“Filled with samples of each drum at every available filter setting, this slips into the mix as effortlessly as any Roland drum machine. ‘Velocity Retrofit’ opens doors to surprisingly subtle and expressive patterns. The SR88 is a great little instrument” – Sound on Sound magazine
The Sound Master Memory Rhythm SR88 was a cool little drum machine from the mid-80s. It was all-analogue, built like a brick, and offered some decent basic sounds plus the ability to tweak them to a limited extent through a “tone” control (which was basically a low-pass filter strapped across the outputs). There was a step-time pattern sequencer in there too, though with no display it sometimes needed a bit of mental gymnastics to get the beat in your head into the little metal box.
The sounds have a great lo-fi vibe to them which we’ve lovingly captured at 24-bit. We multi-sampled each of the basic kit pieces – kick, snare, crash and hats – through the whole travel of the “tone” control, so when you change the TONE knob on the Kontakt interface you’re actually moving between separate samples of the sounds and getting exactly the same tonal shift as you get on the original machine. The hats on this have a lovely metallic sound which is pretty unusual for an analogue box, and the snare sounds are just classic 80s. The kick isn’t as thick or deep as the MR11, but it has a penetrating “pock” to it that cuts right through a mix, and that can be very useful in its own right in certain styles – very busy kick patterns will retain more definition with this kick, for example.
We also discovered a really interesting and useful glitch. On the surface, the Memory Rhythm SR88 only offers those four sounds – kick, snare, crash and hats. But when you’re programming in step time, something odd happens in the SR88’s little brain and the sounds loop indefinitely for as long as you hold down the buttons on the box. The short hat sound becomes an extended hiss, and the crash cymbal and snare go on as long as you want them to. That seemed too good to miss, so we sampled those sounds too, again through the whole travel of the tone control, and called them snare 2, crash 2, and hats 2 and 3. We gave each of these “hidden extra” sounds an Attack and Decay parameter, so you can get “brushed cymbal” effects, or back off the attack transient of the snare, or get that 80s-style snare with a huge decay tail, or reversed cymbal effects… it opens up a lot of new possibilities!
There are also Pitch, Pan and Level controls for each individual kit piece, so you can balance them against each other. On the original box, sometimes getting the kick sounding right meant that the hats would take your head off; this way is much better!
Rounding things out is a comprehensive drums-based Processing section, offering bit-rate reduction (not an analogue thing, of course, but useful to have in the arsenal nevertheless), tape saturation, drive distortion, and a chunky compressor to lock everything together. Finally, hidden in the corner is a “Velocity retrofit” switch, which allows you to control the Tone of each kit piece not from the knob on the interface but from the velocity of your keyboard – just hit harder to get a brighter sound. The results can sound absolutely authentic to the 1980s original, or pumpingly grungy in a truly modern way, or anything in between, with a tone that can be locked in place by the panel controls or vary freely with the expression of your playing.
(All our Kontakt instruments require a full copy of Native Instruments Kontakt v4.2.3 or higher (including all versions of Kontakt 5). Kontakt Player is not supported: instruments will load, but will time out after 15 minutes. See the FAQ for further information.)
\\\”Rhythmic Robot are a small outfit dedicated to breathing life into the strange and the obscure via the medium of Kontakt. Their instruments require the full version of Kontakt rather than the player version, and V4.2.3 or later is recommended.
The samples behind each instrument are 24-bit mono, well balanced and natural sounding, and every parameter is just a right-click away from MIDI control. Also, since they\\\’re at \\\’app store\\\’ prices, it\\\’s hard not to be tempted to try one — or more than one. There are currently three main collections to sift through: Beat Room, Keyboard Vault and Laboratory. This month we start with a look at Beat Room and we\\\’ll continue our rhythmic explorations in the June issue of Sound On Sound.
Lovers of old drum machines will recognise some of this batch, but there\\\’s at least one you won\\\’t have come across. Starting with the best known, Doctor 55\\\’s samples are sourced from a Boss DR55: the first Dr Rhythm. With a kit consisting of just a kick, snare, hi-hat and rimshot, the DR55\\\’s best patterns arose through creative use of accents. Understanding this, Rhythmic Robot have sampled every percussion voice at every accent level and have also provided a \\\’Velocity Retrofit\\\’ button, so you can play with nuances no genuine DR55 could match.
The chink in the DR55\\\’s sonic armour was always its snare. It was just a fraction too short, at least without a spot of internal tinkering. Fortunately, Rhythmic Robot have tinkered on our behalf, and so are able to offer the original snare plus a second, boosted with variable attack and decay. With its large rotary dial delivering a selection of progressively brighter tones, the neat and recognisable UI is the perfect setting for this recreation of the oldest Dr Rhythm.
Next up is the SR88, its samples taken from a Sound Master Memory Rhythm. This was an analogue beatbox from the 1980s, its most unusual feature a basic low-pass filter acting as a master tone control. Filled with samples of each drum at every available filter setting, this simple Kontakt instrument slips into a mix as effortlessly as any Roland drum machine. With \\\’Velocity Retrofit\\\’ active, dynamics are routed to tone, opening doors to surprisingly subtle and expressive patterns.
As we know, analogue sounds tended to be labelled with a certain optimism, and here the SR88\\\’s \\\’crash\\\’ is of that ilk; it\\\’s actually a cute metallic plink. However, the kick is fat and meaty and, when tuned down low, could justify an SR88 purchase by itself. True, the snare suffers from the same affliction as the DR55 (it\\\’s a little \\\’premature\\\’) but, again, the Professors at RR found a way to prolong it, and to extend the duration of other voices. There are thus alternate versions of the snare and cymbal, plus two extra hi-hats, all with independent two-stage envelopes. The SR88 is a great little instrument — and a discovery for yours truly, who never owned one.
Yamaha aren\\\’t a company often associated with analogue drum boxes; their MR10 didn\\\’t exactly set the world\\\’s foot tapping and was most notable for the pads that were provided to accompany the preset rhythms. In the MR11, you get all the MR10\\\’s sounds primed to play original patterns via your DAW.
The MR11 has no global tune control like Yamaha\\\’s machine; instead, each voice has been sampled at different tunings. I was pleasantly surprised by how the MR11\\\’s kick and snares cut through; they\\\’re way better than my (admittedly foggy) memory suggested. Only the toms still fail to move me — they\\\’re naff and cheesy as ever — but, in compensation, drums not previously available to the user (conga, guiro and the second snare) have been liberated from their preset patterns, to be played like any other. Velocity can be switched in to drive instrument pitch, which has a disturbing effect on the otherwise cool snares, but is decidedly funky when applied to hi-hats. Another cracker.
The last resident of the Beat Room that we looked at (more are being added) is the StyloDrum: a drum machine that never existed before. It was built from the pops, crackles and glitches of a hoard of Stylophones, some distinctly tetchy after years of being forced to play \\\’Amazing Grace\\\’. StyloDrum\\\’s character is anything but graceful. It brings to mind circuit-glitched nastiness, yet its percussive wonders were created not with a soldering iron but via external processing such as looping and time-stretching. There are four preset kits spread over four octaves and, although control over these is minimal, there is sufficient variation in the lo-fi thumps and howls to deliver reliably whenever you\\\’re inclined towards the dark side.
As well as typical controls for level and pan, every Drum Room instrument is fitted with a set of basic effects, typically bit reduction, saturation, drive or distortion, and a compressor. It\\\’s a decent little toolset for injecting bite and punch into these dinky analogue kits without losing that all-important simplicity. At these prices, this collection certainly deserves its four stars.\\\” – Sound on Sound magazine
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