MXR were major innovators during the '70s with their ground breaking effects pedals such as the Phase 100 phase shifter that defined the beautiful, swirling guitar and electric piano sounds of the decade.

They also produced distortion pedals, sustain pedals and more.... products that set the standard for stomp boxes even today.

They also introduced us to the idea of a pitch shifters and harmonisers (not be confused with today's pitch correction devices).

Their products weren't cheap but they exuded quality and had a great sound and an MXR Phase 100 pedal is probably now worth more than it originally sold for!

However, as technology progressed, MXR's fortunes began to dwindle. Looking for ideas to generate revenue, MXR couldn't resist the lure of the growing (and lucrative) drum machine market. Linn and Emu had been seen to be very successful with their products and, technically, the concept wasn't exactly rocket science at the time.... a programmable sequencer that issued triggers to fire off crude 8-bit drum samples stored in ROM chips! Nowadays, this might be a course project for a college engineering student! And so in the mid 80s, they released their MXR 185 Drum Computer.

On the surface, it looked great. Twelve 'real' drum sounds each with their own pad at an affordable price. None of the pads were velocity sensitive - you needed to use the ACCENT button for dynamics (but this was typical for the time). However, each sound also had its own individual output and level slider. Whereas the Emu Drumulator compromised in these areas, the MXR was more like a Linn in terms of dedicated pads and controls.

The MXR 185 also had some interesting innovations in the user interface.

Whereas most drum machines of the time laid their pads out in a horizontal row, MXR laid their pads out in a way that kind of vaguely resembled a typical small drum kit (see right).

The 'percussion' samples were separated to the right of the main kit pads.

At first, the layout of the pads might seem odd but once you see the logic of it, it actually makes perfect sense and you wonder why no-one thought of it before (or since). Until, of course, you realise that this innovative pad arrangement is actually very awkward to play and program patterns with!

The backbone of every rhythm is the kick and snare and hi-hats... placing the snare pad above the kick pad is just not comfortable to play.... it requires certain physical contortions compared with programming a rhythm with pads that are side-by-side. Similarly, the layout of the toms for fills and so forth. No doubt, the UI designer(s) of the MXR 185 thought that this layout was inspired but in practice, the design fails.

I have no idea why the product wasn't successful but the MXR 185 pretty much disappeared without trace almost as soon as it was released. Which is a shame.... it wasn't a great drum machine but it wasn't a bad one either.

Maybe it was the quirky pad layout. Perhaps it was the name... MXR weren't known for their sampling technology! Maybe it was MXR's marketing that failed to grab the imagination. Maybe people didn't like the sounds. Possibly some other drum machine hit the market at the same time that offered more for less.... or maybe it was because it lacked the new-fangled MIDI ports that were appearing on gear of the era. Whatever it was, the MXR 185 faded into drum machine obscurity never to re-surface even as a 'born-again' classic.

And before you ask.... yes... the Rim and Snare samples ARE almost indistinguishable from each other! And yes... the woodblock does seem to have a flam on it. These are the raw samples!

The raw source samples and the photo are from, a Japanese website devoted to drum machines.

All sample editing and programming by Hollow Sun.