Roland TR 808 Kicks and Multiband Compression

Learn how to use a multiband compressor (MBC) to shape and colour Roland TR 808 bass drums. Getting 808s to swell and bounce has never been easier.

Beat Construction


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In the world of kick drums nothing is more famous than the legendary Roland TR 808 kick drum. You only have to switch on the radio to witness how many commercial hits are built around this legendary kick drum tone. In fact, the 808 bass drum is not just a kick sound, it is a bass sound and because it is a generated sine-wave it can be used as a synth bass. Of course, it does not have the functionality of a synthesizer but it’s not meant. It is a drum machine. However, because the sine-wave can be tuned and shaped it is not hard to automate and modulate sequences in the DAW that will trigger the TR 808 as if it were a tone module. This means you can program bass lines with the TR 808 albeit with limited tuning ranges.

Since the day Roland released the TR 808 and Hip Hop began to evolve we producers have looked for ways to customise and shape the bass drum to suit our needs. Creating a signature sound with the TR 808 kick drum is very difficult in that every beat-maker and producer has processed that sound in so many ways that originality and uniqueness are hard to achieve. However, we now have powerful DAWs with all manner of processing tools and one tool that has stood the test of time, and is absolutely perfect for shaping that legendary kick drum, is the multiband compressor.

Multiband Compressor

A multiband compressor (MBC) is a compressor that splits its entire frequency range into smaller bands that can then be compressed individually. Think of it as many compressors working on different frequency ranges and all at the same time. This type of compressor will have all the usual compressor parameters but with one exception: the band crossovers have fixed slopes. This doesn’t help up a great deal when using it on sounds that require an element of fade in/out between bands. However, for processing sounds that have shorter duration and are rich in one specific frequency range fixed slopes are more than adequate. Variable slopes are more useful in most mix related compression processes and we are seeing more and more multiband compressors with variable slopes that can be tailor made to suit the process at hand.

In the video I create a drum beat sequence using the best TR 808 emulator I have ever used, the mighty D16 Nepheton. I show you how Nepheton works and explain how to create a tuned and dynamic bass tone using the editing tools supplied with the plugin. I then show you how to use the Cubase stock multiband compressor to reshape the 808 bass drum and to make it bounce along with the beat. I end by creating different textures for the 808 bass drum and showing you what settings to use to achieve different goals.

Plugins used in this video:

Steinberg MultibandCompressor

D16 Nepheton

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Understanding the iconic 808 Kick Drum
  • Compression and Low End energy
  • Nailing the Biting Point
  • Extreme and gentle practices
  • Multiband Compression
  • Frequency Separation