The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, “TR” standing for Transistor Rhythm, was introduced in early 1980 by the Japanese Roland Corporation.
It was originally intended as a tool for studio musicians to create demos. While it does not sound much like a real drum kit, it was considerably more affordable than sampling drum machines during this time (e.g. Linn LM-1) and held specific appeal because of some interesting features that seem still relevant today: low-frequency sound capacities and various unique artificial percussion sounds that characterize the TR-808 as the deep bass kick drum, tinny handclap sounds, the ticky snare, the tishy hi-hats (open and closed) and the spacey cowbell.
Production ended in 1983, with approximately 12,000 units made. By the end of the 80s, it was popular within electronic music and hip hop genres. Today, thanks to its unique very pure quality sound and analog allure, it has found a long lasting home in many forms of music.
Sources: Wikipedia, Wikiaudio, Vintage Synth Explorer
Header: Roland TR-808 rear panel. Individual outputs for each drum sound. Unfortunately only equipped with Roland’s proprietary DIN-Sync (for synchronization with other equipment), the TR-808 became outdated when MIDI standard was introduced in 1983. However several third-party manufacturers provided MIDI-retrofit kits for it over the years due to its enduring popularity.