Synth Site: MAM: FreeBass 383: User reviews Add review
Average rating: 4.9 out of 5
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naylor a hobbyist user from uk writes:
Well worth the money, I got mine for £85. May not cut it with 303 purists out there but it is a viable alternative to the stupid amounts people are paying on them at the moment. It doesnt quite scream like a 303 but thats not to say its far off. Bang some distortion and delay on it and it more than does the job!!! Producers like Sharkey, Kevin Energy, Hixxy etc are using this box right now. Its emulation of the 303 is good enough for me and is better than rebirth. Surprised they go so cheap as theres not that many of them round and you dont see many for sale! Buy one you wont be dissapointed.

Rating: 5 out of 5 posted Friday-Dec-20-2002 at 12:03
Andreas Nordenstam a part-time user from Norway writes:
Have booth of the designs, the FB383 and the MB33, identical except (albeit only slightly) better front panel design on the MB33. Just wanted to say that when I got it I was curious as to what this synth was like compared to the real TB303. So after reverse-enginering the essential parts(VCO, VCF, accent-features etc) I can firmly state:

This is THE real synth! Couldn't have made the circuit look more alike if I had been building it my self from the drawings of the original.

BTW: to clear confusion, the filter is seemingly a standard transistor ladder(moog) with four poles and hence 24 dB/octave, but the poorly matched transistors acts as diodes(like in the Wasp-filter) and that's probably why some people think it's 18.

This is the absolutely real stuff and cost is next to nothing. Enjoy!

Andreas

Rating: 5 out of 5 posted Wednesday-Jan-30-2002 at 08:55
Simon Edwards a part-time user from the UK writes:
FAT Freebass 383 Review by Simon Edwards

During the 30-year history of the portable synthesiser, there have been several favoured attributes which haven't changed a great deal as technology marches on. One is ease of use. Another, price. And there's one which means more than many of us would like to admit: appearance. FAT's Freebass FB-383 is certainly easy to use and inexpensive. As for its looks, well... er. As we shall see, there's sometimes a lot to be said for the aesthetically-challenged amongst us.

MR. BLOBBY?

The Freebass follows the layout of a very small and light 1U rackmount monosynth. The front panel is responsible for the eye damage I implied earlier; it's a sort of blobby camouflage pattern, but in silver and bright orange... Yuck. Distracting our eyes from this monstrosity for a moment, there are two red LEDs: one for Power, and one which acts as a MIDI indicator. There is also a square red button which auto-tunes the synth. This is an addition which I warmly welcome, as it entirely eliminates the tuning problems the original 303 could occasionally have. And, of course, there is the row of black control knobs, which control VCO tuning, wave selection (more on this later), filter cutoff, filter resonance, envelope modulation, accent, envelope decay, and master volume. All are pleasingly large and turn effortlessly. The back panel of the extremely shallow case is much sparser: a socket for the 9v wall-wart power supply, a solitary MIDI In socket, DIP switches to set the unit's MIDI channel, a mono jack for the output and .. what's this? A jack for input to the filter? Mmm, interesting. Could the ugly duckling do double duty?

ACIEEED...

"Refreshingly simple" is the best way to describe how easy the little FAT is to use. Just use the aforementioned DIPs to assign the Freebass to the MIDI channel of your choice, plug it all in, and play. I started by connecting the synth direct to the MIDI Out of my Korg N5. Playing a few notes at the bottom end of the keyboard, I was struck by three things: how warm and round the Freebass' sound was, how velocity was used to switch in Accent, and how playing a note before I'd let go of the previous one resulted in that legendary TB-303 "glide" portamento effect.

Now, in case you're sitting there scratching your head wondering what I'm babbling on about, I shall explain. The Roland TB-303, which the Freebass sets out to emulate, was itself originally intended to be an emulation - of a bass guitar. Yes, I know, I find that hilarious too. It sounds about as much like a bass guitar as I do. Nevertheless, the controls - most of which are replicated on the 383 - were designed with this in mind. So, for example, you had Glide, which allowed a note to slide into another using portamento. The 383 replicates this by using overlapping MIDI notes to trigger the slide. In addition to this, the Freebass also has a 303-style envelope section which affects the filter and the VCA. This takes the form of Decay, which is self explanatory; Env Mod (Envelope Modulation) which controls the effect of the envelope on the 18db/oct filter; and Accent. Accent is one of the things that gives the 303 its unique sound. Basically, notes that are Accented (on the Freebass, this is controlled by their velocity being over 100 or so) will be of shorter duration, higher volume, and higher filter cutoff. It's an effect that's difficult to explain, but easy to recognise when you hear it: that classic 303 "zap" when some notes in a sequence seem to stand out from the others. In all, the Freebass offers all the controls you need for 303 heaven. However, the brash young newcomer has a couple of tricks up its sleeve that Roland's original did not..

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

In addition to the normal 303-style knobs, the Freebass has another for VCO waveform selection. On the original, this was catered for by a simple switch to flick between sawtooth and square waves. However, the Freebass' method is a little different. The knob selects saw when set all the way to the right, and square when to the extreme left; positions in between these two give an interesting blend of the two waves which makes for a unique and useful sound. It's often possible to tweak this knob slightly until the harmonics of the bass sound blend nicely with those in your track - a trick which wroks especially well when using the Freebass for quite deep, simple basslines. Full marks to FAT/MAM for including this feature.

Another useful feature is the mono jack socket on the back panel. This bypasses the VCO and replaces it with an external audio signal, effectively turning the FAT into a stand-alone analogue filter. The output of the synth is still controlled by MIDI note-on and note-off messages; this can make for simple and rather effective gating sounds if used creatively. This feature of the 383 is often overlooked, but it really is tremendously useful for things like vocals and (ironically) bass guitar. Mono drum loops and samples are also an obvious target for this sort of creative abuse. And, of course, there's nothing to stop you buying two units and processing stereo sources with them. Even the cost of a double Freebass dose would compare very favourably with the cost of many dedicated filter units currently available.

SOUND ADVICE

Those of you who are already familiar with the 303 sound will no doubt have skipped right to the last section, wanting to know only one thing: Can the Freebass cut the acid mustard? Well, it certainly sounds very similar. In fact, I think it's one of the best 303 facsimiles I've ever heard. The Accent and Glide features sound very true to the Roland original, the filter with its lovely big Cutoff and Resonance knobs is pleasantly squelchy, and there's altogether a pleasing sound. However, I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that I still think the 303 sound is best imitated by the software program ReBirth RB-338. If you're a die-hard 303 purist, then only that - or the genuine article - will do.

However, there is another side to the coin. Many people (heresy alert) aren't really bothered about exactly how the synth compares to a 303. They care instead about nice big tactile knobs, tuning you can rely on, and the Freebass' sound as a "303-esque" instrument in its own right. Listening with these criteria in mind, the Freebass again pleases. It's nowhere near as noisy as some analogues, though some noise is evident on the output. The filter is warm and effective, the bass is deep, the glides sweep nicely, the accent picks out notes in that legendary acid style, and the waveform knob gives you a nice little range of sonic options that the "real thing" simply can't reproduce.

And the best part? The 383 was last seen sold new by Turnkey, the UK outlet, for a bargain basement £130. All this sound for a bit over £100, with dual use as a filter unit thrown in! If you get the hankering for some new gear, but only have pennies to spend, why not try a bit of acid in your life? You might enjoy the trip. (Man.)

- Simon

Rating: 5 out of 5 posted Thursday-Sep-21-2000 at 22:59
Alex Traska a hobbyist user from Nottingham, UK writes:
First of all, this synth is made by Freeform Analogue Technologies (hence FAT), NOT MAM as stated by Sonic State. This module was built to provide an inexpensive hardware solution to the problem of mimicking one of those annoying little Roland Bass boxes, the TB303, as if it needs any introduction. That may be enough to put you off buying one, it certainly did put me off until I actually tried one out while I was in the Turnkey Music store in London. It can do a lot more than a TB303!!!! The waveform is continuously variable between square and sawtooth waveforms, allowing a wider range of timbre to apper at the output of the (albeit simple) oscillator. Once the signal has been routed through the filters and other usual controls you get some great sounds, especially deep basses that the TB303 couldn't do, much smoother ones. Despite this, there are a few gripes about this module which I am currently adjusting;

1) The front panel of this module is ugly (see the photo). The orange splattered paint job and the big black knobs may be retro, but was the unit made in 1970? no, does it look good next to anything else in the studio (except for the orange in your luchbox)? no. For this reason, I've resprayed the front panel to a nice british racing green colour, with tasteful yellow decals (it looks surprisingly nice!) and replaced the cheap plastic knobs with brushed aluminium ones. I also replaced the plastic autotune button with a nice metal toggle switch and the red LED's with blue ones! This unit now looks dead stylish.

2) The TB303 had a glide feature which could ultimately be TURNED OFF! Freeform analogue technologies - take note! There isn't an option to turn off the glide between the notes which is initiated by holding down one note while pressing the next. This gets annoying when you try to play fast legato type bass lines. Im trying to found out where to put a switch in order to disable this feature when i don't need it.

3) This is something i can't fix....... There isn't a MIDI Thru port on the back, which make adding it to a Midi setup slightly more problematic, essentially it has to have its own port or be placed at the end of your chain.

Anyway, for £100ukp, who cares about these minor problems. I thought this module was going to be crap, you might, but I was pleasntly surprised. I buy another!

Check out reviews of other synths in my studio at www.systemstudio.co.uk

Rating: 4 out of 5 posted Sunday-Mar-19-2000 at 18:17
Tom Finegan a hobbyist user from Germany writes:
I got my MB33 today. It´s the same like the Freebass. I got it used for 95$US. For this price it´s great and does what it does. Screams like 303. And has barely no MIDI like 303. But i love it. Together with the step sequencer and some effects from Logic 4.1 its unbeatable. If you can find it for a cheap price, you can´t go wrong.

Rating: 5 out of 5 posted Tuesday-Jan-11-2000 at 09:24
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