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Roland TR-909

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TR-909 front panel
Price$1,195 USD
£999 GBP
¥189,000 JPY
Technical specifications
Polyphony11 voices
Synthesis typeAnalog subtractive and
digital sample-based subtractive
Filter12/24dB resonant lowpass filter
Aftertouch expressionNo
Velocity expressionYes
Storage memory96 patterns, 8 songs
EffectsIndividual level, tuning, attack, decay, and tone controls for some
Keyboard16 pattern keys
External controlMIDI in/out & DIN sync in
Audio sample11

The Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer, commonly known as the 909, is a drum machine introduced by Roland Corporation in 1983, succeeding the TR-808. It was the first Roland drum machine to use samples for some sounds, and the first with MIDI functionality, allowing it to synchronize with other devices. Though a commercial failure, it influenced the development of electronic dance music genres such as techno, house and acid house.


The TR-909 succeeded the previous Roland drum machine, the TR-808.[1] It was designed by Tadao Kikumoto, who also designed the Roland TB-303 synthesizer.[2] The chief Roland engineer, Makoto Muroi, credited the software design to Atsushi Hoshiai and the analog and pulse-code modulation voice circuits to "Mr Ou".[3][4]

The 909 was the first Roland drum machine to use samples, for its crash, ride and hi-hat sounds.[5] Hoshiai sampled his own kit for the cymbals, using a mismatched pair of Paiste and Zildjian hi-hat cymbals.[4] He sampled them in 6-bit and edited the waveform on a computer with a CP/M-80 operating system.[4]

Other sounds are generated with analog synthesis.[5] According to a Roland representative, the engineers felt that samples had some disadvantages and so opted for a combination of sampled and analog sounds.[6]

Sounds and features[edit]

A house pattern featuring a four-on-the-floor bass drum plus cymbal, claps, hi-hats and rimshots

Whereas the 808 is known for its "boomy" bass, the 909 sounds aggressive and "punchy".[1][7] It has 11 percussion voices and offers sounds for bass drum, snare, toms, rimshot, clap, crash cymbal, ride cymbal and hi-hat (open and closed).[8] It omits the clave, cowbell, maracas, and conga sounds from the 808.[8] The bass has controls for attack and decay.[8] The snare has controls for tone and "snappy", which adjusts the amount of the snare wire sound.[8] As the clap and snare are generated via the same noise source, they produce a phasing effect when played together.[9]

Roland TR-909 rear view

The 909 features a sequencer that can chain up to 96 patterns into songs of up to 896 measures, and offers controls including shuffle and flam.[5] Users can add accents to beats.[3] The 909 was the first Roland drum machine to use MIDI,[3] allowing it to synchronize with other MIDI devices,[5] or to allow sounds to be triggered by an external MIDI controller for wider dynamic range.[3] Older Roland machines can be synchronized via its DIN sync port.[3]


The 909 was released in 1983[5] and retailed for $1,195 USD, equivalent to $3,656 in 2023.[5] It attracted interest in the industry as the first Roland instrument to use digital sounds.[10]

In its review, Electronics & Music Maker found the 909 easier to use than the 808 and felt it offered the best analog drum sounds on the market. It concluded that it offered a good combination of analog and sampled sounds and that the addition of MIDI brought the 909 "as up to date as it needs to be".[8] One Two Testing found the 909 "gloriously easy to use", but felt it was overpriced and "still sounds like a drum machine, instead of a machine playing drums ... It lacks the authenticity of real sounds for studio work."[10]

The 909 was a commercial failure, as users preferred the more realistic sampled sounds of competing products such as the LinnDrum.[3] Roland ceased production after one year,[3] having built 10,000 units.[11] Roland changed elements of the 909 in later revisions, correcting problems and adjusting sounds. Some users modify their machines to match sounds from earlier revisions.[9]


Whereas the TR-808 was important in the development of hip hop, the 909, alongside the 303 synthesizer, influenced dance music such as techno, house and acid.[7][12] According to Gordon Reid of Sound on Sound, "Like the TR-808 before it, nobody could have predicted the reverence in which the TR-909 would eventually come to be held."[5]

Jeff Mills performing with a 909 in Detroit in 2007

The first known commercial use of a 909 is on the EP Remission by the industrial band Skinny Puppy, released months after the 909.[5][13] In the late 1980s, the 909 was popularized by Chicago house and Detroit techno producers such as Derrick May, Frankie Knuckles and Jeff Mills, who bought second-hand units.[1] DJ Sneak said that "every Chicago producer was using the 909".[13] Mixmag described Mills as the "master" of the 909.[14] Mills said its design made it possible to "play" the 909 rather than just program it, using the tuning controls to imitate the feel of a live drummer.[14]

The 909 was used on hip-hop records by acts including Boogie Down Productions, Ultramagnetic MCs, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and Public Enemy.[13] Kurtis Mantronik used the 909 on records by his hip hop group Mantronix and records he produced for other artists, such as Back to the Old School (1986) by Just-Ice.[13] In the early 1990s, the Japanese composer Yuzo Koshiro incorporated samples of the 909 in his soundtracks for the Streets of Rage games.[15] That decade, the 909 was adopted by pop musicians such as Madonna and Pet Shop Boys,[13] and by rock and alternative musicians. Mark Bell used it to create "militaristic" percussion for Björk's 1997 song "Hunter",[16][17] and Radiohead used it on "Videotape", from their 2007 album In Rainbows.[18] Electronic artists such as Kirk Degiorgio and Cristian Vogel created sample libraries by recording their friends' machines.[14]

The 909 was succeeded in 1984 by the TR-707, which uses samples for all its sounds.[3] In 2017, Roland released the TR-09, a smaller version of the 909 with additional features.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Wilson, Scott (2016-09-09). "Listen to an exclusive playlist of TR-909 classics". Fact. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
  2. ^ Hsieh, Christine. "Electronic Musician: Tadao Kikumoto". Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Kirn, Peter (2011). Keyboard presents the evolution of electronic dance music. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-1-61713-446-3.
  4. ^ a b c Tsuboi, Kaori (2020-09-04). "Roland Engineering: Atsushi Hoshiai and the TR-909". Roland Articles. Retrieved 2023-05-01.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Reid, Gordon (December 2014). "The history of Roland". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  6. ^ Lewin, Jon (April 1984). "Roland TR-909". One Two Testing (Apr 1984): 60–61.
  7. ^ a b Howard, Jeremy (19 September 2014). "Nine great tracks that use the Roland TR-909". Complex. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
  8. ^ a b c d e Goldstein, Dan; Twigg, Geoff (April 1984). "Roland TR909 and MSQ-700". Electronics & Music Maker. 4 (2). Glidecastle Publishing: 52–54.
  9. ^ a b c Aisher, Bruce (18 February 2017). "Roland TR-09 Rhythm Composer review". MusicRadar. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  10. ^ a b Lewin, Jon (April 1984). "Roland TR-909". One Two Testing (Apr 1984). IPC Magazines: 60–61.
  11. ^ Butler, Mark Jonathan. "Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music". Indiana University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-2533-4662-2. p. 64
  12. ^ Williams, Harrison (30 August 2016). "9 of the best 909 tracks using the TR-909". Mixmag. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  13. ^ a b c d e Jenkins, Dave (2019-02-01). "Roland TR-909: The history of the influential drum machine". DJ Mag. Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  14. ^ a b c "Jeff Mills celebrates the iconic Roland TR-909 through his history and cherished secrets". Mixmag. 9 September 2018. Retrieved 2022-02-08.
  15. ^ Dwyer, Nick (25 September 2014). "Interview: Streets of Rage Composer Yuzo Koshiro". Red Bull Music Academy. Retrieved 2024-01-20.
  16. ^ Pytlik, Mark (2003). Bjork: Wow and Flutter. ECW Press. pp. 180–181. ISBN 978-1550225563. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  17. ^ Greer, Jim (August 1998). "Björk in progress". Sweater.
  18. ^ Randall, Mac (2011). Exit Music: The Radiohead Story. Delta. pp. 248, 249. ISBN 978-0-385-33393-1.

Further reading[edit]