While many pieces of vintage analogue gear have a dedicated following, few can claim to have had as much of an impact on music as Roland’s TR-808 drum machine. Initially considered a failure – its drums were hardly realistic-sounding – the machine has gone on to provide the beats for literally thousands of tracks, including such all-time classics as Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing and Aphex Twin’s Analogue Bubble Bath, and countless hip-hop records.
It’s fair to say that its distinctive tones are not evocative of a real drum kit, then, but they’ve got that huge, synthetic punch and snap that makes them larger than life. D16’s Nepheton is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from the perfectionist Poles – it recreates all the functions and sounds of the original drum machine in VSTi format, and throws in a few extra tricks for good measure. Drumazon, D16’s TR-909 clone, took the tweakability of each sound to extremes with extra knobs and increased controller ranges, and while Nepheton has fewer controls than Drumazon, it should be noted that the situation is mirrored with the real 808 and 909 too, so this is not entirely unexpected.
However, Nepheton does have more sounds than its older brother: there are the 16 of the original machine and the additional Laser Gun, which gives you the kind of extreme high-to-low synthy splat that’s perfect for those electro moments.
All the drums have extended controls over their 808 counterparts, such as the Sweep knob for the kick, which dictates the range of its pitch envelope, and the snare’s Decay knob, which lets you make the sound as tight or as splashy as you like.
The other sounds benefit from similar additions, like Decay and Snappy knobs, so it’s a definite improvement over the original hardware unit in flexibility terms. Also notable are the ability to use the toms and congas at the same time, and the very welcome Shuffle knob.
Nepheton isn’t as much of a functional step up from its hardware inspiration as Drumazon is, but it’s still a superb emulation that will delight those who crave authentic-sounding 808 drums. We can definitely recommend it if you’re fed up with using 808 samples and would like something that you can tweak like the real thing. The built-in step sequencer adds to the appeal, enabling the creation of beats in that always gratifying old-school way.
We would hesitate to recommend Nepheton over Drumazon, however. Even if you think you need it for those big, booming kick drums, it should be noted that Drumazon can actually get rather close to an 808-style kick, though we can’t say the reverse, so it would make sense to demo them both first if that’s what you’re after.
Of course, whilst Nepheton isn’t as useful as an all-purpose drum machine like Battery or Guru, if you’re after that kicking electro sound, it’s a sure-fire winner.