At roughly half the price of an original vintage unit, the TT-303 is clearly an attractive proposition. The synth section of the TT-303 is, essentially, a near-exact copy of the TB-303, reverse-engineered then rebuilt using the closest contemporary surface-mount equivalents of the components used in the original. Run through the TT’s self-tuning routine (a very modern and much welcomed feature not present on the original) and the synth immediately plays perfectly in tune with sawtooth and square waves which sound very close to the distinctive unfiltered oscillator tones of the original:
Robin Whittle, inventor of the Devil Fish mod, is one of the world’s foremost experts on the intricacies of the TB-303’s circuits and, as such, far better placed than us to comment on the accuracy of Cyclone’s recreation of the 303 circuit. Robin has written extensively about the technical aspects of the TT-303 on his website. For anyone with an interest in the technical side of the TT, it’s certainly worth a read. The brief synopsis is that the TT-303 is close enough to the circuit of the real thing that virtually all of the Devil Fish mods can be carried out. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll sound like the original unless the components are carefully chosen, but it’s definitely a very close soundalike in this case:
One feature of the TB which many would argue shouldn’t be cloned is the sequencer. The TT-303 takes a slightly different approach. The main focus of the sequencer’s operation is Pitch mode, in which notes are entered step by step. Pick a note, select an octave, add accent, slide or tie if desired, then press Next to move onto the next step. The Back button allows you to go back through what you’ve already entered and edit if necessary. It’s a nice update of the 303’s notoriously fiddly setup (although, as A Guy Called Gerald pointed out when we interviewed him last year, there is a very easy way to get to grips with the 303’s sequencer: RTFM).
The omission of the TB’s Tap mode is a bit of a shame, but in their place you’ll find a number of new features which build on the options found on the original. The InstaDJ mode and the Bot pattern generation functions sound like the kind of hideous gimmicks you’d expect on an entry-level synth, generating loops at the touch of a button based on seven different ‘personality algorithms’, but they’re actually quite useable.
The Mutate function in particular is an excellent idea, warping and twisting patterns into slightly different shapes when triggered. It’s unpredictable – that’s the nature of the beast – but it can be used very effectively to keep a pattern interesting over the course of a track by subtly switching up the rhythm or order of notes. A great option for live performance. (The Mutate function is also a hell of a lot more user-friendly than the equivalent hack on the original: letting the batteries run so low that the patterns in memory became corrupted.)
The inclusion of a MIDI input alongside the CV and gate connections also makes it easier to control the synth via your DAW. It’s worth noting, too, that a splitter cable allows the single 8-pin DIN socket to function as both MIDI input and output. Without the adapter, the socket functions as a MIDI input via a standard 5-pin MIDI cable. The output can be used to control other gear but also serves double duty as a way of backing up patterns via MIDI SysEx. On that front, the BassBot can store up to 224 patterns, each of which can be colour-coded using the multi-colour LEDs; a big improvement on the TB’s 64 patterns, not least because the TT’s non-volatile memory means that patterns are retained even without batteries installed.
As a consequence of the added MIDI capabilities, the TT ditches the TB’s DIN sync option, which is mainly a concern to anyone intending to hook it up with other vintage gear. For anyone wanting to sync the TT-303 with a 606 without the hassling of a MIDI to DIN sync converter, we’re informed that Cyclone have a solution up their sleeve in the shape of a forthcoming TT-606 Drum Drone drum machine, also equipped with MIDI. No prizes for guessing what that one’s based on…
Comparing the TT-303 with the real TB-303 is inherently flawed due to the simple fact that the newest TB-303s are now approaching 30 years old. At the very least, for a totally fair test you’d have to replace all those ageing capacitors in the TB-303 with brand new equivalents of identical spec, which is clearly impossible. The same applies to the physical components too; apparently the knobs on original TBs were equally as stiff as those on the TT until they’d been turned a few hundred times. Then there’s the price difference to take into account.
But that comparison-based approach misses the point in our opinion. If you’re looking at the TT-303 then you’re probably a musician rather than a collector. The top priority must surely be whether it sounds good. And on that front the TT-303 definitely doesn’t disappoint. This is an intuitive, engrossing instrument which can certainly slot into any retro or modern track as effectively as the original. The changes to the sequencer and the addition of MIDI only serve to make it more user-friendly for most modern studio setups. A future classic like the real thing? Maybe not, but at this price let’s just enjoy it for what it is: a very enjoyable, great-sounding synth which just happens to do a highly convincing impression of a TB-303.
Purchase: Cyclone Analogic TT-303 BassBot
The Final Word
A modern take on the 303 with the classic TB sound. Sensible updates make it easier to fit into a modern studio.