Roland 808 Drum Machine
The TR-808 is a classic drum machine that used analog synthesis to create its sounds. The sounds have a very thin and pure quality and aren't grungy like it's successor the TR-909. In fact, the 808 has become the signature beatbox used in most R&B and hip-hop as well as a lot of dance and techno music. Booming bass kicks, crispy snares and that annoying cowbell sound made famous during the 80's are all part of the 808 and its famous sound.
Its 16 drum sounds include the famous boomy low kick, snappy snares, low/mid/hi toms, low/mid/hi congas, rimshot, claves, hand clap, maracas, cowbell, cymbal, open hihat, closed hihat and accent. All of the sounds can be edited and/or tuned and have individual outputs. Unfortunately it is not MIDI equipped but it does use Roland's DIN Sync.
The TR-808 was OK in its time. It just didn't sound like real drums. When the Linn Drum machines appeared, the 808 seemed doomed. But its unique sound and analog allure have found it a long-lasting home in many forms of music. Clearly the 808 has been one of the more important and famous drum machines in the history of music, spawning imitators (ReBirth, DrumStation) and band names (808 State). Famous users include Orbital, Überzone, Download, Aphex Twin, 808 State, BT, Bomb The Bass, Sense Datum, The Prodigy, Josh Wink, Faithless, Skinny Puppy, Bushflange, Jimi Tenor, A Guy Called Gerald, Eat Static, Dr. Dre, Jimmy Edgar, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Freddy Fresh, Richie Hawtin, Jean Michel Jarre, Cocteau Twins, Marvin Gaye, Luke Vibert, LL Cool J, Ice Cube and Puff Daddy.
The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer was one of the first programmable drum machines ("TR" serving as an initialism for Transistor Rhythm). Introduced by the Roland Corporation in early 1980, it was originally manufactured for use as a tool for studio musicians to create demos. Like earlier Roland drum machines, it does not sound very much like a real drum kit. Indeed, because the TR-808 came out a few months after the Linn LM-1 (the first drum machine to use digital samples), professionals generally considered its sound inferior to sampling drum machines; a 1982 Keyboard Magazine review of the Linn Drum indirectly referred to the TR-808 as sounding like marching anteaters.
The TR-808 was a step forward from Roland's previous CR-78 drum machine. The machine featured more sounds (eighteen in total) and better controls to allow the user to control the vision in waves in real time: volume knobs for the level of each sound and tone-shaping controls for the more important sounds. The memory capacity for storing patterns was increased substantially: 16 pattern locations were available, and furthermore, these could be chained together to produce songs, 22 of which could also be stored in memory. The memory was volatile (maintained by three DD batteries). The programming interface was hugely improved: a row of 16 buttons allowed the user to employ a very intuitive step-programming method—the pattern was divided up into 16 steps, and the buttons and LEDs indicated whether a drum sound played on each step. The unit also featured Roland's new DIN-Sync clock interface for synchronization with other equipment, plus various analog clock-outputs for slaving other devices. The TR-808 predated the invention of the MIDI interface; however such is the TR-808's enduring popularity that several third-party manufacturers provided MIDI-retrofit kits for it over the years.
One of the earliest uses of the TR-808 for a live performance was by Yellow Magic Orchestra in December 1980 in the song "1000 Knives," composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1978. The hand-clap sound was later publicized by YMO's innovative album BGM, released March 1981 in Japan; used again on "1000 Knives"; and in "Music Plans," another of Sakamoto's songs. One of the machine's earliest mainstream hits in the United States was on Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing." Roland acknowledge Australian producer Mark Moffatt as the first to use the TR-808 on record with his studio project "The Monitors." A TR-808 was also David Byrne's sole accompaniment (apart from his acoustic guitar) at the beginning of Stop Making Sense, prior to the gradual appearance of the rest of Talking Heads; although Byrne created the illusion that the sound came from "a tape I want to play" on a boombox he brought onstage.
As more realistic drum computers appeared, the TR-808 was discontinued and it became easy to buy a used machine for a low price. Its availability lead to a second life as a cheap source of rhythm for hiphop artists in the mid 1980s. The Beastie Boys breakout album Licensed to Ill consists mostly of hip-hop rhymes backed by the characteristic TR-808 beats and samples from popular rock songs; its success lead to a new surge in popularity.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, after the TR-808 was discontinued, its sound again became popular, in part due to its kick drum sound, which could produce a very deep sub-bass. By the end of the 1980s, the TR-808 was popular within electronic music and hip-hop genres. As with many analogue electronic musical instruments, a great deal of effort has been put into sampling the sounds of the TR-808 for use in modern devices; however, due to the nature of analog circuitry, the result is often considered unsatisfactory and can sound unduly static and digital. Demand for the real 808 sound is so great that street prices for a used TR-808 have stayed close to what the cost of a new TR-808 was upon its initial release in 1980 when adjusted for inflation.
The sounds of the TR-808 were and still are very often used in drum and bass, hip hop, R&B, house, electro, and many forms of electronic dance music, albeit often unrecognizable after extensive processing. One method is to lower the pitch of the kick drum to near-sub-harmonic levels.