Future Retro calls this analog beast the 777, but be warned! It should have been called the Future Retro 666, because its combination of sinful sounds and tempting knobs is highly addictive.
The 777 seems innocent enough, until you find yourself wide awake at three in the morning, tweaking the perfect bassline in a cold sweat! The 777 is a bad mutha of a monophonic bassline synth. Pride, greed, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth – it’s all of these things wrapped into one.
The Future Retro 777 is best known as an alternative to the Roland TB303. In fact, the 777 can reproduce all the squeaks and blurps that a 303 can generate without any trouble.
It’s got fantastic analog sound, and the 3-pole filter nails the 303 sound. The 16-step sequence may seem limiting on first glance, but its flexible control over accents and slides let you create sequences that are impossible on most synths.
Thinking of the 777 as just a replacement for a 303, though, is limiting. In fact, the 777 blows away the TB303 in every way, except for possibly mystique. The 303 has six knobs for tweaking – Tuning, Cut-off Frequency, Resonance, Env Mod, Decay, and Accent. The 777 has more knobs than that in one row!
Future Retro took the best parts of the 303, the portable size, the unique filter, and the freaky sequencer, and has expanded its capabilities to create a full-featured monosynth. The great thing about this is that it lets you do 303-style basslines, but with a much wider variety of sounds.
For starters, the 777 includes a much wider variety of sound sources. There are two full-featured analog oscillators, which have continuously variable wave shapes. Each oscillator has a sub oscillator circuit with a dedicated controller. There’s even white noise and a jack for external audio sources. The 777 also has an extensive modulation matrix that lets you do things like cross-modulate the oscillators. These options give you the ability to go way beyond basslines. The sound-generating options are closer to something like a Sequential Circuits Pro One than a Roland TB-303.
The 777 also includes some interesting additions that let you create greater variety in your sounds, without needing additional external devices. One example is the overdrive circuit, which lets you add distortion effects that would otherwise require an effect pedal. Another cool feature is the filter toggle that lets you switch from the 303-style 3-pole filter to an unusual 7-pole filter. The 7-pole setting cuts off frequencies more dramatically than the 3-pole filter, doubling the range of filtered sounds that you can create. There’s a high-pass filter which follows the standard signal path, letting you apply the filter as an effect to a sequence, rather than an integral part of the notes. There’s even a bass boost switch, in case your monitors have survived the analog oscillators, resonating filters, and throbbing sub oscillators.
It’s clear that Future Retro sweated the details when they designed the 777. The synthesizer has a solid retro feel, with the wood end-cheeks reminiscent of many classic analog synths. The case is made of tough metal without being overly heavy. The knobs are densely packed, but are big enough and spaced far enough apart to not feel cramped. The faceplate is broken up with informative graphics that make it easy to find the knob you are looking for.
Almost all of the controls have one function, meaning that you’ve got a dedicated knob for anything that you might want to tweak. This makes the 777 a great synth for live electronica artists.
The sequencer is easy to use, and can be tweaked as it runs. To program a sequence, you can just start the sequence, and start tweaking it. Each step in a sequence has a button that lights up. To edit that step, you just press the button and use the up and down buttons to adjust the settings. You can also turn on slides and accents for each step.
Each sequence, or pattern, is up to 16 steps long. A cool feature of the 777 is that you can set the loop point anywhere you like. This lets you create sequences that loop after 7 steps, 15 steps, or whatever funky number you like. The sequencer saves while you tweak patterns. This is a great feature, as long as you’re aware of it! You never have to save.You can also link patterns into larger patterns, so you can have 32 or 64 step sequences with TB303-style accent and glide!
You can combine patterns into songs. There are 16 song locations, and each can combine up to 3580 measures of patterns. Patterns can be transposed in any measure, allowing a lot of flexibility. Unfortunately, while the sequencer is powerful, specifiying all the measures in a song can be slow.
Around the Back
Future Retro went all-out when it designed the 777, and the backside is no exception. There’s MIDI IN/OUT, but not through. This lets you play the 777 from any standard keyboard, and also use the 777’s sequencer to control any MIDI-compatible keyboard or module. While this is very cool, it doesn’t transmit your knob tweaks, which would have put things over the top.
Analog fans can jack into the 777 with it’s wide array of 1/4″ sockets. There are jacks for voltage in/out, gate in/out, accent in/out, filter in, and audio out 1/4″ jacks on the back panel. This lets you use the 777 to control other analog equipment, or use analog other analog equipment modularly with the 777. Finally, you can use the 777 as a MIDI-CV converter, letting you control CV, Gate and Accent through MIDI.
With TB303’s going for hundreds of dollars more than a 777, there’s really no contest. The Future Retro 777 is the ultimate bass line synthesizer.