Compressing Roland TR 909 Kick Drums

A detailed journey into how best to use a compressor for processing Roland TR 909 kick drums.

Beat Construction


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One of the most iconic sounds from yesteryear and still going strong is the Roland TR 909 kick drum.

EDM is awash with TR 909 kick drums and producers are always looking for new ways to present this iconic drum sound and compression features high in the list of colouration tools.

Roland TR 909

The Roland TR 909 was released in 1983 three years after the iconic TR 808 (1980). It uses samples as opposed to generated waveforms and became a cult classic for the House, Techno and Acid genres. It has remained a classic and is much favoured by EDM producers for its cutting and dynamic sound. The kick drum from this iconic beast has been featured on countless records. It is one of the most processed kick samples in history as it acts as a staple sound for all EDM genres. It is also one of the most commonly used kick drum layer as it marries well with both synthetic and acoustic drum sounds.

With TR 909 kick drums it is often beneficial to apply EQ and compression to shape and pronounce the sound particularly when in a mix context and surrounded by layer after layer of instrument sounds. However, this tutorial takes the sound design approach and focuses on using compression to create new drum textures as opposed to making the kick drum cut through a mix.

The tutorial concentrates more on using compression as a transient shaping tool. The idea is to create new drum responses (shapes) using the compressor’s built-in features. To fully express what different compressors do to the sound I have made sure to use a number of different compressor topologies.

In the video I create a drum sequence using D16’s Drumazon vsti which is a TR 909 emulator. I then automate the pitch of the 909 kick drum using an automation lane in the DAW. This allows for different tonal changes in the kick drum which is then managed via compression. I use Eventide’s Ultrachannel, FabFilter’s Pro C2 and the SSL X-Comp compressors to reshape the 909 kick drum. I explain how each compressor works and make sure to explain how the parameters affect various parts of the 909 kick drum. I show you how to use the compressor’s side-chain, and in particular the filtering, to to turn the compressor into a frequency conscious compressor.

Plugins used in this tutorial:

D16 Drumazon

FabFilter Pro C2

Eventide Ultrachannel

SSL X-Comp

Topics covered in this video are:

  • 909 Kick Drum Characteristics
  • Understanding Frequencies
  • Sub-sonics
  • Side-chaining
  • Using Automation
  • Pitch and Filter Control
  • Using different Compressors
  • Working with Parallel Channels
  • Responses and Transients
  • Using Tube/Valve Topologies
  • Understanding Harmonic Distortion
  • Using Grains in Compression