Roland Alpha Juno-2
Big brother of the Alpha Juno-1, Roland's latest addition to the new-look analogue Juno range has its ivories tickled by the estimable Jim Betteridge.
It was only recently that IM&RW brought its light of critical concern to bear on Roland's Alpha Juno 1. In this lively review we suggested that the use of a '1' in a name tends to suggest some kind of absolute: ie it's the first, the last, the biggest or the smallest; though seldom all four simultaneously. With the measurably superior Alpha Juno 2 sitting in front of me, I can safely say that '1' indicates the first and the smallest of a pair if not a potential range of Alpha Junos.
At around £575, the Juno 1 appeared to have been launched in direct competition with Casio's CZ-1000. Its big advantage over the Casio being that it can receive keyboard velocity information via MIDI, although its own 49-note keyboard is static. The Juno 2 is to cost approximately £200 more than the '1' and amongst its very significant additional facilities is that of a 61-note (C-C), velocity and aftertouch sensitive keyboard. A slightly more solid feel than usual is due to the addition of a metal weighting plate fixed to the under side of each key, as with the Roland JX8P. This generally adds more ballast or feedback to your playing which is important when you're working with touch sensitivity so that you have something to get to grips with. It's an easy keyboard to play and the velocity sensitivity is nicely balanced.
In keeping with the rest of the Juno range, the Juno-2 is a MIDI equipped, six-note polyphonic, with a single bank of six DCOs, six VCAs and six VCFs, all or any group of which can have the touch sensitivity applied to them by varying amounts, graduated 1-15. There is a single LFO and a single EG which can also be applied to the DCOs, VCAs and/or the VCFs.
The DCOs offer three types of pulse wave, five types of sawtooth and six types of pulse wave for the sub-oscillator, each with its own increasingly complex harmonic make-up and hence its own distinctively different sound. The scope for quickly and effectively creating new sounds is great indeed. There's also a Chord Memory function and an octave transpose button to extend the practical register of the instrument.
The Juno 1 was impressive enough with 128 memory locations, 64 of which are ROM containing permanent factory presets with the remaining 64 being (effectively) RAM into which you can store your own original creations or your modified versions of the factory presets. The Juno 2 offers all this plus the considerable ergonomic advantage of a RAM cartridge facility whereby you can store up to 16 or 64 (depending on the model of cartridge) of your own sounds for instant retrieval during performance. Next to the Juno 1's cassette storage facility, this compares favourably in terms of speed of access, but obviously incurs significant extra cost: £45 for a 16-way, and £85 for a 64-way RAM. It's also worth noting that the Juno 2 has a new set of internal voices which certainly sound better than those in the Juno 1, although the addition of touch sensitivity would have made a significant subjective improvement to the old sounds anyway.
The Alpha Juno-1 was the first Juno to use the centralised digital access control with the introduction of its Alpha Wheel. The Juno 2 follows suit, and with this large, free-spinning wheel you can both selects parameter for editing and then change its value. To keep you informed of what's going on there is an illuminated 16-character LCD display, and this in conjunction with the fact that there's only one main edit control makes the Alpha wheel arguably more convenient than standard digital access systems, especially in low light conditions.
Again, following the example of the Juno 1, there is an extra bank of four 'quick fire' edit buttons coming under the heading of 'Tone Modifiers'. These basically take four of the most commonly needed variables — mod rate, mod depth, brilliance and envelope time, and make them easily selectable. This is an excellent idea, and is perfect for quick, mid-performance modifications.
At £779 a great deal is offered here, and the fullness of the sounds belies the use of only a single bank of voices. I enjoyed playing this synth and found the keyboard to be responsive and the parameters easy and quick to program. If you want a keyboard to include in a larger MIDI system, the Juno 1 is probably better value, but if you want a full performance Roland synth, the Juno 2 is very good.
Review by Jim Betteridge
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