The Roland TB-303 has shaped several music styles with its characteristic basslines. Well-worn vintage originals command a price way beyond its original RRP these days. So yesterday’s announcement of a Roland Boutique reincarnation based on the company’s ACB-modeling technology, is quite something! It will sport the original’s controls and operation but will include some welcome additions such as MIDI, a tempo display and USB-Audio. We had the chance for a quick first listen together with the new Roland TR-09.
What better way to do that, than to get hold of a TB-303 and compare them directly? So I asked around and German trance artist Kai Tracid was kind enough to loan us his trademark instrument for this purpose.
The TB-03’s front is made from sturdy metal, the foot-print is quite similar to the original but it feels heavier. If you turn the unit around, you’ll find access to the battery compartment (4x 1,5 Volts AA) and the angling mechanism also found on the other Boutique instruments (unfortunately made from breakable plastic). What’s more, they fitted a speaker (I’d rather have none and a metal lip for the angling construction instead). Apart from the new tempo display, Roland have thankfully included a trigger in and CV/GATE outputs on the front of the unit, which should make integration with modular systems and old synths really easy. Another detail I have to moan about a bit is the fact that all audio connections on the back are miniscule 3,5 mm sockets (Mix In, Output, Phones). Especially for the Output I would have preferred 6,3 mm! Also fitted are MIDI-In, MIDI Out and a USB connector. Nope – you won’t find a power connector! The only way to power the unit is via USB or batteries. I had some trouble with USB-hum, when I connected my JP-08. So I ended up having to use analog audio out and a USB-power supply… I wish Roland would reconsider this and add the good ol’ power socket in future models.
The sound: First off, I am NOT a TB-303 crack. I Always found the programming a bit, well, tedious – but I love the characteristic bass lines that you create with these units. This might well be down to the unusal programming, where pitch, note length and expression (such as accent and slides) are put in separately AFTER each other. I always lacked the patience for that, so my bonedo.de colleague Stefan stepped in and helped out. In order to judge the sonic quality, we borrowed a proper TB-303 from Kai Tracid and synced them up. Next, Stefan put in the identical phrase into both units – and then we did an A/B comparison with similar settings.
Video: Comparison TB-03 and TB-303
The TB-03 definitely sounds like a TB-303 – but the real thing still has a slight edge. Stefan remarked, that the attack felt slightly “punchier” to him, and that the old unit has certain clicking noises that add to the character. To my ears, it sounded pretty good – only some filter sweeps with the sawtooth sounded a bit harsher than the original. Still, with the arrival of this unit I wouldn’t think twice: For the price of one TB-303 you can buy a TR-09, 2 TB-03 – and still have enough money left over for a trip to Ibiza. The retail price will be approx EUR 350 EUR, and supposedly they will by shipping in October.
- Both units synced up via MIDI and DIN-Sync: gearnews
- The connections on the back - only 3,5 mm for audio unfortunately: gearnews