TB or not TB

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 15.02.40

Roland have recently re-issued a modern take on their classic 808, 909 and 303.

But, shock horror, the components are not analogue (they’re using a new technology called Analogue Circuit Behaviour) so the purists are up in arms (except the majority of them when they take the fingers at the end of these arms out of their ears are hard pressed to tell the difference in blind listening tests).

Such is the passion that these instruments engender, the BBC and Forbes have both recently contributed articles on the new models and their original counterparts.

For me, this asks several important questions, firstly, does the equipment you use actually matter ?

Well, actually….no !  The only thing that really does matter is the idea and the execution of the idea (and there’s a lot of truth in the Ginsberg saying of ‘first idea, best idea’).

I’ve had a lot of fun in the past listing the synth’s I used on a particular production, when in reality it’s all come from VST’s (synthesiser emulations inside your computer), but because of the context (ie mentioning their ‘real’ analogue counterparts), interested listeners then ‘assume the truth’ of the sound coming from the real synth and thus the myth becomes the truth (welcome to the world of PR).

The bottom line is that I get inspired by my environment and by sounds (and to a lesser degree by an engaging user interface) and modern VST’s have great sounds by the bucket load, far better than I could program if I sat down with a Yamaha CS80 I’d just paid £15,000 for (yep the prices of these old synth’s have gone through the roof…now there is a great example of PR !)

The second point this raises is that music technology gear lust (as witnessed for example on gearslutz) is really a hobby that is totally separate to (and often gets in the way of) making music and it’s main proponents are usually people that don’t actually make music for a living and even as hobbyists, these people rarely finish pieces of music…they’re too busy on forums trying to figure out which VST’s (sorry, hard to get expensive old synths) Boards of Canada use.

Let’s be honest, in this day and age, anyone thats bothered to learn the craft of production (so not very many then !) can pretty easily get a computer only ‘in the box’ production to sound like it’s come from a bunch of old synths recorded in dusty old studio to tape, so the last word should go to Joe Meek  ‘If it sounds good, it is good’.




Cosmic Spacedog

Nicely put Mark, I agree with your comments. Basically, there is no substitute for creativity. And BTW, I might not buy many, but I like the production on IF records!


Again, I agree with your points. The main thrust of the post was to make the point that it doesn't matter where the sound comes from...what matters is the idea. My contention is against people who focus on the providence of the sound more than the finished piece of music and actually use that as an argument to either never finish a piece of music or troll on forums against people who don't share their elitist analogue point of view. If I use a Mode Machines Professor Controller with the Arturia Prophet V plugin to get a great sound it doesn't matter that it didn't come from a 30 year old Prophet V. I've owned most of these original synths and so when I come to program an emulation I know what I'm doing and how to get it to sound close enough without worrying about 100% authenticity. I've chosen to live in a remote part of Ibiza with no synth tech's within a thousand miles so I'd rather use VST's with custom / knobby controllers and live where I do than live say in London and own a vintage analogue or two. I use music as a form of creative expression and communication and with that perspective in mind all that matters (to me) is the idea and the speed at which I can execute it…not where the sounds come from. But let's be clear...I totally agree with your point about the glut of shit music that modern DAW's have engendered - no production skills, no desire to learn a craft, just....how quick can we bang out a series of loops, turn then into a sausage waveform, get it on Beatport and then create a vacuous social media campaign etc etc. When I started out (here we go) the first major 'filter' was that you needed £10,000 to start a home studio so you had to be very dedicated to a/ do a load of shitty jobs and b/ learn what you had inside out when you had saved up for it and that alone stopped every man & jack from making music and I think certainly, the quality of electronic music in general terms was a lot higher back then. There were also more limitations in terms of the working process, so you had to learn interesting and quirky workarounds and that (the journey) was part of the experience and I think a large part of the greater uniqueness of music back then was due to these limitations and the experiments they encouraged. Actually a great motto for making music is: Sophistication Through Simplicity. International Feel has, for the past 5 years stood firm and proud against that mentality, we've put artists first, regardless of the financial cost to the label and every step of the process has been about quality…the mastering, the cut, the 180g vinyl, the artwork etc etc. But the key point here, is that to swing into action on an artists behalf, we need a finished piece of music…not a purists forum post about the validity on an analyser of one sound source over another.

Cosmic Spacedog

Firstly, for the majority the new Roland TB3 probably sounds fine, but it is really just a glorified plug in IMO. OK real 303's are a pain to program, but in the flesh they have a bite and a sound that is unique. Secondly, there is a mass of mediocre music out there today and software synths, logic and the like are somewhat to blame. Consequently, very rarely do current releases surprise me, they are often predictable and lack life. Serendipidity is a strong musical force and old hardware synths with lots of knobs lend themselves to this. Old synths also have a unique sound due to there imperfections that few software synths can match. Give me the sound of a real 808, 909 and 303 any day.


Fair Points. I did mention it briefly in the post but I'll say it again now so it stands out in isolation.....beyond the idea the next most important things are...user interface and tactility - I'd rather spend money on getting my studio set up ergonomically exactly as I want it and building interfaces either in the Ipad or working with boutique controller builders to allow me to work really quickly when inspiration strikes than worrying about maintaining a vintage synth (after all I'm the guy that spent $2k on a controller for the Arturia Minimoog !). The key point for me is that the idea is king and if the sound for that idea comes from a soft synth emulating a Jupiter or from a Jupiter itself....I don't care, I do care about finishing music, making sure that the final arrangement tells the narrative I want to get across and then releasing it to try and make a connection with people through my music. I've lost too many hours thinking about hardware synths…it's fun, but it's not music !


Although I partially agree with you, especially on the blind test issue, there are certain points to be made that distinguish the real synth from the software one. Like any technology they more or less voluntarily push the user into working in a certain way which in turn creates a certain kind of sound. So, there is a huge difference between, for example, programming beats on a real 909 and then arranging them with it's internal song sequencer from doing the same with 909 samples within a software sequencer. I think that is what an experienced ear picks up on more than the difference in the actual sound. Of course you could go through the laborious process of faking all of it with software but that would be tedious and feel like you are fighting against the technology. Also in defense of gearslutterz - anyone that has messed about with a hardware synth will agree that the tactile connection with the sound machine is definitely something that deserves glorification. peace

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 + = 11