An edited version of this text also appears in
SOUND ON SOUND magazine Vol.12 No.10. August 1997  

The following text formed part of a review of the Steinberg / Propellerhead REBIRTH RB338 MicroComposing software for Mac & PC by Derek Johnson. For the full review check out the original published issue (SOS Vol.12 No.10).

Comparison review by Chris Carter


For a direct comparison I used an original Roland TR808, a TB303 and a Power Mac 7600 running ReBirth. The 7600 has built-in phono outputs delivering an audio signal with a 10 Hz to 18 kHz frequency range, a 44.1 kHz sample rate and a signal to noise ratio of 85 dB, so no problems there.

I started by setting up a few basic, but identical, 16 step patterns on the Roland TR808 and the ReBirth 808, a quick and painless task and set the two running side by side. Initially the most obvious difference, when comparing the two, is in the instrument tunings, with sometimes quite noticeable deviations. The snare, toms, congas, claps, cymbal and open high hat are all pitched about a tone higher, while the claves and cowbell are pitched lower than the original machine, with the cymbal and cowbell deviating the most. Other differences are less pronounced, such as the ReBirth bass drum having less buzz and body and a slightly shorter decay. The claps, cymbal and high hats all sound a little less full than the original but the classic 808 snare, if anything, sounds better on the ReBirth, distinctly brighter and 'snappier'. With a rhythm in full swing and switching between the TR808 and the ReBirth there was a definite 'lift' in the overall sound when listening to the ReBirth, probably due in part to the higher tunings and also to the slightly brighter sound some of the instruments have. On the whole though, a pretty convincing and successful emulation of the 808 sound.

Comparing the TB303 BassLine is possibly a slightly more subjective task. Playing various, identical sequences on the Roland TB303 and ReBirth it was pretty easy to compare similar filter, envelope and accent settings and to most ears both will sound almost identical. To 'experienced' ears the main difference, and this isn't a criticism, is the partially extended, upper and lower, filter range. Also the ReBirth 303 has slightly brighter sound, this could be attributed to the extended filter range but at the upper limit it definitely has a slight digital 'edge' compared to the original TB303. The accent control doesn't have quite the range or extra punch of the original TB303, but this is just nitpicking. Overall, the sound is just about as close to the original as you can get, very impressive indeed.

Programming the ReBirth was a piece of cake compared to a Roland TB303, which as any TB303 user will know can be a very frustrating experience, often involving large doses of guesswork and luck. However, with the TR808 I wasn't so convinced and found programming the original a little easier. On the ReBirth I missed the printed numbers above the 16 step buttons, a freely rotating instrument selector, an A/B pattern switch and the I/F variation switch. Also some of the level controls seemed a little quiet compared to others.

Bearing in mind that most people won't be comparing the two like this I think the ReBirth emulates the original TR808 and TB303 sound very successfully and improves on the programming of the original 303 immensely. Of course you don't get the individual outputs that were so useful on the original TR808 but if Steinberg came up with a way of interfacing the ReBirth with something like the the Audiowerk 8 or the Korg 1212 I/O, now that would be a pretty powerful combination. Funnily enough after a couple of days I began to favour the ReBirth 303 over the Roland, sacrilege I know but having two to play with (and MIDI syncable to boot!) is impossible to resist, I'm going to find it very difficult to go back to using a lone, original TB303.



BD: Less buzz and decay
SD: Brighter, snappier, pitched higher
Congas: Pitched higher
Toms: Brighter, pitched higher
RS: Same
Claves: Pitched lower
Claps: Thinner, pitched higher
Maracas: Same
Cowbell: Distinctly lower pitch
Cymbal: Short decay, less metallic, distinctly higher pitch.
OHH: Thinner, pitched higher.
CH: Thinner

Copyright © 1997 Chris Carter / SOS Publications.