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The $995 Drum Machine
The early 1980’s saw the rapid introduction of digital drum machines from Linn and Oberheim. These new machines offered unparalleled programming and real samples rather than analog approximations. But they were expensive.
E-mu Systems, fresh from developing the Emulator I, saw an opening in the market and introduced a basic sample based drum machine but at a magic, under $1000 price. It worked, it sounded good, and it sold by the bucket load (at least 7000 units). This was a major success, and when coupled with the EII, it transformed E-mu Systems from a small to medium scale manufacturer. The Drumulator was born in early 1983, and it sold very well for a year until the Oberhiem DMX came out.
The Drumulator has 12 sounds; bass, snare, toms hi, toms mid, toms low, clave, cowbell, hand claps, hi-hat open, hi-hat closed and cymbal (ride). These sounds play through 8 voice channels. Two of the channels are unfiltered (hi-hats, cymbal), four channels go through selective filters which pick out the right frequencies, and the remaining two (the toms) use dynamic VCF’s.
Hit the Beat
The Drumulator has good programmability in real-time, but no step time capability. There is auto-correct, swing, independent volume and accent control, as well as looping within a song.
Where’s the compromise?
The development team knew how to build good sample replay electronics, but to keep the costs down they had to keep the sample memory down to just 64k bytes ! That means 8-bit samples and very short sample times, for the 12 drum sounds. The team also decided on only 4 drum front panel buttons, rather than 12. This means a lot of button pushing !
As with many early drum machines there is only one DAC, which is multiplexed across all the voices. This compromise could never be made on an Emulator, but early Japanese samplers did the same, it was not just drum machines that had to cut costs.
This external 4 pad in a box controller enables you to play the Drumulator in real time with ordinary drum sticks. Each of the Programmer’s pads can be assigned to any Drumulator sound and each is touch sensitive, allowing you to choose the normal or accented version of a sound by how hard you hit its pad. The Pad Programmer includes inputs for processing external controllers, as well as four trigger outputs for controlling synthesizers, sequencers, or other drum machines.
E-mu Systems could even tell you how to use an Emulator and a computer to create your own custom Drumulator sound chips.
The Graphic Rhythm Composer (GRC)
The GRC is a software system for the Apple II/IIe that connects to the Drumulator’s RS232 interface. It let’s you create rhythm patterns on an interactive graphics display. You can then link these patterns together into complete songs, save them on floppy disk, and print them out for future reference. You can independently program the level of each individual note. The Apple needs at least 48k bytes (64k bytes preferred) of memory (gulp!), one 5.25” disk driive and a 2 axis joystick with 2 buttons.