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Drum Machine Supplement

Machines £200 to £500

Article from International Musician & Recording World, October 1985

A bit of a monster


MPC's Music Percussion Computer (was the company named after the product or the product after the company? We're not telling... ) is a bit of a monster, combining pads with quite a powerful memory section — if you add a Sinclair ZX81 computer and TV for screen displays.

Otherwise you simply have three onboard memories, which is limiting, and the entire setup works out expensive for an analogue system. There are some good sounds, like the handclap and variable snare, but the MPC really cries out for sampled sounds and suffers from their absence. If it had them it would be an Inpulse I...

D 12A
P 26
S 25
O Multiple
X DIN, trigger, tape
£ 499

A backing-band-in-a-box


Yamaha's first entry into the sampled drum machine market, and a very popular one. At a budget price, the RX15 manages to combine sleek good looks, 15 sounds, LCD display, versatile editing and autocorrect, tape dump, full MIDI and reasonable memory capacity. Drawbacks are that the sounds aren't tuneable, and stereo outputs only are provided — but considering the price, very good value.

D 15D
P 100
S 10
O 2
X MIDI, tape, triggers
£ 499


Yamaha's latest PCM machine boasts a specification which is little short of miraculous for the price, and also weighs in at about the same as a medium-sized paperback (handy if your roadies have started to complain recently). The sounds are superb, although as on the RX15 you don't have the luxury of being able to tune them. The pads allow you to play the machine "live".

The sounds are a basic three toms, snare, bass, hi-hat, cymbal and claps, but the quality's so good for the money that you're not likely to find the RX21 limiting. Few compromises on the LCD display either, which gives all necessary information and is unique on a machine in this price range.

D 9D
P 56+44 preset
S 4
O 2
X MIDI, tape
£ 249

A smart second-hand buy


Never pushed hard enough by Hammond, the DPM 48 ("Sakata" or "Jugg Box" in some territories) was at one point the cheapest sampled drum machine around. Some stupendous sounds — two basses, four toms, three snares including a superb reverbed scratch snare, good claps and much more. Some problems though — no MIDI (at a time when all the competition did), only three-song capacity on unwieldy RAM cartridges, no tape sync (although an MPC Sync Track would solve that). Now available at stupid bargain prices, at which it's highly recommended (particularly if you can get hold of the alternative sound chip set and the drum pad interface).

D 22D
P 64
S 3
O Multiple
X DIN, triggers
£ 399

The high-flying 707 from Roland


The TR707's a very popular machine, and rightly so. After the TR909, which had only sampled cymbals, the 707 surprised us not only by having entirely PCM sampled sounds but also by adopting the excellent graphic programming method of the Dr. Rhythm Graphic.

As on many PCM machines there's litle control over instrument tuning, but the sounds themselves are very good, from a sharp set of toms to a decent clap, impressive cymbals and useful percussion instruments. A tempo display, full MIDI, combinable step time and real time programming, song loading from cartridge, "live" playing from keys, auto correction, flam and shuffle make the 707 a very attractive proposition.

D 16
P 64
S 4 (more on RAM)
O Multiple
X MIDI, triggers, tape
£ 525


Identical to the TR707 but with Latin Percussion sounds such as Agogo, Bell Tree, Timbale, Whistles and so on. Some tremendous sounds, but surely a rather uneconomical way of getting them — spending another £525 seems indulgent compared to buying a new chip set or cartridge for an EPROM-based machine.


An all-time classic of the drum machine world, the 808 has recently undergone something of a revival with scratch artists such as Paul Hardcastle relying on it heavily. Although the bass drum is weak and the toms far from powerful, the overall sound is clean, precise and wonderfully detailed. The 808's clap sound has inspired a whole section of the sampling industry single-handedly, and the step by step programming method is still in demand in preference to digital realtime systems.

Multiple outputs, reasonably large memory and variable drum sounds made the 808 the top of the range in its time. It still has a lot to offer, although now the machine's in demand again you'll have to search hard for one at a bargain price.

D 16A
P 32
S 12
O Multiple
X DIN, triggers
£ 380


Roland's semi-digital model now available at silly prices. The 909 has sampled cymbals but all the other sounds are analogue, slightly improved in terms of power as compared to the TR808 but still needing a little help on the Eq side.

Luckily this is made possible by the 909's individual outputs, and the unit at least has MIDI as well as all the other interfacing options, although it doesn't have the 707's graphic display it does have the same real/step time programming, LED display of tempo, versatile editing and RAM cartridge memory expansion, and in fact has much more control over the drum sounds — level, decay, tune, "snappiness" (on the snare) and so on. Could be a real bargain.

D 12A, 4D
P 64 (more on RAM)
S 3 (more on RAM)
O Multiple
X MIDI, trigger, tape, DIN out
£ 300


A tremendous bargain for anyone wanting to get into sampled percussion, the DDM110 sells for silly prices yet has excellent sounds and programming capabilities.

Its PCM sounds are sometimes a little clipped, the cymbals suffering most but the bass and snare are good, the toms reasonable but a little foreshortened, and the percussion sounds excellent. Interfacing is outstanding — MIDI for this price is very unusual — and the combination of real and step time programming, LED display and programmable trigger make the DDM110 a winner.

D 9D
P 32
S 6
O 2
X MIDI, trigger, Korg DIN
£ 229


Latin percussion version of the DDM110 identical in every other respect apart from the paint job. Congas, timbales, wood blocks, agogos all in glowing PCM. Again, spending another £225 for these sounds may seem indulgent, but if you're using them all the time the machine's a bargain.


Korg's first attempt at an all-singing, all-dancing programmable drum machine met with less success than perhaps it deserved. Digital sounds were coming in just above its price range when introduced though, and the machine's alternative functions seemed unnecessarily complicated at the time. On reflection, a good bargain at today's prices; very usable clap, snare and cymbal sounds and some unusual features such as flam, stereo outputs, duplicated buttons for faster programming, LCD display, tape dump and so on.

D 8A
P 48
S 6
O 3
X DIN, triggers
£ 350

Reasonable price, demon sounds


More than a drum machine, in fact a whole backing band in a box, the PSS 50 predated Korg's PCM sampling of percussion sounds as seen on the DDM110 and DDM220.

The Super Section's accompaniment is a sort of programmable home organ affair — eight songs with chords, arpeggios and bass line, with a maximum length of 1280 bars.

The actual drum section's less sophisticated — just bass, snare, tom, hi-hat, cymbal and clap sounds with preprogrammed patterns from Disco to Heavy Metal. Voices are pre-panned into a stereo image.

At the asking price the PSS50 appeals to a very specialised taste, but if you are playing clubs or cabaret it has both the sounds and the facilities to help in the live situation. Certainly it's cheaper than a Linn 9000 and five MIDI synthesizers.

D 8
P 64 preset
S 8
O 2
£ 449

MFB 512

At one time the cheapest digital drum machine on the market but now overtaken by the Korg DDM110, the MFB hails from Germany and looks like a home electronics enthusiast's nightmare. Built into a plastic project box, it actually sounds quite wonderful, with a full set of Drumulator-like samples and a pretty obviously TR-808 generated Clap.

Programming is difficult and limited though, using old-fashioned toggle switches which select the memories played using a Binary system. Pattern programming is similar to that on the Dr. Rhythm — step, space, step, space — but external sync facilities are limited. Memory is reasonable — eight songs and 64 patterns should be enough for anyone.

D 9
P 64
S 8
O Multiple
X Trigger
£ 299

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Machines up to £200

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Machines £500 to £1500

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
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International Musician - Oct 1985

Donated by: Mike Gorman, Neill Jongman

Scanned by: Mike Gorman

Drum Machine Supplement


Buyer's Guide

Previous article in this issue:

> Machines up to £200

Next article in this issue:

> Machines £500 to £1500

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