The 808 is one of the most popular and recognizable sounds in the world of trap, hip-hop, and electronic music. We’d go as far as saying it is one of the top 10 most influential sounds of all time. Not only does the 808 have an impact on your speakers, but it also impacts the way we make modern music.
Thanks to modern-day sampling techniques and the vast reaches of the Internet, plugin creators have manufactured high-end plugins to help us easily recreate the sound of the 808 - and beyond.
If you’ve been on the hunt for the perfect 808 plugin for your production needs, come dive in with us as we explore some of our favorites.
If you’re looking to take your drums and place them in the right “space” for a professional sound, continue reading to find out more about how to use reverb on drums.
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History & Examples of 808s
The sound of the 808 didn’t appear in the world of music until 1980 when Roland introduced the very first TR-808 drum machine. At the time, Linndrum was in control of the drum machine market, and many people felt that the 808 was too artificial for mainstream music. With only 12,000 units ever made, the TR-808 was initially a major flop.
However, thanks to the fact that it was a very straightforward piece of gear, the hip-hop world took a liking to it. Artists like Public Enemy and Run-DMC popularized the sounds present on the TR-808, giving it new life. By extending the decay time on the bass drums, they realized you were able to create melodic basslines.
One of the first and most popular hip-hop tracks that used the 808 was the song “Paul Revere” by the Beastie Boys. It was in this song that producer Rick Rubin was able to show the spark-annihilating potential of the 808 kick drum, forever changing the sound of modern music. In many ways, the sound of the 808 became just as important to the introduction of hip-hop as the Fender Stratocaster was to the introduction of rock and roll.
Nowadays, you can find 808s spread throughout various kinds of music, including hip-hop, trap, pop, EDM, and alternative music.
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Best 808 VST - SubLab
When a plugin has a very specific purpose, it becomes much easier to use. Plus, when you need something specific, you know exactly where to go. SubLab, a plugin from Future Audio Workshop, is one of the best 808 plugins on the market today. No matter what kind of genre you work with or what kind of sub-tone you are trying to create, SubLab can help you get there. Of course, when it comes to trap and hip-hop genres, this is where SubLab truly excels.
We like to think of SubLab as a hybrid of sorts. It is composed of multiple layers, including an X-sub synth layer and an analog synth, which you can route to your kick drum with ease. The interface is absolutely gorgeous and very easy to navigate. Plus, you get real-time feedback about the waveforms with the built-in spectrograms. With the crystal-clear mixing section, you can take the three layers of the plugin and blend them in with one another, creating the perfect sub-tone for your needs.
While the plugin is very useful for beginner producers, it also has an in-depth characteristic to it, allowing sound designers to toggle with multiple layers, carefully crafting massive sub sounds without completely annihilating the low-end on their mixes. With the built-in saturation and compression modules, it is even easy to give your sound a bit of additional grit.
With 69 presets to choose from, you have plenty of ways to get started. Plus, it is just as easy to start with the foundation and build brand new tones based on what you hear in your head.
Pros of Sublab
- Great sound
- Incredible interface
- Lots of creative potential
Cons of Sublab
- Not a "pure" 808 emulation
Best 808 Plugin for Sampling - 808 Studio 2
808 Studio 2 is another great 808 plugin that comes with three oscillators to mess around with, one of which is a sub-oscillator. There are also two filters present on this plugin, one of which is for the oscillators, and the other of which is for the “master output” and the effects section. Expect HUGE sounding kicks.
One thing we really love about the 808 Studio 2 plugin is the sidechain option, which allows you to layer your bass and kick sounds so they are both crisp, clear, and hard-hitting. As such a commonality in modern production, having easy access to sidechain functionality can help expedite your production process. Beyond that, you can also connect your LFOs and mod Envelopes to controls to take a modular pathway to your final 808 destination.
Another thing we absolutely love about 808 Studio 2 is the fact that you can load up your own audio samples. It is here where the plugin begins to act as the vehicle for the sample which it engulfs, creating pre-made or specified bass patterns using the built-in sequencing technology. Again, 808 Studio 2 is great at helping to speed up the overall production process. It is easy to get the perfect pattern going for your song in just a matter of minutes.
While the built-in sequencer and sampling capabilities are what really set this plugin apart from other 808 VSTs on the market, the high-end oscillator controls also give you something to write home about. Plus, with 80 presets to choose from, as well as the option to create and save your own presets, finding the right sound from the get-go is as easy as the click of your mouse.
Pros of 808 Studio 2
- Great sound
- Can use your own samples for amazing potential
- Built in sidechain and filters for faster workflow
Cons of 808 Studio 2
- Not a pure 808 emulation
Best 808 Drum Machine VST - Nepheton
D16 Group, the creators of Nepheton, have been making high-end emulations of classic drum machines and synthesizers for many years now. While the company’s 303 emulation was what really staked its place in the VST market, the Nepheton recreation of the famous 808 drum machine is just as impressive.
Nepheton painstakingly captured every little nuance of the original 808 unit, allowing you to import truly analog 808 sounds, into your DAW.
The Nepheton makes use of a unique form of hybrid sequencing. Whether you are a classic drum machine enthusiast or a modern producer, we are sure that you will appreciate how they decided to lay things out. One of the things we really love about the Nepheton emulation is its randomize feature, which provides you with an easy way to dial in one-of-a-kind rhythms and 808 patterns. This can be great when you start to get sick of using the same old patterns again and again.
If the sound of a true 808 emulation is what you want, then the D16 Nepheton is definitely the right plugin for you.
Pros of the Nepheton
- Incredible 808 emulation
- Great sound
- Authentic feel & vibe
Cons of the Nepheton
- Interface can feel overwhelming
Best Free 808 VST - Synsonic 808BD
There’s nothing quite like a great, free plugin! The Synsonic 808BD offers both high-fidelity sounds and operational simplicity. If you want to create solid 808 bass lines in the most intuitive manner possible, then this is one of the best VSTs on the list.
It should be noted that the Synsonic 808BD does not make use of 808 samples. Instead, this VST analyzes vintage bass drum circuits to create unique 808 tones. Of course, you can use MIDI control with it as well, which gives you the opportunity to operate it like you would a bass synthesizer.
Tips to Get the Most out of Your 808 VST
Once you've got your awesome new drum machine fired up, it's time to start making beats! If you're not sure where to start, or want to level up your drum programming skills, be sure checkout the 5 drum programming tricks that every producer needs to know!
After you've got your drums programmed it's time to start mixing. The first thing I reach for when I want slapping drums is an EQ plugin. Here's my epic guide on how to EQ drums.
To really make those drums sit well in the mix though, you'll need a touch of reverb. Maybe some plate reverb on the snare, a touch of room reverb on the kit? Whatever you may want to do, be sure to learn how to use reverb on drums!
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