This is the one for me. There are a thousand decent clones of the 909 drum machine but nothing has come close to that little Bassline box. Oh sure the sound has been sampled, emulated and replicated but there’s something about the TB-303 hardware and interface that makes it more than just the sound. The TB-03 gives us that in spades.
Now for full disclosure I need to say that my experience of the TB-303 is only via Rebirth RB-338, the iconic software realisation by Propellerhead. So, in many ways I am totally unsuited to comment upon the TB-303 hardware. However, I loved Rebirth, made a load of music with it and found the TB-303 interface to be completely inspirational. I had no idea what I was doing of course but I found a lot of joy in the accidental creation of melody.
Ralf was lucky enough to get his hands on the TB-03 over the weekend and made a video comparing it directly to an original TB-303. You can read all about that adventure here. Although he was able to draw out some differences I think most of us would struggle to identify them in use. The upshot of this is simply to say that with Roland’s ACB technology the sound of the TB-03 is bloody brilliant.
The look is all there, it’s exactly what you want to see. It’s unchanged and works just like the original. But they haven’t stopped there, Roland have added to the feature set. There’s an LED display for the simple task of showing what the heck is going on. They’ve included an overdrive and delay effect which were used to great effect in Rebirth – maybe that’s what prompted the inclusion. And of course it has MIDI and USB which can also be an audio interface like all of the Roland Boutique range.
The programming has been made easier. People talk about it being a pain to program, but I never found that. I probably wasn’t using anywhere near the full potential: pitch-time-step-pitch-time-step and then wiggle cutoff and resonance. But then I’m easily pleased. Anyway, you can now enter a sequence by simply playing the little keyboard – genius!
Sadly Roland are sticking with the format of mini-jack outputs and no dedicated power supply. You can power via USB or otherwise it’s batteries. Batteries are cool and everything and with the built-in speaker makes it very mobile but I’d like at least the option of a wall-wart. It does, however, have full fat MIDI ports. CV/Gate output has been relocated to the top of the unit for easier patching to analogue and modular gear. I would have liked to have seen a couple more patch points. Hardware modders have long included CV/Gate in as well as accent and filter points. And finally a Trigger input ensures that the sequencer keeps time to a master analogue clock.
It’s a simple box from 30 years ago with an iconic and sought after sound. At £329 it seems expensive considering what you could get in Arturia and Korg hardware for that money but I’ve no doubt these will fly off the shelves.
More information available on the Roland TB-03 website.
For more on all the Roland 909-Day releases check out our full coverage here.