It's August 8, or 808 day, and Roland is celebrating by once again giving musicians and producers the opportunity to back their musical creations with robot-like rim shots, unrealistic snare and booming kick of one of the first electronic drum machines, the TR-808. The new TR-08 boutique rhythm composer stays true to the original, but adds a few modern touches.
The new TR-08 Rhythm Composer has been added to Roland's Boutique instrument line, which includes last year's TR-09 rhythm machine and TB-03 bass line synth. It's said to be an authentic recreation of the wildly popular 808 analog drum machine that launched in 1980. The 808 had a very limited production run, and was discontinued in 1983 due to poor sales and replaced by the TR-909, which mixed samples with analog sounds.
But as electronic music, R&B and hip-hop grew in popularity through the 80s, so did the 808, helped along by chart-toppers like Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, the Beastie Boys and Run DMC. Artists today, including Kanye West, Damon Albarn and New Order, continue to seek out its somewhat unrealistic rhythmic pulses. With only 12,000 ever made though, getting your hands on a prized original isn't easy, and certainly ain't cheap.
True to its roots, the TR-08 sports a funky black metal front panel interrupted with red, orange, yellow and white, and familiar-looking sequencer buttons, switches and knobs. It's smaller than the original, at 12.1 x 5.1 x 2 in (308 x 130 x 51 mm), and runs on four AA-sized batteries for portable creativity, or via USB for continuous play. It also rocks its own built-in speaker for immediate sonic gratification.
Unlike the original (pictured above), the TR-08 isn't all analog but Roland says it's managed to faithfully capture the 808's character, using Analog Circuit Behavior technology to mode each of the original's circuits down to component level. All of the notable instruments are present, including the cymbal, cow bell, kick and snare, but given it's a modern interpretation of an early 80s classic, Roland has added a few new features.
Its 16 step sequencer has been supplemented with sub steps for faster rolls and more detail, and players can program steps or tap parts in real-time without having to stop and change modes. It has a four character LED display to aid navigation, built-in compression and gain, and track-selectable trigger out that caters for use with other hardware. Other connections include headphone jack, stereo mix input, MIDI in and out and USB.
Roland makes much of the TR-08 being an affordable rendition of the legendary 808, and at US$349, we'd be inclined to agree. Have a look at the video introduction below for more on the Boutique drum machine.