How to get the sound of the Roland CR-78

If you’re new to the world of drum machines then chances are you’ve never heard of the Roland CR-78 CompuRhythm – but you will almost certainly have heard it in action! However in drum machine enthusiast circles Roland’s iconic drum machine needs no introduction.

Roland CR-78 Overview:

Released in the late 1970s, the CR-78 is an analog rhythm preset playing machine with the ability to program and store patches.

At the time of its launch the CR-78 represented a significant advance in drum machine technology with the ability to store the user’s own patterns thanks to the CR-78’s microprocessor and was much sought after by pop and disco producers, and assorted electronic music pioneers, keen to get hold of what was – for the time – cutting edge technology.

5 Facts about the Roland CR-78:

  1. The CR-78 launched in 1978
  2. The CR-78 features 34 preset rhythms and 30 user programmable presets.
  3. The CR-78 was the first to use a microprocessor.
  4. Step programming is done via an optional WS-1 box.
  5. Each preset pattern is available in two variations, labelled “A” and “B”.

Famous Songs that use the CR-78:

While the CR-78 boasted typical drum machine presets of the time including rhythms for Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot, it was the CR-78’s electronic sounds, as well as the ability to play parts from two rhythms at a time and mute parts, that saw the CR-78 keenly adopted by an army of electronic music producers.

Chances are if you have heard any popular chart music from the 1980s that you have heard the sounds of a CR-78. Check out 3 of my personal faves below!

1. Tears for Fears – Mad World.
Blondie – Heart of Glass.
Roxy Music – Same old Scene

As you can hear from just those 3 examples, the CR-78 has a recognizable sound that you have almost certainly heard before, if you’ve ever listened to popular music. (If you’re interested in hearing more great songs that use the CR-78 then KVR have a dedicated forum thread dedicated to songs that use the CR-78)

Getting the sounds of the CR-78 in your own projects

So what if want to get that vintage CR-78 drum track sound in our productions? I decided to investigate what’s on offer, assuming most of my readers won’t have the budget for an authentic CR-78. What we want is a cheap CR-78 clone or a cool CR-78 plugin, right? Right!

Best CR-78 drum machine clone

If you’re looking for a CR-78 clone then the Beat Bot TT-78 from French manufacturer Cyclone Analogic is your best bet. The Beat Bot TT-78 doesn’t sound 100% authentic but instead delivers a modern take on the CR-78 soundplus several enhanced features that Roland’s boffins – and music producers – could only dream about in the’70s!

I intend to do an indepth review of the Beat Bot TT-78 in the near future so for now you can check out the Cyclone Analogic website for all the details.

Is there a CR-78 VST Plugin?

At the time of writing there is no dedicated CR-78 VST however the Arturia Spark 2 drum machine plugin does feature numerous vintage drum machine emulations including the CR-78.

Given that Spark 2 also features analog emulations of the TR-808, TR-909, TR-606, Simmons SDS-V, Linn Drum, Drumtraks, DMX, Drumulator and many more, if you’re really keen to get a CR-78 kit in VST format – rather than go down the sample pack route – then Spark 2 represents excellent value for money. (You can read more about the Spark 2 plugin on the Arturia website here.)

CR-78 Kontakt Instrument

In 2019 I treated myself to the excellent Compu78 Kontakt instrument from developer Forgotten Keys. This was a big upgrade from their earlier product the FK6: Roland CompuRhythm CR-78 with an enhanced interface and several new features.

The Compu78 features all the original sounds, all carefully sampled with both multiple accent levels and round-robin variations. Best of all the original rhythms and variations have been accurately reproduced and you can program your own rhythms and can record a performance and save it as a MIDI file.

Sadly, it looks the Forgotten Keys website is no longer operational so I must consider the Compu78 Kontakt instrument is no longer available, at least for the time being.

Is Behringer making a CR-78 clone?

In early 2020 Uli Behringer, founder of audio equipment company Behringer, asked members of the Behringer Facebook community if they would be interested in a CR-78 clone. According to Uri: “We have received many requests to clone a CR78 … Perhaps we have some folks here who’d want to sketch something up and so you can all vote for the best design…”

Feedback on Facebook and amongst the community was generally positive although as of August 2021 there have been no firm announcements on the possibility of Behringer launching a CR-78 clone. Behringer currently market their popular RD-6, RD-8 and RD-9 drum machines which are clones of the Roland TR-606, TR-808 and TR-909 respectively.

CR-78 Samples

There are numerous free CR-78 sample packs floating around on the internet but if you’re looking for premium quality then you can’t go wrong with the CR-78 From Mars pack courtesy of the sample heads at Samples from Mars. The CR-78 from Mars pack provides 250 plus samples covering both the one hits and the original CR-78 patterns.

Samples from Mars have sampled two different CR78s for some added variety and you get tasty processed samples and unprocessed (”clean”) sounds.

As well as the samples you also get Ableton, Kontakt & Logic One Hit Instruments as well as 34 Ableton & Midi Groove files from preset patterns.

At the time of writing CR-78 Samples from Mars pack is just $1 on the Samples from Mars website.

Free CR-78 Ableton Live Drum Kit

If you’re an Ableton Live user then make sure you download the free Ableton Drum Machines pack in which you can find the Kit-C78 preset, as well as other ready to use useful recreations of vintage drum machines. (Requires Live 9 Standard or above.)

Free CR-78 patterns for Ableton Live

When you have downloaded that sample pack don’t miss out on this collection of authentic Roland CR-78 Machine Patterns in this free Ableton Project file from the ZZSounds Blog. “Included with the project file are the additional rhythms — fills, variations, and additional voices — that were found on the CR-78 to embellish the set presets. You’ll also find in this project file a duplicate column of rhythm patterns. With this duplicate column you can combine patterns at will, just like in the old CR-78”.

Is it worth buying a CR-78 today?

I’m old enough to remember when you could pick up an unwanted CR-78 for $100 bucks or less but these days the CR-78 enjoys a cult following and second hand units can cost upwards of $1500. Would I buy one for that price or more? In all honesty, no. The preset sounds of a real CR-78 do have plenty of vintage appeal – especially for us older producers looking back to the 1980s – but modern drum machines offer so much more in terms of sounds and features. In my opinion the CR-78 is a non-essential piece of kits.

If you’re a young producer, maybe just starting out on your career in music- and assuming you do not have money to burn – then don’t hanker after a CR-78 when there’s a world of cheaper drum machines, sample packs and VSTS to explore. Maybe buy yourself one when you have a few Grammy’s under your belt and you need to fill your 10 bedroom mansion with gadgets!

Try the CR-78 online

‘Drummer’ is a clever drum machine app created by Glynn Bird. It uses samples of the classic Roland CR78 (plus R8 and Tempest drum machines) and you can create your own drum beats simply by clicking in a “step sequencer” made up of up to 32 checkboxes. You can even dave and load your own patches! Try Glynn’s free CR-78 online drum machine here.

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