, Output-3 for the two toms, Output-4 for the crash & ride cymbals, Output-5 for both hi-hats and Output-6 reserved for the percussion: claps, tambourine, cowbell and Cabasa. Uniquely for the time the Drumtraks allowed tempo changes in song mode and drums could be tuned & have different levels within patterns on different steps, allowing you to, for example, to create tom fills across up to 15 tunings using the single tom sample or program in beats with varying snare hit levels. It was in fact the worlds first tuneable drum machine. The really big talking point feature of the SCI Drumtraks was that it accepted the LinnDrum sound chips which slotted straight in once you opened the unit up.

Korg DDM-110 Super Drums

Hitting the streets in 1984 for around £230 GBP, the Korg DDM110 'Super Drums' along with its sister 'Super Percussion' DDM-220 unit, was one of the first ever digital sample based drum-boxes & certainly one of the first cheap & affordable ones, and as a consequence these units caused a real stir when they first appeared. Sounds are quite primitive, but now 3 decades later are classed as retro & useable once again.

Sounds are PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) samples, and given the era, memory costs & the technology of the time, the drum sounds are all very short, but clean & punchy, with a typical 80's clicky & flabby kick drum, a very short snappy snare, 'Fray Bentos' pie-tin hi-hats etc.

No MIDI on these. You could sync this to its sister DDM-220 Super Percussion unit to create drum & percussion ensemble beats & songs, or you could even DIN sync in to a Roland unit like the old TR-606 or TR-707, but the Korg's DIN sync runs at 24 Pulses Per Quarter Note (PPQN), half the Roland 48 PPQN rate, so with the Korg as either master or slave the Roland will run in sync either at double or half speed respectively.

Stereo output only and no way to easily sync to tape or a MIDI system without spending more money, so most people would create some patterns, string them into a Song and then record it to a couple of tape tracks in stereo (or mono if you really needed to save tracks), adding the other instruments afterwards with subsequent overdubs to build a finished song.

A retro classic nowadays, and at the time it was quite a big step up from the traditional cheap analog drum fare many people still used.

Korg DDM-220 Super Percussion

Hitting the streets in 1984 for around £230 GBP, the Korg DDM-220 'Super Percussion' along with its sister 'Super Drums' DDM-110 unit, was one of the first ever digital sample based drum-boxes & certainly one of the first cheap & affordable ones, and as a consequence these units caused a real stir when they first appeared. Sounds are quite primitive, but now 3 decades later are classed as retro & useable once again.

Sounds are PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) samples, and given the era, memory costs & the technology of the time, the percussion sounds are all very short but enthusiastically present & surprisingly clean & crisp, with hard attacking timbales & bells, snappy wood blocks etc.

No MIDI on these. You could sync this to its sister DDM-110 Super Drums unit to create drum & percussion ensemble beats & songs, or you could even DIN sync in to a Roland unit like the old TR-606 or TR-707, but the Korg's DIN sync runs at 24 Pulses Per Quarter Note (PPQN), half the Roland 48 PPQN rate, so with the Korg as either master or slave the Roland will run in sync either at double or half speed respectively.

Stereo output only and no way to easily sync to tape or a MIDI system without spending more money, so most people would create some patterns, string them into a Song and then record it to a couple of tape tracks in stereo (or mono if you really needed to save tracks), adding the other instruments afterwards with subsequent overdubs to build a finished song.

A retro classic nowadays, and at the time it was quite a big step up from the traditional cheap analog drum fare many people still used.

Yamaha RX15

It's 1984, and Yamaha release the RX15RX11, their first ever programmable drum machines. At the same time Roland debuts their super new TR-707. Both Yamaha & Roland's new machines created something of a revolution in bedroom studios, delivering high-quality sample drums at a super price; each with its own distinctive sound.

The cheaper RX15 cost £449 GBP & contained 15 drum sounds, while the more expensive RX11 cost £799 GBP & delivered a larger palette of 29 drum sounds. Both machines used 8-bit samples but data compression gives them a dynamic range equivalent to 14-bit, yielding more than 80dB of dynamic range.

The RX15's 15 sounds are: Bass Drum, Snare Drum x 2, Rimshot, Hi-Hat Open, Hi-Hat Closed, Hi-Hat Pedal, Tom Tom x 3, Cymbal Ride, Cymbal Crash, Hand Claps, Cowbell, Shaker.

The RX11's 29 sounds are: Bass Drum x 3 (2 Heavy & 1 Medium), Snare Drum x 8 (Heavy, Medium & Light + 5 Hi-Tune snares), Rimshot x 2, Hi-Hat Open x 2, Hi-Hat Closed x 2, Hi-Hat Pedal, Tom Tom x 4, Cymbal Ride, Cymbal Crash, Hand Claps x 2 (one bigger & one shorter analog type), Cowbell x 2, Shaker

The sounds themselves are very good for the time, with deep thudding kicks with plenty of upper end click, snares ranging from flabby & fat to smacking rimshots, plus the early RX series distinctive & short decay toms which have a reassuringly meaty thud.

The cheaper RX15 only had stereo output & headphone out, all on 1/4 jacks. All sounds can be set for level & pan within the main stereo output mix & accent is programmable per drum.

Both the RX15RX11 machines allow Step or Realtime programming and a click that can be activated to play along with. On either machine you can store a total of 100 patterns, and a maximum ten Songs can be created from a total of up to 255 different patterns, and these two RX machines use a technique similar to the Yamaha QX sequencer 'Macro' - repeating sequences which can be used multiple times within songs to save memory.

The RX11RX15 can store up to 2000 or 1500 'events' respectively with both machines having Tape backup facility/sockets but the more expensive RX11 also has the familiar Yamaha data RAM cartridge slot which allows saving/loading songs in seconds.

Yamaha RX11

It's 1984, and Yamaha release the RX15RX11, their first ever programmable drum machines. At the same time Roland debuts their super new TR-707. Both Yamaha & Roland's new machines created something of a revolution in bedroom studios, delivering high-quality sample drums at a super price; each with its own distinctive sound.

The cheaper RX15 cost £449 GBP & contained 15 drum sounds, while the more expensive RX11 cost £799 GBP & delivered a larger palette of 29 drum sounds. Both machines used 8-bit samples but data compression gives them a dynamic range equivalent to 14-bit, yielding more than 80dB of dynamic range.

The RX15's 15 sounds are: Bass Drum, Snare Drum x 2, Rimshot, Hi-Hat Open, Hi-Hat Closed, Hi-Hat Pedal, Tom Tom x 3, Cymbal Ride, Cymbal Crash, Hand Claps, Cowbell, Shaker.

The RX11's 29 sounds are: Bass Drum x 3 (2 Heavy & 1 Medium), Snare Drum x 8 (Heavy, Medium & Light + 5 Hi-Tune snares), Rimshot x 2, Hi-Hat Open x 2, Hi-Hat Closed x 2, Hi-Hat Pedal, Tom Tom x 4, Cymbal Ride, Cymbal Crash, Hand Claps x 2 (one bigger & one shorter analog type), Cowbell x 2, Shaker

The sounds themselves are very good for the time, with deep thudding kicks with plenty of upper end click, snares ranging from flabby & fat to smacking rimshots, plus the early RX series distinctive & short decay toms which have a reassuringly meaty thud.

The higher-spec'd RX11 had stereo output, headphone out, plus 10 individual outs, all on 1/4 jacks. All sounds can be set for level & pan within the main stereo output mix & accent is programmable per drum.

The higher spec'd RX11 with individual drum outputs additionally has two Output modes: Stereo Out & Individual Out. In Stereo out mode, all instruments appear in the main L/R output with their pan & levels as set in the mix control section, while the individual outs carry their designated drum sounds only. Individual Output mode sees the main L/R outs switch to become separate outputs for Toms 3 & 4.

Both the RX15RX11 machines allow Step or Realtime programming and a click that can be activated to play along with. On either machine you can store a total of 100 patterns, and a maximum ten Songs can be created from a total of up to 255 different patterns, and these two RX machines use a technique similar to the Yamaha QX sequencer 'Macro' - repeating sequences which can be used multiple times within songs to save memory.

The RX11RX15 can store up to 2000 or 1500 'events' respectively with both machines having Tape backup facility/sockets but the more expensive RX11 also has the familiar Yamaha data RAM cartridge slot which allows saving/loading songs in seconds.

E-mu SP-12

1985 & E-mu release the SP-12 sampling drum machine. Famous for it's warm sound & being an almost Arthurian legend of early hip-hop, the SP-12 was actually quite primitive, initially having no way to save data except via cassette tape & having a SMPTE read/write feature built-in which was about as much use as a chocolate tea pot for pro users. It was eventually modified for an external Commodore 1541 disk drive, but loading times could be as much as 5 minutes! A later 2.4 update allowed use of a JL Cooper MIDI drive but they cost a $1000 & had to be imported if you lived outside the USA. The SP-12 went through various updates over it's short life-span, with the 'Turbo' kit updating the memory from it's original just-under 2 seconds to a bigger 5 seconds sample time & updating the original 8 sample slots to a newer 4 banks of 8 samples. But it's about the E-mu 12-bit sound at the end of the day, all rolled in with the aforementioned hip-hop fable... "Get an E-Max" would be my advice if you want to rock that 12-bit E-mu sound.
The SP-12 retailed for around £2,500 plus tax in the UK when in production.

Sequential Model 420 TOM

The 1985 Sequential Model 420 TOM - usually referred to as simply the Sequential TOM - was a very advanced drum machine at the time, and one of the last products Sequential made before closing in 1987. The Sequential TOM cost £795 GBP on release & featured eight drum sounds, with seven more available via EPROM cartridges which you could plug into the cart slot on the front edge of the machine. Both the onboard & Cartridge sounds could all be played together giving it 15 drum sounds in total. The add-on cartridges cost approx £120 GBP each and were divided into categories of: Standard & Electronic Drums, Latin Percussion and Effects.

MIDI implementation & the 2,300 total note capacity sequencer were both quite advanced, with Pitch tuning across 32 levels, Pan, and 8 steps of Volume all being programmable into patterns, and all drum sounds can be played in Reverse, while drums already programmed into a pattern playback the normal way round. This allowed the user to build patterns with forward & reversed drum sounds. The sequencer could actually be expanded with up to three 8K RAM chips, taking it to a max 10,000 note capacity. Patterns & Songs can be backed-up & loaded to/from Tape or over MIDI.

The sequencer also allowed full-on Quantise to 16ths, but you could vary this with the Error Correct feature to only correct by as little as a a minimum 96th, allowing more human feel to be worked into patterns. The sequencer also had an 'Improv' feature, allowing the user to add in fills such as extra offbeat snare licks in a funky pattern and then set a percentage value for how often those extra fills would be played with each repeat of the pattern.

Another feature called 'Human Factor' was available when playing back a completed song sequence, and would increase or lower Tuning and/or Volume by 1-step value. The amount of 'Human Factor' would determine how often this happened across the song as a % value. If connected to a MIDI master keyboard, the TOM also had a mode which puts the maximum 15 sounds (with cartridge added) each onto its own MIDI channel and they can then each be played across their entire tuning range mapped from the keyboard. The TOM responds to velocity for drum level and tuning can be adjusted via Pitchbend.

All in all a very advanced machine of the time. Certainly it's one of the most beautiful bits of old hardware when you see one in real life. The only drawback really was that it only had stereo L/R outputs, plus the sequencer is only 4 note polyphonic (only 4 drum sounds can play on any step).

Roland TR-727

The 1985 Roland TR-727 Latin Percussion cost £550 GBP when it was released a year after Roland's earlier flagship TR-707 drum box. The TR-727 was designed to compliment the earlier machine, and is essentially the same unit with the exact same specs, but with different samples and a different colour scheme, otherwise everything is the same as the TR-707. with the two units sync-able via DIN sync so you could compose drums & percussion patterns across both machines, each one with 10 dedicated sound outputs making mixing a breeze.

Pattern creation itself was an absolute breeze with the easy to program TR style 16-step button sequencer along the bottom augmented by the large LCD screen, all of which left other drum machines programming methodology eating dust frankly. You can create a maximum of 64 Patterns of up to 16 steps each which can be chained into a total of 4 songs, but adding an options M64C cartridge bumps this up by double to 8 songs. Patterns can be sequenced using the TR grid step style, but can also be played into the unit with good old fashioned button mashing if preferred, playing along to a metronome.

The 15 percussion sounds in the TR-727 are: Hi/Lo Bongo, Conga Mute/Hi/Lo, Timbale Hi/Lo, Agogo Hi/Lo, Cabasa, Maracas, Whistle Short/Long, Quijada & Star-chime. Round at the back there are 10 individual outputs (meaning some secondary drums share outputs) as well as stereo L/R out and a headphone socket to boot.

Casio RZ-1

1986 & Casio release their first ever drum machine for just under £400 GBP and it had 8-bit sampling built in! Sounds can be sampled into 4 slots at 0.2 seconds each, or combined to make 2 sample slots at 0.4 seconds each or one longer sample at 0.8 seconds. All sampling is done at 20kHz bandwidth. The RZ-1 does MIDI & Sysex sample dump. An under-rated machine with a really cool old school hip hop vibe & with 8 separate outs (plus two more for the sample slots) so you can really mix those drum sounds.

Korg DDD-1

Korg's flagship drum box from 1986 which could be expanded with ROM sound cards & an optional sampling board, it even had bass sounds included to add bass-lines to your beats via the tuned pad feature which assigned different tunings to pads to play melody lines. Although the basic stock sounds weren't that good or plentiful it was a fantastically creative drum machine if expanded, especially good to use simply as a drum pad controller for bashing out beats due to it's imposing size, and with stereo out + 6 assignable extra outs mixing it's sounds on a desk was a breeze. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful looking bits of MIDI kit ever made. Put one in a room and people rush over to check it out.

E-mu SP-1200

1987 & E-mu unleash the newer SP1200, which was basically the exact same box as the discontinued SP-12 but now sporting a built-in 3.5" disk drive & new internals. Unlike the SP-12 the SP1200 no longer had ROM sounds built in, but E-mu offered 5 disks of factory sounds on release. The SP1200 is a 12-bit machine offering 10 seconds of total sampling time at a 26kHz sample rate, dividing the available sample memory into 4 banks of 2.5 seconds each, meaning any sample has a max time of 2.5 seconds. Samples are stored in these 4 banks (A/B/C/D) and with a max 32 voices any bank of 8 samples can be assigned to the 8 pads at a time. Additionally a single sample can be assigned to all 8 pads and played with pitch or different velocity levels per pad. The SP1200 has the same 8 outputs as the SP-12. The SP1200 cost £2199 GBP on release.

Alesis HR-16

1988 & Alesis continued their theme of cut-priced but quality sounding products by releasing a super affordable 16-bit drum machine for around £449 GBP (with the street price soon dropping even lower within months after that). 49 drum & percussion sounds can be assigned to any of the 16 pads - hence the mixer-style scribble strip above the 2 rows of pads - and assigned to either of the 2 stereo outs with panning & volume per voice. The HR-16's are 16 note poly but all 49 sounds are accessible via MIDI if you setup the sounds to a MIDI map. Although the HR is generally NOT rated for it's sounds when you read website reviews it was used on plenty of hiphop records including "It’s a Big Daddy thing" by Big Daddy Kane, Prince Among Thieves & more. The black HR-16B arrived in 1989 featuring more 'effected' sounds and the two machines could be linked to give 96 voices with one acting as master which was quite clever.

Roland R8

1989 - Once the top-end flagship sample drum box from Roland & at the time it was streets ahead of the competition. If you can find them this unit takes expansion cards loaded with 909 samples and more which are obviously of excellent quality with Roland owning the originals from which the samples were taken. Good clean high quality sound & 8 separate outs.

Yamaha RY30

Added to the listings for posterity, the RY30 was released in 1991 & this 16-bit 48k machine represents the sort of pinnacle drum machines reached in the early 90's & was essentially Yamaha's counter-punch to Roland's slightly earlier flagship R8, containing everything Yamaha could throw at a drum box with the technology of the time & being the first drum machine from Yamaha that was not RX designated since their initial RX11 & RX15 machines back in 1984. The RY30 featured 90 AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory) samples or "waves", any two of which can be layered and then have SY55 derived pitch, filter and amplitude envelopes applied. The RY30 could also take 'Wave' expansion cards featuring signature drummers like Dave Weckl, but also they had cards for Dance & Soul & House & Rap.

Roland R-70

Roland's big flagship drum machine from 1992 & this one has plenty of very high quality TR808, TR909, TR606 and CR78 samples onboard with comprehensive edit parameters to tweak those sounds. The R-70 uses high quality velocity layered 16-bit samples, even offering features like variable 3 different strike positions for cymbal hits (bell, centre or edge) via the special horizontal 'Positional' pad. 242 high quality sounds and digital FX. Round the back you get mono/stereo out plus 2 assignable outs.

Zoom RhythmTrak 234

Quite a recent drum box from 1998 but a bit of a hidden gem this one offering massive sound variety from 808 to acoustic drums across many styles which actually makes it a bit of a ghetto weapon for hip-hop with some really good 'Public Enemy' / 'NWA' classic era sounding kicks & snares and much more. Also has a bass line synth built in.

Analog modelling drum machines

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Classic analog modelling drum machines

Novation Drumstation

The original & best! Superbly modelled 808 & 909 kits with separate outs for drums & you can mix & match kits to create 909-808 hybrids, all in a handy 19" rack format.

Korg Electribe R

A cheap, controllable, genuine Roland oldie which can be clocked with midi-CV. It has plenty of realtime controllers to mess with & a built-in pattern sequencer, sorta like an SH-101 without the keys.

Korg Volca drum

From early hip-hop to Prince, this box has seen a lot of use in huge selling tracks in various genres.

Clavia Nord drum

Once the top-end sample drum box from Roland, if you can find them this unit takes expansion cards loaded with 909 samples and more.

Elektron Machinedrum

Another of the few budget old Roland synths that won't break the bank. Needs a CV-clock to run the sequencer or you can play it live from the keys. Lots of realtime controls with this affordable classic.

Yamaha AN-200

An often overlooked bargain bucket old classic The Jen SX doesn't have alot of sound variety, but a very nice filter. Check one out.

Roland TR-08

Released around 2018 & still available today for around £330 GBP, the TR-08 uses Roland's proprietary ACB (Analog Circuit Behaviour) modelling to deliver very realistic TR-808 sounds, and the diminutive unit faithfully reproduces the original TR-808 programming interface.

For some reason (possibly the size of the unit, although they could surely have used mini-jacks), Roland chose NOT to give the TR-08 separate analog outs, which are critical for mixing any TR drum unit in song production, so the TR-08 only features a main L/R output mix plus a headphone socket on the back, but individual drums can be panned and levelled within that main mix, with the additional feature of compression being applied to sounds as an option.

If you want more outputs however then you have to turn to using the machine over USB in conjunction with your DAW, and then the TR-08 yields the main stereo L/R mix plus 10 additional mono channels streaming over USB into your DAW where it's drum sounds can be mixed separately using plugins & DAW EQ etc.

All in all the TR-08 is perhaps another example of Roland's current and ongoing confused product strategy, half-way delivering what people wanted but compromised in the full features users would ideally prefer. Therefore if you want the real TR-808 experience from a modern day clone you'd probably be better off going for the 100% real analog Behringer TD-8, which has full analog outs for all drums, but it does take up much more room in your bedroom studio setup being full sized.

Roland TR-09

Released around 2018 for £369 GBP & now mysteriously discontinued, the TR-09 uses Roland's proprietary ACB (Analog Circuit Behaviour) modelling to deliver very realistic TR-909 sounds, and the diminutive unit faithfully reproduces the original TR-909 programming interface.

For some reason (possibly the size of the unit, although they could surely have used mini-jacks), Roland chose NOT to give the TR-08 separate analog outs, which are critical for mixing any TR drum unit in song production, so the TR-08 only features a main L/R output mix plus a headphone socket on the back, but individual drums can be panned and levelled within that main mix, with the additional feature of compression being applied to sounds as an option.

If you want more outputs however then you have to turn to using the machine over USB in conjunction with your DAW, but for some idiotic reason the TR-09 doesn't allow individual drums on separate outs over USB as does it's TR-08 sibling, and instead offers main stereo mix plus only 4 additional stereo outs over USB, and you cannot pan voices in any of the 4 additional USB stereo channels so individual sounds can never be isolated to their own DAW channels for individual mixing using plugins & DAW EQ etc unless you only have 4 sounds, each being routed to one stereo separate out, or you are ok with sounds sharing these stereo outs... Why Roland did this when the TR-08 sister unit offers 10 proper mono USB outs + stereo main mix over USB is a complete mystery.

More of a mystery is why Roland decided to discontinue this product while keeping it's sister TR-08 unit alive? Yet another example of Roland's muddled product strategy.

All in all the TR-09 is perhaps another example of Roland's current and ongoing confused product strategy, half-way delivering what people wanted but compromised in the full features users would ideally prefer. Therefore if you want the real TR-909 experience from a modern day clone you'd probably be better off going for the 100% real analog Behringer TD-9, which has full analog outs for all drums, but it does take up much more room in your bedroom studio setup being full sized.

New analog drum machines

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Aliquam vestibulum tempor dolor, at consectetur eros accumsan at. Mauris nec diam in libero sollicitudin elementum. Nam egestas, metus sit amet interdum aliquet, lorem quam maximus odio, vel imperdiet nulla enim quis tellus. Nam ullamcorper dignissim scelerisque. Mauris sit amet auctor augue. Aliquam auctor mi ut tincidunt bibendum. Suspendisse tincidunt, libero quis dignissim pellentesque, odio tortor scelerisque nisl, eu iaculis eros lorem nec lectus.

New analog drum machines

Jomox Xbase 09

1996 & German company Jomox kicked off the retro analog drum box revival with this legendary machine which remained in production until 2005. The Xbase 09 has bass drum, snare drum, hi hat, clap, rim, crash, ride (6 samples & noise selectable)

Behringer RD-8

One of the many new analog re-makes from the newly restructured Behringer, and this incredible, full sized, all analog 808 clone, sporting extra features and full separate outs for all drums is a super bargain at around £269 GBP.

Behringer RD-9

One of the many new analog re-makes from the newly restructured Behringer, and this incredible, full sized, all analog 909 clone, sporting extra features and full separate outs for all drums is a super bargain at around £269 GBP.

Korg Volca Beats

Combing 6 analog drum parts (Analog synthesis (Kick, Snare, Hi Tom, Lo Tom, Closed Hi Hat, Open Hi Hat) & four PCM synthesis voices (Clap, Claves, Agogo & Crash) the Korg Volca Beats is a cool real analog beat box with a retro sound at a super low cost of around £139 GBP. Only has a stereo combined headphone and main audio out, but at the measly price it's quite acceptable.

Arturia Drum Brute Impact

Featuring 10 true analog voices for around £259 GBP the Drum Brute Impact has a real old school flavour about it.

Jomox MBase 11

Jomox keep on doing what they always did, making cool analog gear & the MBase is the current kick drum box from them, fully analog with storable presets.

Behringer RD-6

Super cheap TR-606 clone from Behringer. 8 analog drum sounds: bass drum, snare drum, low tom, high tom, cymbal, clap, open hi-hat and closed hi-hat, with mix out plus 6 separate outs, all for a ridiculous price of around £145 GBP

MFB Kult-502

An often overlooked bargain bucket old classic The Jen SX doesn't have alot of sound variety, but a very nice filter. Check one out.

Software drum machines

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Aliquam vestibulum tempor dolor, at consectetur eros accumsan at. Mauris nec diam in libero sollicitudin elementum. Nam egestas, metus sit amet interdum aliquet, lorem quam maximus odio, vel imperdiet nulla enim quis tellus. Nam ullamcorper dignissim scelerisque. Mauris sit amet auctor augue. Aliquam auctor mi ut tincidunt bibendum. Suspendisse tincidunt, libero quis dignissim pellentesque, odio tortor scelerisque nisl, eu iaculis eros lorem nec lectus.

Top selling drum machines

Here's the top selling Drum Boxes at Thomann's store based on previous months sales figures. This will give you an idea about what products are currently popular at Europe's largest retailer.

James

23-July-2020

SDR-1000+ Reverb has to be one of the most subjective tools in audio. Undoubtedly the SDR has some interesting heritage (Sony) in additon to some useful features that make it more flexible than other comparable units from that era (true stereo, basic routing of L & R processors, midi patch selection). But compared to other verbs around the same price point ($100-200 range), Im not feeling any baseline "magic" from its sound. More like a workhorse, again within the scope of the time period these were being made, which isnt necessarily a bad thing.

Perhaps if you're hunting down a specific production chain or setup (some well known artists apparently used these), otherwise much better uses of rack space available out there for the same money imho.

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an underated usb interface, Tascam has continued to update drivers and improve performance for this product. I own two of them, and like the size, sound quality and mulitude of connection and paths available.

I use the 64 bit windows 7 driver without problems. These are available used quite cheaply and are handy for vocal and guitar recording.The only drawback is the low profile knobs, which were designed not to snag when carried in a backpack or bag. it takes a while to get used to using two fingers to turn the knobs, instead of 1 finger and your thumb, but it becomes intutive like scratching a record. I colored the knobs on mine with different color sharpies to make it easier to quickly see which knob I wanted to adjust.

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awesome sound. capable of mybloodyvalentine type swirling sounds, as well as verve-y sonic paradise sounds. it is a permanent addition to my setup.

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i bought this delay a couple of months ago to use in my synth/drumachine setup. I was expeting kind of lofi style but was suprised with this "meaty" analog sound.. very musical and at once became a favourite.. it sounds like a instrument! love it..

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