I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out what would be the next vintage synth to get the Arturia emulation treatment. At this point the company has tackled many of the most iconic synths in history, and spent much of last year focused on its original creations like the Augmented series, Pigments, Fragments and Dist Coldfire. We did get a version of the Korg MS-20 in May of 2022 as part of V Collection 9, but otherwise things have been pretty quiet. Well, I feel slightly embarrassed because there was a pretty obvious gap in Arturia's lineup I had overlooked: The Roland TB-303.
Arturia Acid V is probably one of the simpler instruments the company has made in recent years. In part because the original 303 is a reasonably simple instrument. It's a bass machine — monophonic with a single oscillator, a 24db lowpass filter and an envelope generator to manipulate the filter. That's kind of it. What made it special was its odd squelchy sound that, when paired with the slides in its sequencer, produced something totally unique and became the core of acid house, hence the name Acid V.
As usual the company does a solid job bringing the TB-303's physical interface into a virtual space. But we all know Arturia can't stop there. There's the customary advanced tab. This is where you'll find the three modulation sources which go well beyond your standard LFO, the dedicated effects section (where you can combine up to four effects) and the sequencer.
The sequencer on the 303 is part of what granted it squelchy super powers, it was also notoriously annoying to program. Thankfully Arturia recognizes that it's 2023 and there's no need to saddle its VST with some arcane 16-step logic puzzle in the name of authenticity. There's a pretty straightforward piano roll interface, with toggles under each step for slide, accent and vibrato. Across the top you can shift individual notes down an octave, up an octave or up two octaves, to get that signature jump that almost any good 303 bassline has.
On the left you can lock the sequencer into a particular scale to simplify things, add swing, change the sequence length (up to 64 steps) and even generate random sequences. You can easily shift sequences up or down a note chromatically or to the left and right to change the note order. And there's even a polymetric option that allows you to change the sequence length of the notes, slides, vibrato and accents individually. This gives you a lot of power to build something that's constantly evolving, especially if you're taking use of the full 64 steps. Oh, and if that's not enough there are different playback modes so you can pingpong through a sequence, play it backwards or just bounce around randomly.
Arturia didn't save all the upgrades for the advanced tab, though. The main instrument has added a few welcome amenities, including a sub oscillator with three selectable waveforms which gives the Acid V more oomph than the original ever had. Next to that you'll find the vibrato controls and then the dedicated distortion circuit. One of the most common tricks used on the 303 was to overdrive it into oblivion, and Arturia puts 14 algorithms at your fingertips for doing that. Some are better than others. For example, the crusher is fine, but there's a better bit crushing option in the effects section. And the destroy algorithm fails to live up to its name. Still, the tape, soft clip and overdrive are excellent.
Acid V goes a step beyond typical modern amenities. There's a little arrow over the name of the instrument in the top right hand corner, and if you click that you're in effect "opening" the machine. Here you'll find virtual trim pots for adjusting things like the pulse width of the square wave, the cutoff range of the filter, the pitch tracking off the filter, clipping level and even a bass boost knob.
Of course, all the features in the world don't matter if the instrument sounds terrible. But, there was never much concern about that, honestly. Arturia has been in the game for a long time now delivering excellent quality plugins that a misstep would be a true shock at this point.
I've never played an original TB-303, but I did briefly own a Behringer clone and I've tested the Roland Boutique TB-03. The Acid V compares pretty favorably to those. Being an actual analog synth, Behringer's TD-3 does sound slightly warmer than Acid V and the TB-03, but in the context of an actual song I think you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between the three. And, as much as I love a good piece of hardware, if I had to choose between the three I'd probably opt for Arturia's plug in just because it's so much easier to use and has infinitely more sequencing versatility.
Arturia Acid V is available now at an introductory price of $99. Or you can get it free when you buy the entire V Collection for $599, though, you're probably better off waiting for that to go on sale.