If the LinnDrum established Roger Linn's
position as the pioneer of the programmable digital drum machine,
it was his LM-1 that marked him as the inventor of the concept.
Until the arrival of the LM-1 in 1979/80, drum machines
were not taken seriously. Even programmable machines such as the
TR808 were largely considered toys by most musicians at the time.
But with the arrival of the LM-1, it was possible for the first
time to lay down pre-programmed drum tracks that actually sounded
like drums rather than an analogue approximation.
It came with twelve 8-bit sounds and each one had its
own level slider and pan switch (yes - sounds were either left,
centre or right!). On the rear panel there were individual outputs
and tuning controls for each of the sounds (plus a 'decay' control
for the hi-hat) and whilst the thing came with a kick, a snare,
hi-hat, two toms, two congas, a tambourine, cowbell, handclap, clave
and a cabasa, the original LM-1 had no cymbal samples because the
high cost of memory at the time was too prohibitive to store these
long samples. However, 360 Systems (who were to take over commercial
production of the LM-1) later offered users the ability to replace
less useful sounds with cymbals.
Technically, the sonic specs weren't at all impressive.
Low bit-depth and a mere 27kHz sample rate appear like a joke in
today's world of 32-bit / 96kHz (or more) samples but there is no
denying that the LM-1 had a great sound. Roger himself admits that
the circuit design was less than perfect. However, it is this that
could be the key to the Linn's sound - whereas other engineers would
have used a 'brick wall' filter to remove the possibility of any
unpleasant high frequency digital audio artefacts creeping in, Roger
didn't which let more HF through. Any artefacts were, by and large,
masked by the sound itself and so the LM-1 samples sounded better
(and brighter) than the paper specs would have you suppose. Of course,
the sounds weren't velocity sensitive - instead, the pads offered
soft and hard versions for each sound for a degree of dynamics.
Two levels of dynamics appears crude by today's standards but surprisingly
it worked and the demos at the time (on a 45rpm flexi-disc to play
on your record player!!) were jaw-dropping.
The LM-1 also had extensive synchronisation inputs and
outputs and even allowed the unit to be sync'd to tape. There was
a tape backup/restore function as well (for patterns and songs only).
These were all innovations at the time.
The LM-1 (and subsequent Linn products including the
Akai MPC series) was also renowned for its real-time quantise feature
and also its 'feel' or 'swing' and had innovative features to make
drum tracks sound less metronomic and more 'human'.
The LM-1 allowed 100 patterns to be created which could
be chained together to form songs and despite the lack of a decent
display, it was very easy to use and didn't get in the way of inspiration.
But all this innovation came at a price - $5,000 in fact!
As a result, only a certain calibre of musician (i.e. fabulously
wealthy!!) could afford them. Early adopters were Peter Gabriel,
Warren Cann (Ultravox), Vince Clarke (who had just left Depeche
Mode), The Human League and Stevie Wonder. It is no coincidence,
either, that many LM-1s were bought by owners of Fairlights and
together, the two were to form the basis of many a hit record of
the era, perhaps the most famous example of this combination being
the wonderful theme from Miami Vice by Jan Hammer.
Only 500 LM-1s were made before being superceded by the
considerably more successful (and relatively affordable) LinnDrum
(LM-2) so the LM-1 is quite rare today - even if you could find
one, it would no doubt carry a premium price tag if only for its