Review: Roland AIRA TB3 - Acid For The 21st Century

TB-303 for the 21st Century      14/02/14

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As the fatman said - Everybody Needs A 303.

And now thanks to Roland finally succumbing to pressure, you can have one or at least a TB3. And it ain't going to cost you two grand. Thats the thing, this new reimagining of the classic Acid machine TB-303, the happy accident - they thought they were making a replacement for a bass player for auto accompaniment, has been reborn.


Strangely, Roland aren't the first, people have been attempting and largely succeeding to make hardware and software emulations of this classic due to it's crazy 2nd hand price.

So the TB3 Touch BassLine has arrived - it's taken the basic functions of the TB-303 and put it in a new form, gone is the button keyboard, it's got a Touch Pad for playing in notes and other functions, an (up to) 32 step sequencer with shuffle and a VA synth engine plus effects.

 

There's a clue there, although it does the classic Saw and Square of the original, the synth engine actually had a four osc synthesizer of undetermined origin. Perhaps it's related to the System-1?

With three banks of presets, you get classic 303 (bank A) straight and with added effects - reverb/delay/drive then bank B more general bass sounds and bank C more "out there".

 

All of these effects are modified with cutoff and resonance, effects depth, envelope depth plus a modulation - which is triggered via the pressure of the X/Y pad.

It's good, but it does rather highlight the fact that you cannot actually modify anything else in the synth - it's a preset machine.

I cant say I'm a 303 expert, but it sounds good and I'm told that the basic 303 emulations are actually pretty spot on, the additional effects give you some of those classic processed sounds - I was channeling Josh Wink there for a moment. I even found some Heaven 17 in there I think.


The sequencer is a lot easier to use than on the original, up to 32 steps with a triplet scale available opens up most grooves. You have the slide, accent and rest options which are nicely placed above the virtual keyboard backlit on the pad when in play mode. There's also a real-time record mode which is very handy, though no metronome to work to. Clocking can be taken over MIDI or USB- I hooked up the TR8 and we were jamming without fuss.


Just to take a look at connections - we have headphones out, stereo output on 2 1/4 jacks, MIDI I/O plus a USB connection. Interestingly as well as MIDI io over USB, you have Audio! Thats right, you can record directly into the computer over USB as inputs, and output your computer to the main stereo outputs. I'm not sure exactly how useful this is but there you go.


Scatter - same looping/buffer effect as on the TR8 with 8 presets and depth tackled via the touch pad. Not something you might use on a daily basis but at least it's there.


Conclusion

I dont have a 303, nor do I crave one, but I have it on good authority that is does sound very authentic. I can also confirm that it has plenty of bottom end and quite a wide variety of sounds, though it would have been nice to have access to some more parameters.

If you must have a hardware 303 in your life, then this is undoubtedly the best value, though even so at £245 street, I feel it's a tad expensive for a preset machine, even though you'll pay many hundreds more for an original or other analog clone.

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32 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
Adam Bailey    Said...

Ugh, THERE IS ENOUGH 303 MUSIC ALREADY!

14-Feb-14 03:12 AM


BAD MiND    Said...

@Adam Bailey: ....NEVAAAAAAR!

14-Feb-14 03:39 AM


Lu    Said...

Hey Nick, it looks like a pretty good sequencer, and it has midi out right... So is it conceivable that it could be used as someone's sequencer for their little phattu or whatever other synths they have - not to try to sound like a 303, but to have an affordable intuitive sequencing unit? (Hoping for midi din)

14-Feb-14 04:24 AM


Nick B    Said...

Lu, yes the sequencer transmits MIDI, but I think for the price you'd want a bit more from a hardware sequencer no?

You do get plenty of patterns though -64 which I guess is a good thing.

14-Feb-14 04:46 AM


brandon    Said...

Why the funk do people go to a page that is about an acid machine then say there is enough 303 music. This is a great looking and sounding machine. I make acid tracks and have been into it since 88.Well done Roland and respect to sonic state. Nice to see these machines in the hands of the non musos. Long live acid. DJ Pierre respect .

14-Feb-14 05:05 AM


Coen Bavinck    Said...

I cant wait for a full view on that 808 clone Nick, great review though! Keep up the good work!

14-Feb-14 05:25 AM


Nick B    Said...

Coen, I posted that this morning too....

14-Feb-14 06:16 AM


Dan    Said...

Bloody hell they're only 20 years too late!

14-Feb-14 08:05 AM


S R Dhain    Said...

preset sound m/c or no, the facts are that the originals are now OVER 30 years old, most have had a tough life, and those that haven't are going for starship money. This is pretty supersonic and at 245 or close it's sweet sweet sweet!

14-Feb-14 08:21 AM


rbmusic    Said...

i think the product line sounds fantastic and i love the hands on control. i mean this is what i have gone back to and bought in a lot more hardware. sick of 12 hours in front of 3 screens and GUI's. the price point is looking sensible, the performance aspect is very encouraging. even for a machine you can lose yourself in and move away from the pc, it gets my vote. the purist argument is truly boring me to tears.like anyone outside of a studio will care one iota. System 1 looks like a cool idea if we can import in some classic synths and filters etc. the hating side of Roland, i dont get.life is too short lol

14-Feb-14 08:36 AM


Paul_Glenn    Said...

Does this mean my TB-303 has no value now??

14-Feb-14 08:46 AM


Tim Webb    Said...

Can you record your gestures on the Env Mod X/Y, with the real-time recorder? Or in any other way sequence the Env Mod?

Lossing the dedicated Env/Decay knobs is going to be a big disappointment I fear. A key part of the Acid sound is the sharp filter sweep of the Env Mod against a high resonance. I mean juggling those two knobs is the essence of the corrosive character.

I'm not sure I'm bothered by it being a preset machine, because in the same light the original was also kind of a preset machine... Only with 2 options, for Saw or Square.

14-Feb-14 09:19 AM


Gustavo    Said...

I think Roland can potentially sell a lot of these to all those acid/trance/dance music guys. The interface seems well thought out and compared to its direct competitors from Korg, it is a superior sequencing machine.

BUUT for most of us synth heads, fans of the analog and worshippers of knobs, the fact that it sounds great but you cannot edit its sounds means that it will lose agains the mighty Volcas, which are analog and editable.

Still, it makes me feel good to see something from Roland that does meet expectations, because as said by Tim Webb, the original was also a kind of preset machine.

14-Feb-14 10:26 AM


Help For Heroes is Pity dressed up as national Pride    Said...

As much as I love the Tb 303 sound, they can be used in lots of none typical ways. Protection by Massive Attak , is an example which uses a 303 throughout it in a gentle way. The detail via the accent control really can add subtle but strong detail and enhance the bass presence. At the end of the day this Tb 3 gives us a mono synth with effect , plus a step sequencer. This machine has more uses than hypnotising a cellar full of acid house freaks. I like the sound of these machines. Those paying silly money for 303's should spend time trying to write funky acid lines before they think they are acid aficionado just cause they own one. Again for those of us into cheap mono synths, we just got a new one to use and abuse. Nice one Roland.Nick you do good reviews. At one point I was beginning to think we would never hear anything other than apple this and apple that. Nice to see the passion return for synths on here.

14-Feb-14 10:49 AM


Adam Bailey    Said...

Roland always imitates, never innovates. Now they're imitating themselves, again.

Save up, get a Teenage Engineering OP-1, or an Elektron thing, or any of the hundred other fresh new options and make way better music.

14-Feb-14 12:06 PM


Sander J Alkemade    Said...

Nick how does this new box compare to say Volca Bass ?

14-Feb-14 04:42 PM


Lee    Said...

Hang on a minute people! Why are you all so negative about the Aira range of stuff? For years we have been begging Roland to reissue the originals and finally Roland do and you are all complaining! Why? I bet you aint even had a play with it yet, let alone A-B them.... Until ypu actually get your hands and ears on them to try for yourselfs (no watching/listening to youtube videos dont count) please dont slag them off! It seems Roland have done the originals justice from the videos and audio ive heard but until i actually visity local music store i will refrain from any opinions about them! Rant over

14-Feb-14 04:55 PM


Lee    Said...

Hang on a minute people! Why are you all so negative about the Aira range of stuff? For years we have been begging Roland to reissue the originals and finally Roland do and you are all complaining! Why? I bet you aint even had a play with it yet, let alone A-B them.... Until ypu actually get your hands and ears on them to try for yourselfs (no watching/listening to youtube videos dont count) please dont slag them off! It seems Roland have done the originals justice from the videos and audio ive heard but until i actually visity local music store i will refrain from any opinions about them! Rant over

14-Feb-14 04:56 PM


Lee    Said...

Hang on a minute people! Why are you all so negative about the Aira range of stuff? For years we have been begging Roland to reissue the originals and finally Roland do and you are all complaining! Why? I bet you aint even had a play with it yet, let alone A-B them.... Until ypu actually get your hands and ears on them to try for yourselfs (no watching/listening to youtube videos dont count) please dont slag them off! It seems Roland have done the originals justice from the videos and audio ive heard but until i actually visity local music store i will refrain from any opinions about them! Rant over

14-Feb-14 04:58 PM


Roly    Said...

I bet it won't be long before the they rebox the mc09 ....... Oh! It looks like they just did.

15-Feb-14 05:43 AM


The Guvnor    Said...

They should re-release the MC4 so we can all do our sequencing from a numeric keypad again and load everything from cassette.

16-Feb-14 06:55 PM


Mel    Said...

There's not enough GOOD 303 music yet.

17-Feb-14 07:44 AM


ThanksForAllTheFish    Said...

Is there any way we could see a real tb-303 vs tb3 video? Seeing as how the tr-8 was compared it seems like a great opportunity to see how much work roland put into the emulation. Maybe a 303 vs x0x vs tt-303 vs tb3? Overkill? Totally. Sure would gets lots of attention though.

21-Feb-14 08:40 AM


)neyed    Said...

Too _ Little _ Too Late _ Too much Green .

22-Feb-14 09:05 PM


)neyed    Said...

Too _ Little _ Too Late _ Too much Green .

22-Feb-14 09:05 PM


JT    Said...

Gosh this sounds bad. The sound of virtual analog is so grating.

23-Feb-14 03:44 PM


lord    Said...

wait six months and you can buy it on ebay for less than $ 100 (remember MC303)

25-Feb-14 03:34 AM


Benedict J    Said...

Did the original TB303 record all automation movements as part of the loop?

Does this?

11-Mar-14 04:24 PM


cs    Said...

You can create your own patterns. Overide parts of existing patterns also. You arnt stuck with presets which someone mentioned above. Ive played one recently

18-Mar-14 11:51 AM


Damon    Said...

Just got one and it's pretty good.....you can set up your own patterns which are saved. There are some really powerful sounds too.

01-May-14 09:40 AM


Stanford    Said...

Nick Batt's reviews are by far the best. I used a TB303 and TR606 back in the 1980s and I loved them. BUT the AIRA TB3 has a wider range of sounds, midi, usb, effects, and is much more playable, programmable, recordable , fun and better value than the original ever was. Further more you can crank up analog emulators to much higher volumes without blowing speakers or making peoples ears bleed. I have real Moogs and I have a 15yr old Virus b which can sound more Moogy than my real Moogs. If in doubt buy analog emulation and if doubts persist then get counselling.

15-May-14 09:54 AM


Graham    Said...

I got one of these 3 weeks ago. I have always wanted to make acid. Now I can! Yum yum. And the X/Y piano thing is ace. I can make really spooky sounds or sharp stabs and industrial sounding things. Wicked!

26-Aug-14 10:17 AM


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