This new clone of the legendary Roland TB-303 claims to be one of the most realistic replicas ever made – both in terms of its sound and its appearance. We put it to the test and take the opportunity to discuss the value of vintage classics and the age-old question of whether clones harm their value.

bassbot

The Roland TB-303 is one of the most iconic pieces of electronic music gear ever made. It’s overly simplistic to suggest that acid house exists solely because of a few Chicago producers discovering a unique way to use the 303 – or that acid house necessarily needs to involve 303-style sounds – but the entire genre nevertheless owes a major debt to the unit Roland originally intended as an accompaniment tool for solo musicians or bands without a real bass player.

For a unit which is so widely described a commercial failure, Roland sold a hell of a lot of 303s. The company claims to have manufactured 10,000 of them between the model’s release in 1982 and its discontinuation in 1984 (other sources suggest that it’s twice as many, but we’ll take Roland’s word for it). That may well have been considered a failure in the eyes of the ultra-competitive Japanese synth giant, but it’s still equal to the number of TR-909s sold, or five times as many as the Jupiter-8.

We’ve all heard those apocryphal tales of 303s being thrown away by disgruntled jazz musicians frustrated at their inability to replicate a Charlie Mingus bassline, but even if we accept that all those stories are true, there’s still a hell of a lot of 303s out there. Nevertheless, second-hand prices continue to rise exponentially.

TT-303

logoThe continuing demand for 303s has spawned a thriving market for sound-alikes which stretches all the way back to the mid 90s, when companies including Novation, Doepfer, MAM and Syntecno launched models attempting to cash in on the demand. Even the first widely popular soft-synth was a 303 clone.

Despite the proliferation of hardware clones, it’s notable that companies have always shied away from aping the 303’s appearance too closely. Cyclone Analogic’s TT-303 BassBot looks so close to the real thing that you’d be forgiven for believing it was a TB-303 at first glance. Cyclone is an offshoot of Technology Transplant, who manufacture and sell replacement components for vintage synths. Parts like the knobs and battery cover are such perfect replicas that they’re interchangeable.

There’s a lengthy and potentially very interesting discussion to be had about clones, replicas, emulations and how they relate to copyright, patents and the legal mechanisms in place to protect electronic instrument manufacturers’ intellectual property, but this probably isn’t the right place for it. In summary, my take on it is this: if you accept that commercial x0xb0xes are OK, then putting a similar clone into a 303-style plastic case doesn’t immediately make it any more of an infringement on Roland’s designs, especially if you also don’t have a problem with software based on the sound and appearance of the TB-303. Given that the product is still on sale a couple of months after its launch, we can only assume at this stage that Roland Japan don’t have a problem with it either, just as they haven’t had a problem with the various x0xb0xes or software clones.

Old vs new

TB-303 clones have always led to heated arguments. Owners of genuine TB-303s, in particular, seem keen to deny that clones sound exactly the same as originals. It’s totally understandable. If you’d just spent over £1,000 on a 30 year-old synth, you’d want it to sound better than a new version at half the price (or less in the case of software). But that doesn’t necessarily mean that owners of real 303s have anything to fear from modern clones. When it comes to any product, clones, reissues and reinterpretations of vintage classics are rarely as valuable as the originals, and there’s barely any evidence to suggest they have any impact on the value of the real thing.

The TT-303 replaces DIN sync with MIDI

The TT-303 replaces DIN sync with MIDI

You can buy a brand new Moog Voyager Performer for around £2,750. An original Minimoog Model D will still set you back somewhere in the region of £3,500. A brand new Fender American Standard Stratocaster will cost you just over £1,000. Vintage 50s and 60s models regularly change hands for anything from ten to thirty times that amount. Not even the existence of £42 copies can harm the ever-increasing value of vintage guitars.

There’s more to these classic products than just their inherent value in terms of production costs and marketing. These are now collectors’ items. Many are kept for display or as investments rather than for use. In the case of the 303, it seems to make sense. Assuming there isn’t a forgotten stash of brand new 303s sitting in a lock-up garage somewhere in Osaka, supply levels of the real thing will never increase. We can’t see those second-hand prices falling substantially any time soon.

But it’s equally true that not every producer wants a badly built, unreliable early 70s Minimoog. Likewise, not every guitarist wants a 1950s Strat, which is so rare and valuable that it’d take a seriously brave owner to dare to transport it to a gig. And not everyone wants a real 303. Owners of the real thing, you don’t need to be so protective; the TT-303 probably isn’t going to harm the value of your vintage classic no matter how good it sounds.

99.9% as good as the real thing?

With all this in mind, there are a few different ways you can approach a product like the TT-303. Firstly, you can compare it to the original Roland TB-303. Does it sound exactly the same? Secondly, you can compare it to other x0xb0x-based clones on the market. Are cheaper versions of similar things available? Finally, there’s a much more simple approach: to judge the TT-303 on its own merits. Does it sound good, whether that means it’s just like the real thing or not?

The boom in 303 clones has meant that our expectations have increased dramatically. Back in the 90s, if your 303 clone sounded 90% accurate, that was probably good enough. The next generation of hardware and software clones raised the bar to 99%. The x0xb0x boom of the last few years means you’ll now find forums full of people arguing that 99.9% isn’t good enough, or debating the relative merits of one transistor over another.

All of which slightly misses the point. Of course there’ll always be those for whom nearly identical just isn’t close enough. To those of you, there’s a very simple solution: save up and buy the real thing.

16th April, 2013

Comments

  • Nice review.

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  • good read

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  • ace review, I think I’ll stick with my x0xb0x though. I think it’s a bad move to put a clone in a near-identical case. I’m writing my dissertation on the fetishisation of music technology and this article definitely comes in handy!

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  • Dear djoremi.

    the TT Bass box is miles better than the x0xb0x
    period. I have both

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  • Ive just sold my xoxbox and got the bassbott tt, the xox box isnt a patch on the bass bot, even though it sounds nice with a destortion pedal, the bass bot is a replica of the tb303, i have both an original and a bass bot, the only difference is theres no little plasticy leather bag lol

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  • Best clone out there!
    And it looks close to the original as it should.
    Let’s hope they will do a TR-606, TR-808, TR-909 as well.

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  • But… you are test the TT-303 whith a distortion??

    What appens?? what is whrong? sounds very bad!!!

    You are connect the TT-303 in a osciloscope? hahahaha

    It’s a joke of machine! bad emulation! hahahahah

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  • It’s a good toy for play, but not a good machine for profesional studio.

    The wave generates a peak of noise and artifacts! that destroy the sound.

    Not a profesional like a TB-303 or x0xb0x

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  • Oh, Jem. You really sound like you know what you are talking about……… XD

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  • Jem you are having a laugh! I’ve owned 2 TB 303s over the years and have had several x0xb0x from various builders and the TT 303 wins hands down every time for me if you want the perfect TB clone. The distortion debate is completely groundless and a blatant attempt at sabotaging the TT 303s reputation, have had no issues with any distortion pedals or through software for that matter! x0xb0x’s are good don’t get me wrong but they are built by hand so it really all depends on how good your builder is and try finding one that comes with a 3 year warranty.

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  • It’s not the maxhine! it’s the humanimput! If you are a good misician, you will compose a great piece of music on anything comes handy!

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  • TT-303 -5% off
    Use coupon code: TTdiscount5
    on the webshop: http://www.cyclone-analogic.fr

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  • Ive had this instrument for a while now. My advice is if your looking for a 303 but you aint got a spare £3k then grab one of these bad boys. Ive taken it out LIVE using Strymon reverb an delay pedals on a mackie mixer……..absolutely no distortion. Dont listen to pricks like Jem who must have broke his toys falling out him mums pram. Jem did you spend £3k on an original or was is it passed down by some ex music legend who hated 303s when they first came out.

    TT303 makes SICK ACID MUSIC. simple

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  • Errr…Jem the original TB-303 was a budget toy for the busking/pub musician who wanted to have a bassline play along with his guitar! Defo was not a professional Studio tool, until Acid came along. I have a TT-303 and love it, basically for the price you cannot go wrong.

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  • Jen wtf is a ‘peak of noise’
    You can’t compare a x0xb0x bc they are not all made equally , sometimes not even with the correct parts, of bad quality or damaged right parts.
    I don’t think I have ever heard any clone of the 303 or any Roland classic that gets that glassy Rez point right. But the tt303 is the closest all round. It isn’t perfect, but it is closest.
    What is clear is this simple bass machine can drive adults into childish name calling, which is at total odds with the ‘one love’ acid house movement of the late 80s , ironic.

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  • For Jem, and all the doubters, here’s a quote from Robin Whittle the mad scientist behind the Devilfish 303. Here is what he has to say about the VCA circuitry. To sum it up if you have reading comprehension difficulty the Bass Bot is quieter.

    ” The VCA is a BA6110, which is a modern, enhanced, version of
    the original and now unobtainable BA662. The BA6110 has
    linearizing diodes, which are not used, so it behaves much
    like a BA662. The control current to the VCA is approximately
    doubled and the load resistor for the VCA is approximately
    halved. The signal level is about the same, but these changes
    reduce the VCA’s background noise significantly. “

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  • Excellent review & thanks to all for commenting. I own one and love it! Great machine.

    Really digging the roll out feature, saving arpeggiator results to new patterns, mutate… Even editing the thing is quick and easy. Its well worth the money!

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  • I bought a TT and have used a TN a lot in the past as well (plus all the other hardware and software variations and types over the years from Rebirth to Phoscyn and BassStations to MAMA 303 etc etc).

    So I think I have tried a fair amount of real and clone 303s to have an opinion. I must say I really like the TT and think it does a great job and is easy to use.

    The ‘techno vintage purists’ will hate it, but hopefully, music makers will love it and make great music with them.

    So I’m all for it and am very happy with the one I own.

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