Compressing Roland TR 808 Kick Drums

Understanding and exploring Roland TR 808 kick drum compression techniques.

Beat Construction


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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 compressor.
But what is it we are trying to achieve? Is it for the elusive ‘bounce’ factor or to narrow the dynamic range so as to afford the 808 a more consistent volume so that it can cut through a mix?

I tackle both scenarios in this tutorial.

But first of all let’s define the bounce factor and why it is so important in Hip Hop music.

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.

Time is also a factor when considering bounce. You can create the perception of bounce by using late or early notes, but this would require more than one note in order to provide a reference. Automation can lend itself to creating bounces by using bump automation but there are better broadband techniques that yield equally good results.

However, a great way to achieve the elusive bounce is to use a compressor and in this tutorial  I show you how to achieve this wonderful texture using 3 different types of compressors.

In the video I generate a drum beat sequence using D16’s Nepheton, a Roland TR 808 emulator plugin. I then create an automation lane that controls the pitch of the 808 bass drum over time. I use three different compressors to process the 808 bass drum making sure to explain how to use each compressor and why. I show you how to bring our different elements in the 808 bass drum just by using the compressor’s shaping parameters. I explain how the different compressor topologies affect the overall sound of the 808 bass drum.

Plugins used in this video tutorial are:

D16’s Nepheton

Slate Digital FG Grey

Klanghelm DC8C2

SSL X-ValveComp

Topics covered in this video are:

  • 808 Kick Drum Characteristics
  • Understanding Frequencies
  • Sub-sonics
  • Side-chaining
  • Using Automation
  • Pitch and Filter Control
  • Using different Compressors
  • Responses and Transients
  • Using Tube/Valve Topologies
  • Understanding Harmonic Distortion