Adding Sheen and Bounce to Roland TR 808 Kick drums

Learn how to add 'bounce' and sheen to a Roland TR 808 bass drums.


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There is no drum sound that has had more attention and use than the Roland TR 808 kick drum. It is not just a drum sound but a bass tone as well. Entire songs are crafted around this single iconic drum sound and finding new ways to bring out the best it can offer can be challenging. One great technique that I use to get my TR 808 kick drums to bounce is to use an aural exciter to excite the frequencies and a compressor to squash and bounce the kick drum. But before we can jump in and maul this great sound lets define what the ‘bounce’ is.

TR 808 bounce

How do we define bounce? Bounce is a dynamic event. It is the movement from zero to the peak, sustain, and the release. Although it is correct to regard bounce as an envelope, it is actually more than that. An envelope denotes a shape but the speed at which the envelope is triggered, velocity, is integral to bounce. This means we can have a velocity envelope that denotes how the amplitude envelope is triggered.

You can manipulate the bounce of a TR 808 kick drum by using automation, a modulation matrix or any type of time based processor. However, a great way to achieve the elusive bounce is to use a compressor.

But before we get dirty with a compressor let us look at another processor I use to shape sub tones: an aural exciter and in particular the famous Aphex Aural Exciter.

Aphex Aural Exciter

An Exciter (also called a harmonic exciter or aural exciter) is quite a complex beast in that it runs a number of processes simultaneously. The most basic explanation, without getting too technical, is: a processor that generates harmonics. Traditionally, exciters generated high frequency harmonics but they have since been updated to include the whole frequency spectrum.

I think of exciters as just that: ‘exciting frequencies’. The vibrancy and upfront texture imparted by this process has become legendary and no manufacturer has done more for exciters than Aphex with their legendary Aural Exciter. This beast has been around since the 1970s and it was predominantly used for vocals as a high frequency exciter. If you wanted to bring out the vocals or make a high frequency sound ‘sizzle’ then the exciter was the weapon of choice. Today, we have exciters that can excite any frequency, can be used as send/returns for dry/wet mix control and some have added features to further define the range, level and intensity of excitation. It is not uncommon to find exciters that have additional saturation features, split band technology with separate band processing, compression, expansion, tuning and dedicated low end excitation.

I often choose exciters over equalisers for the simple fact that exciters generate harmonics which can then be used to exaggerate specific frequencies as opposed to equalisers which can only boost or cut frequencies.

In the video I generate a drum sequence using Softube’s Heartbeat and run it through the Aphex Aural Exciter and then the Boz Manic Compressor. I explain how the exciter works and show you the best way to excite low frequencies. I show you how to use the Boz Manic Compressor and in particular the various style modes it offers. I explain how the modes affect low frequencies and show you step by step how to use it to make 808 kick drums bounce to a beat.

Plugins used in this video:

Softube Heartbeat

Waves Aphex Vintage Aural Exciter

Boz Digital Manic Compressor

Topics covered in this video are:

  • What are sheen and bounce and how to create them
  • Using parallel processing for the bounce effect
  • Using Drum Synths for pitch perfect drum sound design
  • Using vintage Aural Exciters
  • Using various compressor and limiter topologies
  • Understanding the 808 kick drum
  • Tips and Tricks