Despite announcing 30 other products, Roland’s 909 Day was really all about the TR-09, the re-imagining of their legendary TR-909 drum machine.
I’m more of an 808 man myself…. I’ll get my coat. The TR-909 is a lightly strange creature. The TR-808, released in 1980, was an analogue drum machine with purely synthesized sounds. The TR-909, released 3 years later, was a hybrid of analogue and sampled sounds. At the time it was competing with the new digital technology of sample based drum machines from Linn. In comparison the analogue circuits of both the 808 and 909 seemed “synthetic”. With the TR-909 Roland attempted to bring more realism with the sample based hi-hats and cymbals, but honestly the “tsh” and splash of those 6-bit samples were pretty wide of the mark. However, the pattern based interface pioneered by the 808 was so easy to use and so accessible that the slightly dodgy sounds were embraced as part of the character. The TR-909 was also way cheaper than the Linn digital gear which helped a great deal.
The TR range of drum sounds have been used for decades throughout dance and electronic music – they’re everywhere – and the demand for authenticity has never been greater. The release of the TR-09 lets all of us who missed out on the original hardware revolution get in on the act and rediscover the joys of making beats on a dedicated bit of gear.
Once again it’s the Roland ACB technology, their modelling of analogue circuitry, that brings the authentic sounds to the TR-09. It’s never going to convince the rose tinted lenses of analogue purists, but then the original TR-909 was never going to do that anyway. But how does it actually compare to the original? Well, as well as doing a comparison between the TB-303 and TB-03 Ralf was also able to compare the TR-09 not just to the TR-909 but also to the TR-8 Rhythm Composer. He knows the Roland stuff much better than me so for the full comparison adventure check out his article and video here.
Otherwise there’s not a whole lot going on in this box. You’ve got the analogue kick, snare and tom drums plus the sampled hi-hats and cymbals. Pattern creation is done with either step or tap modes but unlike the original you can now swap between the two on the fly. The sequencer has 16 steps and 16 sub-steps for fine-tuning your performances. There are the familiar buttons for shuffle and flam parameters and a LED display to keep track of things.
This is where it differs from the original. The TR-909 had a feast of connections on the back. Individual outputs for each drum sound, sync in, start/stop and trigger out. There was even two MIDI output ports, save/load to tape and don’t forget the M-64c cartridge socket! Ok, so you don’t need to save to tape or cartridge anymore but those outputs will be sorely missed. Or will they? Roland have sneakily provided 4 individual drum outputs via USB into your DAW. It’s not everything we’d like but it’ll do. They have added an external input port so you can run another box through the TR-09. I am surprised by the lack of analogue sync though. The audio connections are all annoyingly on minijack and again there’s no power other than batteries and via USB – but this is now the Roland Boutique style of things.
Honestly it’s exactly what an updated TR-909 should be although priced at £369 / € 450 there’s nothing bargain basement about it. Along with the TB-03 and VP-03 Roland have given new life to desirable old bits of gear and I think we’re going to be hearing them a lot over the next decade or two.
For more information on the Roland TR-09 head over to their website.
For more on all the Roland 909-Day releases check out our full coverage here.