This months issue of Sound on Sound has reviews of the MFB-522 and 503 drum machines. The 522 is sort of a Roland TR-808 clone. It is full analog and in the ballpark but really sounds like it’s own machine. I’ve have a lot of music on my to do list and because I’m using a lot of analog hardware these days I decided to put a mini studio on my dining room table. The heart of it is the 522. I also have an old Boss BX800 mixer from the 80s. I have fond memories of the way it distorted. Unfortunately after playing with it a bit I ended up switching it out to a new Yamaha MG102c. The kick’s attack is much sharper on the new mixer and that’s very important to me. The 522 has individual out, lots of knobs to control the sounds, a fill pattern and it’s fun to program. Check out the little video above of my MFB in action. You can hear it has a nice tight groove and how fun the fill is. The video was recorded with an iPhone though the iPhone’s speaker with the audio coming from a TDK Boombox. There is a suped up version of the 522 called the 523 coming this year. You can buy a 522 for $425 USD.
“MFB-522 is a drumcomputer with a fully analogue sound engine that offers plenty of editing capabilities. It includes a step-sequencer with popular TR-style running-light-programming. Memory locations are available for 72 patterns as well as for 8 songs.” – mfberlin.de
The Trigger Riot is one of three new sequencers from Gur at Tiptop Audio. If you read this blog you know I am really enjoying the TTA drum modules. Very simply you hook some modules to the Riot and as you change knob positions you get different patterns of all sorts. I’ll be getting this one for sure.
“From a conceptual view, the Trigger Riot generates 16 clock streams consisting of multiple time manipulation functions (division, offsets, etc) that interact to create the trigger output, and direct access to each parameter via individual knobs allows for quick manipulation. The 8 outputs are the sum of those manipulated streams per row. The outputs of the module are arranged as either a 4×4 matrix, where each of the 16 knobs affects both row and column, or as a set of independent outputs for each row or column. This allows forming 8 complex musical interactions in a ‘Matrix’ mode or 8 independent streams in ‘Independent’ mode and is switchable from one to the other on press of a button for some unexpected results. Since each of the 16 knobs represents a real time tweakable trigger generator/modifier the Trigger Riot is extremely playable and can result very complex patterns with only few knob turns; patterns that would otherwise take much longer and in some instances be almost impossible to produce using grid based step sequencing. Patterns can have unique time signatures that can repeat or be randomized through probability, time shifted and phased, divided, multiplied and counted, it’s unbelievable how complex this module can get with minimal input.” – Gur (Tiptop Audio)
For years nothing beat having a real Roland TR-909 or 808. Today I would say the Tiptop Audio modules are even better. Just listen to the Tiptop 909 high hats with some Synthesis Technology E355 LFO destroying them on and off. Such pleasure for someone like me.
The HATS909 is the TR-909′s original Closed and Open Hi-Hats circuits adapted for use in Eurorack modular synthesizer format and was tested to sound like a machine coming fresh off the assembly line back in the 80′s. Improving on the original, we have added some great new features that expand the sound palette of hats that can be produced with this small, powerful module. The original TR-909 circuit is made with a combination of low-fi 6-bit samples that pass through a series of analog elements to provide envelope and filtering to the source sound. The HATS909 module allows for manual and voltage control of the sample’s tuning, which provide anything from crushed hats and short ticks to the original sound and anything in between. A modulation with external control signals or for adding AM or FM synthesis in the audio range from external oscillators, other drum sounds, or just about any sound source. HATS909 also offers a switch for a direct tap to the output of the original sample, bypassing all other internal analog processing, giving you the pure source sound for synthesis any way you want with your own modules.” – ctrl-mod.com
Wave Alchemy are sound designers from Nottingham in the UK. In the past 5 years Dan Byers & Steve Heath have built up a reputation for producing some of the better sample packs especially when it comes to drum sounds. Recently they released a very ambitious project called Transistor Revolution which uses 22,000 samples to recreate a Roland TR-808 and TR-909. Some people will ask why do we need more 808/909? I think theses specific drum machine sounds are the pencil and pen for electronic music. They are important backbone sounds that can be used a million different ways. Real 808s and 909s are continually going up in value. Last time I checked an 808 is about $2500 on eBay. Transistor Revolution is currently less than $100 USD (introductory price) so if it sounds good it’s value is apparent. “TR” uses Native Instruments free Kontakt Player and is a 6GB download. That’s 6GB of essentially 20 different drum sounds! When you turn a knob in Transistor Revolution changing each of the sounds parameters the drum samples are actually changing from one to the next behind the scenes. In addition, “7 variations of each drum sound… cycle randomly each time a key on the keyboard is played”. Within the custom TR Kontakt player there are 7 effects: EQ, Compression, Tape Saturation, Transient Designer, High Pass Filter, Low Pass Filter and Bit Crusher. Each effect has it’s own page with multiple parameters that can be edited and saved. There is a full mini mixer within the plug-in so you can mix and place drum sounds on separate virtual outputs and add Send Effects. Send Effects inlcude the ones mentioned above and others including a Phaser, Flanger, Chorus, Delay, Rotator, Stereo Modeller, multiple Distortion types and Convolution and standard Reverbs. The interface reminds me of Propellerhead’s Reason. Each drum sound has it’s own rack piece which can be closed and opened. Without reading the manual I was able to find my way around.
So how does it sound? Very good. Different model 808s sound different from each other. However, in my own opinion when listening to hardware or software clones there are things to look for. You want super clear white metalic high hats, rides and crashes. Snares and claps should have a very sharp transient attack. Kicks should go from tight to boomey. Transistor Revolution does an excellent job. I have one criticism and two things for the wish list. There are 4 “multis” which are basically a full 808 or 909 group of samples with some settings. For example there is an MP60, S1200, Lite and Analog version of the 808. I’m not sure if they use different sample sets or just the effect settings are different. Either way I want to see many more Multi presets. As I said above 808/909s lend themselves to treatment very well. Give us 50 flavors of each please! For the wish list I would like to see a TR style sequencer and MIDI file player. Why just give us the sounds? Part of what makes a the drum machines great is the patterns. Give us a few hundred MIDI patterns built-in and give us 16 lights going from left to right please.
Wave Alchemy are on the right path here. I suspect we will see more drum machines meticulously multi-sampled by the UK duo. In short of a real 808/909 or maybe the Tiptop Audio modular stuff this is the best sounding and certainly most affordable convient way to the TR sound.
“Our aim with Transistor Revolution was always to produce a product that could completely replace the hardware in our own productions.” – wavealchemy.co.uk
There is a MXR 185 drum machine on Ebay right now (link). It’s an EPROM based machine like the Oberheim DX. Hollow Son sampled it for their Nostalgia Kontakt product. Whenever I think I’m sure I have seen every drum machine ever made another one appears. I’m not sure the 185 is worth $900 but it does look nice.
“I have no idea why the product wasn’t successful but the MXR 185 pretty much disappeared without trace almost as soon as it was released.” – hollowsun.com
Impaktor is an iOS drum app. Very simply you put your device on a table and then hit the table to play drums. When this came out a few weeks ago everyone said it was amazing but since I’m not a drum circle kind of guy I overlooked it. Big mistake. This is a wicked app! There are two things that make it so great. First your drum taps and strikes are picked up by the iPhone/iPad very sensitively. Very light brushes of the hand and extreme punches to the table make the sound quite different. Next the drum synth is very good. There are some really futuristic synth sounds and metal clangs to play with. You can record your performances and more. This is one of those oh wow cool apps. Use with microphoneless loud headphones.
“Impaktor is a drum synthesizer with a vast sonic palette, that turns any surface into a playable percussion instrument.” – beepstreet.com
Here’s a direct recording from the new Delptronics LDB-1 analog drum machine. As you can hear it has a dark sound. The unit itself is in a cheap plastic case and while programming it is very easy I wish it had 16 buttons and LEDs instead of 8. Jumping between two banks of 8 steps while recording is annoying. With Trigger Out, Clock & Gate Input and Midi/Dinsync it’s easy to connect the LDB-1 with pretty much any system. It’s $240. There is also a Eurorack module.
“The LDB-1 has all of the features of a classic analog drum machine in a small, affordable package.” – delptronics
Today I thought I would give you a quick look at some of my workflow. Here’s how I often start creating an EBM (Electronic Body Music) style track. I’ve started a Eurorack modular system and you can see my first two pieces in action here. I have recorded a 5V Pulse into Ableton from the Korg SyncKontrol iOS app. I loaded the click into Simpler and use MIDI to create a pattern. In this example it’s a straight 16th note. I use Ableton Live to route the 5V click out of my Motu 828 MKIII into a Doepfer Dark Time analog sequencer. The Dark Time is not in sync with my Ableton MIDI set up. The Dark Time controls an Analog Solutions Telemark (SEM clone). 8 steps of CV variation and CV filter variation loop the bassline. I also have the Dark Time send a clock out to a Korg Monotribe. On the Monotribe I have muted the drums and just have it playing some lazer zap type sounds typically where you would find a snare drum. Using MIDI I have a Vermona DRM1 MKIII playing a kick and snare. The Monotribe’s clock out goes into an Intellijel uStep which sends a 16th note clock to a Make Noise Echophone. I have a MFB-522 drum machine in sync with Ableton via MIDI playing a clap. This clap is sent into the Echophon where it’s delay shimmers in 16 synced steps because of the uStep control. I can play with the Echophon’s pitch knob for a wicked nice analog clap delay effect. Is it worth all this effort? In my opinion yes. You can’t really get a sound like this without going analog. This part would make a good verse. Because I can pitch the bassline on a MIDI keyboard the next step is to make a Chorus, maybe change the Dark Time sequence length or patter slightly, add some pads from an Ensoniq ESQ-1 and add vocals. I hope you enjoyed the peek into a world where control is everything.
“CV/Gate (an abbreviation of Control Voltage/Gate) is an analog method of controlling synthesizers, drum machines and other similar equipment with external sequencers. The Control Voltage typically controls pitch and the Gate signal controls note on/off. This method was widely used in the epoch of analog modular synthesizers, beginning in the 1960s and up to the early 1980s. It was mostly superseded by the MIDI protocol, which is more feature-rich, easier to configure reliably, and more easily supports polyphony.” – wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_voltage
Here’s a nice video history of Roland drum machines with the narrator Robbie Ryan beat boxing examples and then playing audio samples from actual songs.
“This is a documentary celebrating the 25 year anniversary of the Roland TR909. In this documentary, narrated by Robbie Ryan, we traverse the history of the programmable drum machine from the CR78, TR808, TB303, TR909, and LinnDrum, with audio examples of each.” – iloveanalogue.blogspot.com
Serious cool alert time. There is an all new fully analog drum machine with 64 patterns, pattern programmability, MIDI and trigger out called the Delptronics LBD-1. It’s priced quite nicely at $240 USD. There is also a kit and Eurorack module.
“The LDB-1 “Little Drummer Boy” is a modern recreation of the classic analog drum machines of the 80′s, like the Roland TR-606 and TR-808. Our goal was to recreate the warm sounds of the classics, using all analog circuitry – not samples. The brain of the LDB-1 is a powerful digital microcontroller that triggers the analog drum sounds and provides the sequencer, programmability and connectivity features. Easily interfaces with other instruments, synthesizers, DAWs, etc. through analog connections, MIDI, and DINsync.” – delptronics