The desire for 80s electronic music making gear has never been greater with so many Synth Pop, Coldwave, Darkwave and Post Punk bands around recreating that sound with the help of retro drum machines and synths used back in the day.
I did some research and compiled a short list of a few drum machines and other gear used by a couple of well known Post Punk and Synth Pop bands. This isn’t a definitive list just a few examples of the most popular drum machines and gear that will give you the 80s sound you’re looking for.
Top of the list seems to be the LM-1 and later released LinnDrum. I won’t go into the history of each machine but needless to say they were a popular choice used by artists including Michael Jackson (who also used the 70s Univox), Prince, Gary Numan, Human League, and practically every artist around in the 80s so of course comes at a huge price of around £3,500 used.
The good news is there are much cheaper alternatives out there such as any decent sampler using LinnDrum or other drum machine sampled sounds. If you want the original drum machine you have to factor in specialist maintenance and repairs along the way which could cost you a lot more as well as not being as easily compatible with modern digital home studio technology, USB etc. But they sound great and being analogue they produce that dynamic punch in recordings compared to samples or digital drum machines.
Next up, the Oberheim DMX, even the name sounds expensive and it is. Introduced in 1980 at a list price of $2895 it will surely give you the sound you want and they have kept their value if you can find one. In 1983 they released a slightly stripped down version of the DMX, the Oberheim DX with 18 sounds instead of 24.
Next, probably the most well known retro drum machines today, the Roland TR 808, 909, 707, 606 and 626. There are others but these were the most commonly used and are more highly sought after now then when they were released — also costing a lot more now than the original list price.
The Roland TR-707 in particular was and still is popular with Post Punk bands. The TR-606 was favoured by French House producers in the 90s. The TR-808 was widely used by 80s electro and hip hop producers while the TR-909 was the sound of 90s Techno. The TR-626 combines a few of the most popular drum sounds from all machines, including the LM-1 but is not as sought after for some reason.
Practically any decent Drum Machine released in the 80s will sound alright with a bit of reverb. Behringer also make a version of the Moog One at a fraction of the cost. Yamaha, Korg, Alesis and Boss all made good drum machines that you can find now for under £200. The Alesis SR-16 (later replaced with the SR-18) claims to be the most popular selling drum machine of all time is still sold today and sounds very 80s. The Yamaha RX11 is another great sounding old machine used by Lebanon Hanover.
Another great synth pop band is Boy Harsher who are using a mixture of old and new gear. Below you can see the samples and other gear used in their Against The Clock challenge.
They’re using a mix of drum and synth samples and original gear with an Ableton controller and DAW software. The Drum Machine sampled is a Korg DDD-1, along with Roland SH-101 analogue Synth, Roland JV1080 Synth Rack Module “with silky smooth sounds” played on a midi keyboard and a TC Helicon Voicelive Rack module for the all important vocals with Chorus, Reverb and Delay.
So there you have it. You could have this whole set up for around £6,000 at a rough guess, including a decent computer with sound card and plenty of storage. As always there are cheaper ways of doing things.