Musical instruments rarely lose their value as they become older. Instead of becoming old or outdated, musical instruments tend to become vintage. Drum machines are no exception to this concept. A Linn LM-1 drum machine can’t be found today for anything less than $5,000, and that machine is over 30 years old and only has 12 original samples on it!
So, what is it about these drum machines that make them so valuable? How is it that a drum machine with such limited resources can be so well sought after? It’s not the capabilities of these drum machines that make them vintage; it is the way they sound.
Most people will say that they can download or simply sample all of those vintage sounds onto a computer, yet it still doesn’t sound the same as it would coming from the actual drum machine. The incredible and invaluable thing about these vintage beat makers is their unique sound. Each machine has unique processes of quantizing and mixing each sound before it hits the speakers, and it is these processes make each one of these machines sound truly analog. Those signal processes cannot be duplicated by a sampler or computer.
Here are a few of the drum machines that helped pave the way for not only drum machines, but for many award winning artists that are loved and revered today.
Even to this day, the Roland TR-808 has been used in the production of more hit records than any other drum machine. This drum machine inevitably made its way into the hip hop world because it was a simple way to produce drum sounds. Most people believed that it sounded inferior to the Linn LM-1 because its drum sounds sounded nothing like real drums. The product eventually became discontinued which made them easily available and cheap.
After its discontinuation, a group by the name of the Beastie Boys released their Licensed to Ill album which consisted of rhythms produced by the TR-808. The success of that album led to the rebirth of the TR-808.
Though the sounds of the Roland are generally synonymous with 1980s hip hop, today artists such as Bassnector, Kesha, Ice Cube, Outkast, etc. still use the TR-808 on their records. The rap artist Kanye West named his album 808s and Heartbreak to pay tribute to the Roland drum machine. This goes to show you that Beastie Boy’s Ad Rock said it best: “Nothing quite sounds like an 808.”
The LM-1 paved the way for drum machine sampling. The LM-1 was the first drum machine to have samples of live acoustic drums. Because of its true acoustic drum sound, it gained popularity. Artists such as Fleetwood Mac and Prince have used the LM-1 on their records.
The Linn LM-1 was also the first drum machine that introduced a Shuffle feature that allowed its users to program swing notes into their patterns. This gives the pattern a more natural feel, as if a live drummer were playing the rhythm.
Another way the LM-1 paved the way for rhythm machines of today was that it was the first drum machine to feature a built-in mixer. This gave the user far more control over the sound and tone of the drum machine than ever before. Today, EQs and compression usually come standard with any drum machine.
The RX-15 is the drum machine that is often forgot about. It came out in the early 1980s, around the same time as the Roland 808 and Linn LM-1. Out of all three drum machines, this one was the easiest to program because you could use step-by-step programming (known in today’s world as sequencing) to input drum sounds where you wanted them to be. This drum machine also included crash and ride cymbal sounds, which the LM-1 didn’t feature.
The Roland TR-808, Linn LM-1 and Yamaha RX-15 played integral parts in shaping the drum machine world of today. Though features such as sampling and EQs are now standard practice on drum machines, and the limited sounds seems like old engineering, the tone and sound of these classic drum machines will never be outdated.