Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer

Roland TR-808 Image

The TR-808 is a classic drum machine that uses analog synthesis to create its sounds. The sounds have a very pure quality and are closer to the sound of the CR-series of Roland drum machines, as opposed to its popular successor, the TR-909. The TR-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 a distinctive cowbell sound made famous in the 1980's are all part of the 808 and its famous sound.

Its 16 drum sounds include the famous boomy 808 kick, snare, low/mid/high toms, low/mid/high congas, rimshot, claves, hand clap, maracas, cowbell, cymbal, open hi-hat, closed hi-hat and accent. Most of the sounds can be edited. Bass Drum and Cymbal (tone, decay), Snare (tone, snappy), Toms and Congas (tuning), Open Hat (decay). All sounds have individual volume controls and individual outputs. Unfortunately it was not MIDI equipped but it did 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 allowed it to find a long-lasting home in many forms of music. Ultimately, the 808 has become one of the more important and famous drum machines in the history of music, spawning imitators (ReBirth, DrumStation) as well as band names (808 State).

Roland TR-808 Image

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, Kraftwerk, Jean Michel Jarre, Cocteau Twins, Marvin Gaye, Luke Vibert, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, the Beastie Boys, Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran), and Puff Daddy.

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51 Visitor comments
BIg Chris
November 7, 2009 @ 9:56 am
Surely I'm not the only person who thinks that the TR-808 sounds utterly crap? One of the first drum machines I owned was a TR-606, with separate outputs added. I thought it sounded great, and had always believed it had the same sounds as the 808. I eventually bought an 808, but when I played it I was surprised to find that it sounded really thin and weedy compared to the 606. While the extra features for altering the sounds were a great feature, they did little to alleviate the fact that the sounds were fundamentally weak. I quite quickly sold the 808 and carried on using the 606. And before anyone says anything about US and European 808's sounding different, I've heard that claimed before and having heard an 808 that was imported from the US I can assure you they both sounded crap.
Nick Esposito
November 1, 2009 @ 3:15 pm
I actually think the claps are crispier than the snares. The cymbals are good too.
If Two Culture Clash used it on their song ". . . And Dance" then I love it!
September 17, 2009 @ 1:58 am
outkast uses the tr808 in every song i've heard .. i have the mc 808 and it really [beep] s analog is the way to go
August 3, 2009 @ 6:26 pm
I want one. Don't care about minor drawbacks. My boy, Poly Phonic can fix it. I was around when this beauty first hit the scene, and I thought it was fantastic, then. I agree with hgh. Beastie Boys were big fans of the 808. So were a lot of early 80's rappers. Fat Boys, anyone? Dougie Fresh, Slick Rick....etc.
July 20, 2009 @ 10:36 am
In response to johnny esp, "In the Air" uses the CR-78 not the TR-808.

I'm more stunned that the Beastie Boys don't get a mention for the use of the TR-808. It is all over their album Licence to ill.
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  • The link above will take you to an eBay search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - 12 voices
  • Sounds - Kick, Snare, Low/Mid/Hi Toms, Low/Mid/Hi Congas, Rimshot, Claves, Hand clap, Maracas, Cow bell, Cymbal, Open hihat, Closed hihat, Accent
  • Effects - Auto fill-in
  • Patterns - 64
  • Songs - 12
  • Arpeg/Seq - Sequencer
  • Keyboard - none
  • Control - DIN SYNC IN/OUT
  • Date Produced - 1981-84
  • Resources & Credits
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