Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer Digital Drum Machine

The instrument

Released in 1980, the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer is one of the most iconic drum machines in music history. It uses analog synthesis to generate its distinctive drum sounds, including its legendary bass drum sound. The TR-808 includes a 16-step programmable sequencer allowing users to intuitively create complex rhythmic patterns.

The unique sound and user-friendly interface of the TR-808 made it a cornerstone of electronic dance music and hip-hop culture. Even today, the widely sampled and emulated TR-808 sound remains a strong identity element of these musical cultures and is commonly found in new trap and modern techno productions. There are countless software and hardware imitations and remakes of the instrument, and it is common among enthusiasts to commemorate the impact of this machine by celebrating "808 International Day" on August 8 each year.


Despite the iconic status we know today, the story of the TR-808 initially was one of commercial failure. The TR-808 was designed as a more affordable alternative to the competing drum machine: Roger Linn's LM-1, an established reference in recording studios. The LM-1 offered powerful and realistic sampled drum sounds with which the cheaper components and more futuristic sounds of the TR-808 tried to compete but failed. After two years of unsuccessful commercialization, Roland abandoned TR-808 production in 1982 and introduced an improved version in 1983: the TR-909. The latter also had lesser success.

It was then, with their value dropping, that both instruments found their audience among a young generation of producers in New York, Chicago, and Detroit, cities where they played a decisive role in forming the first hip-hop, house, and techno tracks. In these emerging scenes, the unparalleled punch of their analog bass drum and the creative control options for sounds made them essential.