Roland revives the TR-808

The classic beatbox – not an expensive clone or a collection of cleverly-tweaked samples – is back. Roland's TR-08 directly models the original machine's analog circuits to recreate its sound as accurately as possible with modern digital technology, and joins revived versions of the TR-909[Amazon] and TB-202[Amazon] in the company's lineup of boutique boxes.

The TR-08 brings the look, sound, and feel of the original 808 — with stunning accuracy — to the Roland Boutique format. From the instantly-recognizable red-orange-yellow-white markings, the shape of the sequencer buttons, switches and knobs are details that have been painstakingly reproduced to match the iconic recreation of sounds. Along with the aesthetic touches, the TR-08 contains new features like 16 sub-steps for fast rolls, independent trigger out track, compression/gain/tune for instruments and a selectable modified “long decay” bass drum for more of that legendary BOOM!

Unpopular opinion time! The Boutique stuff is cute and it is best, but if you just want all the classic beats in convenient form on a modern drum synth, the Roland Aira[Amazon] seems a more pragmatic choice.

Roland recently asked Propellerheads to quit selling Rebirth too, which seems hamhanded but at least suggests the company's taking a welcome interest in exploiting its own technical heritage. The cease-n-decisting of web-based tribute toys is sad and alarming. Read the rest

Roland's selling "faithful" new versions of classic synths

You can get close with modern clones of the TB-303 bassline synthesizer and the TR-909 drum machine, but Roland made the originals, and it's making them again. They're not identical—being smaller, for starters—but they're taking the job seriously and response seems very positive: users say the new models are faithful and improved. The lineup is being sold as "Roland Boutique" and I doubt I'll be able to resist for long.

But here’s where I’ll say something blasphemous:

I think insisting on using the original 303 and 909, at their current used prices, is absurd. And not only that, but it cuts anyone who doesn’t have large chunks of disposal income out of the joy of using these instruments. That’s ironic for instrument whose legacy was built on being essentially undesirable – an unwanted machine that got into the hands artists who abused them in creative ways.

Don’t get me wrong: if you’ve got an original TB-303 or a TR-909, good for you, and enjoy! But with reliability failing and prices continuing to clime, this simply isn’t an option for a lot of people. (Ironically, it’s easier to make a 17th century viola da gamba last than electronic instruments, so we’re always going to have to deal with making new gear.)

What’s special about the TB-303 and TR-909 remakes is that they actually give you what you want. They give you the sound and the design. But they also do the other things you’d wish for – they’re convenient, they’re not expensive, and they have some modern additions that make them more usable and fun to play.

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Innovation and unpredictability: everyone needs a 303 (but not for $1,500)

Photo: Kleine Gelbe Ente This post is brought to you by Columbia Pictures "Moneyball"

The novelty of disruputive technology soon becomes second nature. Social networking made the web intimate, a lingua franca to even the barely computer-literate, but its real achievement was to make itself mundane. Apple gobbled the Walkman market whole in just a few years. But the iPod is already at least three revolutions ago in Cupertino. In consumer electronics, the light always burns bright and brief. Read the rest