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Vintage music tech icons – Roland x0x series

Vintage music tech icons – Roland x0x
(Image credit: Future)

Music Tech Showcase 2021: Whether you grew up with the 909, 808 and 303 or not, these units remain some of the coolest bits of classic hardware to own. 

Those that saw the release of these electronic behemoths will be fully aware of how coveted they have been over the years and even a newcomer to the music tech scene these days will probably be just as aware of their awesome legacy. Pretty impressive stuff for hardware that was released in the ’80s.

The original series was always aimed at the musician in need of a backing track and was never really intended to create thunderous techno tones. As we all know, the ultimate destiny of these machines was the dancefloor. From chillout to hardcore, the x0x range has provided a foundation for just about every electronic genre.

The TR-808 was the first out of the gate in the early ’80s and provided a true analogue drum kit. The sound the 808 puts out has no resemblance to the acoustic kits it was designed to emulate but instead produces deep kicks, razor sharp claps and now iconic percussion tones.

The 909 represented a natural evolution of the 808 with a mixture of sample playback and synthesis. The 909 was a little more edgy and became the mainstay of dance music throughout the ’90s.

Roland TB-303

(Image credit: Future)

They call it acid

Moving on from the drum machines, the TB-303 Baseline has a unique personality and may be one of the most emulated electronic instruments in history. There is no doubt it is the original acid machine

Although it was supposed to reproduce electric bass guitar tones, it proved to be much more effective at pumping out squealing acid riffs. This distinctive sound gave birth to acid house and more besides.

The only problem with this sort of epic legacy is that it commands a price. You can pay upwards of £2,000 for a mint condition TB-303 and even more for a 909. Although these prices are probably not unreasonable for such an iconic bit of kit, they are probably prohibitive to most. Roland has most likely been aware of this ongoing demand for their vintage machines and presented us with a solution: the Aira series.

The 808, 909 and 303 are all represented in Roland's range of digital recreations and Cloud plugins. The TR-8S houses the classic sounds you would expect and pays homage to the programming methods used in these machines. The real beauty of the new hardware is the fact that it takes full advantage of more recent technologies; the use of USB for MIDI and audio transfer is one such bonus. Upgradability is another solid perk, allowing you to add further Roland favourites such as the TR-606 and TR-707.

With hardware capable of faithfully recreating the originals at a fraction of the price, the question has to be, which should I buy? Take a pause and it’s a bit of a no-brainer. Roland's modern machines – and dare we say it, Behringer's recreations – are so close to the originals that they really are the sensible option right now.

Verdict

The real upside here is that you don’t have to be nervous about gigging the new machines and you definitely won’t have to keep them in a glass case. The originals are great but, considering the maintenance time and expense they incur, they are fast becoming museum pieces.

Original RRP from £350 | Used from £2000

Buying a used Roland x0x unit

What to check for when buying new and old Roland gear…

1. If you are buying original ’80s Roland hardware, be sure to check for modifications and repairs. Although some mods are pretty sought after, it’s always good to know what you are buying. If you want something stock, make sure that’s what you’re getting.

2. Although 909s and 303s are getting rarer, it is well worth buying as locally as you can. When paying this much for hardware it’s pretty wise to get your hands on the hardware and see it working before you part with your hard-earned money. Try to meet up and check all audio connections and more importantly knobs and buttons!

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