The first thing that most people will think when you bring up the FR-777 is “Oh that? It’s an old TB-303 emulator.” While it can do a decent 303 impression, it is far from the most accurate. If you want to get as close as possible to the 303 sound without spending ~$2500, you probably want to look at the Xoxbox, TT-303 or maybe even the TB-3. But if you want the be all end all of acid synths and an absolutely wicked bass machine, look to the FR-777.
The first thing I noticed about it is that it has two oscillators. Just think about that, a two oscillator acid synth with powerful FM functions built into it. Each oscillator also has its own sub oscillator; a square wave one octave below. The next thing is the one of a kind filter. It is switchable between 3 pole and 7 pole low pass. On the 7 pole setting, the thing is like one giant, glorious sweet spot. There is a knob to boost the range of the resonance and there is also a built in bass booster and overdrive. It does accents and glides, of course, but there are even more ways to modulate the filter. You get a noise source and you can switch between gated notes and following the rudimentary envelopes.
The sequencer is also amazing. It keeps things short and sweet, with 16 steps and a song mode where you can chain your patterns together. As for pattern storage, you can save up to 256 of them, which I think is pretty damn good. Anyway, the sequencer is easy as pie. You hit the button for the step, use the up/down keys to change the note and choose on or off for accent, glide and loop. Loop is the best thing since sliced bread. Say you want to do the classic build up where the sequence gets shorter until it’s just one 16th note rolling. It’s simple. Hit the key for step 8 and turn on loop, then step 4, step 2 and step 1. Then, while you’re letting it build up for a bit, quickly go back to steps 2, 4 and 8 and turn loop off again. When you’re ready to let all hell break loose, turn loop off for step 1 and there you go. I like to do this starting with a deep bass tone with the filter mostly closed and, while I let it build up, open the filter and just grab a couple knobs and tweak them, then let it go. My point? This sequencer really begs you to play it like an instrument, turning notes on and off, changing accent points, etc in real time as it plays. Brilliant.
Just take a moment to think about all of those features and you’ll start to understand why these sell for so much cash even though they are not the most faithful 303 emulation. There is the rarity of it (only 670-ish actually made it to production, as I understand it) but it’s mainly because this thing takes acid to places no other machine can take it. I’ve even heard of Xoxbox mods that can give you dual oscillators but there’s still nothing like the 777, not even close. Just sitting down and tweaking one 16 step pattern, I was able to take it from 303-ish to harsh overdriven resonance hell and down to hard, percussive acid that growled and was puncuated by bass drum like sounds that punched like a ton of bricks. All of this in the span of, say, five minutes. Nearly impossible to get a bad sound out of it, assuming you like it rough.
If all of this isn’t enough, there are several mods which can be done and many of them are explained right on the Future Retro website. Personally, I am extremely interested in the mod that adds an LFO and the one that expands the envelope structure. Add those to this thing and it really would make this the perfect synth.
I’ve heard the FR-777 called the best monosynth ever made and, though my experience is not all that expansive, it is definitely the best I’ve ever laid my hands on, all things considered, and I can honestly say that I will never sell mine.