The TR-909 drum machine was launched 33 years ago. Though the analog/sample-based hybrid is perhaps not quite as iconic as the 808 it replaced, musicians continue to seek out its sounds today. Roland marked the 909's birthday with a 24-hour product release party that included a DJ controller, a new plug-out synth, some BOSS guitar amps and a digital saxophone. Let's jump on the 909 bus and take a quick tour.
Unlike the beatbox it replaced, the 909 drum machine was part analog and part sample-based. It came with a built-in step sequencer, the ability to store entire songs instead of just patterns and baked-in MIDI capabilities.
There were beat machines available at the time that sounded more convincing, such as Roger Linn's LM-1, but musicians and producers could get a fresh, new Roland unit for a fraction of the cost. As such it went on to become the rhythmic heart of countless House, Techno and Hip-Hop creations. Notable 909 chart-toppers include Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy and Moby.
No surprise then that Roland is in celebratory mood. Rather than list all of the bevy of beauties announced as part of 909 Day, we've picked a few highlights and thrown the rest in the gallery. To kick things off, no 909 celebration would be complete without a new rhythm machine based on the original.
The hybrid sound, step sequencing and fine-tune parameter control of the TR-909 have been recreated for the more compact and less expensive TR-09. It offers a choice of Step or Tap write modes, beats can continue to be played while creating new patterns, there's a choice of MIDI, USB or trigger ports and it can run on four AA-sized batteries for music production on the move.
Roland says that the TR-09 should cost you no more than US$399. Two other members of the Boutique Series have also been announced: the $349 TB-03 bass line synth (based on the TB-303) and the similarly-priced VP-03 vocoder (influenced by the classic VP-330 Vocoder Plus).
For dedicated disc spinners
Roland's first DJ controller has been developed in partnership with software house Serato. The DJ-808 features a pro-level 4-channel digital mixer, low-latency platters, built-in drum sequencer and vocal processing.
The platters have integrated displays for playback status and two decks can controlled from a single platter. The included TR-S drum machine is packed with 606, 707, 808 and 909 drum sounds that can be triggered using velocity-sensitive RGB pads. The TR-S step sequencer can also trigger a new 8-slot Serato Sampler within the Serato DJ software.
Performers can plug in a high quality microphone into the XLR combo jack and seriously mess with the sound of their voice. The DJ-808 sports inputs for turntables and its own phono pre-amp, AIRA Link and USB ports and MIDI out. It's also home to both 3.5 mm and 6.4 mm headphone jacks.
Roland reckons the new DJ controller has a street price of US$1,499.
Pushing the right buttons
The System-8 Plug-Out synthesizer is built around Roland's Analog Circuit Behavior technology that's said to be capable of authentically reproducing the sound and behavior of historic analog synths. This engine drives the synth's eight voice polyphony, its three oscillators, the large number of available filters and its LFOs.
The panel above the 49-key keyboard offers control over the sonics and effects via backlit knobs, sliders and buttons. The synth packs a polyphonic 64-step sequencer, an arpeggio function and a built-in vocoder. CV/Gate outputs cater for hooking the System-8 up with modular synthesizers and vintage hardware.
The "Plug-Out" part of the name refers to the System-8's ability to control up to three Roland software synthesizers. The company has also included new Jupiter-8 and Juno-106 Plug-Outs with the package.
The street price for the System-8 is quoted as $1,499.
Roland has brought its SuperNatural modeling engine to the 909 celebrations for the release of a new digital wind instrument called the Aerophone AE-10. As the name suggests, the SuperNatural technology is designed to faithfully reproduce the sound and feel of an acoustic instrument.
The fingering layout is reported to mimic a traditional saxophone, though includes the modeled sounds of other acoustic instruments such as the clarinet, flute and oboe in addition to smooth soprano, alto, tenor and baritone sax tones. An arsenal of synthesized sounds is also placed at the player's disposal.
The AE-10 is powered by six AA-sized batteries, has built-in speakers and a headphone jack, and includes an input for connecting to a smartphone. Its street price is reported to be $799.