Step into Sequence with the TR-09.

By: Jared Boulanger (The Sour Notes) for Rock N Roll Rentals

The Roland TR-909 is one of the most iconic, yet still relevant drum machines in history. It was the first to have MIDI capabilities and can be recognized anywhere from Madonna’s “Vogue” to Daft Punk’s “Revolution 909”.

The other day, my 1999 Korg EM-1 stopped working, which made me start to research and rent a few drum machines (including the TR-09), that I thought could recreate my lost drum patterns. Upon going over the songs I had saved, I noticed that I had been subconsciously picking a “909-type kit” for many of my tracks. This led me to compare the new Roland Boutique TR-09, Korg Electribe’s 909-esque kit, Logic Pro’s 909 instrument patch and every song I could find to reference the original 909.



Compared to other machines, I thought the TR-09 was a little too small to navigate steadily in a live situation (see Roland Boutique Series), but found the sound to be so much more characteristic of the original 909, that it was worth the struggle. It was warm, round and snappy! Though Jack White isn’t much of a synth-guy (I think), I recalled him saying something in a PR campaign about how instruments should be a challenge to play, to push your comfort level and boundaries or something… I dunno. He can afford those thoughts, but it’s true I guess. Roland powers the TR-09 with ACB technology, which is a kind of A/D/Sample hybrid, which might be the reason it sounds so good, while so many other digital recreations of the 909 sound fail. 

As sluggish as you might be forced to be with it, I must say it’s quite easy to RECORD with! You can record all the drum parts separately through one USB-cable into your DAW. That, you can’t do with the original! The TR-09 sequencer has 16 steps, and each has a sub-step to extend even further. One of the BIGGEST drawbacks I stumbled upon during this comparison was in pattern chaining…  Unknowing to many consumers, MANY drum machines on the market will cut off notes from the previous pattern when switching or in pattern chain mode. For me, this was THE DECIDING FACTOR on going with the TR-09, because it chained seamlessly as things should!



Though the TR-09 doesn’t have any FX (like the original), it has a built in compressor which can be used on the bass drum and snare. Unlike modern compression, this effect is very “tasteful” and NON-EDM-ish. If you can work around the limitations of the TR-09, you might find that it will achieve immediate results, without having to spend time going through display-pages. I often go back and forth between using an “end all, be all” piece of gear or the “less is more” route. In this case, the TR-09 may only do one thing, but it’s the only machine that does it right.

by Jared Boulanger

Check out a video featuring the Roland TR-09 here!

Rent the Roland TR-09 for $12/weekend or $23/month

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