The Best Gadgets For – Production Without a Computer

In a new series of gadget guides we round up some of the best technology out there – within a variety of categories – to help you liven up both your production setup and your sound. Firstly we take a look at the best tech out there to make music without ever having to use a computer!

There’s a move away from relying on computers for music making and these self-contained gadgets will have you making tunes with a box (or two) – no glaring computer monitor required…

Roland AIRA TB-3 and TR-8

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The AIRA range was announced several years ago to silly levels of hype, as it promised to be the closest range of new Roland gear to emulating classic old stuff, in this case THE Roland classics: the TR-808 and 909 drum machines and TB-303 bassline.

The AIRA TB-3 is based on the classic 303 and provides all of the acid house squelch you could wish for and the TR-8 has all of the beats. Both look amazing, with great, well-lit appeal and – more importantly – both also sound as close to the real thing as anything digital can. With Christmas approaching, our thoughts are especially relevant…

“A mere £219 for the TB-3 and the TR-8 is just £365 (both street), seriously, if you just used them as Christmas lights that would be worth it”. Nothing could have matched the hype that surrounded the launch, but the TB-3 and TR-8 are both innovative and important.

They undeniably look extremely cool and they sound just, well, damn close to the original. But are they as good as the originals? “They do loads more and they cost far less”, we said, “so the answer is: you betcha.

But their importance is that they are priced in exactly the right way to get the next generation of producers off their sorry sofas and actually performing again. So will they, as their forefathers did, kick-start another dance revolution? Well, we are due another Summer of Love…”

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Price TB-3 £245, TR-8 £399
Contact Roland on 01792 702701
Web www.roland.co.uk

Korg’s Volca Range

They might be getting on in years now, but Korg’s Volca range is still a great set of sound makers, and available at silly prices. In many ways, they kick-started the current shift to hardware music production and also set the form, with Beats, Bass and Keys models being responsible for all of those sounds (plus a newer sample-based one offering a little more flexibility and your own creative recording).

Sound-wise, they are all great with stacks of hands-on control, and when we reviewed the original three, Alex Holmes said: “If you are looking for deep sound design you probably need to look elsewhere.

However, to get a true analogue synth with built-in sequencer for this price is a great deal. Korg has listened to its customers and struck the perfect balance of price and features.”

Price £119 (£99 street)
Contact Korg on 01908 304600
Web www.korg.com/uk

Novation Circuit

Novation’s Circuit came out of nowhere at the tail-end of 2015 and updates the Groovebox philosophy for the 21st century, making computerless music production – a trend set with the Volcas and Airas – an easy and fast reality. Indeed, it’s this speed that puts Circuit in a class of its own. You can simply do everything you want it to do very quickly.

Circuit’s combination of great onboard sounds and pseudo keyboard playing can take what is in your head to a tune fast – something which, as I said earlier, you don’t always get with many grid-based controllers and push-button sequencers. “This is a truly self-contained musical marvel,” we said. “It excels so well at what it sets out to do – and the price of £250 is just ridiculous – that you can forget any shortcomings.

It’s the most musical fun you can have with one box and no computer, and I haven’t made music so quickly in 20-odd years of reviewing gear. Great real-time sound mangling and creation, great fun and you will be making music in less than three minutes. If you don’t, we’ll come round and do it for you…”

Price £249.99
Contact Novation on +44 1494 462246
Web uk.novationmusic.com

Yamaha Reface

Yamaha’s idea with the reface range of keyboards is to include one classic keyboard in each of four mini keyboards. You get the DX (based on the classic FM synth); the CS (based on the classic analogue); the CP (on the electric piano); and the YC (based on the 60s and 70s organ).

The latter two are superb, while the DX is more fully-featured with presets and onboard saving (all use an app to do this otherwise). The CS has no presets, but sounds glorious.

Reviewer Andy Jones said: “I find the range charming – carry them, play them and hear them without connecting to the mains or dragging in your entire studio.

They are sufficiently different to appeal to both specialist studio-heads – who are after some light relief and instant hands-on inspiration – and to a mass market. I’m pretty sure that at least one of the range will appeal, and I’d urge you to check them out.”

Price Street £289
Contact Yamaha UK on 0844 811 1116
Web yamahaproaudio.com

Teenage Engineering PO Series

The PO series from Teenage Engineering was the buzz of 2015’s NAMM show, and they certainly didn’t disappoint when we reviewed them. They look almost unfinished, sound incredible (especially given their stupidly small size) and are, without a shadow of a doubt, aimed at cooler music creators, which didn’t stop our editor from piling on the superlatives.

The range comprises the PO-16 Pocket Operator ‘factory melody micro synthesiser’, the PO-12 programmable rhythm synthesiser for beats, and the PO-14 sub bassline micro synthesiser. Each has a 16-step sequencer, of which you can select 16 sounds to program up to 16 patterns, of which 16 can be chained.

There’s plenty you can do sound-wise and effects-wise to each and if you chain all three together you have your entire tune covered. “These units sound fantastic, they’re incredibly fun and are as cheap as silicon chips,” we said. We then bestowed just about every award we can muster upon the range.

Price £49 each
Contact via website
Web www.teenage engineering.com

More coming very soon!

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