Practical Research

Roland TR808

An iconic machine

One amazing audio electronic device that has been brought up many times in the music industry, has to be mentioned on one of my blogs. It’s iconic for its memorable drums sounds such as the 808 kick, 808 snare, hi hat and many more. The Roland TR808 is the origin for the “808s” and it became popularized through many hit songs in hip-hop. In this blog I will go through the history of this machine and its impact on music and audio electronics.

History Ikutaro Kakehashi. Legendary Japanese Engineer.

Funnily enough you would think that my praise in the introduction would mean that it somewhat was commercially a success. However that is not the case. Quite the opposite. But let’s rewind time a bit to its invention. It was created by Ikutaro Kakehashi in 1980. He was born in Osaka and got his start through repairing broken watches and clocks later going on to graduate and earn a degree in mechanical engineering. He founded Roland Corporation in 1972 and began creating synthesisers and drum machines. What separated his iconic TR808 sound was the drum machine did not replicate accurate drum set sounds, it did more of a futuristic drum sound. Most memorable was the bass heavy sound.

Impact on music

It’s tricky by Run DMC. Picture provided by Amazon.

The Roland TR808’s impact on music has been phenomenal to say the least. Although it failed commercial and it’s product line discontinued, its drum sounds were in many top hip hop hits. It spawned many great artists and a new type of artist coined with the nickname “bedroom producers”. Nowadays bedroom producers are quite the common way of how people get interested into music such as myself. One great artist is Rick Rubin who used one in his NYU dorm. The first hit to be associated with the TR808 was Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa in 1982. Then it was Marvin Gaye’s Sexual healing that brought it up to mainstream success. Famous tracks include it’s Tricky by Run DMC, Rock the Bells by LL Cool J, Emergency Room by Rihanna and Kanye even created an album called 808s and Heartbreaks. Many of these famous hits are in the genre of hip hop however nowadays this drum machine is being used in genres other than hip hop such as EDM. In my experience listening I started to notice that after doing some research and it is quite interesting to see how an audio electronic can have such a massive impact on the music industry.

Audio electronic impact 8raw8 drum machine. Similar to the TR808

Many of Roland’s competitors have tried to recreate this product such as Behringer’s RD 808. It doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s trying to make an exact clone. HINT HINT, the names are very similar. The 8raw8 analog drum expander is quite an interesting “clone”. I recommend taking a look at it. Here is the link. . I don’t necessarily dislike these “clones”, in fact I welcome innovation as it always leads to beautiful spurs of spontaneous art.

A great machine.

Picture provided by Amazon Prime Video. Great documentary about everything you need to know on the Roland TR808.

Wow! This research on the TR808 has been quite fun. It’s quite amazing how technology can impact. Maybe one day I could be like Ikutaro Kakehashi ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. If you enjoyed reading this blog I recommend watching the documentary 808 available on Amazon Prime. That being said I was surprised to see how much I enjoyed this research so I am looking forward to researching another famous piece of hardware in audio electronics. The Neve 8028 mixing desk!!!. See you on the next blog post :D.