Let's turn to some of what's new and fun. What I love are the new performance features. The 808's format already made it good for live tweaking, but adding things even as simple as Mute and Solo make a big difference to live improvisation on the RD‑8.
Front and centre on the panel you get the Note/Step Repeat section. These functions retrigger/loop an individual sound or pattern step respectively, with a choice of four time divisions. I particularly like the Step Repeat. It's a fairly straightforward stutter/roll effect compared with, say, the Scatter effects on Roland's modern drum machines, but it's exactly what's needed to keep things alive with quick fills or more dramatic builds.
As well as the live Note Repeat function, you can tie one, two, four or eight(!) retriggers to individual steps as part of the pattern. What you can't do, here or on the live Repeat, is add dotted notes for those classic trap–style dragging hats.
RD‑8 sequences can store a lot more than just pattern data. Nearly all settings, including tempo, swing, filter mode, and even mutes and solos can be stored per Pattern, per Song, or Globally. You can choose this preference for each parameter type separately, so you might want to store the tempo for a whole song, but have mutes or filter mode stored per-pattern.
Taking a leaf from the Elektron book of sequencing, the RD‑8 features Probability: the option to introduce the element of chance into whether active steps trigger or not. The main Data encoder has a master mode for Probability, which adjusts the percentage chance of all steps enabled for probability. The same system works for Flams.
Now, the way that both Probability and Flam have been implemented is the very definition of the word 'assbackwards'. By default, Probability (and Flam) is on for every step on all tracks. So as you dial in Probability or Flam, these effects will start to apply to every note across all channels. To be more selective about which steps are affected you can go into a Settings mode and deselect the steps that you want to mask out. So, if you want to introduce a little randomness to a few snare hits in your pattern, you will need to painstakingly press every step button, on every bar, one channel at a time until only those few snares remain lit! Given that we only have a few short years to enjoy our families before the North Sea takes Kettering, this seems a tad inefficient.
Still on fun new stuff, two effects have been added to the RD‑8 master bus. Both of which are analogue, thus avoiding any potential griping about sullying the pure analogueness of the signal chain. Behringer's Manchester crew sure seem to know their market. The effects sit in series on an optional route to the master bus: they don't affect the individual outs or (somewhat frustratingly) the headphone output, and you can send signals via the effects on a channel-by-channel basis.
Signals on the effects loop first go through the Wave Designer, which is somewhere between a transient designer and compressor. It can add punch to transients, make the mix pump and generally add overall oomph. Then you have a resonant filter, which can switch between low- and high-pass modes. A surprising bonus is that you can automate the filter cutoff within each pattern. This can be recorded in real time, or adjusted per step in Settings mode.
It's a nice touch that you can send channels individually to the effects, but the routing scheme means that sounds have to go through the Wave Designer to get to the filter. I'd actually prefer it if the Wave Designer was on the optional bus and the filter was just on the mix all the time, ready for quick transition effects.
If you've ever lusted after an analogue 808 then the RD‑8 will definitely put a smile on your face. Surely only serious collectors would now opt to pay more than 10 times as much for the original? Sonically, it's spot on where it really matters, and where it differs I generally preferred it. The chunky form factor and comprehensive I/O make it ideal as a performance instrument, not just a studio gadget.
It was of course the right move to add a modern, more accessible sequencer, but I think Behringer have fallen short of the mark here. The structure and operation are confusing, some things like the Probability system are nuts, and I wish they'd stayed true to the 808's real-time song write system. As this sequencer will presumably form the basis for other products like the RD-9, it might be worth them taking another look. Even so, these frustrations wouldn't stop me using the RD‑8 for its new performance features like mute/solo, Step Repeat, and the automatable filter. In summary, it sounds great and at this price is bound to prove irresistible.
Other analogue recreations of the 808 are available, such as the Eurorack–sized System 80 880, the Acidlab Miami (reviewed SOS November 2014), and the E‑licktronic Yocto. However, all are around three times as expensive, although you can get a DIY kit version of the Yocto for RD‑8 money.
Arturia's DrumBrute Impact is an original take on a classic analogue drum machine, with a better modern sequencer than the RD‑8.
Roland's own TR-08 is of course digital, but still sound great. It's compact, battery powered and has multitrack USB audio. It also keeps the 808's real–time song write mode. In most respects the RD‑8's sequencer is more accessible, and has cool new tricks like Step Repeat and per-channel pattern length. Its size and all the outputs make it much more like an instrument than a gadget.
High up the list of reasons to get an RD‑8 is its complete set of multiple outputs. Every drum channel has a discrete quarter-inch out, which automatically breaks routing to the main mono out when connected. In case you were wondering, there's no audio-over-USB like the TR-08. Again, remember £300$350.
A cool bonus is a return channel. This lets you connect out individual channels to external effects and bring them back into the mix at the final output stage.
As well as audio I/O, there are comprehensive sync and external trigger options. Sync mode is set via a dedicated front panel section. The RD‑8 can run as both master and slave over regular MIDI, USB MIDI, old-school Roland sync or modular clock.
The back panel also sports the full 808 complement of three trigger outputs (two more than the TR-08). The trigger outputs are derived from the Clap, Cowbell and Accent tracks, the same as on the 808. However, they're not labelled as they are on the original, and this information doesn't appear in the manual. The point, though, is that they work, and they add a lot of potential and fun factor if you have instruments that can respond to them.
The RD‑8 can store 16 Songs with 16 Patterns, but sooner or later you're going to need to get your creations in or out of the box. There's no software utility for this, instead the RD‑8 relies on good old-fashioned SysEx dumps. There's not really any useful information for the typical user about how to do this, other than a mention of the Dump button on the front panel. Instead the manual devotes pages to explaining the data model and MIDI messaging used to encode the unit's settings, songs and patterns. I can only think that Behringer have dropped this information here hoping that an independent developer will use it to create a backup utility.
- Big, convincing 808 sound.
- Individual outputs.
- Built-in effects.
- Performance effects.
- Channel mutes and solos.
- Many operations confusing.
- No simple backup or companion software.
- Some good 808 sequencer features are gone.
Sonically, the RD‑8 is as good as owning an 808, and even has some sound mods and many extra functions. The modern parts of the interface have room for improvement, but at least they're not as confusing as the original!