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Why Roland’s new 303 and 909 might even be better than the originals

One, two, three – Roland has finally made the 303 bassline, 909 drum machine, and VP-330 vocoder that so many people wanted. They’re small, they’re really affordable ($349-399), and they’ve got modern features. But after decades of remakes that strayed from the very things that made people love the originals, at last Roland has learned from their own legacy. So, let’s talk about what’s new and what, mercifully, isn’t.

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Watch these video reviews of 303, 909 and comparisons to originals

Now, with the embargo lifted on new Roland gear, brace yourself for a lot of discussion. On some level, any comparison of a $349-$399 new gadget to anything before it is a bit silly – when original 909s start selling for three figures, let us know. And I think starting with a direct comparison misses the point: the TR-909 and TB-303 sound terrific, and you’re unlikely to record or play either totally dry. (Classic records, uh, used processing too, ya know?) Relax and go enjoy a great drum machine and bassline.

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Roland and Serato made a monster DJ controller that does everything

What do you get when you combine Roland and Serato? Well, a little bit of everything, it turns out. The flagship DJ-808 is a monster mixer controller sampler step sequencer audio interface drum machine vocoder. (Whew!) Some of its functionality is provided in the hardware itself; some is a control interface to Serato software on a computer. But together, you get a device that is perhaps the most ambitious all-in-one DJ gizmo yet.

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Maschine Jam is new hardware built around live performance

These days, various combinations of faders and touch sensors and grids of pads and buttons and encoders and knobs appear with cyclic regularity. We’re past the point of inventing the automobile – we’re down to tuning particular cars for particular tasks. But what do you want to use if you’re really playing live? Maschine Jam is a combination of software and hardware that focuses on that scenario. We’ve met with the team that built it at Native Instruments and have our own unit in now to test, so here are some first impressions.

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fluXpad is an insanely immediate music drawing tool for iPad

Make an interface simpler, and you might push your musical expression further. That’s the realization you have using fluXpad, a new drawing app. It’s not that it’s a dumbed-down rendition of other tools. It’s that doodling with sounds is a totally different experience than the point-and-click fine editing you might be used to.

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Novation just packed more into small, affordable Circuit box

It’s tiny. It’s battery powered. It costs just over US$300 street. But Novation’s Circuit sample/drum/synth groovebox has been squeezing in a whole lot of functionality that makes it into a really serious tool, great for starting ideas or jamming or playing live. And we’ve been testing the latest build, version 1.3, for some days now. It’s available to everyone free right now, and it adds some significant changes that make this tool more flexible than ever. Let’s have a look.

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Meet Skram, the free iPad app full of patterns and synths

We’ve reached the mature age of music apps. You’re likely to use fewer of them, and the landscape is saturated with the most popular ideas. It’s also clear that iPad, not Android, is the viable tablet platform. But the few apps that are left standing as serious music tools are better than ever. They’re easier to integrate with your computer and standalone hardware, and they feel more like instruments and less like toys. They walk some line between making music production more accessible to beginners, and offering refreshing simplicity to people who are mixing them with other gear. And Skram, …

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This is the new DJ mixer from Xone creator and Richie Hawtin

If a DJ mixer could be anything you wanted, what would it be? That question isn’t actually that easy to answer. DJ mixers have a fairly defined set of functions, and not a lot of obvious room for variation. They have become more or less a commodity product as a result. And even as we’ve seen high-end mixers, those have tended to be simply a spendier version of the same commodity. So, maybe the news that Richie Hawtin was working on a new mixer, teased out over the past few months, didn’t interest you at first. But, having had a …

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Tested: Chromaphone 2 has kinder, gentler acoustic modeling

If it feels at times like everything has been done in sound synthesis, every new sound uncovered, then look to physical modeling for a way forward. This collection of techniques simulates the way sound is produced by acoustic objects. Applied Acoustics Systems (AAS) of Montreal has been one of the leaders in that field – and they’ve got a new product out that might be the friendliest offering in this field yet.

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Tested: Apple finally lets you charge and use USB on iPad

Tools like the iPad have brought us lots of nice new things – day-long batteries, ultra-thin lightweight devices, beautiful touchable apps, less time spent troubleshooting. But then they’ve also forced us to make weird choices. Do you want electricity or do you want accessories. (Um, both? Wait, what?!) And so it is that I’m writing this piece of news. Now, you can plug into a wall for electricity! (Wow!) And, you can use USB accessories! And you don’t have to choose!

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