The TR-808 Drum Machine and its Emulations

Kurt James Werner

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Roland introduced the TR-808 Rhythm Composer in 1980. Though it represented a leap forward in analog drum machine technology (both for its programmability and the quality of its voice design), it was released just as interest in digital sample-based drum machines (such as the Linn LM-1 and the Oberheim DMX) was taking off. Reception and sales were lukewarm, and “the 808” found only limited use in its intended purpose – the creation of studio demos. Although Roland discontinued the 808 in 1984, it soon found new use (via the bargain bins) as an affordable source of beats for early hip hop and techno musicians. Today, the 808 remains ubiquitous in many forms of electronic dance music and pop music, as a source of musical material and frequent lyrical reference (see Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreak”, Ke$ha’s “Your Love Is My Drug”, & many others). Ironically, an instrument once prized largely for its cheapness has become an increasingly expensive commodity. Reacting to this trend, many have emulated the 808, in both software and hardware regimes. Software emulations of the 808 range from early software samplers that reproduced the interface of the 808 (Propellorhead’s ReBirth RB-338), to signal-model imitations (Tactile Sounds’ TS-808, &c.), to modern physics-based simulations of the actual circuitry of the 808 (the D16 Group’s Nepheton, &c.). Hardware emulations of the 808 range in scope from single voices (see Eric Archer’s work, the XX808 series by TipTop Audio, &c.) to complete clones (AcidLab’s Miami, e-licktronic‘s Yocto, Christian Hartig’s TR-8060, &c.). Interest in hardware and software emulations reaches across borders, connecting experts and hackers, corporations and hobbyists, engineers and producers. With Kevin Tong, I (re)designed a hardware 808 “mega voice,” capable of simulating many of the 808’s voices and creating new hybrids. My current research focuses on creating physically-informed software models of “circuit-bent” and modded 808 voices. In my presentation, I’ll examine various approaches to recapturing the 808’s original sound and experience, paying special attention to how these emulations track technological progress and social change.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2014
Externally publishedYes
EventBone Flute to Auto-Tune: A Conference on Music & Technology in History, Theory and Practice - University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, United States
Duration: 24 Apr 201426 Apr 2014


ConferenceBone Flute to Auto-Tune: A Conference on Music & Technology in History, Theory and Practice
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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