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|Roland EF-303 At a Glance Roland News(447) Streaming Video (99)|
|Released: 2000 Version: 0.00|
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When you first look at the EF-303 Groove Effects, you might get the impression it’s an old-school synth box. It’s hard to believe that under the hood is a 20-bit digital effects processor using Roland’s latest professional quality studio processing. This ain’t no toy, folks—this is a serious sound design tool. The EF-303 is designed to be interactive—and that’s what musicians, DJs and engineers crave. |
As I’m sure you’re well aware, most of today’s effects products come in rack modules. And this, of course, means you’re required to navigate through countless screens just to make a basic tweak. As such, the EF-303 is following the same trend that we saw in synthesizer design a few years back: the strong desire for realtime control. Roland responded then by designing products like the MC-505 Groovebox and JP-8000/JP-8080 Analog Modeling Synthesizers, giving musicians scores of knobs and direct interface capability for realtime response. Now with the EF-303, that same power can be found on an effect processor. I like to think of the EF-303 as an interactive “Groovebox” type of effects processor. However, instead of taking a Groovebox pattern and manipulating it into something new, the EF-303 takes music or sounds and makes something new from original audio (a record, CD, etc.) using 16 DSP effects. The first 13 of these effects include everything from reverb, delay, flanger, phaser and pitch shift to Groove algorithms like filter, Slicer, Lo-fi and Ring Mod. These are great for mangling your sound into just about anything imaginable—but what’s really cool are the last five effects, which include vocal processing and actual DSP synthesizers. We’ll get to that later; for now it’s important to realize that you have a box that’ll let you groove with some of the wildest, funkiest effects ever known.
To give you an idea of the in’s and out’s of the EF-303, let’s take it from the top… First, you’ll need to plug in some sort of audio source to the rear inputs. This could be a turntable, CD player, microphone or just about anything else. Start the source, then flip the Effects On switch, choose a patch and you’re off and running. You can even tweak effects parameters such as Delay Time or Flanger Depth in real time using the knobs—and that’s the point.
To fully exploit the power of the EF-303, you’ll need to establish the BPM (Beats Per Minute) of the source audio, so you can manipulate the effects to the beat. Fortunately, this is pretty easy with the EF-303; just tap along with the beat using the Tap Tempo button. Or if it’s a straight ahead groove, use the auto BPM recognition to measure the tempo for you. Then you’ll be able to really begin the process of tweakin’ the sound.
As you can probably imagine, the EF-303 is very BPM-friendly. Once you have the tempo established, you can assign the effects processor to synchronize to the beat by note values all the way from sixteenths to four bars. If you want, you can even split the frequency range to process the high, mid, low or full ranges of the input sound. The EF-303 also has an Effects Balance knob so you can mix the effected sound along with the source sound. Now comes the wacky part of the EF-303. You’ve probably been wondering what all those sliders in the middle are for (hint: it’s not a 16-band graphic equalizer). Those sliders are actually the programming interface for the Step Modulator. What’s the Step Modulator do? Well, that depends on the effect chosen and the setting for the controls. But for now, think of it as a vintage step sequencer capable of automating and controlling a variety of effect parameters including the built-in DSP synth. How you use the Step Modulator is dependent upon how you assign it. For example, let’s say you are playing some music into it at 130BPM. You establish the tempo with the Tap Tempo button and set the Sync type to whole notes. If you press PLAY on the Transport button, the Step Modulator will play sixteen steps or sixteenth notes along with the beat. Now you can select what will be effected by the Modulator. (The row of realtime knobs at the top of the machine affect a specific parameter for the effect selected such as Filter Cutoff or Delay Feedback.) For example, let’s say you want to change the filter cutoff at each step. By pressing the button below cutoff you can set up the EF-303 to adjust the filter cutoff every sixteenth note on at 130 BPM. Want to create a smooth filter sweep? Just set a smooth visual curve with the sliders and let the Step Modulator do all the work. Get the idea? Now think of what happens when you do this to effects like flangers, phasers, ring modulators and delays. Or, imagine using the Step Modulator to pan the music back and forth at the tempo of the tune. It adds a lot of excitement to a mix and can go from subtle to insane.
The EF-303 would be a great value for the first eleven effects alone, but the biggest payoff is towards the end of the second effects bank. Here you’ll find a cool Voice effect that is essentially the BOSS VT-1 Voice Transformer in disguise. Using this effect, you can control the pitch and formant of a voice as it is being played or sung through the EF-303. Make women sound like men or vice-versa. Better yet, make a Darth Vader vocal effect with lots of reverb.
Another great vocal effect is Voice Mod. While essentially a vocoder, what’s different is that you can use either an external source or the built-in DSP synth oscillator for the carrier to affect the signal. This is perfect for turning acapella vocals into that the classic vocoder sound or for taking beats and making synthetic, mechanical-sounding grooves. And since vocoders don’t normally have a Step Modulator built-in, you can make really cool effects by setting steps for each vocoder parameter as it plays.
Even will all this other stuff, the coolest thing about the EF-303 is the onboard DSP synth, found in two distinct effect patches. The first patch, SYN+DELAY, is a basic analog synth sound integrated with a delay. You can set the notes to be played back with the Step Modulator: just program the BPM, set the sync type to determine the note value and set the individual pitches with the sliders. You can really get into this on the second synth patch called SYN BASS. This patch does a very convincing job of emulating the classic Roland TB-303 Bassline. By adjusting the steps on the Step Modulator you can get the same slides, ties and rests that you could program on the TB-303. And as an added bonus, there is a Drive knob on this patch which recreates the infamous “Devilfish” mod to make your sound squeal.
The last effect on the unit is SYN RHYTHM. This again uses the analog modeling of the DSP synth, but this time to create drum sounds. It’s important to realize that these aren’t PCM-sampled sounds like on a modern synth. These are more like the cheesy but oh-so-hip analog drum machine sounds which are now the foundation of many dance music styles. Again, the Step Modulator lets you set the note values; you can get a kick, snare, closed hat and open hat sound per slider. The cool thing is that all the synth sounds can be played polyphonically through MIDI. In fact, the EF-303 is also an extremely MIDI-friendly product, allowing you to send and receive MIDI controller messages via all the effects. Best of all, the Synth patches can be edited in-depth via MIDI for additional control over sounds beyond the front panel.
So if you’re looking for a way to create unique effects in the studio or in a live DJ set, look no further than the EF-303 Groove Effects. With its unique Step Modulator, cutting edge effects and massive realtime control, you can transform your sound in ways never before possible.
Roland EF-303 Specifications:
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EF-303 and all the groove wonders
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