What is a Drum Machine? No. 1 Simple Explanation

What is a Drum Machine

Drum machines have taken over how music production is done in the world. Currently, in most if not all radio stations, you’ll hear the influence of the drum machine. Drum machines have become a crucial centerpiece of music hardware. The drum machine was first launched in the 70s, with the Roland 808 and 909 sounds matching up to electronic music.

How can you define a drum machine?

The first drum machine was invented in 1206. AI-Jazari, in the Book of knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, described how the drum machine functioned by use of a mechanical rhythm device controlled by a clock of crude water. The device was the first original device to offer a programmable drum sequencer. The machine had pegs and cams shafts, while pegs movement created a rhythm. It’s estimated to have taken 770 years for the new drum machines to be invented. The current electronic drum machines replaced the use of pegs with synthesis and sampling.

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The electronic instruments used today have an onboard sequencer with predefined rhythm. A pad can nowadays make drum sounds. However, the new technology does not seem to make up for the quality of the traditional drum machines.

When talking about the most influential drum machines in the industry, you’ll mention DMX, TR-808, CR-78, and LM-1. Those powerful machines made the 80s sound so magical, with a touch of every note. The machines made rhythmic precision that was undeniable quality music. In 1982 the Electronics & Music Maker Magazine expressed that electronic music stands up as a true form, and it would take over the whole industry. Looking now, electronic music did change the industry.

How did the change take place?

In 1978 Roland introduced a new machine, the CR-78. However, it’s not programmable. The CR-78 is a favorite for artists such as Genesis, Gary Numan, and Orchestral Manoeuvres.

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Some outstanding samples of the CR-78 sounds are Phil Collins Air Tonight and Blondie Heart of Glass. CR-78 was just the tip of the iceberg, as the 808 and 909 Roland releases blew up the industry. Roland released the analog drum 808 in 1980 with the 909 three years later in 1983.

Roland 808

roland tr 808
Roland TR-808. Source: Google

The famous Electronic Kick Drum, officially known as Roland TR 808, has a massive influence over music production, although it did not do well enough commercially. The 808 is a programmable analog device. Although it’s an old machine, it has maintained its legendary status in hip hop and electronic music scenes. The 808s magic started with a touch of Sexual Healings by Marvin Gayes, and I Wanna Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston.


Linn Drum, with its Lo-Fi charm, still rocks in the hearts of many fans today. The Roger Linn’s LM-1 was launched in 1980, which featured in fans’ most loved tunes ‘Relax,’ ‘Take on me, and ‘let’s hear it for the boy’ by Frankie. The LM-1 features kick, snare, cowbell, hand clap, tambourine, clave, conga, two toms, and hi-hat. The machine featured 8-bit samples.

Roland TR 909

Roland TR-909 vs. TR-09 vs. TR-8 Aira. Source: YouTube

New samples for the hi-hats, ride, and crash featured in the launch of 909. The 909 catered to other voices using analog synthesis and synchronization with MIDI. Commercially, the Roland TR 909 was not successful; however, it has retained house, acid, and techno legendary status. Revolution 909 by Daft Punk was named after the machine. I know you remember the sounds of Madonnas Vogue and Robin S – Show Me Love.

What makes them so costly?

These desirable machines go for £3000-£4500, which is quite strange with their unsuccessful market. Old is gold. The machines performed poorly market-wise; however, their unique sound remains at the hearts of many. The production of these machines stopped after their components were discontinued, and only a few units are available in the world. The machines disappeared, ending up in the hands of cash-strapped instrumentalists, skips, and charity shops. The fact that they look so classy and desirable makes them expensive.

Modern drum machines

Old is gold, but the technology has its mastery into quality products. Yes, we all know it will cost a fortune to purchase at least one analog drum machine. Well, no need to worry about that. There are modern alternatives that offer quality sound, and guess what, they are super affordable at almost 10% of the value of the old stuff. These are not samples or plugins, but quality analog hardware. Although they may not match up to the natural quality, they offer quite some decent sound.

Behringer RD-9

Behringer RD-9 is a perfect imitation of the 909. Better than its predecessor, RD-9 offers a wave designer on board, a dual filter, 10 drum voices, and 64 step mammoth sequencer. The RD-9 allows you to tune your drum to any analog sound and manipulate them as you desire. The RD-9 is inspired by the TR-909 and aims to meet the quality that the 909 models offered back in the day.

Arturia DrumBrute

Arturia brand is known worldwide for its exceptional designs. The Drum Brute is no exception from the unique design with features such as 64-step sequencer and 17 built-in analog drum instruments. Drum brute allows users to incorporate different analog drum sounds into the 21st century. The drum brute has robust connectivity that makes it easy to integrate with your hardware.

Elektron Analog Rytm MKII

Elektron Analog Rytm MKII Drum Machine. Source: YouTube

Elektron Analog Rytm MKII is quite pricey as compared to other modern drum machines. However, the price is justified by the different features it offers. Elektron Rytm MKII has a sequencer with 13 tracks, 8 diverse voices, and synthesis options. The Elektron Rytm MKII has an OLED screen of 128× 65 pixels, making it easy to adjust the parameters with a simple click. Elektron Rytm MKII is easy to program and can work independently of external hardware like other Elektron machines: Digitakt, Digitone, Syntakt, Octactrack, and other.

Roland TR-8S

roland tr 8s
Roland TR-8S Drum Machine. Source: Google

Roland made an all-in-one drum machine with the TR-8S. The TR-8S is primarily a live performance companion. Features include FM synthesis, sound library, and accepts importing of samples. The TR-8S is the rhythm performer due to its built live performance feature. Roland also offered another unique feature by incorporating the original sounds from the 606,808, and 909. The sounds by TR-8S are well detailed down to the circuit.

Roland TR-08

Roland recreated the 808 masterpieces with TR-08. Roland’s main aim is to revive the original experience of the 808 models. Another great thing about the TR-08 is the affordable price. The TR-08 has merged both the old generation and new generation controls. Feature includes gain, pan and tune controls, compressor, and compact enclosure.

Why should you buy a drum machine?

The question makes a lot of sense. Why would you spend an extra coin on hardware already part of the keyboard and synthesizers? Here are a few reasons why buying a drum machine is your best bet.


Drum machines are straightforward, no technicalities or too many knobs and controls. Keyboard and synthesizers, on the other hand, have so many controls that one needs to be familiar with. Yes, they may try to match up, but they need skill.

Although marketing guides make it seem so easy to use the drum solutions, it’s more technical than it looks. Analog drum machines, on the other hand, are straightforward. Analog drum machines have pads allocated to each drum sound, making it easy to make a melody. Another advantage is the use of LEDs in places, which makes it easy to follow through the sequence of each pad that’s triggered. Keyboards and synthesizers cannot keep track of drums sequence, since it’s not their priority.


Drum machines are so versatile in terms of functions. Each knob on the device is allocated a specific function, making it so flawless to adjust effects, attacks, and cut-offs. An analog drum machine is excellent when doing live performances as your controls are at your fingertips, and there’s nothing complicated to figure out. On the other hand, virtual drums have so many controls that need to align, making it hectic, especially during live performances.

It’s the natural sound

No matter how good a marketing guide describes virtual drums, they can never get as good as the real thing. Technology has seen the resampling of almost all drums’ sounds, now easily accessed on the internet. DAWs now come preinstalled with the drum sounds. However, these digital creations can never sound as original as the actual sounds from analog drum machines.

They’re Magical!

When you choose to buy any musical instrument, you must as yourself if it gives you the feel of a natural symphony. Music sounds better when you can feel it while hitting the drums or yanking the guitar strings. The use of technology such as drum plugins misses the point of creating music. Digital drums are more like a program that you have to figure out—so many menus and parameters that take so long to make a drum sequence. At times, you may not even get to get the desired drum pattern. Punching real drums is so magical, you make the melody you like straightforward.

How does the future for drum machines look?

Drum machines are back in the market with a big bang. Analog drum machines are taking ground on the market primarily because of incorporating modern features and utilities. The price points also imply that the drum machines will not disappear anytime soon.

Behringer RD-8 MKII

The RD-8 MKII by Behringer introduces new features, including autofills, note repeats, step repeats, real-time triggering, and overdubbing. Another great feature is the proficiency in adding songs to a queue without halting the playback. RD-8 MKII is especially useful for live performances.

Behringer LM Drum

behringer linndrum
Behringer LinnDrum Drum Machine. Source: Google

Behringer disclosed that they would soon be launching the LinnDrum Clone in the market. Of course, we expect the LinnDrum Clone to offer a much better sound quality. Most likely, we don’t expect to see a copy of the original, but more features incorporated, such as velocity pads, display, and other modern technologies.

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However, the interface and sounds are expected to remain the same or better. Behringer will want to offer something much better than the original versions. All in all, drum machines have maintained high-quality sound that even the sampled reboots and modern digital have not been able to match up to. We are anxiously waiting to see what new magic spell Behringer LinnDrum introduces into the market.


Drums are the footing of any melody, and they play an essential role during live performances and while practicing. Drums generate melodious noise. Drum machines contributed to the growth of music production over the years with the invention of digital drum engines. However, analog drum machines still rule the quality of the drum. Analog devices are simply unbeatable, and it’s evident why people are still dancing to the 808 classic sounds. Although technology is trying to make an exact copy of the natural feel, it’s quite hard to get the natural feel like the old drums. The material difference between the old drum and new technology also has a great influence on quality.

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Is worth buying a Drum Machine?

Yes and no. It depends on your needs and the style of music you create or want to create. If you are into electronic music, the Drum Machine is something to consider.

What to buy? Classic or Modern Drum Machine?

If you’re just starting out, the Modern Drum Machine, which is often much cheaper than the classic TR-909, for example, will be quite enough for your needs.