Let's talk about Drum Machines

Discussions about anything analog, digital, MIDI, synth technology, techniques, theories and more.
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Stab Frenzy
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Let's talk about Drum Machines

Post by Stab Frenzy » Tue Jul 22, 2008 5:35 am

I've noticed a few things with drum machines lately, and I've started getting more interested in them since I've been using my XL-7 for drums after a while of just using software drum samplers, which was due to selling my MPC.

It seems to me that the majority of people here will buy a lot of different synths to cover different sounds (VA, Analogue, FM, Wavetable, Sample-based, etc.) and even have synths for different flavours of a particular synthesis type, but will do all their percussion in the computer with samples or else have one hardware drum machine that they use for everything. (I know that's a bit of an assumption and there are quite a few people out there, particularly JSRockit, who have a drum machine or two as the centre of their setup, but I am generalising. ;))

I've seen quite a few people go through a few different drum machines, buying and selling until they end up with one that comes closest to their perfect machine. I haven't seen as many people buy, for example, a 999 for analogue sounds and a Machinedrum for digital stuff in the same way they might buy a Minimoog for analogue bass and leads and a JD-800 for digital pads.

Do you think that's because people underplay the importance of drum machines and feel that they can only justify one in their setup, or do you think it's because percussion is a simple thing that you should be able to do with one drum machine and some samples?

Or is it possibly that there are a lot of different things going on in a drum machine so it's hard to find one with exactly the combinations of things that you like in one?

For example, I started out with an MPC but after a few years I wanted more hands-on control and needed some cash, so I sold it and bought an MPD to use with Live. I find I often can't get the exact swing I want in Live though with the drums fully quantised, because Live just has swing on or off. Also Impulse's filters and sound manipulation things are a little basic for what I really want. Using the XL-7 I love that I can use the pads if I want or use the buttons for x0x programming, or use the knob matrix for analogue step sequence style programming. Also being able to record knob movements to the sequencer is awesome. I don't like the fact that I can't change the sample pad assignments easily and I can't add my own samples to it, and also the internal mix bus doesn't have a heap of headroom so I have to track everything separately and mix in Tools to get it to sound really good. I also haven't found a way to get a really heavy analogue sounding kick out of the machine yet, but the filters are good so I'm sure I'll be able to with a bit more programming.

I'm thinking about selling the XL-7 and getting a Machinedrum and an M-Base when I've got a bit more cash, (although the LDII might be out by then and could be worth looking at..) which on paper should sort me out. I haven't used either of them though, so who knows if the interface will get along with my brain?

I think it's interesting that a lot of people seem to have this drum machine 'quest' more than with any synth though. Anyone have any thoughts on why that is?

a lot of quests seem to be over when people get a machinedrum though...

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Post by hyphen nation » Tue Jul 22, 2008 6:46 am

As a chronically drum machine obsessed, hopefully I can offer some insight...

Like a lot of things, it comes down to cost. I would love to have a suite of complimentary machines...I just can't afford all my champagne dreams...So I end up going easy, fun and versatile....[MD]

I started as a guitarist, and I think I am more interested in synching/timing/programming/evolving loops/etc, than learning to play keys...I love synths, surprise myself by how much my abilities as a key player have improved, but really, for fun, I want to make pattern based music...drum machines enable me to create complex rhythms and semi modular stuff like the Sherman enables me to mangle it or another source / make it more interesting in time by triggering with individual outs from drummachine...

This very week, I have been wondering what it would be like to get rid of all my keyboards, and get a dream stack of drum machines and sequencers...and then build it back up w/ rack synths that I might use more...too bad the rhythm box craze died off before anything revolutionary came out of the big manufacturers...but maybe it is good so that folks like FR, Jomox and Elektron can thrive...

Wow, long ramble, and not much insight...sorry...

distilled version: if I had unlimited resources I'd be all over a drum machines before synths...then season to taste with complimentary synths...
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Post by GeneralBigbag » Tue Jul 22, 2008 6:48 am

I used an E6400 for quite a while before I got my el-cheap Airbase, then I got into the MDUW, and I was thinking of selling the Airbase, but I've realised that the two form a much more complete palette than just one alone. There's a grit to the Airbase that is quite different from what the MDUW offers, although the MD is an infinitely more flexible and useful machine. I've entertained vague thoughts about getting a 999, and I may look at the analogue Linndrum when it comes out, but if it came to it, I'd keep the MD over anything else.
The quest probably has to do with the fact that you generally only use one drum-machine per song, and so want something that does exactly what you need...?
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Post by c1t1zen » Tue Jul 22, 2008 8:07 am

I keep a mix of analogue and digital hardware available.

Digital = SR-16(bent) and MachineDrum
Analog = TR-808 and DRM

I feel those cover most of the sonic territory I want from machines. But some songs just need a funky drummer and that's where breakbeats and samples come in. Without access to my gear I have been able to use Battery and a Monome to ill effect.

The 808 and MD are my go to boxes. I found owning a real drum kit and practicing on it helps me program my boxes. Even though I still suck at the real thing. :roll:

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Post by Mooger5 » Tue Jul 22, 2008 8:44 am

I got addicted to the 909 ever since I bought it second-hand in 1988. As expected, everybody said I should have bought a sampling drum machine instead. Until 1993 that is, when... well you know what happened.
How I regret I sold it, even if for the double of what I paid for.

I make a clear distinction between "loop rhythm" and "drum machine rhythm" when composing, going either for a human or a quantized feel depending on the song style. With the former anything goes, but with the latter what I have found is that, inspite of having loads of samples at a mouse-click I keep using the same bass drum, snare drum, hats, toms and claps.
The 626 is very good but doesn´t quite cut it. I use it mostly to sync the 101 to MIDI.
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Post by mirt » Tue Jul 22, 2008 9:47 am

if you want be cool you'll buy synth not a drum machine :)

I've always feel bad with only one drum machine, but for the long time my music was mostly ambient stuff.
Now when there is more rhythm stuffs i need many drums from ethnic real drums to electronic drum synths, samplers and drum machines. problem is programing of drum machines. you work with one sequencer and one type of programing it is easier. i prefer drum synths like my dynacord percuter or soviet lel - i can program everything in my mmt8 and connect to drums via some sort of midi to trigger device. i think I'll buy tr707 i like the idea of programing it, sound is less important, i'll connect my drum synths . i need all kind of drums - analog drums, real drums, sampled drums, old eprom sampled drums.
for me problem are drum machine with boring sound used by everyone (808). its easier to do something unique with synt, even minimoog.

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Post by nathanscribe » Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:03 am

I've been through a few drum machines. Currently, I have a couple of DR-55s, TR-606, ER-1, LinnDrum and 9090. It's not my ideal list, but I can't justify any more at the moment.

Historically, I've often used more than one machine on each track. When I only had a 606 and RZ-1, I'd sync them together and complement the 606 (which I liked for the kick and snare) with the digital hats and some samples (the RZ has room for 4). I enjoyed that way of working, and was fairly productive with it. I've since sold the RZ and kind of regret it.

I like the simplicity of analogue drum machines. I want to be able to sync them, so will mod one of the DR-55s sometime. I want a range of analogue sounds (for which I am a sucker) so that's why the DR (lo-fi, gritty), the 606 (light, skippy) and the 9090 (thumpy). On the digital side, I want something beefy and old-school (Linn) and clicky (ER-1). The downside of digital machines for me is the interface. I got used to the RZ's programming, which was either real/step time, and chucking in snare rolls was a breeze with it. Not so easy on the Linn, which is realtime and without MIDI can't be programmed in Cubase...

Moving to Cubase rather than sequencing and syncing separate boxes has focused the music, but my rhythms are suffering. I'm barely using drums at all these days. Partly my style's changing, partly because of having to set up extra gear in the limited time I have.

My attempt to describe an ideal drum-machine setup would be a small number of complementary devices mixing analogue and digital with sampling capacity. The X0X style is great for analogue, which I find sounds 'right' in a rigid pattern, but I like a bit of fluidity in digital (perhaps because of the more 'realistic' sounds?). The 505 I had was a pain to program; a digital machine with a big grid would be great, though the Linn does force a very natural style, which is good in its place.

The only drum machine I'm lusting after at the moment is the 808. I could use samples, or a virtual machine, but...

in my view, the difference between a true analogue drum machine and a virtual or sampled one is exactly the same difference as between those types of synthesizer. There's a feel, a vibe, a quality, to each one, and those qualities are not shared between them. Each has its place, but feel different enough in use to be differently inspirational; and therefore worth having as different tools.

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Post by wiss » Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:33 am

I have fallen in love with my MPC 2500...

I love the usb for uploading and downloading different drum sets, samples, and sequences. Just pure enjoyment with that, much better then loading disks with the mpc 60.

I also enjoy the 8, 16, or 32 step programming on it. SUPER EASY TO USE.

I really enjoy intergrating both the step and real time drum programming together on tracks.


After picking up the MPC2500, I have lost my desire to purchase the Linn Drum II Analog. If I want analog, I will sync the 808 up with the 2500 or use an analog filter with the mpc or 808 or both.


My ROLAND TR-808 ~ Nothing sounds like, nothing grooves like it.

Oh, it's so over used....so are a lot of classicial instrument in the chambers music I am listening to right now, so are the strats and les pauls on rock records I hear.
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Post by TrondC » Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:42 am

well, I'm selling my microkorg and possibly my EA, leaving my soon-to-come Acidlab Bassline my only synth. to me, one can never have enough drum machines. My ER, ESX and MC808 does drums so differently, and I really like to blend different drum machines, sometimes they interact in unexpected ways.

to me, drum machines make up the center of my little studio. My ESX will be the last piece of gear to go for me. I once wrote down a "dream want list" of gear that I'd like to try some day, and i guess 4 of 5 were drum machines/samplers..

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Post by mirt » Tue Jul 22, 2008 11:41 am

maybe not strat by itself but strat + messa or bonham type drums :) its hard to tell for me
overused 808 sound is more like dx7 rhodes, you can tell that acoustic drums are overused, but it is hard to compare. moog filter or 303 bass is overused, you can do with it something new but it could be hard and it's even harder in case of drum machines, where you don't have many things to tweak (except external fx).
i've messed once with 808 and for me it was like box of well known samples.
its my opinion i play some fusion of postrock, ambient, psychedelia and it could be totally different when you play something different.

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Post by JSRockit » Tue Jul 22, 2008 1:55 pm

I've just come to find that what I really enjoy in music is working with drum machines and samples...synths just fill in the gaps for me. That said, I don't think you need a bunch of drum machines...just one or two very good and versatile machines. The MPC was the first one for me, but once I got the MDUW, I lost interest in the MPC and found my tool. Now, with the MDUW under control...I want an analog machine just to have a different sound. However, an 808 or 909 would get boring to me after awhile (though it would be nice to have either as a third machine). So, I've decided to get a 888. I can add samples, and also get that analog sound. Should be fun. Hopefully it becomes easy and fun to use.

I've never understood why drum machines are an afterthought...well, unless you music is thin on drums, but my guess is that people who aren't big on drum machines probably yearn to have a real drummer and consider a drum machine to be a poor substitute...or they would rather have nice synths so software is a cheap (and decent) substitute. It's no big deal...I've heard great music made with software drums and with cheap drum machines.

To me, without drum machines, I probably would lose interest. There is nothing funner (with the exception of playing a drum set) than programming drum machines. I can see myself being an old man still programming a drum machine for fun...I can't see myself playing synths unless I'm recording a song. Also, why must people call synths keyboards?
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Post by philbar » Tue Jul 22, 2008 2:19 pm

used korg er-1 mk 2 for a couple of years, but found it a bit limiting. got a machinedrum sps-1 and it was great for pattern based stuff.

my go to nowadays is my mpc1000 though. the machinedrum has gone stale for me and is for sale, and with the latest JJ os and some nice vst drum machines, i can do pretty much everything the MD does without any hassle at all through software. clearly thanks to my rig, its not as portable, but it does have so much more flexibility.

as for 808's and 909's i'd love one of each but they are too expensive for what they are... :shock:

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Post by Umbe78 » Tue Jul 22, 2008 2:29 pm

I think that everybody wants more palette of sounds possible ... ... but less of money and costant GAS for synths makes the choice of having just one drum machine or a sampler ...

I started with an Electribe ES .. My idea was uploading acustic samples and old TR samples and having all sounds covered , after I sold it I bought BAttery (PERFECT sampler .. my 2 cents) and a TR 707 (because it's the "cheap" TR) to basically having the same thing :roll:

From December 2006 I have the MD and I think it is the best solution for digital side of drums .... For analog I always loved a 909 but they cost SO much, then I'm stuck with TR type machines of Machinedrum ... No problem!

Ha! I don't use even Battery , only MD!

VERY SORRY for my poor English
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Post by Automatic Gainsay » Tue Jul 22, 2008 3:57 pm

I can totally understand people seeking specific drum machines for the purposes of nostalgia, perceived status, artist association, or genre association, but beyond those reasons (and even WITH those reasons) I cannot figure out why people pay so much to have drum machines. (particularly "vintage" drum machines) Unlike analog synths, or really ANY synth, drum machines can always be effectively sampled. Drum machines are totally suited for sampling. The functionality of a drum machine can be easily and effectively emulated with any sequencer.

I used drum machines for years (Boss DR-220E, Alesis HR-16, Alesis SR-16) , but eventually I found myself limited by them for the purposes of genre. They were just too limited both timbrally and in the cases where I didn't want to have the standard electronic quantized sound.

Is there a reason to seek a specific drum machine and pay through the nose for it other than simply to have that drum machine?
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Post by Bitexion » Tue Jul 22, 2008 4:16 pm

I bought a vintage Yamaha RX-5 drum machine on a whim a year ago (just because it kinda matches the DX7 looks). I thought it sounded really cool through a spacious reverb, but the raw sound was terribly dull.

Never figured out the programming part, with a 1-line LCD with loads of abbreviations on it.
But it has loads of premade rythms that sound neat. It uses PCM samples, not analogue circuitry. So you get that cheesy 80's drumsound right outta the box.

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