When Japanese music technology company Roland first unveiled their TR-808 back in 1980, nobody could have predicted the impact this now iconic drum machine would have on the world of music and pop culture and nobody would have guessed that its proudly ‘unrealistic’ drum sounds would still be relevant more than two decades later.
Several decades later it is now possible to run TR-808 software emulations – or plugins – on even modest home computers meaning it has never been easier to get that 808 sound in your own tracks.
Below I take a look at the best TR-808 plugins money can buy plus I mention a free VST for those of you on a tight budget.
The D16 Nepheton VST plugin is the best choice when it comes to successfully replicating the sound of the Roland TR-808 at a price that won’t break the bank.
D16 Nepheton: Beating the Competition
German Developer D16 are famous for the quality of their emulations of classic Roland gear (including the TR-606 and TR-909) and the Nepheton is certainly up to their usual high standrards.
The Nepheton plugin gives you 17 synthesized drum parts to play with, each developed from the ground up to capture the sounds, vibe and nuances of the original Roland hardware.
Why 17 parts as opposed to the originals 16 you might ask? Well the Nepheton adds a new ‘Laser Gun’ synth part. Proving yet again that software and code can beat their older hardware siblings into submission in many regards, D16 have expanded on the original’s controls giving you more options for sound sculpting, tonal adjustments and tweaking (although the focus remains on the core 808 sound so you’re still working within the limitations of the original sound palette to some extent).
Each drum part can be routed to one of 12 outputs for further manipulation your DAW – with minimal hassle you can push the Nepheton into new sonic territory by running individual drum parts through your favorite reverbs, filters, bit crushers and whatever other effects you fancy. Every drum part has Mute, Solo buttons and an Activity indicator.
The Nepheton sequencer expands on the original with additional features including built in randomizer, shuffle modes
Patterns can be imported and exported as user-readable xml file and Nepheton also has extensive midi control and An easy-to-use “Midi Learn” function allows for instant parameter reassignment when used with external controllers.
If I have one criticism it is that the D16 Nepheton lacks a resizable GUI and it does look very small on my DAW although this does not effect the sound in anyway, of course. I would love to see D16 release an update in the future with resizable GUI and maybe even a few new drum parts to compliment their Lazer Gun drum part!
Summary: With its convincing sound and even a few original bonus features thrown in for good measure, the D16 Nepheton is hard to beat in terms of sound and value for money.
Is the D16 Nepheton Stand Alone?
Note that the D16 Nepheton is not stand alone software or app – a host application (DAW) is required to use it.
What are the Nepheton System Requirements?
You can run Nepheton within any suitable VST host on Mac and PC. The plugin comes in both 32bit and 64bit formats. I do not find it CPU intensive and I can run multiple instances at once, without problemsm on my decade old 4GB Intel i5 laptop. The D16 website recommends:
CPU 1.5 Ghz with SSE (Multicore system 2.0 Ghz recommended)
RAM 4 GB (8 GB Recommended)
Roland Cloud 808: Pay (Monthly) to Play!
Thanks to Roland’s proprietary Analog Circuit Behavior modeling technology, the Roland Cloud version of the TR-808 sounds incredible and faithfully captures the subtle nuances of a real TR-808.
Roland’s developers have successfully managed to emulate the sound of a real 808 to an extent that is goIng to satisfy anybody looking for a go to plugin for 808 hits and beats. Don’t listen to purists and stubborn TR-808 owners who want to persuade you that software can’t POSSIBLY match hardware – if you create drum tracks with this plugin I suspect not one of them would be able to tell that you didn’t use a genuine TR-808!
With a satisfyingly deep, warm and booming bass drum that’s guaranteed to put a smile on any producer’s face, sizzling hi-hats that can cause serious damage at any house party and, of course, that famous snappy snare, the Roland Cloud TR-808 is more than capable of holding its own against the orignal hardware.
And, of course, you can always further enhance (or destroy) the Roland Cloud 808 by running it through your favourite saturation and distortoin plugins.
The sequencer is a recreation of the orginals, with a few extras on top to take advantage of the way we make music on our compuyers. Each pattern you make can have eight variations – perfect for creating evolving sequences. Going beyond the original TR-808, the 16-step “TR-REC” sequencer can be expanded to show a sequencer lane for each drum part so you can program beats faster.
The sequencer also has adjustable flam and sub-steps for the creation of drum fills plus each drum part has its own ‘last step’ and shuffle settings which make it super easy to mess around with timing, groove and polyrthms. Last but not least, you can drag patterns from the TR-808 directly into your DAW as either MIDI or audio clips.
To use the Roland Cloud 808 in your DAW you will need to be subscribe to the Roland Cloud monthly subscription service. Note that the Roland Cloud ‘YOURS’ loyalty program does let you take ownership of one instrument for every year you subscribe so you can choose to own the TR-808 plugin outright even if you cancel your subscription after a year. There is also a 30 day free trial so you can check out their TR-808 as well as their TR-909 and much, much more!
Summary: The Roland Cloud 808 is a superb sounding plugin and in my opinion it represents excellent value for money given that it is just one compenent of the vast Roland Cloud library of classic synths, drum machines and romplers. This is a genuine step up from sample packs (and cheap or free apps) so if you’re looking for that TR-808 sound and are you are not put off by Roland Cloud subscription it aboslutely deserves a place in your DAW.
Best FREE TR-808 Plugin: Electronik Soundlab VK-808
If you want to get the sound of an 808 in your DAW for free then there are numerous sample packs floating around on the internet some of which are more legitimate than others. Keeping things strictly legitimate, you could do a lot worse than download the free Electronik Soundlab VK-808 plugin from Elektonik Sounds Lab.
This rompler style plugin gives you a total 272 TR-808 samples spread across 17 different kits, with (very) basic controls over each sample (although there is the ability to route the sound of each drum part to a different mixer track for further sound manipulation in your DAW).
Because this is sample based plugin do be prepared to give up just over 1gb of disk space. Also note that there is no sequencer here – don’t be fooled by the colorful 808 style GUI – so you will need to trigger individual sounds in your DAW by creating MIDI notes in the piano roll.
I much prefer using the D16 Nepheton to this rompler style plugin, to be honest, as it offers much more sound scuplting control and a step sequencer and it just sounds much more authentic and ‘live’ in a way static samples can’t, but if you are are in need of a free solution then check it out.
You can download the VK-808 for free direct from the developer’s shared google drive here:
(While you are there, consider downloading the free TR-707 drum set as well!)
Mojo a Go-Go: Why Every Producer Needs the 808 Sound!
The iconic Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer drum machine blazed a trail for a new era of electronic beats and changed music forever.
Able to punch through mixes thanks to its proudly analog and ‘unrealistic’ sounds – including the infamous boomy bass drum and snappy snare – Roland’s TR-808 was adopted by a new breed of young musicians and producers keen to explore a new sonic territory and get walls shaking and dance floors jumping.
If you think you are unsure what an 808 sounds like then think again – chances are you have heard the 808 in some of your favourite records and even television shows, movies and video games.
The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Carl Craig are just 3 of hundreds of legendary music producers and groups who embraced the TR-808 and helped bring its sound from out of the Roland laboratory in Japan and into the homes of millions of people around the world.
While the 808’s sound is often associated with the 1980s – making it a go to drum machine for producers seeking to quickly capture a nostalgic vibe – it still has a huge role to play in contemporary music production more than four decades after its launch and it can be heard in countless modern Hip Hop, Rap, Trap, House, Techno and Pop tracks (whether thanks to a plugin, samples or an actual hardware unit).
The 808 even has its own official birthday (8th August) and is the subject of two documentaries! (Check out the official Roland TR-808 40TH Anniversary mini-documentary below).