New lines launched at Frankfurt
The Roland Alpha Juno 1 and 2 are exceptional new synthesizers at the most competitive end of the market. They have innovative editing functions, new developments in touch-sensitivity, and cost £579 and £775 respectively.
FOR? Price, editing function, touch sensitivity via MIDI.
AGAINST? Bearing in mind the price nothing. In these words IM&RW's reviewer James Betteridge summed up the Alpha Juno 1. Like their predecessors of the same name, the Alpha Juno 1 and 2 offer innovation in functions and in sound capability without sacrificing the basics; ease of programming, ease of interfacing and reliability. Each synthesizer is also a powerhouse of superb sounds; all the traditional round rolling Juno tones plus a whole new range of subtler, more sophisticated effects from newly developed wave generating and envelope circuitry.
More compact than its predecessors, the Alpha Juno 1 retains many of the hallmarks of the series. It has 128 patch memories, 64 of which are programmable and 64 are factory presets and so cannot be lost. Like previous Junos there is MIDI In, OUT, and THRU — but unlike them the JU-1 can receive input from a velocity sensitive keyboard. This capability makes it the perfect MIDI add-on for anyone whose system currently lacks an instrument with the warm, powerful sounds of a Juno. The JU-1 also has the irresistible Roland Chorus circuit - sometimes imitated but never equalled. In both the Alpha Junos, the Chorus depth and speed are infinitely variable.
The Alpha Juno 2, released for Frankfurt, is very similar to the Alpha Juno 1, except that it has a longer, fully touch-sensitive keyboard. The touch-response system is similar to the highly acclaimed JX-8P, with both velocity and 'after-touch' sensitivity. The keyboard is weighted with metal inserts to give it a distinctive 'balanced' feel. Techniques developed on the acoustic piano will therefore adapt readily to the Alpha Juno 2, which is now the least expensive fully touch-sensitive synthesizer on the market. The only other difference between the Alpha Juno 1 and the Alpha Juno 2 is that the JU-1 stores patches via standard cassette interface, whereas storage with the JU-2 is by the simpler and quicker RAM pack system.
The most obvious departure from established Juno synthesizers is the method of programming and editing, the Alpha Wheel from which the new synthesizers takes their name. The Alpha wheel allows quick, positive, one-touch programming - arguably the easiest programming procedure ever. It's true there will always be those who prefer a 'one-knob-per-function' approach, and for those there is the optional PG-300 programmer. Nevertheless in terms of simplicity and ease (especially in live performance) the Alpha wheel takes some beating. It combines the functions of selecting the parameters to be changed, and (when an adjacent 'Value' button is touched) changing the value of that parameter.
The Alpha Wheel is backed up by a large 16-character backlit LCD screen which tells you what parameter you're using, what the setting is, what range of settings is available, and, if you've made a change, what the previous setting was too. (Remember all those times you've altered a synthesizer's controls and never quite been able to get them back to what they were before?).
Both Alpha Wheel and screen are large, visible, and accessible - vital for playing on stage.
The Alpha Wheel is more than a programming control - it's a way of life, or at least a way of live performance. This is due to a unique system of Tone Modifiers which allow instant variation of Modulation Rate, Modulation Depth, Brilliance and Envelope Time. Hit one of these buttons, and the Alpha Wheel will act to change that parameter. Using the Alpha Wheel as a performance control gives a level of expressiveness and spontaneity never before possible with a synthesizer on stage. This is supplemented by a newly developed bender with pressure sensitivity to alter modulation depth.
Further aids to effective line use include a 'one finger chord' function. An accessory volume pedal is available for greater expression.
Further Juno Alpha innovations occur in creating and shaping the basic sounds. There are six DCO's, 6 VCF's and six VCA's but there are many more wave forms to choose from than ever before: three types of pulse wave, five types of sawtooth wave and six types of waveform for LFO modulations are available. Because the waveform imparts the essential character of a synthesized sound, the variety available mean greatly increased versatility. Some of the sounds normally associated with so-called 'digital' synthesizers (in fact the new Juno is a hybrid with around 75% digital operation) are better (and warmer!) when created Alpha Juno style.
The envelope section of the synthesizer has been extended and updated to articulate more sounds and more complex structures. There are eight continuously variable parameters giving full control over the structure of DCO, VCA and VCF parameters.
These new features come into their own when more ambitious sounds and effects are attempted. For example, an exciting string chorus sound can be created because there's a form of sawtooth wave that can be modulated by the Pulse Width Modulation control. Previously this could only be done with pulse waves. Special effects, too, have new possibilities. In particular the extra envelope controls allow a 'double triggering' effect so you can sound as if you're using a digital delay.
Progress, in synthesizers as in other things, consists of building on the best aspects of what you've already done, adding to them and refining them.
The Alpha Juno 1 and Alpha Juno 2 have already been greeted as a new wave of Roland synthesizers, but this has been achieved without altering the best qualities of previous Junos. The Juno sound is still the richest, most powerful synthesized sound you can find. The Juno is still the most user-friendly of synthesizers. Programming is quick, easy and positive and you can see at a glance what you're doing. Of course, no previous Juno has been touch-sensitive, and no Roland synthesizer has ever allowed such extensive control over shaping and defining the fundamental sounds. The new Junos are at Roland dealers from March 1986, so you will be able to hear for yourself how the Juno designers have gone one - in fact two - better.
The nice thing about MIDI is that it is truly universal and everything is MIDI compatible in one form or another. The not-so-nice thing is that the stage or studio tends to become a maze of MIDI leads resembling a kiddy's 'Which Rabbit Lives In Which Hole' puzzle. To ease this problem Roland 70cm and 5 metre MIDI leads are now available in Red, Yellow, Green and Black.
If you saw the recent Elton John concerts at Wembley Arena you will have been impressed with the tape introduction to the show. This was multi-track recorded by Elton John using a Roland JX-8P to play all the parts. Elton has just 'discovered' the JX-8P and now plays it from his MIDI'ed Steinway grand.
Ex-Zeppelin British rock stalwart John-Paul Jones might not immediately be associated either with electronic music or high technology. Nevertheless when choosing a bass, he knows a good thing when he sees it. Which is why he is now playing the Roland GR-77B bass synthesizer which can combine solid bass sounds with the versatility of synthesizer circuits derived from the JX-8P. John Paul's state of the art studio in Devon also has a TR-727 among other Roland products.
Vroom last held a tape contest in 1983. They repeated the exercise recently and to everyone's surprise, the same person won, even though the contest had a completely separate set of judges and no-one was aware of his previous entry.
Obviously Barry Nielsen is a talent to be recognised. Roland and Boss sponsored this year's contest and Barry wins an SH-101 worth £250.
The new Roland RD-1000 digital piano sounds as good as a Steinway and is about 100 times more versatile.
For many keyboard players, a good piano and a good piano sound is fundamental. Roland have pioneered touch-sensitivity and authentic sound for home pianos, but the RD-1000 is in its own league. Using Roland's new digital sound technology - just perfected after years of development - the RD-1000 has no compromises. With 88 keys, full MIDI control facilities, and a choice of eight 16-voice polyphonic sounds with Chorus, Tremelo and Eq, it will be standard equipment for touring and recording studios.
The Structured Adaptive Synthesis system developed by Roland is much more appropriate than, for example, some kind of PCM recording. This is because it allows the sound to change a variety of parameters according to the touch-response. This reproduces the subtle changes in the sound of an acoustic piano according to how it's played: not only in volume but in tone.
There are three acoustic piano sounds available plus Harpsichord, Clavi, Vibraphone and two electronic piano sounds. All sounds can be accessed at the touch of a button. 'Tone Colour Data' (Eq, Chorus, Tremelo and Voice Level settings) can be memorized and stored on RAM cartridges.
In addition to its own sounds, the RD-1000 is the perfect MIDI controller. Programme Change, Key and Velocity information can be sent and received, the Master Volume control and Key Transpose will work on external sources through MIDI.
In common with other recent Roland instruments, the tactile Alpha-wheel control is used on all functions except volume. A 2-line, twenty-character display gives information on all settings.
Anticipating that musicians already owning a suitable 'mother' keyboard would encounter some difficulty in getting the prestigious RD-1000 into a rack, Roland developed the MKS-20. This is the same product in modular form, and has to be the most portable professional piano ever produced. The digital sounds which put the RD head and shoulders above other electronic pianos mean the MKS-20 is indispensable as a MIDI module. A 2 unit deep, 19" rack mounting format may initially seem strange for one of the world's classic pianos - but the proof is in the listening.
The JX-10 is the new flagship of the Roland range, 12 voices, touch sensitivity, keyboard split and an unprecedented wealth of sounds will make it the most prestigious synthesizer of 1986.
The JX-10 is a big synthesizer in every sense. It has 76 weighted keys (E1-G8) with velocity and pressure sensitivity. It has 24 DCO's (digital controlled oscillators) for a really rich, powerful sound. These are used two-to-a-voice (Whole Mode, 12 voices), four-to-a-voice (dual mode, six voices) or two to each of two voices (Split Mode, 6 plus 6 voices). Add this to a unique 4 channel Chorus, and layered sound takes on a whole new meaning.
The new synthesizer has 50 presets (which can't be changed) and 50 programmable memories, supplemented by extra memories on M64C cartridges, each of which will hold a further 50. 64 Patch Presets, control internal sounds or external synthesizers or modules in the Split or Dual modes. This means the JX-10 is a very effective Mother Keyboard. There are independent volume controls for the Upper and Lower sections of the split.
An innovation unique to the JX-10 is the 'Chase Play" function, which is a new kind of delay effect enabling two patches to play one after the other with single key pressure. There is also a built-in 170 note realtime sequencer and a further 560 notes can be saved on the M16C cartridge, which is supplied with the keyboard. The optional M64C will store 2600. Using the Split function, it is possible for the sequencer to play the lower voice while a musician plays the upper.
The JX-10 is edited by the Alpha Wheel and programmed by the accessory PG-800 - the same programmer as the JX8P. Creating sounds is made easier by an informative 32 digit fluorescent display. The 'Super JX' was introduced at the Frankfurt trade fair and should arrive at English Roland dealers during the next two months. Its price - around £2000.
Remember the SBX-80? Well this is its almost-as-smart younger brother. It's a time clock and will link together any rhythm machines, microcomposers, or sequencers (internal or external) in common use. It is compatible with MIDI and with previous clock systems used in electronic music and sound recording. It's not quite as smart as the SBX-80 because it does not generate SMPTE code; that is a film industry and video standard and the SBX-10 is intended solely as a musician's and producer's tool.
As such it will enable any electronic clock to be sync'ed in with any other, and like the SBX-80 it will also allow you to take the lead, tapping out a tempo manually (perhaps to a piece of music which did not previously have an electronic time code). Once a code is entered by tapping, electronic instruments will follow the 'human' timing thus created.
The SBX-10 combines exciting possibilities with a provocative price... sooner or later, you're going to need one...
The Boss HF-2 is a Flanging pedal with a difference - the effect operates specifically on high band frequencies giving an edge where it's most effective – right up in the high registers used for most solo parts.
Equipped, like a conventional flanger, with Manual, Rate, Depth, and Resonance controls, the HF-2 can achieve a range of sounds from almost like a subtle Chorus to a really wide flanging effect. The delay time goes right up to 13 msecs which allows a more 'spacey' feel than most flanging devices.
Built into a robust Boss pedal the new flanger is a valuable option on this widely used effect. It retails at £89.
Structured Adaptive Synthesis has given top performers the RD-1000, but the same technology is now incorporated in a new range of home pianos, the HP-5500 and the HP-5600. These 88-key pianos are finished in Rosewood and Walnut respectively, and sound as good as they look. Which is probably better than any electronic piano ever has before.
No problem to programme, no problem to afford, the TR-505 has Digital Sounds, Big Memory, MIDI interface and prodigious capabilities for around £200.
The TR-505 combines exceptional features, unprecedented ease of use, and a break-through price.
It's digital, it's MIDI, and it has 16 PCM voices which can be panned over stereo outputs, and a pattern memory of 423 measures in 6 tracks.
It's also 'programmable/preset', that is, you can programme up to 48 of your own patterns, but there are also 48 preset patterns which cover just about all commonly used rhythms and which can't be accidentally erased. Many users will find they'll be very happy to use these presets for basic rhythm lines but will want to add their own fills and ornaments. For Malcolm McLaren and anyone who wants to break new ground in more complex patterns and ideas, an entire piece can easily be programmed without any presets at all.
Roland's 1986 products all reflect a policy of more features and greater operating ease. Accordingly, programming procedures could not be easier to follow and are backed up by a full graphic display incorporating Scale, Rhythm Pattern, Track Number, Measure Number, Pattern Number, Mode Sections, and Tempo.
The Boss J44 solves the perennial plug problem. As musicians are aware Murphy's Law of Interconnection states that whenever you need to plug something into something else, the available leads, sockets and connectors are always the wrong sort, the wrong size and the wrong length. The Boss J-44 is designed to save hours of shopping, soldering, and swearing. Connections are: jack to phono to Mini-jack on two channels in any combination.
The Boss rack is the answer to almost all signal processing problems, but most mixers used with the microrack system need a line level signal, which not all singers and guitarists have.
Enter the RPQ-10. With inputs for Line level, Instruments, and Mikes. This is compatible with any level signal and would, of course, be put between your signal source and the rest of the Micro rack units.
At £130 that's a useful product at a reasonable price, but Boss have gone one better because the RPQ-10 is also a parametric equaliser capable of giving cut and boost with variable Q at two selectable frequencies. It has overload lights on Input and Output stages and fits the same micro-rack or 19" rack adapter as the other units in the range.
Not a lot of fx units have genuine mystique, but Roland's Dimension D has always been the exception. Producers use it to give a spacious effect that cannot be duplicated by any other means. Some never switch it off. The Dimension D gives the kind of lift and spread sometimes associated with Chorus, but without impurities (the 'swirling' and de-tune) that are Chorus.
Up until now, the Dimension D has normally been a rack-mounted studio effect although many engineers also use them to lift a live performance. Now, however, a new version called the Dimension C is built into a foot-pedal.
Like the D, the Dimension C (or DC-2) has four modes of operation offering different intensities from a slight colouration to a really special effect. It's a stereo device with excellent noise characteristics and therefore quite suitable for studio use. Because of its studio pedigree and the complex circuitry used to produce the unique 'dimension' characteristics, it costs £130, a little more than the average pedal. But for the difference it can make to your sound - it's cheap at the price.
A series of Roland rhythm clinics has been confirmed for the first week of March 1986, Ted McKenna (drummer with Alex Harvey Band, Rory Gallagher, the Michael Schenker Group, and most recently Blue Murder) will be demonstrating Roland Digital Percussion, the electronic kit and the Octopad. Robbie Burns, whom we interviewed in Newslink last Summer, will be demonstrating the Roland GR-77B bass synthesizer, with which he has discovered many new techniques. Since Robbie sometimes like to play fretless, this will be the first UK demonstration of the new fretless controller for the bass synth, The tour runs from Monday 3rd March to Friday 7th March and the dates are as follows; Monday, Monkey Business Music, Romford; Tuesday, ABC Music, Oxford; Wednesday, Gig Sounds, Streatham; Thursday, Future Music, Kentish Town; Friday, Carlsbro Sound Centre, Norwich. Contact the dealers concerned for further information.
Roland Newslink - Spring 86
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