The 808 is easily the most recognized drum machine in history. It's responsible for the birth of countless genres - hip hop, electro, techno, house, trap - the list goes on. And even though it was developed in early 1980, it is still among the best sounding drum machines of all time - with its classic and pure analog sound. Decades later it can still be heard everywhere - in fact, it's hard to escape the 808.
I've used many 808s over the years and it's true that each has its own sound. This is due not only to its 100% analog nature, but because of the internal parameters that, with even the slightest tweak, can completely alter the sound. The toms can sound like a 606 if the noise parameters are messed with, and the bass drum can range from a low G (if you're lucky) to an A#.
Over the years, 3 different 808s have been sampled to create the 808 From Mars, but our most recent unit is far and away the best sounding yet, and for this reason (and the fact we have better gear and more experience than ever) we've decided to completely re-sample it.
So, we multi-sampled our 808 cleanly through our API console, and also dirtied it up with a slew of hardware saturators, EQs, filters and compressors (no plugin processing whatsoever). We re-pitched the Bass Drum through old skool samplers like the SP 1200 and MPC60, to get massive, tuned kick drums:
The 808 recording session was a complicated, month-long affair filled with love (and some frustration). But if you break it all down, we basically focused on two different processes - clean samples and dirty samples.
For the processing, we overdrove the 1608 console, and used dynamics like the API 2500, Distressor, SPL transient designer, and SSL. We used overdrive mostly in parallel, to color the sustain and bring the RMS up - and these consisted of an Overstayer Saturator, a Moog filter and Reddi. For EQ, we turned to the Thermionic Swift Tube EQ, API 550B and 560 EQs. And for samplers, we stuck to the classics - SP1200 and MPC60.
The accents on the 808 hugely affect the drum sound, but most sample packs neglect this. The accent can add a transient spike, slight pitch modulation, or opening of the filter (depending on the voice). For the bass drum, using the accent actually means a less bass-heavy sound. The accented toms become punchier and less tonal, and the rim completely changes timbre.
We also multi-sampled every drum voice that had synthesis parameters (bass drum, snare, cymbal, etc) - capturing different decay times, snappy and tone amounts, for both accented and un-accented. The end result gives you full control over the drum sounds - just like the real thing:
For a detailed rundown of what types of multi-sampling is included in the 808 From Mars, see this 808 From Mars - Guide.
Once all of the recordings were finalized, we spent a week exploring and jamming with all of the sounds, carefully building 16x hit kits of drums that play well together. The kits range from clean to saturated, to completely distorted, and are the perfect way to get going quickly if you're overwhelmed by massive sample counts.
Finally, we formatted everything for as many samplers as we could manage. The Ableton rack is quite special, in that there are macros to adjust the actual 808 parameters (snappy, tone, decay). And, you can select different levels of hardware saturation.
Re-building this library was a huge endeavor, but it was well worth it. As our sampling techniques grow, we continue to update our old products, so that they too become better. That said, the original 808 From Mars has a lot of charm that we didn't want to replicate or replace, so we're including that as well, as a separate download.