Groove Electronics MIDI Interfaces
for Roland Jupiter 8 & Juno 6/60
Hands up once-proud owners of a Jupiter 8 or Juno 6/60 who've left their pride and joy to collect dust while they've concentrated on MIDI gear. Tony Wride finds out MIDI can be yours courtesy of Groove Electronics.
The old Roland Jupiter 8 has continued to find favour with musicians increasingly obsessed with MIDI technology - at last it can be put on speaking terms with modern equipment.
ONCE UPON A time, there was a successful line of electronic music synthesisers. These synthesisers sounded good and soon became the favourites of many keyboard players throughout the land. A big synthesiser called the Roland Jupiter 8 was the favourite of professional players, whilst its baby brothers, the Juno 6 and Juno 60, became the pride of the less prosperous musicologist. Then there was a revolution. A new breed of synthesisers appeared, equipped with a new means of communicating with each other. MIDI was born and the "old" synthesisers suddenly found themselves unused and unwanted.
The story could have had a sad ending if it wasn't for the fact that these synths still sounded good enough to many players who continued to use them in spite of their limited compatibility. Enter the cavalry: from the outskirts of rural Salisbury, the boys at Groove Electronics bring us a retrofit for the Jupiter 8/8A and Juno 6/60 enabling them to participate in the MIDI conversations so common in modern music making.
TEMPTED BY AN innocent-looking advert in Music Technology, I found myself wondering how a "classic" analogue synth might enhance my digital MIDI setup. My mind made up, I was able to buy a secondhand Jupiter 8 for well under a grand (another consequence of MIDI's arrival). A trip to Salisbury saw the additional electronics installed (at present you can't do the job yourself) and I was away. So what had I got for my money and trouble?
The only external evidence of the Groove update is the three familiar 5-pin DIN sockets on the rear panel of the instrument. These occupy the space originally reserved for Roland's own Digital Communication Buss that offered limited communication with their Microcomposers before MIDI arrived. But note that the interface can be fitted to Jupiters already fitted with the DCB (JP8As) as well as those without.
In operation the Arpeggiator Range switches are used to select various MIDI editing modes. Since the Jupiter is basically two separate four-note polyphonic synths which can be assigned to Whole (eight notes), Dual (four notes for each of two sounds) or Split (4+4 notes) modes, the interface allows you to adjust various parameters individually for either "module" when in Dual or Split. On the MIDI receive side, the parameters that can be edited include Receive Channel, Controller (mod wheel, aftertouch and pitch-bend) Routing and Velocity Routing. One clever feature is that the "controller" information received can be assigned to any of eight destinations: VCO LFO Mod, PWM level, Cross Mod, VCO2 Fine Tune, Source Mix, Resonance, LFO Rate or VCF LFO Mod. Some pretty startling effects can be achieved using this facility, and I've found the use of aftertouch controlling PWM Level whilst the mod wheel controls Resonance to be a particularly useful combination. Remember that the "controller" routing can be set individually for each module in Split mode, and even more startling effects can be obtained using this facility. I've added a couple of bin-busting lead sounds to my collection using Split and Unison modes played from my master keyboard.
As it's a retrofit the Groove modification can't be expected to be quite as comprehensive as the fully-integrated MIDI facilities of more up-to-date synths. Or, put another way, here are the drawbacks. Velocity information can be assigned to control VCA Level and VCF Envelope Mod but it is only monophonic. If you were to play, for example, a three-note chord softly, then hit a fourth note much harder, the original three notes would be affected along with it. It's a limitation you'd find hard to accept on a contemporary synth but I found I was using the Jupiter sequenced for single-note bass patterns and four-note stab chords without any problems. If you're already used to using a Jupiter 8 you might find it better to leave the velocity information reception off as the instrument wasn't velocity sensitive to begin with. There is another drawback in that the received pitch-bend information cannot be assigned to affect the pitch of both oscillators. This prohibits the use of the Jupiter as a slave keyboard, but using its own keyboard got me out of any trouble I encountered here.
The remaining Receive Edit facilities are MIDI filters which allow you to determine whether the Jupiter will respond to Patch Change and Panel Control (from another Jupiter 8) or adopt Omni mode.
"Bulk Dump allows you to transmit and receive patch and MIDI data - a significant improvement on the Jupiter's original tape dump."
Since the Jupiter 8 is hardly cut out to be a master keyboard, the Transmit Edit section of the Groove interface is limited to Transmit Channel, Active Sensing (on/off) and Transmit All (on/off). In Dual and Split modes individual transmit channels can be assigned and, if you happen to be a fan of the Jupiter's arpeggiator, its notes are also sent out over MIDI. Unfortunately, it does not seem possible to sync the arpeggiator to MIDI clock. A shame, I felt.
The two remaining facilities are Bulk Dump and MIDI Store. Dump allows you to transmit and receive patch and MIDI parameter data, some 3995 bytes worth, in two seconds - a significant improvement on the Jupiter's original tape dump, as I'm sure long-term users of the instrument will readily agree. It would be possible to look at individual patches on a computer, but I wouldn't advise you to hold your breath for the likes of Steinberg to come up with the goods.
MIDI Store allows you to store and recall edited MIDI parameters to/from 16 memory locations. I found this a quick method of changing "controller" routings rather than going through the motions of a "full" edit.
Throughout all this, the Jupiter's display keeps you informed of what's going on, and Groove's own manual is comprehensive and helpful. My only criticism is the omission of a label to remind you of the new functions of the switches on the Jupiter's panel until you become familiar with them. Solution: I made my own.
THE INTERFACE FOR the Junos is a much simpler affair than the one for the Jupiter. It limits you on the MIDI Receive side to note on/off information but boasts a few more features on the Transmit side. Unlike the Jupiter interface, the Juno interface can be fitted by the adventurous and the technically-minded Juno owner - a worthwhile exercise if you've got the tools, as it'll save you some money.
"Jupiter and Juno owners can now use their 'old technology' synths in a MIDI environment - at a fraction of the price of an expander."
Once "MIDIfied", the Junos can be used as a straightforward slave keyboard, responding to note on/off information only, or as a master keyboard where a split point and upper and lower keyboard MIDI channels can be assigned. Patch Change (limited to 1-48), arpeggiated notes, Transpose and Active Sensing are also sent across the MIDI link. Selecting the various functions involves holding down a (new) front-panel switch and using the Juno's keys. Basically, the top octave keys select modes and functions, while the bottom 16 notes select MIDI channel numbers. Some may find this awkward, but it saves a lot of additional hardware - and expense. Anyway, it's not the first time this has been done and I, personally, found it easy to use.
If it's a Juno 60 on the receiving end of this modification, some of you will be pleased to know the DCB interface is not affected by it.
These interfaces allow Jupiter and Juno owners to make more use of their "old technology" synths in a MIDI environment - at a fraction of the price of an expander. I found adding "warm" analogue sounds to my own "clinical" FM setup gave it a new dimension, and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone with a Jupiter or Juno collecting dust in a corner of their garage.
The Jupiter 8 interface is obviously the more powerful, as is the instrument itself, though it's a shame it can't deal with polyphonic velocity information. It's also a shame that you can't realistically use pitch-bend information from an external source unless you're content with split-oscillator bends. The most obvious limitation here is in terms of MIDI sequencing; still, you can't have everything and what the Groove interfaces have to offer seems well worth investigating to me.
Prices Jupiter 8 Interface £125 excluding carriage; Juno 6/60 Interface £100 by Groove Electronics including carriage, £80 in kit form.
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