Zoë Blade's notebook


R-8 tech specs

The R-8 was a sample-based drum machine released by Roland in 1989, at roughly the same time as their similarly sample-based U-110.

As you might expect, you can tap in rhythms and play them back. More surprisingly, you can slightly randomise the nuance of each hit ("random feel"), and simultaneously superimpose patterns of subtle shifts ("regular feel"). The latter can be based on either the MIDI clock pulses, varying each hit based on when in the bar it occurs, or each note's velocity, varying it based on its strength.

These subtle variations affect the sample playback's volume, pitch, decay, and "nuance" (for most sounds, slight lowpass filtering). In other words, Roland went to great care to make sure that this drum machine doesn't sound completely monotonous.

As it's a rompler, the sounds are designed to be universally useful, so they're clean and generic. They may be useful for performing musicians, while sound designers are better off with a sampler offering a similar level of flexibility to alter the volume, pitch, decay, and lowpass filter's cutoff point, based on each note's velocity.

As far as the patterns of velocities themselves go, it's an interesting idea, but I can't help thinking its implementation would be better suited to the inevitable accompanying MIDI sequencer itself — doubly so for the R-8M.


R-8M tech specs

  • Released: 1990
  • Price: £269[3]
  • Company: Roland
  • Type: Rompler
  • Polyphony: 12 voices[4]
  • Sample rate: 44.1 kHz[4]
  • Sample resolution: 16-bit[4]
  • Audio out: 6 + stereo pair
  • Control: MIDI
  • Display: 16×2 character LCD
  • Size: 1U

The next year, Roland released a rackmount followup, the R-8M. By this point it looked even more similar to the U-110 and its followup, the U-220.

As you might expect from a rackmount variation, this does away with the MPC-style drumpads and internal sequencer, relying on a separate MIDI sequencer to trigger its notes. It does, however, retain the ability to add randomised and patterned shifts to each note based on its timing or velocity.

R-8 MkII

The R-8 MkII increased the internal ROM size, adding sounds from several expansion cards, including the ubiquitous TR-808 and TR-909 samples.


...I do like using the R-8 off its own internal memory, and just using the computer to arrange program changes for it, because I really like the edit features on it. You can get a limited amount of control through the computer over, say, the pitchwheel, but I much prefer to adjust the pitch on the R-8 itself. Like, putting in a constant hi-hat, doing the pitch on it, and recording that over a bar. You get all sorts of strange things happening. And you can't transfer that into the computer. So the R-8 always runs by itself.

— Paul Hartnoll, Orbital, 1993[5]

We're into rhythm and sound, basically. In terms of melody, for us it isn't so much about writing a tune, it's more about using the sound at different pitches to create a feel. I suppose rhythm is everything to us. A note is just a sound played for a different length at a different pitch. The R-8 taught us to experiment with pitch and sounds within rhythm structures. We tend to use notes in a very rhythmic way.

— Sean Booth, Autechre, 1995[6]

Notable users




  1. "Active Sound" Active Sound (Vendor), The Mix, Dec 1994, p. 129
  2. "R-8 manual" Roland, 1988, p. 224
  3. "Turnkey" Turnkey (Vendor), Sound On Sound, Oct 1992, pp. 112—113
  4. "R-8M manual" Roland, 1989, p. 130
  5. "The Magic Circle" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Jun 1993, pp. 56—60
  6. "Aural Technology Redefined?" Simon Trask, Future Music, Jan 1995, pp. 51—53
  7. "The State of Technology" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Nov 1989, pp. 54—60
  8. "Re: aphex and 808" Ben Middleton, IDM, Nov 1993
  9. "Autechre: Techno-logical" Christopher Holder, Sound On Sound, Nov 1997
  10. "Autechre" Paul Tingen, Sound On Sound, Apr 2004
  11. "Techno Rhythim" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Nov 1990, pp. 38—42
  12. "Music of Spheres" Nigel Humberstone, Sound On Sound, Apr 1994
  13. "Inner Space" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jun 1992, pp. 44—50
  14. "Warp Factor 8" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Nov 1993, pp. 32—33
  15. "Under New Orders" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Apr 1994, pp. 44—48
  16. "Live Tech Intelligence" Richard Wentk, Future Music, Apr 1993, pp. 17—20




R-8 MkII





R-8 MkII

Drum machines: R-8 | RD-6 | TR-606 | TR-808 | TR-909

Roland: DCB | JV-1080 | Juno-6 | Juno-106 | MC-4 | MC-8 | MPU-101 | R-8 | SH-101 | System-100 | System-100M | TB-303 | TR-606 | TR-808 | TR-909 | U-110 | VP-330 | W-30

Romplers: Carnaval | JV-1080 | Orbit 9090 | Planet Phatt | R-8 | U-110 | Vintage Keys