The introduction of the TR-909 in 1984 transformed the landscape of electronic dance music permanently. If the 808 defined the sounds of the early 80s, the 909 was the next logical step in the evolution of technology shaping music and music shaping technology back. Like the 808, every voice on this drum machine is a classic - instantly recognizable (for better or worse), and deeply nostalgic yet increasingly relevant in today's music. And despite what anybody says we still have yet to see an emulation nail this sound perfectly.
Like the 808, the 909 is analog, but with one major difference: it uses crunchy 6 bit samples for the cymbal and hi hat. These can punch through a mix in a totally different (crunchier?) way than the previously analog hats because they're sample-based, providing an amazing contrast to the 909's analog voices. In fact, so much of the movement from disco to house and techno can be boiled down, at least partially, to this shift in hi hats.
Also like the 808, the analog bass drum is famously huge and warm. Both are capable of deep sub kicks around which you can base entire albums of music. But while the 808 bass drum is incredible, it can be hard to fit with a big bassline. The sustain is huge and you also just don't really have a punchy envelope to play with. On the 909, though, the introduction of pitch modulation means you can get a super punchy kick because you're effectively raising the pitch of that attack envelope, and the difference (the decay) between that initial attack and the lower, fundamental sustain is where the punch lies.
The snares are wide ranging. On the lower end of the "tone" control, they're thicker than the 808's (moving closer to the 90s) and on the other side of that "tone" knob things can get quite trashy quickly depending on your unit. If you sweep this knob, along with the pitch envelope, you can get those crazy, energetic 909 rave snare rolls that people lost their shit to in the 90s.
Overall, the 909 is quite a departure from the 808, but none of this is to say it is better than the 808, but rather that these differences are what make them the perfect companions. Which is better depends on whom you ask, and mostly its due to taste and musical inspirations / aspirations. So, the 909 is either the best or second-best drum machine ever made.
To create the 909 From Mars, we recorded two different TR-909s (every unit sounds different!). First, we captured clean versions of every drum hit, straight through an API preamp into Apogee Symphony conversion. When neccesary, each drum voice was captured in extremely detailed and methodical groups - the Bass drum with varying decay, tune, and attack - the snare, with varying tune, tone and snappy amounts, the Toms & Cymbals at every tuning available, and finally the hi hats at different decays.
Next, we recorded processed variations of these same drum groups, coloring everything through hardware saturators, tube EQs, tube DIs, transient designing, MPC, SP1200, and a mastering reel to reel 1/4" tape machine. The Bass Drum, for instance, contains Clean, Tube, Tape, and Colored versions of the same exact groups.
Finally, we took our second 909 and ran it through an SSL 4000, going crazy with EQ, filtering, compression and gating, recording the results to tape. Once on tape, we played back the tape at different speeds to achieve new analog tunings of the 909 previously never heard. The idea of this second batch of samples is to provide a really diverse, somewhat random "Various" folder for every drum voice.
The end result is a 909 Sample Library and 909 Instrument that should satisfy purists looking for extensive clean 909 hits, and more experimental types in search of modern coloring, dirt, grit, and interesting 909 tunings and modulations.
The WAV contains extensive individual hits folders but also pre-built 16x Hit kits for instant jamming. The Ableton Drum Rack contains Macros that change the actual hardware decay, tuning and parameters of the 909, and the Kontakt, Logic, Battery, Maschine and Reason are also ready for instant jamming and deeper, single hit diving. Long live the 909!