MFB MFB-503

This new machine from Berlin-based manufactures MFB looks like a slice of '70s nostalgia.

Housed in the usual glorious tough '70s-style plastic, the design is wonderfully retro; the unit is tiny (smaller than most paperbacks) and simply laid out. There are four endless rotaries on top that take care of the four parameters on screen, depending on which mode you are in.

Running across the front is the 16 click buttons for creating patterns. These buttons are all lit by tiny red LCDs and sequences are created simply by holding down the record button and hitting the part you want to sequence.

The main soundset is all created by analogue synthesis, apart from the cymbals and hi hats. However, these sampled sounds can still be manipulated and customised in a similar way to the synthesizer elements.

In use

Tweaking starts when the instrument button is held and one of the sounds are selected. Hit the Bass Drum button and you're able to modify the parameters tune, pitch, decay and level. Plus you can access the attack and drive parameter menus is via a slightly cryptic push of the first rotary, allowing full tweaking of the kick drum sound.

The snare has editing options in the form of tune, noise, decay and again level. Without much effort you'll be given the classic analogue snare pop and fizz. Similar editing options are also applicable to the cymbals and toms, with tuning of toms enabling the classic Disco tom sound.

Around the back a MIDI input allows you to trigger the sounds and take control of these tweakable elements. This makes it possible for you to instance to automate and change parameters via MIDI. There are three quarter-inch jack outputs also on the rear, one stereo and two mono.

The stereo output will play every element of the kit if used on its own but will also subtrack elements if the mono snare and kick outputs are used. So effectively, when all outputs are used you can get snare and kick audio on separate channels. The toms, hats and cymbals will then remain in the stereo jack.

Presets

There are plenty of built-in patterns and kits to select and you can record complex sequences in the song mode by applying patterns together, something of a retro approach but a nice touch. Adding to this is an A/B button allowing to switch between two patterns on the fly - useful for, say, switching to a drum fill for example.

Specs and tweaks aside there are a few issues which are disappointing sonically, the main one being how noisy the unit is - it hisses quite badly during playback. Ultimately with kit like this, a bit of hiss isn't a problem.

There was also an annoying high-pitched tone (around 13kHz), which seemed to be triggered alongside the tom sounds. Let's just say if you want 100% digital clean, this may not be the unit for you.

Everything else the small box offers is great and it can really pack a punch in the lower end. The sequencer makes for an excellent hands-on tool although a MIDI out from this would have really turned the unit into something special.

I guess in conclusion this is a really good value-for-money drum machine that has a beefy sound and is really great to use. But it's not a must-buy due to the few odd niggles in the output quality.

Overall the feelings of disappointment get mixed with a real love for a quirky product, with some excellent old-skool features.

MusicRadar Rating

4 / 5 stars
Pros

Nice retro features.

Cons

Output quality niggles.

Verdict

A bit of a luxury. Once you start playing you'll overlook the minor problems and fall in love.

Review Policy
All MusicRadar's reviews are by independent product specialists, who are not aligned to any gear manufacturer or retailer. Our experts also write for renowned magazines such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Computer Music, Future Music and Rhythm. All are part of Future PLC, the biggest publisher of music making magazines in the world.

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