If you pick up the new Roland Boutique Series TB-03, you get more than just an emulation of the squelchy 303 bass synth. As with the AIRA TB-3 before it, the hardware is also a sequencer. So that means it’s capable of creating basslines for the internal instrument – or external gear, too. What’s special about the new TB-03 is that it both recreates the classic original 303 sequencer, and introduces a new, modern “reboot” of the same. Now we get to see how they differ in a pair of videos released by Roland.
First, let’s have a look at the recreation of the original.
To anyone who says that making a recreation of vintage hardware is boring, one reason to do so is precisely this. You get a unique way of thinking about melody that something like the pattern editor in Ableton Live doesn’t really give you. And it’s always there in hardware, too. If you’ve got a pair of headphones and some batteries, you can lie in bed and make up basslines, without Facebook notifications distracting you or anything like that.
And it’s the limitation of the 303 sequencer that’s interesting. It forces you to divide a melody into steps, as does any step sequencer, but also to separate the idea of melody from rhythm.
And, of course, accents and slides pair with the sound of the instrument to produce a unique sound.
Okay, so it’s classic, we’re done, move on.
Well, no — here, Roland have remixed their own vintage design. So now, have a look at Roland’s new step sequencing mode:
You still have the classic 303 panel layout, with that adorable and immediate access to different rhythmic values. (It really is a clever and economical design.) The difference is, now you can make sequences while the pattern runs, adding timing on the fly. You can hear results right away, and the whole process is more immediate. (You can still scroll through and adjust pitches if you want.)
I actually love that you get a choice of modes here. I think they’re both pretty easy to understand, and switching between them could be a way to keep from running out of ideas.
Oh, except every time I see that NORMAL MODE button, my head does this:
It’s worth saying that the original AIRA TB-3 was pretty clever itself, though, with that KORG KAOSS-like touch interface. I’m partial to the new TB-03 – I think the form factor, editing functions, sound, and overall functionality represent a better option. On the other hand, the original AIRA is still a good value, and could keep existing users happy or represent a nice buy on the used market.
But I’m really excited to get my hands on the TB-03 for an extended period of time (like, you know, maybe forever). Any day now. Just say the word, Roland.