ROLAND EF-303 Groove Effects

This DJ effects unit has got rhythm. Housed in rugged steel and designed with a slanted front that provides easy access to knobs, buttons, and sliders,
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This DJ effects unit has got rhythm. Housed in rugged steel and designed with a slanted front that provides easy access to knobs, buttons, and sliders,

This DJ effects unit has got rhythm.

Housed in rugged steel and designed with a slanted front thatprovides easy access to knobs, buttons, and sliders, the EF-303offers 16 onboard effects, including filters, delays, reverbs,compression, and a ring modulator, as well as a selection ofDJ-friendly audio effects like lo-fi, phaser, and voice modulation.You can assign most effects easily to one or all of three frequencyranges — low, mid, and high — and modify them using theRate, Cutoff, and Resolution knobs, which also serve as EQfaders.

The onboard bpm counter lets you sync the effects to match yoursource signal's tempo. You can also assign the effects note values— that is, applying effects so they synchronize with a 16thnote, a dotted 16th, an eighth, a dotted eighth, a quarter note,and so on, all the way to a full four bars. In a sense, this iswhat separates the 303 (and its cousin, the Pioneer EFX-500) fromother effectors, and it's why it truly deserves the “GrooveEffects” name. Though we've applied a rhythmic delay to atrack before, we've never had the ability to target rhythmicsubdivisions across a wide range of effects the way we can withunits like the EF-303 and EFX-500.


So what does this actually mean in practice? Here's an example:I set up the 303 with my humble DJ setup consisting of a StantonSTR8-60 turntable, a Vestax PMC-03 mixer, a Boss SP-202 Dr. Sample,and a portable CD player. Because the PMC-03 does not feature aneffects send-return, I simply wired the EF-303 as the last stop inmy DJ rig before the sound system, so all source sounds would runthrough it. I started an 88 bpm funk drum loop from my Dr. Sampleand, using the EF-303's Select button, chose Filter from the 16available effects patches. While it's easy enough to apply theEF-303's creamy-sounding filter to a loop in a random fashion andlet it do its thing, the fun really started when I tapped the bpmtempo of my drum loop into it — you can do this manually, orthe 303 can calculate the tempo for you — and then startedthe step modulator. After I pushed one of the Control Selectbuttons, the filter was triggered only on the 16th notes whosecorresponding slider was pushed up on the step modulator's sliderpanel.

Depending on what kind of rhythm I'd like to hear, I can programthe unit to make occasional filter stabs or to create a rolling,chewy filter effect throughout the entire loop, all in time withthe correct bpm — and all the while I can tweak such filterparameters as cutoff frequency and resonance. If the effect'srhythm starts to stray from the source signal's, I can use the Pushor Pull buttons to sync everything up quickly.

If I decide I only want to filter the mix's low end, I can useFreq Select to choose Low, and I'll get the equivalent of a Highand Low “kill” switch, with a nice, murky low-endfilter sound. Or I can select High and turn the Effect Balance knoball the way right to Effect so all I hear is the filter itself,hissing and sucking in and out in a cool rhythmic figure; then Ican continue to modify with the step modulator as if I were makingrhythmic changes on a drum machine. When I add some synth linesfrom an old electronic-music record, the filter mixes in thosesounds, chopping them up rhythmically and creating a bubblingrhythm and melody perfect for a house mix or trance tune.


You can also use the step modulator to create bass lines, synthfigures, and rhythm parts via the unit's Syn+Dly, Syn Bass (whichprovides great TB-303 emulation), and Syn Rhythm patches. SynRhythm offers four unique drum kits, programmable using thestep-modulation sliders as note assignments. The arc of the sliderbreaks down into four distinct areas — place the slider in aparticular position, and that 16th note will sound a kick, a snare,an open or closed hi-hat, or a mute. Again, you can change thefrequency range of these sounds using the Freq Range button. Dittofor the Syn+Dly mode, which allows you to make killer rhythmicdelay synth lines for house, drum ’n’ bass, ambientmusic, or whatever you like. MIDI implementation lets you sync anyof these patterns to an external sequencer, or use signals from anexternal sequencer to drive the EF-303's DSP engine. In short,Tangerine Dream would have killed for one of theseboxes.

A few other things make the EF-303 stand out: you can programthe synth figures created with the step modulator in any of 21scales, including whole tone, Ryukyu, and hexatonic blues, and youcan tune the synth to match the pitch from records or samples. DJswill appreciate the inclusion of phono as well as mic and lineinputs. For utmost accuracy in the DJ booth, you can even previewthe synths and effects through headphones before launching theminto your mix. This should give you a small idea of the unit'sawesome power; you really need to hear it to appreciate itfully.


ROLAND EF-303 Groove Effects

PROS: Sixteen high-quality effects that sync to tempo and areassignable to specific rhythmic subdivisions and frequencies.Tap-tempo and automatic bpm counter. Step modulator. MIDIcompatibility.

CONS: Slow bpm counter. Slightly complicated layout.Hieroglyphic manual.

Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4
Contact: tel. (323) 890-3700