Synsonic Instruments has released BD-808 and BD-909, two freeware kick drum generators in VST/AU plugin formats, modeled after the bass sounds of the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines.
The 808 bass drum is one of the defining sounds of modern electronic music. Once considered the “secret recipe” for a tight and punchy low end, it is now one of the first things that beginner producers learn to use. Whether resampling an authentic 808 bass hit in a sampler or using a subtractive synthesizer to generate a similar sound, the goal of the technique is to end up with a saturated sine wave which has a punchy attack transient and long decay.
To make the process of creating these 808-like bass sounds inside the DAW easier, Synsonic Instruments has developed a freeware virtual instrument called BD-808 which “is based on a detailed analysis of the original 808 bass drum circuit”. Synsonic BD-808 is, to my knowledge, the only freeware virtual instrument of this type, as the other kick drum generators on the freeware market are more geared towards EDM and techno kick drum sounds. Also, BD-808 allows the user to control the pitch of the generated kick drum via MIDI notes (by enabling the MIDI Sync parameter on the front panel), making it a lot easier to play the instrument as you would do with a regular bass synthesizer. So, whether you already have a go-to technique for using 808 subs in your digital audio workstation or not, BD-808 is certainly worth checking out as a potential workflow enhancement that might even lead to better sounding results.
Apart from the MIDI Sync parameter which enables the pitch control via MIDI, the user interface also features tune and fine tune controls, as well as decay, accent, and tone parameters. I’d love to see the option to create pitch slides, but I’m pretty sure that these can be done easily with a bit of automation. The instrument also supports MIDI learn functionality for mapping the on-screen controls to knobs and faders on your MIDI controller.
Perhaps not used as often as the 808 bass drum nowadays, the 909 kick is certainly one of the most recognizable sounds in electronic music history. It is still used for layering underneath other, more modern sounding kicks to add punch and thickness. Similar to BD-808, the BD-909 is a freeware virtual instrument which works as a detailed emulation of the original 909 kick. The two instruments share almost identical control schemes, except for the fact that the BD-909 can’t be played chromatically.
Unfortunately, I still didn’t get the chance to test the two plugins in my studio, but I’m very eager to hear if they sound as good as the real deal. Please leave your opinion in the comments below, as I won’t be back in the studio at least for a couple more days and I’d love to know your thoughts on these two in the meanwhile. Both plugins are available for direct free download from the developer’s website (no registration required), with optional donations to support further work on these and other virtual instruments by Synsonic.
BD-808 and BD-909 are available for free download via Synsonic Instruments (440 KB & 336 KB download size, ZIP archives containing EXE installers, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/AU plug-in formats for Windows & Mac OS).