Sounds of the 909

What more is there to say about the Roland TR-909 drum machine?

The price of (second hand) hardware units is a major factor for the proliferation of software alternatives. Convenience might be another. But that doesn’t quite explain the number of options available to anyone searching for the perfect beat.

Unless your name is Jeff Mills, it is actually quite difficult to make the raw sounds generated by the machine to sound good totally dry in a mix. I remember George Fitzgerald talking about this in a video for Electronic Beats and saying that the 909 sounds like a toy without any processing.

So another reason for the amount of choice in 909 inspired software and sample packs might be the demand for different 909 flavours. These are some of my favourites (this is list is by no means exhaustive!):

909 From Mars by Samples From Mars

The 909 sounds were sampled through high-end gear at a large variety of settings and recorded to tape. To my ears it sounds warmer (a much overused term, I know) and ‘fatter’ than an unprocessed 909, without departing too far from the raw signal and being overcooked - though kits included also have some beautifully distorted tones.

On top of that, as an Ableton user, the macro mappings for the Drum Rack kit make it a pleasure to tweak the individual instruments, especially with a Push 2 controller.

Samples From Mars have loads of other cool and inspiring instruments too, including MPC (!) and SP1200 (!!) 909 kits.

Drumazon by D16 Group

The choice for realism in modelling the raw sound of the original machine. What I really like about this piece of software is the way that the sequencer implements swing and randomisation.

I don’t know if it perfectly imitates the 909’s shuffle (which is said to be quite sloppy) but if you like shuffle, turning the Drumazon swing knob is very satisfying. Drumazon also has a powerful randomisation function. It not only generates sequences for each instrument but also randomises the velocity of each hit. Furthermore, the overall level of note velocity can be adjusted, meaning that a sequence can go from being sparse to dense but highly dynamic.

(Shoutout to D16 for being from Poland too!)

Smackos Amiga 909 by Legowelt

I’ll just leave the awesome Legowelt’s own description of this instrument here:

“Raw TR909 drummachine for Ableton. Based on Legowelt’s legendary AMIGA 909 sample floppydisc. Introducing brand new technologies such as FLOCCULENCE, AMIGAnizer and SKOOLY SPACE to give u a fresh spectactulair 909 experience u never had before!”

If that isn't enticing I don't know what is.

S909 by Michal Audio

My contribution to the range of 909 flavours out there. The S950 sampler was widely used in its 90s heyday, notably by house, garage, hardcore and jungle pioneers. It was designed as an accessible pro quality sampler. At the time, this meant 12-bit and variable sample rate up to 48khz as well as a ‘massive’ 750KB memory… The S909 Ableton Live Drum Rack is designed to give easy access to the sonic imprint of this sampler without going through the arcane sampling process itself, since some poor soul produced over 2300 samples so you don’t have to...