Roland is back, and this time re-introducing the world to 3 of the most iconic synthesizers of all time: The Jupiter-8, Juno-106, and JX-3P! These new versions are as big as a book, yet sound as huge as their original versions; even boasting some new features that fans of their predecessors would have begged for back when these were first issued. While it may seem that perhaps size could be an issue, and that maybe the knobs and keys could be too small, the fact is the company was able to pack it all in just right, so as not to make sound design uncomfortable.
While there have been some releases over the years that have attempted to create a niche for portable synthesizers, none have yet been able to give us so much real estate to truly be able to dig in without restriction. Synths like the MicroKorg are amazing in their own right in that this one for example, gives you a battery operated MS2000, with every parameter sans the Mod Sequencer under the hood. If you were a big fan of Junos and Jupiters, then you can imagine the bliss of now being able to take them anywhere in a backpack without leaving anything off the panel.
Let's begin by talking about the JU-06, a miniature yet faithful recreation of the Juno-106; modified with a faster LFO, a continously-variable High Pass Filter, and a 16-step sequencer that as the company states is: "a sonic scratchpad that lets you try out new ideas without bringing lots of gear – it can even be used without a keyboard. And if there’s no keyboard connected, the ribbon controller lets you preview the sound, making it an ideal way to program patches quickly and easily."
The Juno is, as before, a single oscillator design that is digitally controlled (DCO), resulting in "ultra-stable" tuning. The incredible sound of the Juno was always achieved via its iconic Chorus effect, which could enhance its single oscillator into majestic strings and pads that are really a staple of its own. Only Saw and Square waves are used, aided by a Sub-Oscillator and Noise which can be slid in for perfection. Pulse Width Modulation is available if desired via the LFO, which can also be used for Frequency Modulation of the Saw wave.
The filter, while smooth and resulting in a great sound, uses a simpler approach. As in the original, Cutoff and Resonance are available of course, with a single slider that can affect the envelope in either positive or negative polarity, and using the settings of the Amp envelope like on the Korg MS20. This particular unit, aided by the 16-step sequencer however, can really be a powerhouse for our music, allowing you to create thick basslines and loops with lots of character. All in all truly a must have if you ever wanted to own a Juno-106.
The JX-3P is often thought of as a "forgotten classic". Here re-issued as the "JX-03", this new highly-programmable beauty doesn't just feature the classic "button-styled" layout of the original-sought after by those were seeking to dive right in to big sounds without much tweaking-but also the complex panel of the JX-3P's original companion, the PG-200 controller. If that isn't enough, the new JX-03 also features quite a few new features that were not found on its counterpart. Roland states on their website that: "The JX-03 benefits from extra waveforms and extended range for both DCOs, as well as extra waveforms for the LFO. The second DCO also gets extra cross modulation options. These additions further expand the sound creation possibilities of the battle-tested JX engine." This is all on top of the 16-step sequencer, and also like all the other units, a high-quality 24-bit, 44.1 khz Audio Interface driven by Mini-USB, which makes this baby a breeze to take along with your laptop.
As long-time veteran Electro producer Richard Elliott aka Lektroid comments, the JX-03: "Does typical 50's Sci-Fi effects really nicely with its complex modulation routing options", making it a fairly unique piece out of the three, and like he notes: "The JX is the best value, as you're getting the synth plus the PG200 programmer, and a load of extra features the original didn't have; yet it still retains that lovely warm JX3P sound."
Lastly we find a recreation of one of the most adored synths of any true Electro Funk aficionado: The Jupiter-8! One of the core instruments used in all of The Egyptian Lover's productions, and here presented as the "JP-08". As the slightly more pricey unit, the JP-08 features 36 of the original controls, as well as some additional waveforms like Triangle and Noise for the LFO, and Sine for VCO 1. The JP-08 also features expanded VCO range on both oscillators to give you a wider range of sonic possibilities, using Roland's new "Analog Circuit Behavior" technology that not only retain the true sound and "feel" of the original analog engine, but goes even further than before. The JP-08 can also be chained to other units to create the original 8-voices, controlled by the first as a "master unit", for more intuitive control of things like filter or LFO sweeps.
This however is the one feature that many are already wondering why it was implemented in the way in which it was. Having to buy a whole new unit just for 4 extra voices can be rather redundant, especially considering that the units cannot be mixed, but must be chained to the same ones (JP-08>JP-08). It would have seemed a bit more practical perhaps, even if at a higher price, to offer the original polyphony found in the earlier versions; especially for a monster like the original 8-voice Jupiter.
A few other important things to note are the fact you need to purchase the keyboard separately, available in the US for $99 through Sweetwater and the like, constructed of plastic and metal for the sides and offering velocity sensitivity in its 25 mini keys (Microkorg style), along with 3 adjustable heights for easy access whatever the need. The Boutiques also power themselves via 4xAA batteries, or Mini-USB, which if need be, can be plugged into a USB socket adapter. Also, some people are already reporting some issues with what seems to be conflict with its MIDI 5-pin sockets when a DAW has both In and Out enabled, causing a "sticky note" effect. Simply turning either off however, solves the problem while we await what may need to be a Firmware update. So for example, if recording MIDI In, simply disable MIDI Out and vice-versa. This has been tested here at the office, and we can confirm it has nothing to do with USB MIDI conflicting with the 5-pin as some have suggested. It may also have something to do with specific DAW's like Cubase for example, or certain Audio/MIDI interfaces.
In conclusion, while it would have even been great to see these synths come back to life in their original form, even evolved to a more modern look and fully analog, Roland's approach to re-creating such hefty synths into completely portable machines is a very revolutionary idea; especially given the fact that its ACB technology has emulated the sound of the originals perfectly (trust us, we just had to buy a unit for the office and the sound is impeccable). While MicroKorgs and Volca's give you the same portability, neither can provide the kind of sonic control that these 3 modules give you on the go.
Many hardcore synth enthusiasts for a long time have dreamed of being able to take their most adored synth on the go, yet have been obviously unable to given the size and power limitations of a true classic synth (imagine hauling and trying to plug in a Jupiter-8 in the woods!). But now, that dream is a reality, coffeeshop synth-diving is just a trip and a cup away, and no longer restricted to sizes or menus. What you have here is full hands-on control in the size of a book. Thank you Roland! We hope to see you continue to raise the bar even higher and higher in the future. As for you, what are you waiting for? Grab your backpack and let's go!
Written by: Santino Fernandez