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Donner Essential B1

Analogue Synthesizer & Sequencer By Robin Vincent
Published March 2024

Donner Essential B1

Fatboy Slim’s dream of universal 303 ownership inches a little closer with this cut‑price acid box.

The Donner B1 cut a handsomely futuristic form on my desk. The black and titanium finish oozed class, and the blue and white lighting gave it a cold and serious vibe that felt out of place once you set the synth in motion. When I pressed Play, the synth came alive with a repeating pattern of familiar and pleasing bass lines. I sought out the filter controls and found that I could quickly push the sawtooth and square waves into a wonderfully juicy squelch. A simple decay envelope pulled at the filter, giving it a penetrating zap as I drove into the resonance. There was definitely a tart, acidic tone going on here. Wait a minute... was this a 303?

Yes, the Essential B1 Analogue Syn Bass is Donner’s take on the classic Roland acid synth, and we can never have enough of those. And honestly, I don’t think I’m done with it yet. Something about the bounce, the rip, the squeak and squelch is so beguiling that I couldn’t help but have fun with it. As to the question of whether it sounds like a 303, all I can say is that I’ve had it sat next to the Behringer TD‑3, and other than the B1 being a lot louder, you can’t tell them apart. So, from one analogue clone to another, it sounds as good as it should.

The influence of the 303 will no doubt linger, but I wanted to try to review the B1 on its own merits. Donner have helped with this by ditching the 303 sequencer entirely, giving me something new to critique. And they’ve added some effects and interesting performance features. A recent firmware update has also introduced a Song mode, addressing a lot of the criticisms that have been levelled at it since its original release in May 2022.


The analogue synth engine and signal path have a single VCO with two waveforms, a low‑pass VCF with cutoff and resonance controls, and a VCA with a simple Decay envelope. The envelope runs the filter and the VCA if you hold down a note. An Accent control boosts a step if it’s activated in the sequencer. The Pitch knob bends the oscillator up or down a fifth. That’s your top row of nondescript knobs.

Along the second row are an analogue Saturation effect with Drive and Tone, and an analogue Delay with Level, Time and Feedback. Below are a one‑note‑more‑than‑two‑octave button keyboard and a sequencer control panel with a three‑digit display.

To the right is a larger volume knob. To the left are four patch sockets: Aux in for mixing in an external source (this doesn’t go through the filter), Headphone output and Sync In/Out. On the back, we find a 5‑pin MIDI DIN In and Out, a mono quarter‑inch jack output, a power socket for the included supply and a USB‑C port. The B1 has to be powered by the adaptor; it won’t power over USB and has no battery compartment.


Donner have gone for a very clean and ordered design. It looks smart, although the metallic illusion falls away when you pick it up. It’s light and plastic, but it feels solid enough, and the raked angle looks really nice on the desk.

The B1’s layout places aux in, headphone and sync I/O ports on the front panel, while USB C, MIDI I/O and a quarter‑inch audio output are found at the rear.The B1’s layout places aux in, headphone and sync I/O ports on the front panel, while USB C, MIDI I/O and a quarter‑inch audio output are found at the rear.

All the important synthesizer bits only take up the top third of the front panel. The...

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