TR-808: the history, the sound and the present


TR-808: the history, the sound and the present

Original TR-808

Few instruments have influenced modern music like the TR-808 Rhythm Composer. The all-analog 808 is most famous for its big, booming bass drum ‑ an intimidating force of nature that can be felt as well as heard. Add a robotic clap, brash cowbell and crisp cymbals and you’ve got the raw materials for musical mayhem – maybe it’s no coincidence that ‘808’ is also the penal code used by the US police for ‘disturbing the peace’. Although production ended in 1983, the roots of the 808’s success grew from the culture that saw its potential – through the visionary musicians and producers who imprinted its voice onto the fabric of pop, hip-hop and electronic music. But the greatest legacy is that “808” means so many things to so many people – that a simple rhythm box managed to transcend musical genres, adorn T-Shirts, and even get namechecked in song lyrics. And with its bold black body, scrolling lights and sixteen coloured sequencer buttons, the look is just as iconic as the sound. Ever present, always relevant – the TR-808 is undeniably, indisputably, the biggest sound on the planet.

Engineer comment

After speaking with some of the original TR-808 engineers, it’s clear that they were working on something special as they strived to give the machine its identity: “The TR-808’s bass drum sound was a sweeping sine wave; it was an abstraction of the core sonic elements of a drum sound. Acoustic bass drums include many overtones, but we did not focus on these – instead, we recreated an intense feeling of mass at the lower end, underpinned by the way the drum’s pitch changes after being struck. The TR-808 used analog synthesis for each of its parts, including the snare, clap and hi-hats, so we extracted the core elements for those sound types too. And since we could control these elements, it was possible to alter the sounds via the TR-808’s knobs, to fit the required music. Creating patterns was very easy too, thanks to the 16 buttons on the built-in sequencer; its intuitive operation enabled real-time performance including muting parts. In the end, the TR-808 stood out not just because of how it sounded, but also due to the way that you made music with it.”

Beyond PCM technology

It’s very difficult to recreate the unique character of analogue synth sounds using only PCM technology. The task is made harder still by the endless combinations of knobs and settings typical of analog systems. To deliver the most authentic version of the TR-808, a new perspective was needed; technology that would allow us to digitally recreate the building blocks that gave the sounds their character. Roland’s new technology: ACB (Analogue Circuit Behavior) is the result. Based on the original circuit diagrams, right down to the quirks of the individual analog components, the ACB project also drew from the expertise of the TR-808 engineers, delivering the most accurate and convincing version of the drum machine that started it all – made by the company that built the original.

Experience the TR-808 sound

The TR-808 is simple, warm and brimming with character. With a timeless appeal and a never-ending discography, the 808 sound is still in demand today across a variety of musical genres. And these iconic drum sounds can now be yours, thanks to Roland’s technology “ACB”.
From the Roland Boutique TR-08, which inherits the TR-808’s classic form and function, to the AIRA-branded TR-8, which is built for live performance, to the latest AIRA TR-8S which incorporates audio samples to push beyond the classic TR signature sound – a variety of standalone hardware options awaits. Both the TR-8 and TR-8S also include TR-909 sounds, along with a host of other renowned TR models.
Or if you’re a DJ, then Roland’s DJ controllers (DJ-808/505/202) also include TR-808 sounds (and other TR kits) which can be programmed and blended into your sets, giving your DJing a fresh and highly creative edge.
And now the TR-808 is available in software via the Roland Cloud platform, providing a highly accurate plug-in version of the TR-808 Rhythm Composer. Built on the latest Roland’s technology “ACB”, you can now ruthlessly deploy the rib-shaking power of the TR-808, from the comfort of your favorite DAW.
Forget about sound quality and eye-watering eBay prices, choose the option that fits your style, and start writing. How will you use the TR-808 in your music? Find out today by experiencing the TR sound, for free, via Roland Cloud.