Cherry Audio CR-78 masterfully updates a classic beatbox for the 21st century

Cherry Audio recreates the drum machine that revolutionised popular music and adds some extra goodies of its own

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Cherry Audio CR-78

Cherry Audio CR-78

Review Overview

Our rating


Our verdict

Fun, playable and inspiring beatbox
Friendly and logical layout and workflow
Tweakable individual sounds
Cool effects section adds interest
Seriously affordable
Multi-out version for your DAW



It’s surprising that a plugin developer as prolific as Cherry Audio hasn’t made a drum machine until now. The purveyor of affordable virtual classic synths has turned its attention to the Roland CompuRhythm CR-78 from 1978, widely regarded as the first drum machine, made in a form we would still recognise today. Loved by artists as diverse as Blondie, Genesis, Underworld and Fatboy Slim, its classic sounds never really fell out of favour and you’re as likely to hear them on something released last month as on something from decades ago. At the time, its analogue drum sounds and ability to store up to four custom beats were revolutionary.

As you might expect, Cherry’s version recreates and expands on the original. Rather than samples, Cherry modelled an original unit and CR-78 generates sound digitally, giving you far more control than you would have had on the hardware. It uses the developer’s familiar wrapper; a plugin or standalone system that incorporates MIDI and preset management, oversampling control and the Focus interface zoom, though that’s less essential here than on some of the much more complex synths.

The instrument feels snappy and CPU-kind and has a tiny footprint of just 60 MB. Users of other Cherry instruments will be glad to know it has also released a free product manager app where you can manage updates to all your synths.

How to use the CR-78

The designers have stuck largely to the layout of Roland’s original, with some changes to incorporate new features but compared to the fiendish complexity of some synths it’s all pretty straightforward.

The main panel lets you use two main modes, Preset and User.

In Preset mode, the sequencer displays a selection of preset rhythms like rock, bossa nova, disco and so on, and on the left, Variation and Measure controls let you switch between different patterns, breaks and fills within that preset. These can be switched manually or using MIDI automation and sequencing like this is very much in line with the behaviour of a real, old drum machine.

Cherry Audio CR-78 presets
Cherry Audio CR-78 presets

In User mode, you get more control and the sequencer switches to a conventional 16- or 24-step row of buttons, with each element selected either from the large dial or from a dropdown menu. Just go through each one and punch in the patterns, building as you go and using the Accent control to add bits of flam and other interest, along with the six Swing presets to inject a more syncopated feel to your beats.

It’s easy to copy and paste patterns between slots and, in Song mode, you can chain patterns together. There’s even a panel to drag and drop patterns directly out as MIDI files which is perfect for quickly assigning other instruments to beats. A multi-output version of the plugin is also supplied so if you like you can process each channel separately in your DAW.

In Voice Edit mode, you’ll find independent control over each of the 14 sounds. It’s simple but effective, with most having Pitch and Decay sliders for quick editing, and some a couple of extras. This isn’t any kind of extreme sound shaping, just basic tweaks and the pitch functions mean you can create melodic patterns as well as rhythmic; something reflected in some of the presets.

Copying a preset pattern on the Cherry Audio CR-78
Copying a preset pattern on the Cherry Audio CR-78

What effects does the Cherry Audio CR-78 have?

The effects and mixer section is a big upgrade over the original CR-78.

Each element has level, mute, solo and pan as well as access to four insert effects (reverb, delay, flanger and overdrive). Each effect has a bunch of controls to change the way it sounds and behaves and, by selectively adding some overdrive, delay and reverb to a few instruments, it’s easy to punch your beats up, bringing depth, warmth and a sense of dynamism to these otherwise dry sounds.

There’s also a master compressor and six-band EQ that is helpful in lifting and shaping the master output of the drum machine.

How good are the presets in Cherry Audio CR-78?

In the main Preset mode, you’ll see all 34 of the original instrument’s rhythms and variations but obviously there’s a large library of custom presets too; over 250, plus an add-on pack available to buy. These are made of kits and also melodic presets which as mentioned earlier use differently-pitched sounds to create basslines or melodies.

Each preset loads a kit and a pattern so you are free to use a pattern as is, modify it, or clear the sequence and re-program your own. Programming is simple and can be done by clicking a button, using the Trigger pad, or input from your own MIDI device.

Cherry Audio CR-78 FX
Cherry Audio CR-78 FX

Should you buy the Cherry Audio CR-78?

Cherry Audio has struck a nice balance between going far beyond the very limited capabilities of the original hardware but also maintaining its feel and ease of use. If you’re using a drum machine like this, you’re after its specific character and sound. For those who want more toys there are plenty of flashier products out there.

This old-style method of sequencing has had something of a resurgence in popularity thanks to the renaissance of modular synths, though in software format here it does feel more fun and easier to grasp, with the odd right-click or drag-and-drop standing in for the multiple button-shift-presses which can slow you down on the hardware. Arguably, there’s the feel of analogue sequencing but without the hassle.

Sonically speaking, what you hear is pretty much what you get, which is a good thing. These classic analogue drum sounds are still very much in demand across many genres and while there are numerous drum machines out there – maybe even built into your DAW – the CR-78 brings the sound of a bona fide classic to your projects, with expanded new features making it more flexible than before.

It also happens to be inspiring and fun to play, with almost every control right there in front of you like it would be on a real drum machine. Cherry’s usual appealing pricing – a 30-day free trial and then just $49 to buy – makes this an easy sell.

Cherry Audio CR-78 voice edit
Cherry Audio CR-78 voice edit

Key features

  • Plugin and standalone operation
  • 34 original presets plus 250 more
  • Digital modelling of original instrument
  • 16- or 24-step programming
  • Song mode with 99 patterns and steps
  • Effects and mixer section
  • Drag and drop of MIDI
  • Individual sound editing
  • External MIDI sound triggering
  • Multiple swing settings

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