Roland TR-808

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 late 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. However, the TR-808 cost US$1,000 upon its release, which was considerably more affordable than the US$5,000 LM-1.



The TR-808 was a step forward from Roland's previous CR-78 drum machine. The machine featured more sounds (sixteen in total) and better controls to allow the user to control the sounds 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: 32 pattern locations were available, and furthermore, these could be chained together to produce songs, 12 of which could also be stored in memory. The memory was non-volatile (maintained by three AA 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.

* Number of memory locations for user-programmable rhythm patterns:
**two banks of 12 (or these can be combined to give 1 bank of 12 double length patterns)
**plus: an additional two banks of four for use as Intro / Fill-in (again, these can be combined to give 1 bank of 4 double length patterns)
*Number of song memory locations (ie, lists patterns chained together)
** 12 tracks, each storing a list of up to 64 patterns (tracks themselves can also be chained together)
** song and pattern memories maintained by three 1.5-volt AA batteries (dry cell) [ Roland Manuals (T)]
* Divisions per pattern:
**maximum of 32 steps per pattern
* Sound Sources:
**bass drum
**snare drum
**low tom or low conga (selectable)
**mid tom or mid conga (selectable)
**hi tom or hi conga (selectable)
**rimshot or claves (selectable)
**handclap or maracas (selectable)
**cow bell
**open hi-hat or closed hi-hat (selectable)
**Accent (Note that "Accent" is not itself a sound; rather, it allows the musician to place accents—that is, to increase the loudness—on certain steps in the pattern. All sounds playing on these steps are accented.)

The sounds on the TR-808 are a development from the earlier TR-33, TR-55 & TR-77 machines, and the CR-78. These machines predominatly used tuned resonance voice circuits for pitched drum sounds and shaped white noise for others. The TR-808 improves on these designs, including for example adding detuned square wave oscillators (cow bell, cymbal) and analogue reverberation (handclap). However, the distinctive metal beat sound from the CR-78 was not used, nor some of the Latin percussion sounds (e.g., guiro, tambourine) from the TR-77 and CR-78.

Popular media

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."

In the mid-to-late 1980s, years 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 analogue 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 are actually higher than the cost of a new TR-808 was upon its initial release in 1980.

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, which can destroy loudspeakers.

The popularity of the TR-808 has led to many artists referring to the machine in their lyrics, [Examples include the following:
"The 808 kick is within my reach / Sublime style comin' straight from Long Beach." Sublime, "Cisco Kid" from Robbin' the Hood, 1994.

"Everybody gettin down make no mistake / Nothing sounds quite like the 808." Beastie Boys, "Super Disco Breakin'" from "Hello Nasty", 1998,
"Boom like an 808", Blaque, "808" from "Blaque", 1999
"But I know y'all wanted that 808 / Can you feel that B-A-S-S bass." OutKast, "The Way You Move," from "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below", 2003
"...and my 808 kickin'." T.I., "Top Back" from "King", 2006
"Drop that 808 / The walls begin to shake / It's to much for the club to take /It's shakin' like an Earthquake!" Family Force 5, "Earthquake," from "Business Up Front/Party In The Back", 2006
"Base...Hi-hat...808..." Beyoncé Knowles, "Déjà Vu" from "B'Day", 2006
"You got my heart beating like an 808" Britney Spears, "Break The Ice" from "Blackout", 2007
"Cuz the 808 kick drum makes the girlies get dumb." Sir Mix-A-Lot, "Posse on Broadway"
"Happy hour / Sun shower / 808s / Gives you power." Felix da Housecat, "Happy Hour" from "Kittenz and Thee Glitz", 2001
"I'm back with an 808 'cause I'm bossy." Kelis, "Bossy" from "Kelis Was Here", 2006.
"Looking like jail bait, Selling lots of real estate, Looking like a hot date, Banging like an 808." Beck, "Hollywood Freaks" from Midnite Vultures, 1999.
"Now give me more 808, and turn up the guitars." Atmosphere, from Full Moon, Strictly Leakage, 2008.
"...just a snare and an 808." Lil Wayne, "Let the Beat Build" from "Tha Carter III"
] and the group 808 State even named itself after the venerable machine, although Graham Massey recently admitted that up until the late 1980s he and the other members of 808 State thought the Roland TR-808 was [ "severely uncool."]

On 8th August 2008 (08.08.08) a party was held in London to celebrate the TR-808. It featured 808 State, Arthur Baker, DMX Krew and I-f, artists associated with the machine. The party was organised by the electro label, Citinite.


The popularity of the TR-808 is such that many companies have seen fit to cater to a significant market of musicians who want the sound of the TR-808 but are not able to pay for one. This has led to a rise in clones—devices designed to emulate the TR-808 for a much cheaper price.

Popular clones include the following:

*Audiobits [ 8-Tron VSTi]
*Elektron MachineDrum SPS-1 - the TRX machine synthesis algorithms are directly inspired by the Roland TR series
*Jomox AirBase 99 and XBase 09 - emulates the Roland CR-78, TR-808, and TR-909
*Novation DrumStation - an analogue emulation drum module that imitates the waveforms created by the original TR-808 and TR-909
*Propellerhead Software ReBirth RB-338 - one of the first software synthesizers that included accurate emulations of the Roland TB-303, TR-909, and TR-808.
*Native Instruments Battery 3 drum sampling software (the kit is named "Ate Oh Wait Kit.") Another copy of this sample is included in Kontakt 3 as the "808 Kit."
* The Zoom company's MRT-3B drum machine also features many 808-style sounds.
* [ D16 Group's Nepheton] - A VST instrument that emulates the TR-808. The D16 team indicated they carefully studied each waveform coming out of the 808's transistors and made its software emulate it.
* ['s ADM DrumMachine] - A VST instrument carefully modeled after the classics' analog circuits.Many of Roland's other products, including its electronic drums, include TR-808-style drum sounds, although they may be samples and are usually not the same sound.


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