July 7th is the official Roland 707 Day! It’s the perfect day to explore Roland’s much loved – and sometimes cruelly derided! – drum machine, and today I’ll be taking a look at what made this machine so popular, answering some of the most common questions and telling you how to get hold of some quality free TR-707 sounds too!
A brief history of the TR-707
Launched in 1985, Roland’s TR-707 was the first of Roland’s all-digital drum machines. Embracing the future (but now sounding distinctly retro, ironically), the TR-707 eschewed analog synthesis in favor of a purely PCM sample based soundset.
While producers today think nothing of having access to millions of 24bit samples at the click of a mouse, TR-707 owners were somewhat more restricted by having just a handful of samples (15) on board their machine: Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Low Tom, Mid Tom, Hi Tom, Rimshot, Cowbell, Hand Clap, Tambourine, Hi-Hat (Closed/Open) and Cymbal (Crash/Ride).
They do say that limitations breed creativity, however, and the TR-707 – significantly cheaper than the TR-909 – soon found a home in the studios and bedrooms of many musicians and producers especially – but not only – in the burgeoning electro, house and techno scenes that were beginning to bubble up in the underground music scenes of some parts of inner-city North America and Europe.
For many young producers on a tight budget, the TR-707 was their first introduction to drum machines and electronic music production. The TR-707’s simplicity, individual outs and excellent pattern based sequencing abilities meant that just about anyone could quickly program beats for a dance or electronic track within minutes of unboxing it and plugging it in.
It is the TR-707’s very limited sample set, as well as the lack of any kind of deep tone shaping, that means many producers, who are used to dealing with much more sophisticated hardware and software, look down their nose at the TR-707 but the TR-707’s modest charms and ease of use mean the TR-707 still has a dedicated fanbase today.
This is a machine which seems to go in and out fashion on a regular basis and maybe in 50 years time wealthy hipster kids will be prepared to pay silly money to own one!
Who uses the TR-707?
Over the years some pretty big names in pop, new wave, industrial and dance music have made use of the TR-707 including INXS, Marshall Jefferson, Aphex Twin, Laurent Garnier, Phil Collins and Plastikman (AKA British-Canadian techno legend Richie Hawtin). Check out Marshall Jefferson’s classic ‘Move Your Body’ below.
Is a TR-707 still worth buying today?
According to the Reverb price guide, you can expect to pay anywhere between $400 and $600 for a TR-707. Attack Magazine showered the TR-707 with praise in their Ten Best Drum Machines article and wrote that the TR-707 is “…about as simple as hardware gets, but it’s such an inspiring, intuitive way to make dance music that it’s totally unsurprising how ubiquitous this budget drum machine remains.”
If you ever come across a TR-707 for less than $300, and you have the money to spare, then you could take a punt. In my opinion the TR-707 makes a good choice if you already have the outboard gear you might require to take the machine to the next level and bring its sound up to more current production standards.
For $400 or more I would want a more modern drum machine with more capabilities and sound sculpting options than a TR-707 could give me.
That said, if you’re working in any kind of nostalgia tinged retro, lo-fi house or synthwave type genres then a TR-707 is a fast way to get some instant late 1980s electronic vibes and groove into your tracks (although many producers would tell you to save your money and get some sample packs instead).
Best TR-707 sample packs
Speaking of sample packs – and let’s be honest for a second, here – most of us are never going to own a TR-707 nowadays, if only because we have access to much more sophisticated gear, so sample packs make the cheapest way of getting the TR-707 in your projects. Given that it is a purely sample based machine it’s really no surprise that 707 sample packs are easy to find online.
One great way to get started with the 707’s sounds in your own projects is to grab a copy of Wave Alchemy’s free 707 drum pack (registration required). You get 30 (24bit raw and processed) samples in this pack, recorded through an API 512c pre-amp.
Grab a Free TR-707 Drum Rack
If you’re an Ableton Live user then grab a copy of the 707 sample pack from Tom at Elphnt. This pack consists of 60 drum samples plus an Ableton Drum Rack (with Macro controls to transform the sound beyond the possibilities of the original hardware). Even if you do not have Ableton you can still open up the zip file and help yourself the 60 .wav files.
Is a TR-707 still good for Techno?
There is no doubt that more modern drum machines such as the Elektron Analog RYTM offer techno producers so much more than a TR-707. That said, the TR-707 has provided the beats to countless techno and house tracks over the years.
If you’re a young producer on a tight budget and just starting out, maybe watching every penny as you try to put together your studio, I’d argue that a TR-707 should not be on your list of priorities. On the other hand if money is no object and/or you already own a shed load of gear yet still find yourself wanting more then a TR-707 could be a fun and inspirational addition to your set up.
You can certainly start making classic four on the floor techno and groovy house beats with a TR-707 within minutes of turning one on but if the machine’s inherent limitations will soon prove too much for you is a question only you can answer.
What’s the difference between a TR-707 and a TR-727?
The Roland TR-727 looks almost identical to the TR-707 but is stlked in fetching blue rather the 707’s organge colorway and it features a different sample set (geared towards Latin music).
Does the TR-707 have a Built-In Speaker?
The TR-707 does not have a built in speaker.
Can the TR-707 run on batteries?
The TR-707 does not run on batteries. Best plug this machine into a power socket or it does nothing but gather dust!
What’s the difference between a TR-707 and a TR-606?
While the TR-707 is a purely sample based device, the older TR-606 uses seven synthesized sounds. The TR-707 is less versatile than the TR-606 (and also the 909 and 808).
How many individual outs does the TR-707 have?
The TR-707 has 10 output jacks so that drum sound can be individually mixed and processed (the rim/cowbell and hand clap/tambourine sounds share their outputs)