Zoë Blade's notebook

Roland TR-909

TR-909 tech specs

The TR-909 was a mostly-analogue drum machine made by Roland in the mid 1980s.

It retained much of the TR-808's subtle timbre tweakability, along with its individual outputs, making it ideal in the studio. In addition to having more weighty sounds, the TR-909 also added separate accents for each sound, flams, and shuffle/swing.

Best of all, it used MIDI. For people who wanted to program their drums via a controller keyboard and a home computer based sequencer, this rendered the onboard sequencer's improvements a moot issue — they would use it only for its sounds, which were sensitive to the full MIDI range of velocities and timing, making it as versatile as whichever MIDI sequencer was controlling it.

When it was released, people were disappointed that it didn't exclusively use digital samples, which would have sounded more realistic. It was later venerated as a stylised classic, along with the TR-808. It's been extensively sampled and cloned, and even if you haven't heard of it, its sounds will very likely already be familiar to you.


Actually [our whole album] was sequenced on a Roland 909 drum machine. Not many people know, but it's got a rather nifty little onboard sequencer. It's accurate to sixteenth notes only, which is weird 'cos you can't really get a human feel. We just used one of those and an Akai S900. It was the most simple sampling and sequencing system in the world, but it proved really effective.

— DJ Jemski, Three Wize Men[2]

Derrick sold Chicago DJ Frankie Knuckles a TR-909 drum machine. This was back when the Power Plant was open in Chicago, but before any of the Chicago DJs were making records... One thing just led to another, and Chip E used the 909 to make his own record, and from then on all these DJs in Chicago borrowed that 909 to come out with their own records.

Juan Atkins, 1988[3]

Everybody was using Kevin's 909, and you can imagine how that was. It was just never available. When you did get a chance to use it, the next day somebody was calling up for it. Derrick just recently lucked up on one, and I hope to find one for myself when I get back to Detroit.

— Juan Atkins, 1988[3]

When Roland discontinued the 808 and 909 to come out with the 707 and 505, they tried to come out with a more true drum sound, but the whole beauty of Roland was that they had drum sounds which were different from everybody else's.

— Juan Atkins, 1988[3]

The basis of a lot of my music is my Roland TR-909 drum machine. I've told myself time and time again that I'd get rid of it, but I can't because it's so brilliant.

— Simon Harris, 1989[4]

Anybody can get TR-909 samples now, but the feel of the 909, the groove that's on it, you can only get that by programming the actual drum machine. The same with the 808: it's got an atmosphere and a groove all its own. I'd say it's worth spending the money to get the original machines.

— Gordon Matthewman, Blow, 1992[5]

Once you sample the sounds, it's not the same as the real thing. The 909's got such warmth when you're playing the sounds. One of my friends, Mark, has a 909 with a blown resistor, and all the hi-hats and snares have a new sound to them. It sounds quite good, there's some totally original sounds there. I talked him out of fixing it.

— Shades of Rhythm, 1994[6]

We have three 909s, and one of them has quite a special bass drum sound. The 909 sound is at the root of many of our rhythms, although we only use the sounds, not the sequencer. The MPC2000 triggers it.

— Rick Smith, Underworld, 2000[7]

Notable users


  1. "Soho Soundhouse" Soho Soundhouse (Vendor), Electronics & Music Maker, Jul 1985
  2. "Three Wize Men" Tim Ponting, Music Technology, Jun 1988
  3. "Future Shock" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Dec 1988
  4. "Mr Bass Man" Vie Marshall, Micro Music, Aug 1989
  5. "Wind Of Change" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Feb 1992
  6. "East of Eden" Rob Green, The Mix, Dec 1994
  7. "Underworld: The Making of Everything, Everything" Paul Tingen, Sound On Sound, Dec 2000
  8. "The State of Technology" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Nov 1989
  9. "Live And Direct" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Mar 1990
  10. "Strange Changes" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Dec 1991
  11. "[Unknown]" 1988
  12. "Kracked Plastik" Roger Brown, The Mix, Dec 1994
  13. "What instruments were used on Leftfield's Leftism?" Entropy, Gear Space, Nov 2007
  14. "Techno Rhythim" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Nov 1990
  15. "Future Talk" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jan 1994
  16. "Machine Head" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jul 1991
  17. Everything Is Wrong Moby, 1995
  18. "Recording Moby's 'Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?'" Tom Flint, Sound On Sound, Feb 2000
  19. "The Magic Circle" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Jun 1993
  20. "[Unknown]" Dave Robinson, Future Music, Aug 1993
  21. "Music of Spheres" Nigel Humberstone, Sound On Sound, Apr 1994
  22. "'Chime' by Orbital" Mat Smith, Electronic Sound, Apr 2017
  23. "The Lone Raver" Tim Goodyer, Music Technology, May 1992
  24. "The Techno Wave" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Sep 1988
  25. "Underworld Interview" Roland






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

Hardware MIDI sequencers: Casio CZ-101 | Roland TR-909 | Roland W-30 | Sequential Circuits Studio 440