Review: ReBirth brings Classic Beatmaking to the iPad

When Propellerhead Software released ReBirth for the PC in the late 90s it provided many with the means to channel their classic electronica inspirations without paying for overpriced used versions of Roland’s TB-303, TR-808, and TR-909. It also ushered in the age of software synthesis for the masses; previously incarnations based on software like CSOUND were too user-unfriendly to make an impact beyond the experimental.

The first iOS version of ReBirth came out a few years ago, but the interface didn’t work effectively on the smaller screen real estate of the iPhone and iPod Touch. The iPad version, however, hits the sweet spot. If you are new to ReBirth, the app allows the building of sequencer patterns into songs using 2 TB-303 bass line synths synched together with one each of the TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines.

ReBirth for the iPad Features

  • Dead-on Simulations of Roland’s 80s-era TB-303, TR-909, and TR-808
  • Synched Pattern Sequencer with Support for Odd Time Signatures
  • Effects Include Compression, Tempo-synched Delay, Distortion
  • Mixer with Panning, Effects Switches and Sends
  • Publish Songs to Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Networks
  • Normally Priced at $14.99 at the App Store

ReBirth serves as a great introduction to electronica production in addition to scratching that nostalgic itch for those legendary Roland beatboxes. Effective use of the app’s sound shaping features provides a modern sonic context as well.

ReBirth Fits Nicely on the iPad’s Screen

For someone well-experienced in using ReBirth on the PC, the iPhone version didn’t quite feel right. The interface felt squashed on the smaller screen. Thankfully, all the modules in the iPad version are sized properly, so you don’t mistakenly trigger a sound when trying to change drums — a regular occurrence on the iPhone app. The file management interface also works much better on ReBirth for the iPad.

ReBirth iPad Screenshot

ReBirth using the classic Sid Station mod. Screenshot by Author.

If you are familiar with the operation of the hardware versions of the TB-303, TR-909, and TR-808, ReBirth essentially works the same way, providing the classic step sequencer interface to create bass lines and drum machine patterns in real-time or step mode. Most importantly for experimental musicians, odd time signatures are possible, as well as having different modules playing in different timesigs simultaneously.

Up to 32 patterns can be composed for each device and linked together to make songs. Like with pattern creation, the song assembly process can happen in either real-time or step mode. Once that process is complete, most parameter knobs on the four modules and included effects can be automated to add an extra layer of mindfreak to the proceedings.

Mods are in this Version of ReBirth

Mods also made it into the iPad version of ReBirth. Essentially a set of new samples for the two drum machines along with new skins for the graphics, Mods offer another way to customize the beats on a song, although the two 303s retain that same classic bass synth sound. Seven Mods from the desktop version of the application are included with the app.

The chance to purchase new Mods for a nominal In-App Purchase fee would be nice, but no option is available at this time. A collection of demo songs serve well to show off what’s possible with ReBirth, as well as providing some inspiration for developing new songs and patterns.

iPad Specific Features of ReBirth

One cool feature specific to ReBirth on the iPad is Duo mode. This allows two people to jam together on one iPad, with the software flipping one 303 and the 909 around for a friend to play from the top of the screen. This is only possible with the standard ReBirth Mod.

ReBirth iPad Screenshot 2

ReBirth’s effective interface for pattern editing. Screenshot by Author.

The app also supports WIST, Korg’s iOS standard for the wireless synching of music apps on separate devices. This looks to be a nice way to get some use from my iPod Touch version of ReBirth! Specialized interfaces for Pattern and Song edit mode make large scale changes an easier process.

The iOS Background Audio feature is supported which can be useful when using ReBirth with other apps or as part of an Audiobus session (which is also supported). AudioCopy allows songs to be exported from ReBirth to any AudioCopy compatible app. A convenient Share feature allows songs to be uploaded to either a user’s SoundCloud account or iTunes.

All told, ReBirth for the iPad truly holds true to both the legacy of the original desktop application as well as Roland’s seminal beatbox hardware. It also serves well as an introduction to creating electronica. Highly recommended.


  1. […] 15 app. Soon. I’ve played a bit with Audulus 3; enjoy Korg’s ODYSSEYi, and wrote new loops on Rebirth and the iPolysix. Still, the iMS-20 resonates with me. So, here’s another love […]