The Roland TR-505 was launched in 1986 for £225. It belonged to the same family as the Roland TR-909, TR-808, TR-707, TR626 and TR-606. The drum machine had similar sounds to the TR-707, with the Latin sounds from the TR-727. It was designed to be a budget-friendly entry-level machine.

The front panel featured an LCD display for viewing the functions and programming the patterns. There were 16 pads for pattern selection and real-time programming. The only controls were a volume control and a tempo control. So, there was no pitch or envelop settings.

The sixteen sounds in the TR-505 did not have the instantly recognisable classic sounds of the TR-909 or 808, but they did have a clean punchy sound from the 12-bit / 25kHz samples. The clap sounded great, as did the cowbells. In a mix with an 80s-style track, they blended in remarkably well. The sounds included kick, snare, low tom, mid tom, hi tom, rim shot, closed hi-hat, open hi-hat, low conga, high conga, timbale, low and hi cowbell, clap, crash and ride cymbal. There was also an accent pad.

Back in 1986, a cassette interface was the standard way of saving data, I remember saving patches from Yamaha DX100 synth of course tapes where the only storage medium on my ZX Spectrum, and that’s what the TR-505 supported. There was no cartridge support or midi dump of the user patterns. It had full-sized midi in and out ports, but no midi through or sync input. It supported midi sync with start and stop sync codes, and you could play the sounds over midi.

There were 48 factory patterns and 48 user patterns, and you could combine patterns to make songs. The factory patterns were the standard for the 1980s-style music. They included disco, marches, waltzes and Latin rhythms, which had their own retro charm. For your own patterns, you could change the pattern length and overall step length, and you could create your patterns in step or real-time modes.

Another budget aspect of the drum machine was a stereo / mono ¼ inch jack output (with a fixed stereo field). So, there were no individual outputs, but for the original price of £225 that was to be expected. I bought the machine a few years ago for £150 and after a bit of cleaning and polishing, the machine was as good as new. It was quick to program and had punchy 80s sounds and rhythms, which made it a really useful piece of kit alongside my Yamaha TX7 and other equipment.

The Roland TR-505 was a simple and affordable drum machine that offered 16 sounds and 96 patterns. Although it did not have the iconic sounds of the TR-909 or 808, it had a clean and punchy sound that suited the 1980s-style music. It was easy to program and use, and it supported midi sync and playback. The TR-505 may not be the most sought-after drum machine today, but it still has a nostalgic charm and a place in the history of electronic music.

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