Since its launch in 1981 the Roland TR-606 Drumatix Drum Machine has won legions of fans and provided the beats to thousands of classic tracks.
June the 6th is the official Roland 606 Day and to celebrate I’ll be taking a peek into the history of the TR-606 as well as providing you with a few ways to experience the TR-606 in your DAW today including a FREE 606 VST plugin!
A Brief History of the Roland TR-606:
Roland launched their TR-606 Drumatix drum machine in 1981 as a companion to their TB-303 Bass Line synth. The TR-606 was designed to be an affordable, programmable drum machine aimed at guitarists who required backing rhythms and bass lines.
At first it looked like Roland had two flops on their hands and neither the TR-606 nor its companion the TB-303 would find favor with acoustic musicians who were moving towards the use of sampled sounds.
Roland called a halt to production of the TR-606 in 1984.
However, both the TR-606 and the TB-303 found an unlikely saviour in the form of young musicians and producers on the hunt for cheap second hand music gear. With unwanted TR-606 and TB-303 units cropping up in U.S. pawn stores, young – and skint – musicians and producers were able to pick up these machines at rock bottom prices.
The TR-606 boasted 7 different drum parts and its punchy and crisp electronic sounds came to be much sought after by young DIY musicians and producers around the globe. As well as its famous role in Acid House and Detroit Techno music in particular, The TR-606 also found a home in numerous music genres during the ’80s including electro, new wave, punk and Jamaican dancehall.
To this day the TR-606’s distinctly electronic sound palette, crisp and punchy, (and sonically different to the more versatile TR-909 and TR-808 drum machines) remains hugely popular with musicians and producers especially those working in the electronic music genres. You are unlikely to be lucky enough to pick up an original TR-606 at rock bottom prices from a pawn store these days! Expect to pay around $500 – $800 for a used TR-606 today.
Who invented the TR-606?
Tadao Kikumoto was central to the Research and Development team responsible for the “Mid-O Series” Roland gear (including the DR-55, TR-808, TR-606, TB-303, and MC-202). Busy pioneering new music technology at Roland, Tadao Kikumoto actually had no idea that his work was proving to play a crucial role in the burgeoning electronic music scenes outside of Japan, most notably the in the USA and Europe. Tadao Kikumoto’s invention of the TB-303 in 1981 has been listed by The Guardian as one of the 50 key events in the history of dance music.
“We did not know anything about ‘Mid-O fever’ in the US and Europe until 1992. A well-informed guy from an overseas department told us about that.”Tadao Kikumoto. (Tadao Kikumoto: An Exclusive Conversation)
Who Uses the Roland TR-606?
The TR-606 has been used by countless musician and producers over the years. Some of the big name producers my older readers will be familar with include 808 State, Aphex Twin, Autechre and Richard “Richie” Hawtin AKA Plastikman.
Perhaps one of the most famous and commercially successful TR-606 perfomances of all time can be found in the hit track Flat Beat by French producer Mr Ozio. (Check out the video below for a blast from the past, kids!)
How to Get the TR-606 Sound?
Assuming you have the cash you can easily get hold of TR-606 drum machines on the second hand market. Be prepared to spend $600 or more depending on condition, manual, original box etc. That said there are arguably better ways to get the TR-606 sound into your projects these days including plugins, sample sets and even hardware in the form of Roland’s own TR-06 which I’ll cover first.
The Roland TR-06: Better than the Original TR-606?
Launched in 2020, the Roland TR-06 drum machine builds on the original TR-606 with several enhancements making this a much better proposition, and better value, for drum machine buyers in 2021 than the less versatile TR-606.
7 Reasons the Roland Boutique TR-06 is Better than the TR-606.
- Significantly cheaper than an original TR-606 but sounds identical.
- More effects
- More sound-scuplting options including individual tuning controls for every drum part.
- Enhanced step sequencer
- Built-In USB interface
- Integrates with Roland Cloud
- Analogue trigger outputs
Powered by Roland’s critically lauded Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) emulation technology, the TR-06 is a detailed replica of the TR-606 but with more advanced sound-sculpting options, improved sequencing capabilities, new effects and triggers for driving modular gear.
The TR-06 adds individual control over tuning, decay, and pan for each instrument and new onboard effects including reverb, filters, overdrive and distortion, compressor and delay effects.
The sequencer gets new features including adjustable sub-steps for ratcheted parts, step-loop for instant pattern slicing, and per-step probability.
The TR-06 has five trigger outs and a trigger in, so it’s now easy to interface with your modular gear.
The TR-06 also has a built in USB audio interface for easy recording into your computer.
Does the TR-06 have a Built-In Speaker?
The TR-06 has a built-in speaker and can run on standard AA batteries for approx 5 hours making this a powerful little portable drum machine. There is also a stereo miniature phone type headphone jack.
Roland Cloud TR-06 Plugin:
You can opt to pair the TR-06 hardware with the TR-606 Software Rhythm Composer available as part of the Roland Cloud subscription service for total hardware and software integration and expanded sequencing capabilities.
Is the TR-06 Worth It?
In my opinion the TR-06 represents excellent value for money. For less than $300 bucks you get a more advanced and more versatile machine than the original TR-606 ever was. If you’re in the market for a hardware unit capable of TR-606 sounds at a reasonable price then the TR-06 is well worth checking out. See the video below for an example of what this drum machine is capable of in the right hands.
Watch Shawn Rudiman on the TR-06 Drum Machine
To celebrate 606 day, in June 2021 Roland teamed up with Pittsburgh techno luminary Shawn Rudiman to make this 6 minute, .06 second long video. First Shawn talks about his love for the original Roland TR-606 sound before checking out its 21st-century offspring, the Roland Boutique TR-06.
Free TR-606 VST Plugin.
Fancy getting the TR-606 sound for free? You’re in luck then as the ever generous Sample Science have created a splendid TR-606 drum plugin called 606 Koncept.
Each drum part has been meticulously sampled and mapped according to the General MIDI convention plus you get added Vinyl, tape, and sub sound layers to add texture, dirt and depth to your drum sequences. You can add room reverb, engage the High/Low pass filter and each drum sound can be pitched up or down.
Team 606 Koncept with a suitable TB-303 bassline plugin and you’ll be knocking out Acid House tracks in no time at all!
Download the 606 Koncept plugin from the Sample Science website.
Windows 8.1/10 or macOS El Capitan to Mojave
9.05 MB of HD space
2GHz Quad-core CPU or better with 4 GB of RAM or more
64-bit VSTi/AUi Host
Best TR-606 VST Plugin:
Go beyond sampled sounds with D16’s Nithonat VST plugin. The Nithonat is a fully synthesized drum machine based on the classic 606 but with enhanced features.
German plugin developer D16 are famous for their Roland drum machine emulations and the Ninthonat is another authentic sounding winner. Going beyond the original sounds, the kick drum gets extra ‘Tune’ ‘Attack’ and ‘Decay’ parameters while the snare gets new ‘Tune’ ‘Tone’ and ‘Snappy’ controls.
Individual outs mean you can easily process each drum part further in your DAW using the effects chains of your choice.
At 99 Euros (less during D16’s annual Black Friday, Christmas and Spring sales), the Ninthonat is recommended for anyone working in electronic music production with a retro-tinged or ‘Old Skool’ flavor be it Synthwave, Electro, House, Techno. If your sound design tastes lean to the future rather than the past the Ninthonat still has plenty to offer especially combined with its built in sound-shaping tools and your favourite effects plugins.
CPU: 1.5 GHz SSE (Multicore 2.0 GHz recommended) or similar.
RAM: 4 GB (8 GB Recommended)
AU/ VST compatible host application (32bit or 64bit)
Roland Drum Machine’s Official Birthdays!
Did you know Roland actually have several birthdays every year to celebrate their iconic drum machines? Check the table below for details. These official Roland birthdays often coincide with interesting promotions and documentaries from Roland.
|9th of September
|8th of August
|7th of July
|6th of June
|Roland TB-303 (Bassline Synth)
|3rd of March