Important Pieces of Gear From Classic & Modern House

In "From Decks to Drum Machines: The Evolution of Early House Gear," the first of this two-part series, we traced some of the technological changes behind dance music's development in the post-disco era.

In our list below, we highlight just a few pieces of gear that have become emblematic of house music—and that remain relevant today for any producer who either works primarily in house or wants to recall some of its key sonic elements.

Read more about the development of house music in our "House of Pride: Celebrating the Queer and Black history of House."

909s & 808s

Roland TR-909

Where our disco-to-house timeline ends with the 909, we begin again with it here. That's because it—along with the TR-808—were the fulcrum points between proto and proper house music.

The employment of the 909 especially is a demarcation between the disco records of the previous era and the electronic dance music of the following. Instead of mixing or remixing live-recorded drums—tweaking EQ settings and pulling in sub-bass synthesizers to add excitement or low-end into a mix—DJs and producers could access club-shaking kicks, incredible claps, hats, and other percussive elements with a few buttons.

These days, because of the high price on the now-vintage drum machines, relatively few producers employ the hardware versions, opting instead for sample packs or 808- and 909-style sounds on any number of modern pieces of gear. But their impact continues to be long-lasting.

Mr. Fingers - "Can You Feel It?"

Korg M1

Korg M1
Korg M1

One of the best-selling synths of all time, the Korg M1 was first released in 1988. The secret behind the success? The M1 was packed with an incredible amount of quality sounds, effects, and features built in, all while being much more affordable when compared to the multiple units of equipment you'd have to buy in order to match the M1.

From its release forward through the '90s, its piano, organ, bass, and percussion sounds were a bedrock of house music, like the piano and organ sounds heard on Robin S.'s "Show Me Love" (which Beyoncé revived in 2022's "Break My Soul").

There were and are many, many other synthesizers used in the creation of house music—the Yamaha DX7 or Roland's Juno-106, MKS-80, and, later, the JP-8000, to name just a few. But the M1's sounds became so closely associated with '90s house, that to this day contemporary producers who want to nod to that era will still pull one in. Even if, like Kaytranada, they are known better for using Korg's M1 plugin, rather than the hardware itself.

Kaytranada - "Glowed Up" (feat. Anderson. Paak)

Roland TB-303

Roland TB-303

Bass-heavy electronic music had yet to take over in the early '80s, when Roland released the TB-303 Bass Line synth. In an oft-told tale of one person's trash becoming another's treasure (see the 808s and 909s above), Phuture's DJ Pierre and other producers found them for cheap on pawn shop shelves. Soon enough, they were using it to create the signature squelching basslines of acid house.

This one-to-one tie-in between the 303 and a specific house subgenre would be enough to put this small synth in the house hall of fame, but nowadays its timbres stretch even further. Like the M1, a 303 line of any kind is often used as a signifier to these early areas of music, and its sounds are now available on a large range of gear from Roland, Erica Synths, Behringer, and more.

Adonis - "No Way Back"

Pioneer CDJ-2000

Pioneer CDJ-2000s with flight cases

If you look around at clubs today, you'll see that Pioneer's CDJs are fixtures of DJ booths around the world. What you may not know is they've been such fixtures for quite some time.

In 1994, Pioneer launched the CDJ-500, which did nothing short but change DJing forever. This device was the first of many that would create a CD player for DJs, and it had a unique feature that convinced many diehard vinyl enthusiasts to switch over: Master Tempo.

Master Tempo holds the pitch of the track constant, even when you adjust its tempo, which was revolutionary when the CDJ-500 arrived. DJs could mix tracks more seamlessly and expand their remixing creativity in ways that were not previously possible. And it's a feature that DJs (and producers, when working within DAWs) simply take for granted today.

While the 500 was the first CDJ, it certainly wouldn't be the last, nor the last to have lasting effects on how DJs perform.

1998's vibration-proof CDJ-100S was the first to come with built-in effects. 2001's CDJ-1000 was the first that could fully mimic a vinyl turntable with a touch-sensitive platter—meaning you could nudge and break a track just like a direct-drive deck—and it was the first to have a virtual jog wheel on its screen for visual cues.

The CDJ-2000 dominated the landscape since 2009. And today's flagship CDJ-3000 still shares the name of this important lineage of DJ tech, even though it no longer contains a CD drive.

Honey Dijon Boiler Room x Sugar Mountain 2018 DJ Set

Native Instruments Maschine & Komplete

Native Instruments Maschine MKII

House producers in the '80s and '90s had to kit out their studios with (almost a literal) ton of gear: Akai S-series samplers or MPCs to chop up music and acapellas, and plenty of standalone synths and drum machines like we've covered above, plus sequencers and recorders.

(And, one last small foil: To switch between synth models, one had to, you know, own multiple synths—or at least have one that accepted Roland expansion cards.)

Complete systems like Native Instruments' Maschine—a drum machine, sequencer, sampler, synth, and more—that can do it all would've been a pipe dream. Especially when used with NI's Komplete library of synths and presets, these tools are now mainstays of electronic dance producers of all stripes, including house, even if such productions can veer more toward pop, EDM, or tech-house than classic house heads prefer.

Read more about the rise of house music in our "House of Pride: Celebrating the Queer and Black history of House" and "From Decks to Drum Machines: The Evolution of Early House Gear."

House of Pride
Celebrating the queer and Black origins of house
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