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Acidlab Drumatix

Analogue Drum Machine By Paul Nagle
Published September 2015

Acidlab Drumatix

Acidlab haven’t just recreated the Roland TR606 — they’ve made it better.

Once upon a time you could find the occasional Roland TR606 at car boot sales, although I doubt that’s still the case. This humble companion to a more famous silver plastic box is now perceived with genuine fondness in its own right, with the knock–on effect being that finding a working model at a decent price is going to take more than a random search through boxes of broken toys and car stereos. Fortunately, the chaps at Acidlab maintain their more–than–passing interest in classic Roland and have built a brand-new version — with desirable extras. These are wonderful days for lovers of analogue drum machines.

Drumatically Revived

The review Drumatix arrived direct from Germany with its accompanying documentation exclusively in the mother tongue. Having already played with Acidlab’s Miami and Bassline, I had no fears about hidden complexity, at least once I reminded myself how to copy patterns from one location to another. If no English version has been issued by the time you read this, you’d do far worse than grab the Miami manual instead. The two machines are functionally very similar, if not identical.

Shiny and silver is how you’d expect a TR606 to be and this modern equivalent is both of those things with a hint of cyberman. The 255 x 203 x 40 mm metal box is of a similar utilitarian design to the Miami, but the bare metal finish is classier than black, and the lettering clearer. The overall impression is of sturdy efficiency, with no unexpected bending or wobbling. The knurled knobs are well–spaced and feel great while the buttons are the same small, circular types seen before. They’re reasonably responsive but never a pleasure to use, but compared to those of an original Drumatix, they’re brilliant. Tasteful green LEDs adorn the panel and are used to convey all manner of useful information without need of a display.

Clearly, this isn’t an attempt to make an exact TR606 clone, as is plain when you count the knobs and voices. Where Roland’s original machine had just six knobs (the levels of its five voices, plus accent), Acidlab’s Drumatix has a grand total of 21, which means a more varied set of drums and more control. Mostly significantly, there are two bass and snare drums, plus a clap and rimshot, which places this updated Drumatix roughly in–between the TR606 and TR808.

Joining the additional controls are six individual outputs to further exploit and fine–tune each analogue voice. Any individual connection made automatically subtracts its voice — or voices — from the (mono) main mix. Each output is a full–sized mono jack and you’ll notice some of these contain a mixture of two voices. So, although you can’t process the bass drums, snares and toms, for example, separately, you’re still offered flexibility no unmodified TR606 can equal. One plus gained from the pairing of output assignments is that you are never tempted towards the kind of deviant tom-panning we had to endure throughout the 1980s.

When it comes to playing nicely with others, the Drumatix can sync to MIDI or to Roland’s DIN Sync and can be master in a DIN system. Thanks to a quirk of DIN synchronisation, you can switch from master to slave without re–cabling. I did this briefly in order to translate the slow/fast tempo range into numbers, which are 44 to 321 bpm according to a slaved Roland CR8000. Lacking a MIDI output, the Drumatix can only ever aspire to be a MIDI slave, but as there’s no tempo display it mightn’t be a master for all needs anyway. When acting as slave, it conforms to the same weird MIDI implementation seen on Acidlab’s Miami: ie. you are prevented from stopping and starting playback manually. I’d be surprised if I were the only person to find this restriction annoying.

The Drumatix’s back panel features a  mono output, six individual quarter–inch outputs, trig out, DIN Sync I/O and a  MIDI In.The Drumatix’s back panel features a mono output, six individual quarter–inch outputs, trig out, DIN Sync I/O and a MIDI In.Power comes from a 14V AC adapter. Finally, as well as individual audio outputs, the rear panel has a mini–jack trigger output. It’s driven by the rimshot and could be just the thing to clock an analogue sequencer or trigger a percussion module.


Keeping it simple, there are two modes of operation, Pattern and Track, with the latter a means of creating longer structures. Patterns can be up to 16 steps, each of which can trigger any of the nine drum voices or the accent. With a total of 192 patterns (arranged in 12 banks of 16) your only problem could be recalling where all your favourite grooves are stored.

During playback, a freshly selected pattern takes over when the current one ends. Patterns can be copied and pasted without stopping too, making the Drumatix a more than capable live drum machine, even if working from scratch. An old TB303 trick — pattern chaining — is present too, and smoothly implemented. During regular playback, simply hold down a range of buttons corresponding to up to 16 consecutive patterns. Having performed that simple action they will happily cycle around in a structure you can jam with. Other than being consecutive, the only other restriction is that chained patterns must be within the same group.

To modify or create patterns you have two choices: either Pattern Tap Write, in which you enter notes by hitting the first 12 buttons, or Step Write, in which you select each voice in turn and set triggers X0X fashion. In common with the Miami, the ‘Pattern Play’ option appears twice on the mode switch. It’s no misprint but a deliberate act, so you’ll never be more than one click away from your favourite write mode. Incidentally, after chaining patterns you can overdub into each using Tap Write. If you opt for Step Write instead, the chain playback is halted, which provides a neat set of tools for live improvisation.

Shuffle is available for any pattern set to a 4/4 scale. (Of the scales offered, two are double-speed and two are in 3/4.) This shuffle implementation includes both classic Roland flavours where either the odd or even steps are delayed. To access shuffle you need to remember one of the few non–intuitive operations, that of holding the Inst/Sel and Leng/Shuf buttons simultaneously. There are five levels of (both types of) shuffle and the values are input using the step buttons. You’re free to use both types at once, which could come in handy whenever you’re scoring fight scenes involving the Drunken Monkey style of kung fu. For further messing around in the time continuum, there’s no restriction on switching scales or adjusting pattern length during playback — and you can temporarily chop a pattern down as far as a single note any time you like.

Finally, although not claiming to be a full–blown Song mode, Track Write allows you to prepare a sequence of patterns sourced from any group. They needn’t be consecutive and can run in any order. This feat is accomplished as effortlessly as selecting patterns and hitting Write/Next.

606 State

Broadly similar in tone, the brace of bass drums are capable of much greater weight than a real TR606 thanks to important extras: variable decay and tuning. There are subtle differences between the two: for example their base frequencies are slightly offset and the first bass drum has a more pronounced click (and perhaps a greater presence). When it comes to making nuanced grooves, you really appreciate having them both, especially given the discrete volume controls. If you set the decay of either bass drum to maximum you’re entering the territory of sub–flapping drones, where modified TR808s have traditionally reigned.

The snares also come as a pair, also tuned apart. Unlike the bass drums you don’t get individual volumes or any control over tuning. Instead, each snare has a ‘snappy’ control that sets its noise level. Take this control right down and you’re left with just the body: a nondescript ‘donk’. Both snares have a noticeably longer decay than my TR606, which I rate as a wise choice, even if failing to give one of the snares a sharper decay feels like an opportunity missed.

The Drumatix offers far more controls than the 606 that inspired it.The Drumatix offers far more controls than the 606 that inspired it.Continuing to trump the original machine, there’s a handclap too. As far as I can translate the clap is similar to that of Roland’s last analogue drum machine, the DR110. It sounds lovely anyway. The toms are fine if slightly limited thanks to an unadventurous tuning range, and the rimshot could easily be that of a TR808.

Checking out the cymbal, its tone, decay and (of course) level are all freely adjustable, although even with the extra knobbage, I couldn’t exactly nail the tone I was looking for. Comparing recordings, I found Acidlab’s cymbal decay was not quite so sharp and percussive but, on the other hand, its maximum decay was over two seconds, beating the original by more than a second. Perhaps closest to the target Roland machine, the hi–hats can be very like the original, then pushed further with variable decay (of both closed and open hi–hats). It’s another of several treats that might inspire envy in Miami owners.

If you prefer to disregard the onboard sequencer and trigger voices remotely by MIDI instead, the Drumatix can power up in ‘MIDI–Expander Mode’. Velocities above 100 activate the accent function.


You know exactly where you are with the Drumatix: its range and quality of voicing covers all known TR606 roles, and then some. Of course there will always be differences between new and old machines, just as there are differences between multiple old analogues, but Acidlab have a good track record for replicating the character and qualities of much–loved Rolands and this is no exception. Their Drumatix is therefore way more versatile than any genuine, unmodified TR606 — and it sounds better. In particular, the kicks can be much wider and beefier, but the other voices also acquit themselves well. With those individual outputs and additional voices this new Drumatix could even give another sleeping classic, the Roland CR8000, a run for its money.

A better MIDI spec might have been nice, as might a MIDI output and full velocity response via MIDI. However, such additions could change the spirit and might even cramp the style of this chunky silver box. Therefore, if I could have just one wish granted, I’d settle for relaxing the start/stop restrictions when serving as MIDI slave.

Thanks to voice controls instantly available to tweak, and a direct, interactive sequencer, this could be the one piece of gear in your rig that never slows you down with logic flips or menu–diving. Throw in a large pool of patterns and a few useful techniques to string them together and the Drumatix could be the only traditional–style analogue drum machine you’ll ever need.


The closest analogue alternative could be the more expensive MFB Tanzb r, which has greater sequencer complexity along with extra voices and even more outputs. Acidlab’s own heavy–hitter, the Miami, offers the full range of TR808 sounds combined with the same no–nonsense sequencer. At the other end of the scale there’s Akai’s Rhythm Wolf, which is nowhere near the dog some claim, especially if you’re unafraid of a bit of DIY. Roland’s own TR8 is another potential competitor, digital and lacking in individual outputs but with built–in effects, many classic sounds and the potential for expansion.


  • More than a straight Roland TR606 copy.
  • Direct, pleasurable user interface.
  • Well–spaced controls for voice–tweaking.
  • Six direct outputs.
  • Syncs to MIDI or Sync24.


  • When sync’ed can’t be stopped or started except by master.


An old-school, refreshingly uncomplicated analogue drum machine. With its generous pattern capacity and MIDI, this is a great–sounding box that’s refreshingly knobby and boosted by half a dozen individual outputs. Very likeable.


€595 including VAT.

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