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The Ultimate Guide To The Roland TR-909 - How It Works, Who Uses One + Where To Buy It!

The Roland TR-909 – The King of Techno!

Roland celebrated many company firsts with the introduction of the TR-909. In addition to being the first MIDI-equipped drum machine, its release marked Roland’s foray into sampling, an upgrade aimed at making the 909 more competitive against higher-end drum computers produced by rivals Linn and Oberheim.

Manufactured from 1984 to 1985, the TR-909 offers two synthesis types in one machine, analog subtractive for the majority of its sounds and digital sample-based for sounds such as the cymbal and hi-hat.

The full menu of options available on the 909 includes: kick, snare, low/mid/hi toms, rim shot, hand clap, cymbal, open hi-hat, and closed hi-hat. Of these, two sounds, the hi-hat and the cymbals, are available as compressed 6-bit samples. Additional settings include the accent feature, designed to give the electronic drumbeat a more humanistic touch, as well as the shuffle and flam elements that can be added to diversify the groove.

With its 12-voice polyphony, the TR-909 encourages experimentation with composition, rhythms, and layers of sound. Small circular knobs can be manipulated to control and tweak certain instruments, giving the option to intensify or lessen the attack, tone, tuning, decay, and snap with the twist of a dial.

Where Can I Buy A Roland TR-909?

The 909’s music sequencer can chain up to ninety-six patterns (up to 896 measures), which means it can program up to eight full-length songs through pattern editing or track editing modes. This storage capacity can be expanded with external memory cartridges that plug into a slot on the back of the machine next to two rows of individual outputs for each drum sound. 

Editing on the TR-909 was simplified with MIDI capabilities, which allowed users to control other instruments with the sequencer. Even though the 909 was the first Roland drum machine to use MIDI technology, it also features the company’s signature DIN Sync In system. 

Interest surrounding Roland’s entry into the sampling business garnered the 909 more initial success than many of the company’s other drum machines. Indeed, its sound found its way into several chart-topping hits in the years following its release. Yet, despite these successes, criticism abounded, especially when the unit was compared to the entirely sample-based machines sold by Roland’s competitors.

Shunned for the synthetic-sounding nature of its drums, the 909 was quickly dropped from Roland’s production line. But it seems that the 909 was simply ahead of its time. As elements of techno and dance music moved from underground raves to radio waves in the ‘90s, the TR-909 found a welcoming new home in the toolkits of electronic dance producers and performers. 

How Much Does A Roland TR-909 Cost?

If you’re lucky enough to find a Roland TR-909 for sale they’ll normally* range anywhere between £3,500 and £5,000

*prices generally seen on auction sites. If you see them cheaper, you may be on to a bargain.

Who Uses Or Used The Roland TR-909?

Famous and not so famous users of the TR 909 are: Aphex Twin, Richie Hawtin, Ceephax Acid Crew, DMX Krew, Beathaven, Daft Punk, Carl Cox, Orbital, Tiga, Jonny Greenwood, Thom Yorke, Squarepusher, Surgeon, Ansome, Jamie xx, Bjork, Jeff Mills and many, many more!

Alternatives To The Roland TR-909?

There are many different alternatives to the 909 whether as hardware, software, analog or digital. These are as follows: Roland Boutique TR-09, Roland Aira TR-8s, Behringer RD-909, Nava TR-909 clone, emulators, samples and VST’s.

However, when we compare it to the real thing it’s noticeable that the alternatives don’t quite stack up. They are a great option though for people with a lower budget.

Classic Roland TR-909 Videos, Tutorials & Demos

A playlist of videos showing you how to program a 909, how to create some famous patterns as well as watching how a wizard like Jeff Mills uses the TR-909. Some great tips in here so be sure to check them out!

Classic Roland TR-909 Tracks

Some classic 909 tracks from the last 20 years or so featuring Mr Fingers – Can You Feel It, Orbital – Chime, Speedy J – Rise, Orbital – Halcyon On and On, John Tejada – Stabilizer, Rhythim is Rhythim (Derrick May) – Strings of Life and Joey Beltram – Energy Flash.

Other Roland Products?

The famous Roland synths, drum machines and effects include: SH 101, MC 202, TB 303, TR 606, TR 707, TR 808, TR 909, Juno 60RE-201 Space Echo.

Where Can I Find A TR-909 For Sale?