Behringer's RD‑8 is a cut-price recreation of Roland's classic drum machine. We put it to the test...
I have to be honest, although I knew there was a buzz around Behringer's 808 reboot I hadn't paid it much attention before one turned up at my front door. Don't get me wrong, the 808 is everything: hearing Cybotron's 'Clear' on the electro mix tapes that circulated at school was like stumbling into a portal to a new world.
A generation or more on, the dominant musical styles of our time still build on a foundation of 808 kicks, snares and hats. I just assumed that today's producers would be indifferent to where those sounds were coming from, or would be happy with the convenience of Roland's digital recreations. I was wrong; how many products generate a 150+ page Gearslutz thread before they ship?
The RD‑8 is a true analogue recreation of Roland's classic drum machine. As such it's not really stepping on the Japanese giant's toes. Roland have their miniature digital reissues, and modern drum machines like the TR-8S, which model those iconic sounds. What's more, several other analogue 808 clones are extant.
I can't pretend I didn't feel a bit of a thrill of setting a drum machine with the actual physical presence of an 808 on the desk. It's big, but for an instrument that you can actually perform with (and connect a nest of quarter-inch jacks to) it feels about right. The knobs, step buttons and font give it that unmistakable Roland look, though Behringer have playfully inverted the colours.
The build is reasonably solid, and the step buttons are satisfyingly clicky. The only things that feel a bit plasticky are the knobs. Given that this is an 808 tribute costing a third of comparable alternatives (and a tenth of an original) I'm not complaining. I will grumble, though, that Behringer have made the knobs quite stiff to turn. Perhaps this is an attempt to make them feel a bit more luxurious, but when performing I want to be able to crank the knobs quickly, not fight them.
The real surprise was how much of the panel is different from the 808. Alongside the step switches and the knobs is a host of backlit rubber buttons of the kind you'll find on many modern music tech gadgets. The original's sound selector dial is replaced by dedicated channel select pads. The sequencer mode dial is also gone. This was the point at which the penny dropped for me. Behringer haven't set out to make a straight clone, they've made a hybrid of old and new: the original analogue drum synths with a reimagined performance and sequencing system.
Having got my bearings I decided to jump in and have a listen. Hitting the Play button brought no result: there were no preset patterns in memory. No problem, let's call that refreshing and move on. Manually triggering sounds works just like on the original. Whichever sound is selected can be played via the single Trigger pad.
It's a shame that Behringer didn't make it possible to finger drum on the channel selector pads. However, the RD‑8 can be played live from external MIDI sources. Notes hit hard (over velocity 110) are treated as Accented triggers, and you can record directly into the sequencer, something you can't do on the Boutique TR-08. Anyway, before we get into all that, how about those sounds?
The RD‑8 has the same set of 11 channels as its inspiration, with a total of 16 drum synth models. The sounds are close recreations of the originals, and some have extra controls.
First up is that all important bass drum channel, which has the classic Tone and Decay controls but steals some panel space from the neighbouring Accent section to add a Tuning knob. Tuning covers about an octave of range, with the...