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Jon Johnson

Topic: TR-808

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The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, often referred to simply as the 808, is a drum machine introduced by the Roland Corporation in 1980 and discontinued in 1983. It was one of the earliest programmable drum machines, with which users could create their own rhythms rather than having to use presets.

Unlike its nearest competitor, the more expensive and sample-based Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, the 808 is completely analog, meaning its sounds are generated via hardware. Launched at a time when electronic music had yet to become mainstream, the 808 received poor reviews for its unrealistic drum sounds and was a commercial failure. Having built approximately 12,000 units, Roland discontinued the 808 after improvements to semiconductor technology made it impossible to restock the faulty transistors that were an essential part of its design. It was succeeded in 1984 by the TR-909.

Over the course of the decade, the 808 attracted a cult following among underground musicians for its affordability, ease of use, and idiosyncratic sounds, particularly its deep, "booming" bass drum. It became a cornerstone of the emerging electronic, dance, and hip hop genres, popularized by early hits such as Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" (1982) and Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force's "Planet Rock" (1982). The 808 was eventually used on more hit records than any other drum machine, and its sounds continue to be used; its popularity with hip hop in particular has made it one of the most influential inventions in popular music, comparable to the Fender Stratocaster's influence on rock.

Sounds and features

The 808 generates 16 different sounds in imitation of acoustic percussion: bass drum, snare, toms, conga, rimshot, claves, handclap, maraca, cowbell, cymbal, and hi-hat (open and closed).[9] It is completely analog, meaning its sounds are generated via hardware rather than sampled; TR stands for "Transistor Rhythm". Users can program up to 32 patterns using the step sequencer, each with a maximum of 768 measures, and place accents on individual beats, a feature introduced with the CR-78. Users can also set the tempo and time signature, including unusual signatures such as 5/4 and 7/8.The machine has multiple audio outputs and a DIN sync port (a precursor to MIDI) to synchronize with other devices, considered groundbreaking at the time.

The 808's sounds do not resemble real percussion, and have been described as "clicky and hypnotic", "robotic",[8] "toy-like", "spacey" and "futuristic". Fact described them as a combination of "synth tones and white noise ... more akin to bursts coming from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop [than] a proper rhythm section." The machine is particularly noted for its powerful bass drum sound, built from a combination of a bridged T-network sine oscillator, a low-pass filter, and a voltage-controlled amplifier. The bass drum decay control allows the user to lengthen the sound, creating uniquely low frequencies which flatten slightly over long periods, possibly not by design. At high volumes, the bass drum sound is powerful enough to blow speakers.

The 808 launched in 1980 with a list price of $1,195 USD. Roland marketed it as an affordable alternative to the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, manufactured by Linn Electronics, which uses samples of real drum kits. However, the 808 sounded simplistic and synthetic by comparison; electronic music had yet to become mainstream and many musicians and producers wanted realistic-sounding drum machines. Many reports state that one review dismissed the machine as sounding like "marching anteaters", though this was likely referring to machines that predated it. Despite some early adopters, the 808 was a commercial failure and sold fewer than 12,000 units. Roland ended production in 1983 after semiconductor improvements made the faulty transistors that were an essential part of its design impossible to restock.





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