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

US TB-303 for the 21st Century      14/02/14
    MP4 12:56 mins    

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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.


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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