Who Is Considered The Most Important Composer Of Big-Band Music Reviewing the Korg KR-55 and KR-55b Retro Analogue Rhythm Machines

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Reviewing the Korg KR-55 and KR-55b Retro Analogue Rhythm Machines

I recently purchased and used both the Korg KR-55 and KR-55b on some new Anjelicas Baby tracks. I really enjoyed the use and retro sound of these two machines. If you like electronic music, electronica, new wave, electro, synthpop, dance or pop in general, you will love adding these sounds to your music productions.

Produced in 1982, the Korg KR-55b was the successor to the popular Korg KR-55 (1979). Korg was one of the companies at the forefront of analog technology when everyone was trying to recreate the sound of a real drum kit. For its time it was revolutionary and very easy to operate. It had twice the 48 drum programs of the KR-55 with a very useful switch to change the swing time on some selected patterns. However, on the KR-55 all patterns could use this swing function as the new machine now routed the switch to access the new bank of 48 preset drum patterns. Also, the drum patterns were not the same as the original KR-55 with just a new set of 48 programs added for good measure. For some this may be disappointing. For others it expanded the patterns of a pre-constrained drum pattern arrangement. Obviously it would be necessary to have both drum machines to achieve this.

Interestingly, it can be used as a trigger device for other Korg synthesizers such as the Korg Delta. It had a foot pedal jack socket on the back for attaching a foot pedal for stopping and starting the drum machine and inserting drum fills at live shows. The vendor came with the original unit as standard as I recall. It even had six knobs to control the volume of the drum.

It was similar in many ways to the Roland TR808 analog drum machine in terms of its bass drum and fat electros like hi-hats and snare etc. So why didn’t it stand the test of time like the Roland TR808?

Well, both drum machines suffered in the mid (1980’s) from the overwhelming desire of artists to use the highly fashionable digital sounds of real drum kits offered by, say, the Fairlight Music Computer.

However, what may have saved the Roland TR808 was the heavy use of the drum machine by the then new electro and hip-hop artists from the US, especially from New York.

Also, another close to the Korg KR-55 and KR-55b was the fact that the drum machine was preset and not programmable. He played mono and had no separate outputs for each individual drum and no midi implementation.

Despite its shortcomings, it has endured like a cult. Many believe that Depeche Mode used the KR-55 on their first album Speak and Spell. In my ears I suspect that is true. Also, they are quite rare these days and are an interesting alternative to Don to death TR808 and with modern computers you can easily record and edit the sounds and drum fits in software packages such as Cubase or Logic. You can even get retro adjustments to increase the amount of outputs the drum machine has. They can be had for around £150 or say $200-300. That’s a pretty cheap price considering what you can do with it once you implement it in a modern studio environment.

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