Nowadays, if you want the Roland TB-303 sound, you have plenty to options to choose from, including two machines from Roland's own Aira line, the Roland TB-3 and Roland TB-03!
But from what I could find, this seems to have been the first try from Roland to produce a digital Roland TB-303, and it ends up being a much more featured machine than their current models!
As you can see in the photo, the Roland MC-09 features 6 knobs that replicated the functions available on the original Roland TB-303, making it really easy to edit the sounds in the same way you would on the original!
However, the synth engine is much more complex than that, and you are able to edit your sounds much further if you use the available menus, despite in that case you must use the Inc / Dec buttons to change values, which can be a bit annoying...
You'll also find different algorithms for your synth voice, some of them featuring effects that can be edited using the upper row of knobs (which means you won't be able to control it exactly like a Roland TB-303 anymore).
If this didn't sound good enough, there is more to it than a mono-synth voice!
You'll find a simple drum section (with only 3 non-editable voices, which is a shame as you can only change the volume of each of the drum sounds), plus an effect section, audio input and an amazing 4 tracks looper that take it to a whole new level as a music tool!
If you think the sound is not fat enough?
Try to loop the pattern with a slight change in the parameters and you'll see it gets really fat!
You want to do a complete track with it?
Just loop drum sounds in the first track, a lead in the second, and an external instrument (with effects!) in the third track so you can use the synth engine to produce a bass line you can edit while it is playing!
It can really be used for many tasks with very interesting results being possible thanks to the amazing looper it features!
To be honest, I only used the looper with external instruments twice, and both those times got me to think if I should really get rid of it...
If you have a look at the manual, you'll notice the looper offers really interesting editing possibilities that can change your looped pattern considerably, in ways that my Electrix Repeater can't, for instance...
You can change the pitch of the loop per step or divide the loop in 16 steps and re-arrange it as you want, despite it only works for the first track...
If you want to change between loops, you can also select which track to play at a given step.
Memory available doesn't seem to be huge (and I didn't have a card to store my own loops), but my impression is that you can only loop a full bar (16 steps) with it, but I might be wrong.
And if you want to save some memory, you can always merge loops!
For the task it is aimed, I think this looper is more than enough and I really think it enhances the possibilities of this machine, both in terms of sound (it's really cool to loop several layers of that Roland TB-303 clone with slight detune in the parameters) and in terms of of possibilities as a music tool.
So, why did I get rid of it?
The reasons are pretty similar to what made me get rid of my Korg Electribe 2, plus the fact that I have an original Roland TB-303.
This is an amazing machine to add to to a small setup, but in a studio where you have more versatile synths and you are not searching for a very specific sound, this machine just doesn't get as much use as it should...
I wouldn't choose it over my Sequentix P3 to sequence other gear, and as a looper, I know I would still prefer my Electrix Repeater due to the longer looping times and individual outputs (despite the Roland has a very convenient format and some interesting manipulation possibilities as I mentioned before).
The one thing I regret is that I didn't compare the Roland MC-09 side by side with the Roland TB-303 before I sold it...
It would have definitely been an interesting test, but I can definitely say the Roland MC-09 sounded pretty good on its own!
Would I recommend the Roland MC-09?
If you can get some use out of it, I would definitely recommend it!
I think it gives you a nice mono synth with a cool sequencer, so you can come up with nice bass lines or melodies for your tracks, that you can fat up using the looper!
Or if you want to make a complete beat with it using the looper, it works really well for that as well.
And all of this for a very reasonable price!
There are things I don't like about it as well on this machine, namely the use of such a cryptic display (which I feel is also one of the main drawbacks of the Ensoniq Fizmo...) and the use of RCA connectors instead of jacks.
It would have also been nice if they had done this machine a bit more portable (it is a bit bulky) and even allow to it to run on batteries, as it ends up being lighter than the Korg Electribe 2.
But overall, I think Roland did a pretty good job on this machine, and it's just a shame they didn't try to take this concept a bit further and come up with a more powerful machine featuring a looper, a sequencer and a synth.
So if you can get one and you need a machine like this, I would definitely recommend you to get it ;)
Oh... and check in music shops as well as you might actually find a New Old Stock unit, as I did find this one almost a year ago!
It only missed the original CD (they got rid of all the CDs they had in the store, it seemed), but featured everything else, as you can see in the photo below ;)