Roland revives the TR-808


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/08/09/roland-revives-the-tr-808.html


#2

“Models.” This is a digital keyboard designed to sound like the original analog keyboard. This is not a TR-808. They have not revived it. They are producing their own cheap imitation.


#3

Still got my JX-3P!


#4

the company’s taking deep and welcome interest in exploiting its own technical heritage

It’s about time… they were floundering around for so long that I began to call them LOLand, because of how out-of-touch they were.

I think that their circuit-modelling sounds quite good, and is a huge improvement over sample-based digital drum machines. But I just don’t like grid-based programming enough to bother with it myself.


#5

Are there are any circumstances at all where modeling analog circuits in digital hardware (or software) would pass muster?

I ask because they’ve done many cheap imitations of their own already, using the tricks and shortcuts usually associated with digital keyboards (samples and mathematical abstractions of the sound envelopes and what have you). But they are claiming something new here, something different and specific with respect to accurately modeling the behavior of analog circuits, and I’d like to know if it can be dismissed with scare quotes so plainly.


#6

Wait - Propellerheads? As in these guys?


#7

Part of the 808s unique sound came from intentionally using defective transistors in the sound generator circuit. It’s analogness made it what it was.

@Mister44 Propellerhead is a software company that makes synthesizer simulators and DAWs. Their most famous product is called Rebirth RB338:


#8

Have you heard the TR-08 and Aira head to head? The Aira doesn’t really do right by the 808 sound somehow.

Anyway Rob this is really old news.
EDIT: total brainfart on my part. Not old news.


#9

Good question. Of course we don’t know exactly what they are doing here or how it might be different from what they did before. But “Analog modeling keyboard” is industry doublespeak for “digital keyboard that sounds like an analog keyboard.” What we know from the term “modeling” is that it isn’t using samples, so it’s at least one step up from that. It is running a digital simulation of a sine wave and applying effects to it via the settings input by the user. Probably what they are claiming here is that they have reproduced every setting and switch and it’s potential effect on the modeled wave in this model. The entire process, however is digital rather than analog. Perhaps they will put a truly valiant effort into filtering the output so that it really sounds a lot like the real thing. The difference here is ANALOGous (hehe) to the difference between film and digital video. But it’s really quite different from actually producing the original board again, which even Roland acknowledges by giving this a different number.


#10

What do you think of Aira? This is probably a re-packaging of the same tech.

I come at this from having played with physical modelling synthesis a bit. Physical models can be very processor intensive, but yield the “realism” of a sample while offering variance and articulation of instrumental performance. Granted - I preferred to push the algorithms outside of realism and prettiness.

Analog drum circuits are vastly more simple than physical instruments, so they use less resources and are easier to program. A snare sound, for instance, is often a trigger voltage used as an impulse (stick) which excites a resonant filter, yielding a damped sine wave (skin+shell) and firing a couple of simple envelopes, one for pitch and one for amplitude. Mix in a random noise source for the snare wires. To replicate a specific drum machine, one has to analyze it’s circuit design and know what parts of the implementation contribute to the salient features of its idiosyncratic feel. Some unintended filtering here, some logarithmic response in the envelope there.

The big difference being that one could then tweak the tuning, decay, and other parameters realistically. More or less like on the original hardware.

No doubt some people will hear the difference. But due to loose tolerances and the way analog components age, there is probably realistically as much a difference between one original 808 and another. I know that many people are super picky about its sound - but then they end up processing the shit out of it anyway. It may be an imitation, but it seems to be a fairly painstaking one.


#11

The good news is plenty of originals are still available. You might need to sell you car to buy one, though:


#12

Different.


#13

Like New Coke, but will have more success in the market…

Decades later, and missing features the original had. (Lack of individual outputs, ability to cut through the mix over older live sound-systems perfectly…)

Admittedly, this round is a lot better than the terrible “analog modeling” that Roland tried to shove down everybody’s throat in the 90s, when a used 303 would fetch as much as $10k. I’m sure this unit, like the new 09 Sounds pretty good, probably indistinguishable from the original if you’re just routing USB audio through your DAW, but doesn’t have the utility that the originals had for working with other gear. This is part of the reason (aside from fetishism and limited supply) that the originals still sell for thousands.

It always amused me that roland couldn’t find a way to actually manufacture the actual thing everyone wanted, and was paying top dollar for. Many smaller companies managed to do just that. There are some boutique manufacturers still doing this, and some entries into the Eurorack space that are actually delivering the functionality that made these special so special in the first place.

Roland Aria is a very interesting and capable piece of gear, but it is it’s own thing, not a substitute for either of the classic machines.

Any chance Roland is sponsoring BoingBoing content? :wink:


#14

Yeah, that’s the trouble with the modern age.

You have upstarts like Intel producing cheap imitations of the PDP-11.


#15

These are still assembled from the same proprietary analog circuit behavior modeling, but into a new finished product.

That’s what I was getting at, they are using the same type of circuit modelling. Point being that this type of tech has been out there for a few years, if anybody is wondering whether the interactivity of a standalone device is worthwhile for them in comparison to other options.

Anybody into electronic music who lived through the industry’s “virtual analog” craze of the late 90s might be justifiably skeptical about digital emulation. There has been a lot of hokum and marketspeak out there. (ninja’d by @qixombarg)


#16

Where’s the switch that turns on the incremental randomization so that your beats don’t sound like they have a stick up their behind?

Ha ha, I kid. But people sometimes forget that Roland pioneered “randomization features” in their vintage 1980s drum machines. I guess any sensible beatmaster that owns one of these things will immediately bypass the grid sequencer for their own computer-based one. So you might as well stick with the Propellerheads – their softsynths allow total automation of all knobs, faders and switches.


#17

Bad analogy though. Intel is producing machines which accomplish their task orders of magnitude better than their predecessor. Digital remakes of analog keyboards have two advantages: size/weight and cost. They have no musical/output advantage. Mostly it is of course about cost, hence “cheap.” And that’s fine! If they want to make a cheaper imitation of the TR-808, go ahead. But it’s not a TR-808, and it likely won’t sound the same.


#18

I could dig, but remember reading quotes from Roland staff in another CDM article explaining why this wasn’t the same tech as Aira months back when the TR-08 was announced or about to be released.

I do remember the back and forth of different digital synthesis models back in the 90s. Certainly things have progressed in that area. What I can say is having heard the TR-08 and Aira myself, though I never owned a 808, I did use them and if I had cashflow right now I’d get the TR-08 in a split second. No its never going to be the same as the analog hardware but its damn good for what it is, especially for the price.

If you must have an analog drum machine they are available. The Korg Volca Beats is analog and dirt cheap. There are others as well. They don’t sound like an 808 and won’t have the same knob configurations but they are fun and useful.


#19

Volabeats is DOPE, but not nearly comparable to something like an 808. Limited utility, but lots of fun.


#20

I adore my Volcas, often limited is a good thing, you don’t get trapped in screwing around with settings and you just make music.