Gear Spotlight: Boss Dr. Rhythm DR-550

This drum machine actually came as a bonus with a Roland PAD-80 (Octapad II) I bought, so I really never set out to own one of these, but I’m glad I do: the DR-550 has all the 90s-era Roland drums I could want. See, my first workstation keyboard was a Roland XP-80, so there’s a nostalgic place in my heart for those drum sounds.

By the 90s most synth and drum machine manufacturers had moved to digital sampling, and the DR-550 is no exception. While there are some samples of the classic TR-series, this thing is geared towards realistic drum sounds. You’re probably not going to mistake the results for real drums, but that Roland sound is there, anyone who’s used a Roland product from the same period knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Boss Dr. Rhythm DR-550

My personal unit has an issue with the LCD screen, so I normally use this as a sound module and program sequences in Ableton Live. Even if the screen wasn’t broken, I’d still do things this way, as I never quite got the hang of this style of the drum machine, I always preferred the push-button step sequencing style of machines like the TR-808/909. As a sound module, this thing is great, it’s probably the best collection of drum samples Roland had at the time, think of it as a “best of” collection from the Roland R8 and its series of expansion cards. My one gripe is that MIDI control isn’t set up in a typical fashion, you can only trigger samples that have first been assigned to the pads, so you have to set up your drum kit before you start programming. Still, this thing is cheap like most of my gear, and it’s effective.

I had thought about circuit bending this thing, but most of the bends create more static than tone, so I decided to forego that for now, I may pick up a 505 later if I get in the mood to bend something. I also need to see if I can track down the bug that causes it to crash when connected to MIDI, as that can get annoying in the middle of a session. I can’t complain too loudly about it though, as it was free, and does a great job when it actually works.

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