The Boss DR55 'Dr Rhythm' was the first drum machine I ever owned. I had avoided them in the past because they were either too expensive or they only had cheesy bossa nova presets which were hardly appropriate for the electronica I was creating at the time. However, the DR55 changed that.

I bought one new around 1980 (?). It was about £80 as I recall, was battery powered and was wonderful at the time - totally programmable but with a limited range of sounds that were the forerunners of the later TR808 and TR606. Despite its limitations, Roland have to be applauded for bringing this little marvel out through their Boss brand name.

It allowed you to create and store 6 x 16-step (i.e. 4/4) patterns and 2 x 12-step (i.e. 6/8 or 3/4) patterns but the VARIATION slider allowed you to double this. You could play Variation A or Variation B or have A run into B for longer patterns. There was no song mode to chain patterns - patterns had to be switched manually in real-time!

It had four sounds - kick, snare, rimshot and hi-hat. Naturally, they were electronically generated but you can hear the genesis of the later TR series in these sounds. The kick, snare and rimshot were totally programmable but the hi-hat was switched with settings of OFF, 8ths, 12ths and 16ths. There was a simple tone control to roll-off some HF but this affected all sounds equally so was of limited use.

Programming was strictly step-time. To write a pattern, you first selected the pattern memory you wanted to write into then flicked a switch to the WRITE mode. You then had to select the sound you wanted to program from a four-way slider switch and press START where you wanted a beat and STOP where you wanted a rest. Pressing either advanced you to the next step. Primitive but it actually worked very well. Of course, the thing had no dynamics - instead, there was a fourth 'sound' channel selection - AC (accent) - where you could program in an accent for certain beats (although this affected all sounds falling on that beat). If only the hi-hat had been programmable!

Interestingly, for such a budget unit, it had quite good sync facilities. You could drive an analogue or digital sequencer or arpeggiator from it and it would sync to Roland's own CSQ sequencers. Not bad for such a budget device and I remember having great fun driving a Wasp synth / Spider sequencer combination and Juno 6 arpeggiator from the DR55... all in real-time... transposing the sequencer with one hand, playing arpeggiator chords on the Juno with another and changing patterns on the DR55 with another... ermmm... that's three hands... I dunno... I managed it somehow!

Nowadays, it could be argued that the sounds have limited appeal (unless you're doing early Soft Cell covers!) but they are useful nonetheless.