Iconic drum machines - Can you recognize their sounds?

Can you identify the sounds of some of the most iconic drum machines?

It's hard to imagine how the electronic music world would look like without drum machines. Some of them became iconic and left an imprint on the music history. Which one is your favourite?

Roland TR-808

Picture: Brandon Daniel

A completely analog drum machine introduced in 1980. Allows users to create own rhythms based on 16 different sounds. By using the step sequencer, it is possible to create up to 32 patterns. 808 is the first drum machine that could program an entire percussion track including breaks. Roland drum machine TR-808 was used in: Marvin Gaye “Sexual Healing”, Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force “Planet Rock”, Yellow Magic Orchestra “1000 Knives”, Aphex Twin “Xtal”.

Roland TR-909

Picture: Brandon Daniel

TR-909, unlikely his older brother 808, is partially sample-based and partially analog. 16-step sequencer, drum kit, synthetic sound and ability to be fully programmed, are the distinguishing marks of 909. Who used TR-909? ATB, Aphex Twin, Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, Gus Gus, RZA, Gorillaz, Kanye West…. and many, many more.

Roland CR-78 CompuRhythm


Released in 1978, the first microprocessor-based rhythm machine, that allows users to program and store own drum patterns. This wooden designed drum machine and its preset rhythms (Rock, Disco, Bossa Nova, Rumba, Waltz, Swing, Tango, Boogie, Samba, Chacha) became one of the favorite elements in pop music at the turn of the 70’s-80’s. Sounds of Roland CR-78 can be heard in the outcome of many artists like Blondie, Genesis, Phil Collins, Fatboy Slim, John Foxx, Paul McCartney, Radiohead, The Who.

Oberheim DMX


digital drum machine with realistic sounds like Linn LM-1. Oberheim launched DMX in 1980 after noticing the success of LM-1. DMX provides 24 individual drum sounds from 11 original samples. In addition, there are some humanising programming functions such as rolls, flams or timing variations. Artists who used DMX: Run DMC, Dr. Dre, The Chemical Brothers, Justice, Mike Oldfield, The Police, Eddie Murphy.

Linn LM-1

One of the first programmable drum machines but definitely the first one to use digital samples of acoustic drums. Linn LM-1 was promoted with slogan “Real drums at your fingertips”. Linn Electronics Inc., included in 12 real drum sounds that could be tuned to pitch. Another feature that gives more human-like sound is timing circuitry for rhythm. This drum machine gained popularity fast and was used by many artists, i.e: ABBA, Kraftwerk, Michael Jackson, Prince, Peter Gabriel, Alphaville, The Chemical Brothers, Billy Idol, Genesis.


E-mu SP-1200

Initially created as a drum machine and sequencer for dance music producers but mostly associated with hip hop’s golden age. Thanks to SP 1200, the hip-hop producers started to shift from drum machines to sampled loops. Who used it? Beastie Boys, De La Soul, DJ Krush, DJ Premier, Madlib, MF DOOM, RZA, J Dilla, Dr. Dre, KRS-One and many more.

Check if you can recognize which drum machine could create this kick sound! Each example has a looped kick of one drum machine. It's also presented in a visual way as a spectrogram. Good luck!

July 21, 2017