Boss DR110 Drum Machine
So, son of Dr Rhythm, and it only took about three years. The original Boss DR-55 was a pocket sized, metal-cased, black and red gadget which was traditionally your cheapest way into programmable drum patterns.
It stored 12 16 beat patterns and four 12 beat selections. You tapped the sounds in on two pushbuttons, picked the programs via a large rotary switch, and were fortunate enough to receive the sonic impact of bass drum, snare, rimshot and accent. The hi-hat was pre-selected at eight, 12 or 16 beats to the bar.
After its launch, Roland (does the 'Boss' nom de guerre fool anyone these days?) spun off in other directions with the larger TR808 and TR606, both featuring large memories and song arrangements. The DR-55 was boogieing along quite happily and they obviously didn't want to come back to it until they had something positive to contribute.
And they have. The DR-110 is a mammoth improvement on its Dad — look at the list — 16 factory preset patterns; another 16 programmable slots; bass drum, snare, closed hi-hat, open hi-hat, cymbal and handclap sounds; a graphic LCD readout of the drum patterns; two song arrangements, and mini pads that can be used to trigger the drums in realtime — sometimes known as 'playing' them.
The DR-110 comes in a grey plastic case, not as hardy as the 55's tank like construction but still pocket sized and with no sharp edges to snag on your tweeds. Much of the top, left-hand corner is taken up by a large LCD grid measuring 16 squares along the top by five down the side. It's this grid that indicates where the drumbeats are falling in each pattern. Every time you call up a drum programme, an array of black dots appears at the grid intersections.
This let you know that a bass drum falls at, say, the 1st, 4th, 10th and 16th beats; a snare at the 3rd and 7th, and so on. Below the grid are further LCD sections telling you what mode you're in (play, tap right, etc), and keeping score of the number of bars you've loaded into the song memory, as well as revealing which pattern you've selected.
Across the bottom of the DR-110 are 18 blue, rubber pushbuttons, similar to those on the MC202 MicroComposer, and based on solid state circuitry so a light nudge is sufficient. The largest buttons represent the drum sounds — somewhere in a cellar, a Roland artist has been licking his 3B and sketching snares, symbols, etc to appear on the top of the pads. The handclaps look like colliding forests, but you get the idea.
Smaller oblongs, numbered 1 to 8, call up the patterns. When you press the nearby shift key, again akin to the MC202's system, they swap over to their second level of operation, changing the way you're programming the patterns or returning to play, for example.
There are two ways of loading rhythms into the DR-110. The first is pure 55. You choose a drum and then each time you hit the start button, a beat is entered into the memory and it moves onto the next location. Pushing stop enters a silence. This way you work through all one to 16 locations in the grid, and the relevant dots appear on the screen.
Unlike the DR-55, there's also real time loading, a significant step (geddit) forward. First you have to compose your own metronome by feeding in a regular series of high-hat beats. Pressing shift and 5 puts you into the tap mode. The manufactured metronome sounds, and as you play the drum pads in time, the rhythm is stored in the memory. Strike one drum, or all at once, the Boss swallows the lot.
Extra shift keys let you wipe out the pattern and start again, cleared just one line of the grid or shorten the grid to 12 beats instead of 16 (but you can't operate in any other time signatures).
Songs are compiled by first nudging shift and 8 to reset the electronics to measure one. It's the start pad, and the DR-110 will tick merrily away, all you do is select the first pattern you want and push enter key, then the second pattern and enter, and so on, building a list of rhythms.
A three figure LCD counter keeps track of the number of bars stored, and a de Capo key, loaded after the final pattern, causes the DR-110 to retreat to the beginning of the sequence and repeat the lot. Strangely, there is no way of making it stop after one play, unless you enter a handful of silent patterns giving you time to reach the off switch. No great problem, but if there is already an old song arrangement in the memory and you're writing over the top of it, the DR-110 will carry on playing the tail end of the previous sequence once it's finished the fresh one. Be on your toes.
For a device this size and price, the programming is blissfully simple and admirably versatile. The LCD screen is a corking idea, even more explicit than the line of 16 LEDs on the TR808 and TR606, but it does need an external light source to show up. You won't see it in the dark.
The new Boss can be run from an external 9V DC supply connecting to a mini-jack socket at the rear, though the four penlight batteries in a compartment underneath should be good for 120 hours continuous use, claim Roland's pet voltmeters. The exterior trigger is fired from the accent, there's a mini-jack socket for headphones and a P-buss (or Playbus) stereo output.
Lastly the sounds, excellent. Thumping bass drum with a touch of click, tight, crisp and punchy snare, metallic sounding cymbals (especially the crash which is an extensive upgrade on the early white noise thrashes), and a shrewdly designed handclap. You think you've got some reverb in there, but on closer inspection it seems to be an extra decaying filter – very cunning, very effective.
The pads are small, light, and sensitive enough for clean roles and fills with the tips of two fingers.
In all, a great piece of gear, an example of what Roland are really good at (music, maths and miniaturisation) and likely to be one of 1984's most sought after drum boxes.
Review by Paul Colbert
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