The first programmable drum machine was named ComputeRythm and it contained a six-row push-button matrix. The operator was able to push punch cards that contained a reader slot with pre-programmed rhythms. Roland CR-78, the first microprocessor-based programable rhythm machine had four memory storage spaces so that the user could build personalized patterns.
After a few months, Boss DR-55 came into the picture. This was a much simpler version and it had only four sounds. Eko released the ComputeRythm drum machine and shortly after, the PAiA Programmable Drum Set appeared. For this device, the user would buy and build the machine, so the package included the appropriate equipment and a set of instructions. The same year that the PAiA Programmable Drum set was out to the public, Ace Tone released the Rhythm Producer FR-15, which contained pre-programmed rhythm patterns.
Digital sampling is used in some drum machines. The first one to use this was the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer. This drum computer revolutionized the music industry and incorporated new concepts, including swing factors, shuffle, accent and real-time programming. Pop music can be defined by the unique sound that digital sampling provides.
The drum sounds produced by the LM-1 had memory limitations, but, despite that, it had two chips that were activated at the same exact time, and the user could tune each voice with individual outputs. The LinnDrum was a less expensive version which also contained feature swappable sound chips. Then came the DMX, introduced to the world by Oberheim. The DMX also had digitally sampled sounds as well as a swing feature. This machine was key for the future development of hip-hop. With success on the horizon, other manufacturers began to produce all sorts of machines.
One of the first programmable drum machines was the TR-808 Rhythm Composer, launched by the Roland Corporation. This machine was analog and suitable for those who were looking to create their own personalized rhythms. The TR-808 produced sounds using ringing filters and filtered noises. The TR-808 was innovative as it produced unrealistic drum sounds, unfortunately, it ended up failing. Eventually, hip-hop and dance track producers rediscovered the TR-808. It became a success once the machine wasn’t in production anymore. This machine was the basis of diverse genres, including electronic, dance and hip-hop. A couple of years after, the TR-909 was born. This drum machine used MIDI, which tends to synchronize different devices created by different manufacturers. This machine had a shuffle control that offered a swing in music patterns and was the basis of diverse music genres such as techno, house and acid.
Despite the fact that traditional standalone drum machines became obsolete, some companies are still making them. When they first became old-fashioned, they were replaced by general-purpose hardware samplers controlled by sequencers, software-based sequencing and sampling. Drum modules have a percussion-specific sound that can be activated by pickups, trigger pads of MIDI, but these are not drum machines after all.