The Roland TR-808 was a failure. At least for the first couple of years back in 1980 when musicians didn’t know what to do with it. After being discontinued by Roland, the TR-808 etched a place for itself in the history of electronic music, defining genres and changing audiences' perception of what drums could sound like. Today the term 808 has become synonymous with drums and almost every electronic music producer has either a plug-in emulation, a digital hardware recreation or at least a sampled version of the original TR-808. Roland themselves have released various iterations of the TR-808 in digital form. The issue for most purists is that a digital emulation can never be a substitute for real analog. This is where the 8raw8 comes in.
The 8raw8 is a drum machine expander that reproduces the analog drum voice of the original Roland TR-808. The key takeaway here is ‘expander’. What does that mean? The 8raw8 essentially produces the same analog 808 sound but without the step-sequencing capabilities. It receives MIDI Note ON data via a 5 pin din connector to trigger the voices.
It has 11 analog drum voices with individual 1/4” output for each. It also has 3.5mm trigger inputs for each voice.
The 8raw8 at first glance looks very knobby. There are 25 knobs to control the various voices, a few switches to switch up the Tom sounds to congas, the rimshot to clave and the handclap to maracas. Aside from standard level controls for each of the 11 voices, there are also timbre shaping controls for the kick, snare and cymbal voice. There’s a really interesting VCA level control for the handclap that can produce a white noise drone when set to a high level. There is an accent feature that can be accessed via MIDI and with the accent knob you can set the level of the step accent.
You get a master mono out on a 1/4” jack but there are also separate outputs for each of the eleven voices. If any of the voice jacks are connected, that specific voice will be removed from the master output. There is a single MIDI IN on a 5 pin DIN for triggering the voices but you also get separate 3.5 mm jack trigger inputs for each of the voices. There’s also a trigger input for the accent.
Probably one of the main drawbacks of this machine is that it is just an expander. You don’t have any on-board sequencing capabilities with the 8raw8. Considering its price point you may be expecting more. There is also no CV or MIDI control. Aside from tweaking parameters with the onboard knobs there are few control capabilities.
Despite its limitations the 8raw8 is still a machine worth looking at. The build quality is fantastic and everything about it feels very high quality. These units are hand built in France and the love and effort that has gone into producing this machines is quite evident. There will always be a need for that 808 sound in electronic music production so despite the saturation in the hardware drum machine market, the 8raw8 is very welcome!