The most iconic drum machine in history looks good for its age. Japanese electronics company Roland released the TR-808 Rhythm Composer in 1980, and for a long time people thought the only way to make dance music was with this Halloween-colored box. The noises that came from the analog circuitry inside — particularly the big, round bass drum — made people go insane on the dancefloor. And they still do: the 808 is at the core of new songs from Beyoncé (“Drunk in Love”) and Daft Punk (“Doin’ It Right”), just to name a few.
people go insane on the dancefloor
But Roland stopped making the 808 in the mid-80s. You can buy one on eBay now for around three grand (and maybe another grand to bring it into good working condition), or use one of the thousands of hardware or software imitators available online or at Guitar Center. Most of them do a decent job recreating the functionality of the original, but they’ve all just been humble odes to a classic — until now.
Up until now everything was random
If you ask the development team, the zombies were the biggest hurdle to turning PVZ into a online shooter. From the beginning, it was clear that PVZ’s plants made sense. “People were very shocked that we went from a tower defense game to a 3D shooter… but the plants were always shooting,” remarks franchise manager Gary Clay. But to make the formerly one-dimensional zombies suitable for a player to control, Lindley says the team spent months designing and redesigning characters to be the right blend of comical and useful. It shows: not only do the undead feel distinct from their leafy counterparts, they’re just as likable, from the pitiful way they rapidly shamble about the stages to the inventive weaponry they wield.
Today, Roland is announcing the TR-8 Rhythm Performer, the first true spiritual successor to the TR-808. It’s the head of a family of four devices called AIRA that also includes the TB-3 Touch Bassline, the VT-3 Vocal Transformer, and the System-1 Plug-Out Synthesizer. The TR-8 feels like the real thing because it is the real thing. As an all-digital affair, it’s very deliberately not a re-issue: instead, Roland developed a new digital modeling paradigm called Analog Circuit Behavior to faithfully recreate the big sounds of transistors and diodes that made the TR-808 so famous. As a lifelong drum machine addict I can tell you this is not some marketing BS — Roland actually assigned an engineer to work full-time on just the bass drum sound, A/B testing the digital version against the original until the two were functionally and audibly indistinguishable. The TR-8’s kick is the sound that subwoofers were invented for, and anyone who has a problem with it is probably trying too hard.
But the kick was only a small part of the reason the TR-808 became an icon. The funnest and most awesome part of using an old 808 is how simple it is to create loops with a 16-step sequencer, which allows the user to create a 16-beat loop — a form factor it pioneered. The TR-8 doesn’t just sound like a champ: it’s got this visceral, tactile experience with all the straightforwardness and get-shit-done mentality of its ancestor, but with a big ol’ truckload of intuitive new control features that make it really fun to make music on. Every sound now has dedicated decay and tuning knobs, each sequenced step has programmable delay and reverb, and you can even sidechain audio from external sources to create that “pumping and breathing” sound that defines nearly ever David Guetta song. These digital conveniences are all rolled seamlessly into the time-tested interface, but the flashiest addition to the face of the box is the scatter wheel. It’s a brazenly glitchy re-trigger effect that feels distinctly 21st-century — like the chopped-up vocals of Skrillex’s “Bangarang.”