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The Iconic Drum Machine Sampled Through an API Console

The 808 is easily the most recognized drum machine in history. It’s responsible for the birth of countless genres – hip hop, electro, techno, house, trap – the list goes on. And even though it was developed in early 1980, it is still among the best sounding drum machines of all time – with its classic and pure analog sound. Decades later it can still be heard everywhere – in fact, it’s hard to escape the 808.

The Sound of the 808 is Alive

I’ve used many 808s over the years and it’s true that each has its own sound. This is due not only to its 100% analog nature, but because of the internal parameters that, with even the slightest tweak, can completely alter the sound. The toms can sound like a 606 if the noise parameters are messed with, and the bass drum can range from a low G (if you’re lucky) to an A#.

We Re-Built the Library From Scratch

Over the years, 3 different 808s have been sampled to create the 808 From Mars, but our most recent unit is far and away the best sounding yet, and for this reason (and the fact we have better gear and more experience than ever) we’ve decided to completely re-sample it.

So, we multi-sampled our 808 cleanly through our API console, and also dirtied it up with a slew of hardware saturators, EQs, filters and compressors (no plugin processing whatsoever).

The Recording Process

The 808 recording session was a complicated, month-long affair filled with love (and some frustration). But if you break it all down, we basically focused on two different processes – clean samples and dirty samples.

  1. The Clean. Recorded through the API 1608 with minimal gain and no processing. Includes both digital and tape versions
  2. The Color. Various types of processing including EQ, Saturation, Compression, Gating, and more. Groups of samples with multiple levels of saturation.

For the processing, we overdrove the 1608 console, and used dynamics like the API 2500, Distressor, SPL transient designer, and SSL. We used overdrive mostly in parallel, to color the sustain and bring the RMS up – and these consisted of an Overstayer Saturator, a Moog filter and Reddi. For EQ, we turned to the Thermionic Swift Tube EQ, API 550B and 560 EQs. And for samplers, we stuck to the classics – SP1200 and MPC60.

Sorting the Samples and Formatting

Once all of the recordings were finalized, we spent a week exploring and jamming with all of the sounds, carefully building 16x hit kits of drums that play well together. The kits range from clean to saturated, to completely distorted, and are the perfect way to get going quickly if you’re overwhelmed by massive sample counts.

Finally, we formatted everything for as many samplers as we could manage. The Ableton rack is quite special, in that there are macros to adjust the actual 808 parameters (snappy, tone, decay). And, you can select different levels of hardware saturation.

In the End

Re-building this library was a huge endeavor, but it was well worth it. As our sampling techniques grow, we continue to update our old products, so that they too become better. That said, the original 808 From Mars has a lot of charm that we didn’t want to replicate or replace, so we’re including that as well, as a separate download.