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Roland | TR-909


The Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer machine was one of the first Roland instruments to be equipped with MIDI, and was the first analog/digital hybrid machine, combining analog circuits for its drums with digital samples for its cymbal and hi-hat sounds. Fully programmable, the sequencer section was incredibly powerful, allowing the user to chain 96 patterns into songs of up to 896 measures. The analog circuitry allowed for sounds with tweakable attack, tone, tuning, snap and accent parameters. The 909 sound was synthetic compared to its more expensive, digital sample-based counterparts, which were superior in reproducing real drum sounds. Over time however, this futuristic sound, coupled with its affordability, saw it reach new heights as an integral part of the techno movement during the 1990s.

The brainchild of Tadao Kikumoto, the engineer behind the Roland TB-303, it features a 16-step step sequencer and a drum kit that aimed for realism and cost-effectiveness. It is fully programmable, and like its predecessor, the TR-808, it can store entire songs with multiple sections, as opposed to simply storing patterns. It was the first MIDI-equipped drum machine. Around 10,000 units were produced.

The Roland 909 was launched three years after its Roland 808 forebear. The 909 was an improvement on the 808 because the 909 provide a part-analog synthesizer, part-sample-based sound generation hybrid. As with the 808, the 909 did not sound as realistic as the Linn and Oberheim that dominated the upper end of the drum machine market. As with the TB-303, the realism of the TR-909 was limited by technical constraints, and this showed when the machines were released at relatively low prices before its rise in popularity, coinciding with the beginnings of techno and acid house. More expensive, sample-based drum computers were better at faithfully reproducing real drum sounds, while the TR-909 sounded synthetic.

One of the first Roland instruments to be equipped with MIDI connectivity, a system that enables computerized instruments to communicate with each other, the TR909 combined analogue sound generation of its drum sounds with digital samples for its cymbal and hi-hat sounds. It contained a powerful music sequencer that enabled users to chain 96 patterns into songs of up to 896 measures. It also had numerous controls that let users tailor the sounds. The 909 also offered extra controls, such as "shuffle" and "flam". It sounded more realistic than its predecessors, and was moderately successful; however, the advent of purely sample-based drum modules would soon cause its demise. But, like the TR808 before it, the TR909 eventually came to be held in reverence by music producers, hip hop music DJs and beatmakers, and techno and other electronic dance music-style DJs.
Engine TypeAnalog
EngineVCO, preset
Voices (max)12
DrumsKick, Snare, Low/Mid/Hi Toms, Rimshot, Hand clap, Cymbal, Open hihat, Closed hihat, Accents. 96 patterns
Recording8 Songs
ControllersIndividual level, tuning, attack, decay, and tone controls for some sounds
Key typeButtons
CV-gateDIN Sync In
Produced:1984 - 1985
Legend: Obvious Y: Yes, N: No, N/A: Not Applicable
VCO Voltage Controlled Oscillator DCO Digital Controlled Oscillator
LFO Low Frequency Oscillator Sub Sub Oscillator
VCF Voltage Controlled Filter VCA Voltage Controlled Amplifier
Velocity As with a piano, the harder you hit a key, the louder the sound, unlike most organs which always produce the same loudness no matter how hard you hit a key. Aftertouch Pressing a key after you activated it. Channel Aftertouch, no matter which key, it will send a Channel message. Poly Aftertouch, sends the pressure per key instead of the whole channel.
Values for OSC, LFO, Filter, Envelope are per voice unless stated otherwise.


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