Roland Jupiter 6
Roland's budget Jupiter 8
The new Roland looks set to take a large slice of the polysynth market. Mark Jenkins puts it through its paces...
Cheesed off, with your Juno 60 and not in the Jupiter 8 class yet? The new Jupiter 6 from Roland offers some of the best features of both, together with some new ideas and an in-the-shops price of around £1649. It uses the now-popular 6-note polyphonic format and offers split keyboard facilities, MIDI interface and a range of performance options which must be difficult to equal for the price.
The styling of the new synth is halfway between that of its two illustrious predecessors, with the smart wedge-shaped cross-section of the Ju-8 and the colourful presentation of the Juno 60. In addition to vertical sliders and rotaries, the 6 has two new types of control. One of these is a square plastic pushbutton with integral LED which has previously been seen on Yamaha synths such as the CS70, and the other is a small rectangular perspex button with an LED inside it. It's unfortunate that these latter controls don't have the expensive look that's associated with the rest of the synth.
The controls are arranged in three main sections, with the synthesizer parameters on the top, memory controls on the bottom and performance controls to the left of the keyboard. The keyboard has five octaves with a programmable split point (of which more later) and the performance controls consist of a left-right sprung bend lever for pitch or filter, and a wide pushbutton for VCO or VCF modulation.
One of the main advantages of the 6 is the ability to play two different sounds at once, with the assignment of sounds controlled by the Key Mode buttons. These are Whole, which simply means that the same memory is played over the whole keyboard; Split-1, which assigns four notes to the lower half of the keyboard and two to the top; and Split-2, which assigns two to the bottom and four to the top. When in one of the Split modes, a decision has to be made as to which setting is affected by changes in the controls; this is done with the Lower and Upper Panel Mode buttons. Unlike the Ju-8 it's not possible to layer two sounds, one on top of the other. There's still a lot you can do with the split though, for instance a string chord beneath a lead line or a rhythmic chord over a powerful bass figure. In most cases the sounds are completely independent of each other, so you can pitchbend one without affecting the other for instance. It's possible to alter the keyboard split point from the standard 2 octaves/3 octaves just by putting the synth into split programme mode and holding a key.
Let's work along the parameter controls from left to right. A master volume rotary (non-programmable) is followed by the controls for LFO1. These are Rate and Delay, the latter being particularly vital for bringing in vibrato or effects without having to take a hand off the keyboard. The LFO has a speed indicator LED and a choice of four output waveforms, Triangle, Sawtooth, Square and Random. The next section deals with modulation of the oscillators, which can be from LFO 1 (vibrato, trill and random effects) or from one of the Envelope Generators. This could produce pitch bending effects such as disco drums; these two forms of modulation can be assigned to either oscillator or to both. Pulse Width and Pulse Width Modulation on both oscillators' square waves are similarly controllable by the LFO for thick swirling sounds, or by the envelope generators for special effects.
Another pair of controls which allows the 6 to produce some very powerful Prophet-like sounds are the Cross-Modulation sliders. These control each oscillator's pitch from the other oscillator with sweep provided by an envelope generator, so harsh ring modulator-like moving tones can be produced. Lastly the two oscillators themselves, which each have a rotary control for Range (pitch) which steps from 32 feet to 2 feet in semitones, with a neutral band between each octave. This is a very sensible compromise and makes it harder to set up a beautiful preset which turns out to be completely out of tune with all your other presets! The oscillators have a choice of Triangle, Sawtooth, Pulse or Square (VCO 1) and Triangle, Sawtooth, Pulse or White Noise (VCO 2). In addition VCO 2 has a fine tune control to detune it from VCO 1 and thicken the sounds, and can be set to a Low range to act as another LFO and a High range to act as a source for fast ring modulator type effects. The oscillators can be Synced together in terms of tuning, and we all know what happens if we try to bend an oscillator that's in sync, don't we? This is the best way to produce soloing sounds that will break windows at 100 yards, and after some fiddling the Jupiter 6 produces them nicely.
Oscillator sounds go straight to the VCF and VCA for control by the envelope generators. The filter can be put into Lowpass, Highpass or Bandpass modes, unlike some other polysynths, and so the sonic possibilities from powerful to thin and nasal are very wide. Frequency and resonance of the 24dB/octave filters is fully variable and there are several possible control options; Envelope 1 or 2, together with the LFO, and Keyboard Position from 0 to 120%. This latter allows the filter to open up as you play higher up the keyboard, simulating acoustic instruments and making top line solos show up more clearly.
The VCA has two possible control sources, Envelope 2 and LFO 1. The inclusion of the latter option is fairly unusual and means that you can have a genuine volume-based Tremolo as opposed to some kind of filter effect, nice for Leslie speaker and Fender piano imitations. It also means that you can have such wacky effects as random volume control, which might not be too good musically but could be useful for sound effects.
There are two envelope shapers, Env-1 being invertable for upward sweeping effects. In addition to the standard ADSR sliders each EG has a Key Follow control which goes from 0 to 120%. This means that the release time on the sounds can be set to long at the bottom of the keyboard and short at the top, simulating an acoustic piano action very nicely thank you. It all adds to the realism of the sounds of which the 6 is capable, although it must be said that the preset sounds in the model we examined didn't do full justice to this side of the synth.
The 6 can also memorise various other performance features, including polyphonic glide (smooth) or glissando (stepped) with a variable speed up to 1.6 s/Octave. The Arpeggiator is also highly versatile, and can be locked on to cover patterns held down on the keyboard over 1, 2, 3 or 4 octaves. A lower keyboard arpeggio can run quite independently from an upper keyboard leadline — an enormously versatile performance feature for modern music.
The Jupiter 6 can store 48 sounds and 32 combinations taken from these sounds for use in the Split Modes. Each sound can have a Keyboard Assign specified which can be Poly-1, Poly-2 (the same but with automatic envelope completion) Unison (all the oscillators locked to a single note for powerful lead sounds) or Solo (a single oscillator, and pretty weedy). The usual facilities exist for dumping sounds to tape, reloading them in banks or by file names, verifying a correct tape dump and protecting memories. If the Jupiter's tuning wanders it can be instantly corrected by pushing the Tune button — some other synths take a good few seconds to do this, but presumably the Jupiter isn't going to the effort of tuning all the oscillators and generally checking out the system as well.
The performance control section to the left of the keyboard contains a spare LFO, which is enormously useful and has rotaries to send its sine wave output to the VCOs and VCF, with variable speed and Rise Time (next best thing to a delay). Unfortunately it can only be brought in with a white pushbutton — a wheel would have been better. The Bend lever is perfect though, nicely sprung and with assignment to the filter and to one or both oscillators in variable amounts. There's a Wide control to change the amount of bend to a maximum 3½ octaves, useful for producing the best sync bend effects as we mentioned earlier. A lot of effects can be brought in with foot pedals and switches (not supplied) and a Patch Shift facility is available which is invaluable for stepping along the banks to a new sound without having to stop playing. Also on the back is the very wonderful MIDI interface which will allow control from another Roland or from a Prophet, Yamaha, Siel or other MIDI synth, and hopefully from a MIDI sequencer in the not-too-distant future. As it is there's a simple clock input for the arpeggiator which can come up with some nice synced effects.
Opening the Jupiter up for servicing is fairly straightforward, but there's almost nothing inside that the amateur could attend to or indeed should need to. The microprocessors are Intel 8080's and they're used to control analogue oscillators (hence the availability of Glide which can't be produced with the Juno 60's Digital Oscillators). There are three main boards plus a PSU, together with two control panel boards and an output board. Large areas of empty IC sockets say suggestive things about possible retrofits in the future. The standard of construction is of course very high, which can't be said of the overall finish which won't appeal to some tastes.
Overall the Jupiter 6 is very satisfying to play, with a decent keyboard action and fast selection of patches. The split facility is unique on a synth of this price and is invaluable for live work, although the ability to layer sounds would have helped to beef up some effects. As usual the basic filter tone doesn't compare with American synths, but generous use of the Cross-Mod, Sync, and PWM facilities allow the creation of some powerful lead and chordal sounds. The Jupiter's a respectable effects machine as well, although it's annoying that one of the oscillators has to be lost to obtain White Noise. It's bound to sell well though, because it satisfies a clear market demand — split keyboard polyphony for a reasonable price.
Review by Mark Jenkins
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