Tutorial: Synthesizing the 808/909 & Processing

Production | Sep 10, 2005

  1. Synthiziz Navarone (~Nav-ah-rone)


    Synthiziz Navarone (~Nav-ah-rone)

    291 posts
    Since Sep 11, 2004
    I thought i write up a decent 808 tutorial as its one of those things people ask about.

    The 808's a classic sound, and if you know how to synthesize it, it opens up lots of oppurtunies for creativity. As its very simple patch to learn, if you're new to synths this could be a handy learning experience.

    I will be using the subtractor (reason), but you can do it with any half arse synth.

    Synthesizing 808s:
    1. Load up your synth, with the default/initialized patch
    2. make sure any LFOs are off, FM is off, any velocity controls are at zero.
    3. Select a LP filter, no resonance.
    4. Enter a lowish bass note (somewhere around C1/C2) on the sequencer, and loop the sequencer playback, so you can hear it as you make changes.
    5. You need one sinewave oscillator (the regular '~' curve shaped wave).
    6. Turn off any other oscillators, and set the mix to osc 1 (if it has this function).
    7. On your amplitude envelope, set decay to about half (this may vary on synths, but find a setting so it has a nice fade out). Set any other amp-env variables to zero - attack, sustain etc.
    8. Ok, it should sound pretty 808-like now, but here's the important bit.
    9. On your modulation envelope, wire it to control osc1 or pitch (same thing really).
    10. Raise decay to about a quarter of the way up.
    11. Set the envelope amount about 2 thirds up (or adjust to choice).

    This pitch envelope drops the pitch sharply at the beginning of the sound, causing that nice 808 thud.

    10. BUMP BUMP BUMP. Tune to the correct key

    Now, if you want a more 909 sound:
    1. Set amp decay much shorter
    2. Frequency envelope - decay up about the same as the pitch env.
    3. Amount about a third
    4. Low pass filter, anywhere between zero-quarter way up, resonance any between zero and full, depending on what tone you want your thud. (adjust these to your taste).
    5. Tune
    6. Save your patch.

    Quick Tricks:
    • Play two adjascent notes on your keyboard for that wobbling noise like in Kenny Ken & Andy C - 'the quest'
    • Raise pitch env decay for that classic BOOooom bass
    • Switch to a saw or square wave and fiddle with the filters, envelope and LFOs have fun with it
    • Try using more than one osc for thicker sounds (remember to envelope both their pitches, and adjust the mix balance)

    • When distorting, it usually helps to hipass the distorted channel at around 300hz, and then layer with an original clean channel to retain clean bass freqs.
    • In Reason i tend to use the foldback distortion or scream overdrive as these produce cleaner harmonics and tones. Try using two foldbacks in a chain for interesting results.
    • Mixing down bass and distorted frequencies: 808 Bass-channel should be as loud as your kick drum (standard mixing), and the distorted 808 channel should be anywhere between 50-75% of the bass-channels volume. This seems to sit well for me, but experiment.

    Further Info:
    There we go, you should have some nice thumping sounds. The pitch envelope technique can be applied to almost anything to create that thump sound, reeses, pads, you can even do it in a sampler if you like. I find if i have a kick sample lacking thud, a quick pitch decay adds a thump easily without bothering with EQ.

    The same sort of technique can be applied if you're trying to make a natural 'plucked' string sort of sound. A subtle LFO and reverb will make it sound more natural aswell.

    When im looking for a kick to layer, i find its easier to load up my 808/909 patch and personalize it to how I want, rather than search through a folder of kick samples.

    Related Threads:
    • Distorting 808s
    • Rippling 808s
    • Dilly Bass
    • 808 & 909 Sample Packs

    Very simple really, but i've found it to be a very handy trick.
    And oh... If this helped in the slightest please support us by having a listen to some collaboration tracks by me (navarone) and seal. Prodigy, Hive and Calyx heads will enjoy them. Cheears.
    Blatant promoting.

    Take it easy dogs. Any questions, just post below.
  2. Synthiziz Navarone (~Nav-ah-rone)


    Synthiziz Navarone (~Nav-ah-rone)

    291 posts
    Since Sep 11, 2004
    Quick Processing jam
  3. robotone ___________


    robotone ___________

    22,716 posts
    Since Apr 12, 2002

    nice tutorial thanks :biggrin:

    i used the 'screamer' foot petal on my 808 at one point, very interesting sounds (sounded best in mono if i remember correctly)
  4. danes stereowerk massive


    danes stereowerk massive

    433 posts
    Since Nov 13, 2001
  5. Muffin Hunter Senior Citizen

    Muffin Hunter

    Muffin Hunter Senior Citizen

    2,055 posts
    Since May 25, 2005
  6. DJ I.C.

    DJ I.C.

    DJ I.C.

    3,197 posts
    Since May 19, 2005
  7. tectonic Materia // Hidden Lab


    tectonic Materia // Hidden Lab

    14,569 posts
    Since Sep 16, 2001
  8. da inspector 1/2 Midus Touch

    da inspector

    da inspector 1/2 Midus Touch

    2,387 posts
    Since Oct 6, 2002
    good stuff:pimp:
  9. d_b Noize Factory


    d_b Noize Factory

    294 posts
    Since Feb 27, 2004
    owsome from you. You rock! :twothumbs:
    could you do a tutorial about menstasm kind of sound and other hardcore sounds?
  10. J Swift Guest

    J Swift

    J Swift Guest

    4,760 posts
    Since May 21, 2003
    Try this:

    - Load up Soundforge

    - Choose where you want your bass drum to boom... I've been using this technique to make sort of Psytrance bass drums, so I'd usually go for 45hz...

    - Make a 1 second sine wave (Simple Synthesis) double that frequency - So 90hz sine wave;

    - I'll usually mute the second half of it, so I've got a 90hz sine wave, then half a second of quiet;

    - Go into Pitch Bend and get experimenting drawing pitch curves - You want to go from +12 semitones to -12, and draw a kind of sharp attack envelope/curve... You can spend all day here, there's a million different sounds you can get, from subby 808 bass drums (almost indistinguishable from the real thing!) to zappy Trance bass drums to realistic sounding thuds;

    - Last stage is to apply an Envelope and design the dynamics...

    You can go further, you can apply multiple pitch bends - e.g. if you want a very sharp, mid-range zap attack on the bass drum - Just draw the usual envelope, then go at it again and just give it a sharp boost in the first 10ms or so.

    Likewise, there's a dynamics/frequency relationship you can exploit... Every section of the bass drum represents a different frequency, so rather than just attacking it with amp envelopes, you can use narrow bandwidth EQ/filtering to get complex dynamic effects in the BD's amplitude...

    It's the same effect as doing it in Operator, Reaktor, Moog Modular VST, Nord Modular, etc... except you've got more control and the VA algorithm really isn't too well suited to this kind of thing, unless you're after a specifically subtle, IDM/glitchey kind of sound...

    You can make almost any sound in this way - If you're stuck you can always take over completely and draw parts of the waveform in yourself - Techno and trance producers have been doing this for years...

    You can take it further and sample single wave cycles from analogue gear, even vocals, and construct whole drum kits from them... It's a good way to get to know your sounds - Gives you complete control... And of course, when you're mixing down, sample sections of your work into soundforge and look at the way the frequencies are interacting - Sometimes, rather than going to work with side-chaining, filtering, multiband compression, etc... to get a bass drum and bass line working together... Just delaying one channel by a few ms, inverting it, or changing the envelope on the bassdrum, will completely sort it out... Much less hassle and much clearer results... If you bodge it with compression and filtering, you often don't avoid the conflicting frequencies anyway - You just get them making room for each other...
  11. noisewreck Sound Destroyer


    noisewreck Sound Destroyer

    1,223 posts
    Since Dec 9, 2003
  12. peejunk Audio Nerd


    peejunk Audio Nerd

    1,475 posts
    Since Apr 23, 2003
    Step 10 sounded strange with that huge decay and when I heard the sample it was clear... 808 kick doesen't have that kind of a thud in the begining, that longish pitch-modulated thud is more of a 909 thing. 808 had a very short thud at the begining. You could somehow emulate it by having decay very little (depending on synth off course) in your 10th step and some hold (if provided i.e. if you have AHDSR envelope) in a way that it efectively creates just one or two cycles of higher pitched sines, and then settles down to about a G3. Another important part of 808 sound is that it starts with wave at full positive (Pi/2 cycle) rather than at zero crossing.

    As for 909, you'll need a synth with triangle wave, filter and AD envelope for pitch modulation. Here you can have a longer pitch decay and a short pitch attack, and you need to saturate prior to filter, and then filter out the triangle but you need to take care that the filter is tuned to oscilator frequency at any point (this is how the sinewave is generated from a triangle in 909, they saturate the triangle into a hexagonal wave, then filter out into a sine). 909 also had a short burst of filtered noise for the initial click.

    For both sounds pitch envelope needs to go quite a bit.

    It's much easier doing it in an audio editor as J swift suggested. You could also create a long sample of overloaded and then filtered triangle wave for some authentic roland dirt, rather than clean deep sinewave, and then mess with that. Tuning at G3 (or G2 depending on synth) is pretty close to the default 808 tuning. As for 909 you need to experiment since you could tune 909 to many frequencies. Tuned about E3 it's close to default 909 tuning.

    Anyway, here are some of my examples, FXP programs for Synth 1 and tuned samples made in audio editor (Audition in my case). FXP Synth 1 examples are closest in sound to originals on G2 (808) and E3 (909), on Fruity if you put the amp sustain all the way down. Other hosts may be octave lower or higher, not sure. Audio editor chops were done at 55Hz (A1) because it's the easiest tuned frequency to remember.

    I created the original sine by making a 55Hz triangle, squasing it at about 6dB into the wave, and then applying a 4th order Butterworth Lowpass at 60Hz. It came out almost a clean sine. Nice for 808 but for 909 you may want to set the cutoff higher and try a 2nd order filter.
  13. 23style



    121 posts
    Since Dec 28, 2004
    nice one man!!

    ive been having a lot of fun with this tonight...it sounds dope if you set filter 1s type to notch

    also, i just realized from your tutorials how the mod envelope is applied. it was right in front of my face but i didn't realize that the shit on the right was what it was being applied to (i.e. osc1, osc2, mix, etc...)

    anyways.thanks for the tips fellas :)
  14. peejunk Audio Nerd


    peejunk Audio Nerd

    1,475 posts
    Since Apr 23, 2003
    It apears that Synth1 doesen't load FXP presets, so I've packed the native Synth1 presets (you can renumber them and place them in some of it's soundbanks that are vacant).
  15. ROKONE Hello Tyranny, goodbye gunz.


    ROKONE Hello Tyranny, goodbye gunz.

    15,924 posts
    Since Jan 25, 2005
  16. SEAL



    544 posts
    Since Apr 4, 2004
  17. SEAL



    544 posts
    Since Apr 4, 2004
    I accidentally came across this thread again and randomly read this post. Can't believe I didn't think of this technique earlier. Very helpful, I'm going to sleep with the knowledge that I've learned something big today. Cheers Swift.
  18. silentdan brewing coffee @ 3am...


    silentdan brewing coffee @ 3am...

    469 posts
    Since Aug 25, 2005
    Great tutorial!:thumbup:
  19. XEvolutionX



    312 posts
    Since Dec 29, 2005
    Thanks a lot man, good learning experience.
  20. loopdon



    405 posts
    Since Oct 16, 2004
    what a lot of knowledge in this thread - unbelievable!! :twothumbs:
  21. Baal-Zebub



    1,176 posts
    Since Aug 23, 2005
    The kick of a real 808 is made by triggering a self oscilating multimode filter (State variable filter).

    The pitch of the kick can be ajusted with the cutoff.
    The decay of the kick can be ajusted with the resonance. More resonance longer decay.
    Watch out with maximum resonance!

    Here's a patch from the free Clavia G2 Demo software.
  22. Baal-Zebub



    1,176 posts
    Since Aug 23, 2005
    Here's a picture of the patch.
  23. Synthiziz Navarone (~Nav-ah-rone)


    Synthiziz Navarone (~Nav-ah-rone)

    291 posts
    Since Sep 11, 2004
    This thread is building up nicely :slayer: :slayer:
  24. synrgy



    3,736 posts
    Since Nov 27, 2004
  25. NME30 enemy30


    NME30 enemy30

    731 posts
    Since Sep 15, 2003
    made a cool sound using a variation of the 808 technique, it inspired a wierd acid jungle type track, :twothumbs:
  26. digital19



    48 posts
    Since Feb 21, 2005
    Navarone: amazing thread. If you ever get some time would you do a tutorial on splitting? I've been playing around with your TC Melody.rns file from that thread and trying to get my head around all the cable routing behind that.



    967 posts
    Since Dec 15, 2005
  28. mecuatro Sine+Rhodes


    mecuatro Sine+Rhodes

    219 posts
    Since May 5, 2006
    just logged in to say thanks, thanks, thanks a lot!

    works great with Massive :)
  29. Dj-Master-Mind



    82 posts
    Since Sep 25, 2005
    i have one problem tho dude my 808 following your instructions has a nasty high pitched tweet or twip noise on the attack and i dont like it i was playing with the amp attack and raising it reduced that but also removed the volume which is plays at :\ some help please? btw that tut really helped! i just need that lil extra information thanks heaps i been wondering for ages how to make my own boom bass like in old skool jungle tracks :)
  30. Baal-Zebub



    1,176 posts
    Since Aug 23, 2005
    The high pitched tweet means that the pitch envelope is modulating the oscillator to much and that the decay is to short. For an 808 type kick the decay should be fairly long and not much modulation.
    My experience is that you should play a lot with the settings of this patch to get a feeling for it. Most people have a hard time getting to grips with programing kicks.