Roland released their TR606 'computer controlled' programmable drum machine in 1981. It was originally aimed at guitarists who, with a TB303 'Bassline' sync'd to the 606 via Roland's DIN SYNC connection, could have an electronic drummer and bassist for accompaniment.

However, neither the TR606 or TB303 sounded anywhere near realistic enough for most guitarists and although the TR606 sold 30,000 units, most of these ended up languishing in second-hand shops.

Until 'electro' was born that is and a new breed of impoverished musicians and rappers and DJs needed cheap gear to make their music.

The TR606 was something of a bargain when it was released - at around £150, it was the poor man's TR808. Indeed, the basic sounds were very similar and the programming method was identical. However, used, these things were selling in pawn shops for $50 or less and so became very popular, especially the TB303 which is still a mainstay of many styles of dance music today.

The TR606 'Drumatix' was stripped down to the bare basics and had seven sounds - kick, snare, low tom, high tom, cymbal and open and closed hi-hat. They were analogue drum sounds (not samples) but, unlike the TR808, there was nothing you could do to alter the basic sounds - there was a simple 6-channel mixer where you could balance the sounds but that was about it.

However, it was very simple to modify the TR606 if you were handy with a soldering iron. By taking a wire off the wiper of the level pots and putting a 3.5mm jack socket on the back, you could add individual outputs. Also, there were trigger outputs that could be used to fire off additional external sounds (such as the Boss HC1 Clap 'pedal').

I bought a TR606 new and did the individual output mod - through an external mixer with EQ and reverb, etc., the TR606 could sound a lot more 'expensive' and more like a TR808. That said, although very similar, the sounds don't have quite the 'oomph' or presence of the 808 but they sound good nonetheless.