The Drumstar 80 is a curious drum machine in so far as it combines a number of elements more commonly associated with high-end PCM offering from legendary units in the field such as the TR-707 and DMX along with a number of elements more commonly found on a number of early organ rhythm accompaniment boxes; resulting in a final product quite unlike any other drum machine of the period.
At the more professional end of the scale, it features a full 12 individual outputs paired with 12 volume faders for each group of sounds, of which the Drumstar boasts an impressive 32 in total. However, it is from that point onwards that the Drumstar begins to show signs of Elka's roots as an organ manufacturer. The unit features 20 separate rhythms (Disco, Latin, Cha Cha, etc...) each with 3 basic variations as well as a “Fill” and “Intro/Ending”, which brings us to user programming options which are restricted to a single programmable variation and fill per rhythm, which amounts to roughly 20 separate 2 bar sequences along with 20 separate 1 bar fills. Programming itself is accomplished via a tap write method, Hi Hatswith automatic quantize to 16th notes, which works extremely well despite the unusual drum trigger buttons. A further, frankly infuriating feature of the Drumstar is the inclusion of an internal cooling fan, doubtless to ensure reliable operation in a humid Mediterranean basement club in a late 80's summer but more than slightly annoying when attempting to use it within a recording situation where acoustics are all important. Clearly, this drum machine has a strong emphasis on live application.
As with a number of the Drumstar's contemporaries of the period there is no editing of drum voices in any way and while the unit does feature MIDI it is unfortunately restricted to clock in and out alone, which is a real shame considering the limitations of the internal sequencer. The sound palette encapsulates all the sounds one might expect to find in a drum machine of this era, namely Kicks, Snares, Toms, Hand Claps, Hi Hats and Cymbals as well as a number of less common additions such as Electronic Snares (with a sound approaching a Simmons unit), Congas, Bongos, Triangles, Cabasa, Cowbell, Clave and even Agogo Bells and Guiro. It is not just the range of sounds but the subtle variations of those sounds that lend this drum machine an edge over it's competitor Hi Hats for example, rather than featuring simply a closed and open option, as the vast majority of units of this era did, features a muted closed hat, an accented closed hat, the open hat and a pedal hat sound. In combination, despite the fact that the unit features no shuffle or additional accent options, the machine can produce remarkably lively and active sequences.
The sounds of the unit themselves are universally punchy and crisp, this is not a drum machine that you might describe as crunchy in the same way as you might a Casio RZ-1 yet it retains a great deal of character to its sounds that units such as the Roland TR-626 and later still the Alesis SR-16 perhaps lost in their quest for more realistic sounding units. Therefore, despite all the obvious flaws of the unit it is impossible to ignore the sounds it is capable of producing, which is ultimately the most important aspect of any instrument and accordingly it is on these sounds that the prospected user of the Drumstar will make their judgement.
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Review written by: Cecil Dubreque
Images from: Audiofanzine.com and Jac-noise.com