This box was one of the first TR-909-style drum machines that appeared in the '90s, precipitating a flood of Roland TR-X0X-style hardware and software that has yet to subside. Of these, it remains one of the truest to the form. Unlike the emaciated rackmount facades of the Novation Drumstation and JoMox Airdrum, the XBase09 is a hands-on, colorful tabletop box that begs to be tweaked. Unlike the daunting Elektron Machinedrum SPS-1 or Vermona DRM-1 that offer worlds of unheard sonic possibilities, the XBase09 focuses on meat-and- potatoes dance-floor beats. Unlike post-millennial jukeboxes like the Korg ElecTribe and the Roland SP-808, the XBase09 still encourages you to be the composer. Although Tadao Kikumoto never imagined the legacy his creations would inspire, Roland's most famous designer valued simplicity, usability, and functionality; and the XBase09 boasts these qualities.

JoMox improves on Roland's classic, intuitive user interface with tougher knobs, a solid metal chassis with real wooden sides, and even inverted labels above the rear jacks so you can see what's going on as you lean over the back. As expected, its sequencer offers real-time or step programming, and the unit functions perfectly as a sound module. However, this time around you can shuffle at much higher resolutions, send your real-time knob tweaks via MIDI, save your sounds as presets, and even store specific presets in songs or patterns. In short, the XBase09 offers all the MIDI functionality available on most current synths along with lots of icing, like a MIDI through, a DIN sync for your pre-MIDI Roland gear, and even a couple of LFOs to help you sculpt your sounds.

And what sounds they are. The XBase09 is certainly high-fidelity hardware and will shake the floor with its firm lows, complex mids, and bell-like highs. The unit's TR-909-style looks deceive as it recreates the bouncy TR-808-style kick and the distinctive TR-606-style snare with a bit of tweaking. Although the best Roland percussion sounds are all here, the XBase09 is much more than a TR-909 clone. Its flexibility facilitates hybrid percussion sounds that greatly expand on Roland's famous palette, although its looks and interface keep it firmly rooted in the TR-X0X tradition.

On the down side, purists note that the XBase's (albeit great sounding) cymbals and rim shots are not analog; but if memory serves, the same is true of the original. Also, the unit's three-voice polyphony works fine for most of us, but maybe not for the aspiring Ikue Moris out there. Consequently the box's biggest flaw is its lack of outputs. It has a measly three individual outputs and one mono mix out, shrinking in comparison to the TR-909's ten individual outputs.

Regardless, there simply isn't a better sounding or more dedicated TR-909-style beat box out there. Crucially, JoMox didn't miss the point in going with Roland's classic user interface. So if you want to stare at your G4 for hours on end, save your dough and download the plug-in. But if you are looking for the real-time feel of a classic Roland instrument, you can't do better than the XBase09.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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