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Roland JX8P

Article from In Tune, June 1985

Since this was my first review for IT (or anyone else, for that matter!), I was very pleased to find that my first assignment was giving a Roland JX8P the once-over. Having heard a lot of good reports about this new 6-voice polyphonic, touch-sensitive MIDI keyboard from Roland, I was looking forward to trying it for myself. It turned out to be an excellent instrument - easy to programme, and extremely useful for both live and recording applications.

In appearance, the JX8P is of similar design to a Yamaha DX7; minimal moving controls, clean lines, and a sealed one-touch control panel from which all the parameters can be edited. From a live musician's point of view, however, the first thing that struck me was the LED display, which - unlike the DX7's liquid crystal display - actually gets more visible as the lights go down; no need for a torch to see the name of the sound you just selected!

As far as sound generation is concerned, the JX8P is an analogue synthesiser, relying on oscillators, filters and A.D.S.R envelope generators. True, the oscillators are digitally controlled (D.C.O.) for stability, and also true, it is capable of producing some very percussive (dare I say DX7-ish?) sounds as well as the expected analogue type sounds. But in essence, sounds are constructed in a fairly conventional manner.

This isn't to say, however, that the sounds themselves have to be conventional. The provision of two DCOs per voice, both of which have Sawtooth/Pulse/Square waves plus Noise, means that some very meaty sounds and effects can be produced, and the comprehensive routing facilities allow the VCF, Envelope Mod. and DCO2 to be controlled by either of the two envelopes in both normal and inverted mode. Couple this with excellent key follow functions, built-in chorus and detailed tuning on both oscillators, and what you get is a synth in a bracket well above the Juno series. In fact, virtually any sound previously possible on the much more expensive Jupiter series is possible on the JX8P.

I say virtually every sound, because two things that aren't possible are splitting the keyboard or layering two patches. This is a 'one sound at a time' instrument, although that sound can be varied in every possible way.

Where Roland have really scored, though, is in making the 61-note keyboard touch sensitive, and it's obvious that a great deal of thought has gone into this aspect of the design. Not only can the volume of each note be separately controlled by velocity, but the VCF can be programmed to open or close with an intensity which is governed by the force with which the key is struck. To put it plainly, you can add a lot of 'edge' simply by playing harder. There's more - also programmable for keyboard velocity is the envelope modulation; thus, for example, you can set up a sound which will bend up to or down to a note according to how hard you hit it. Light fingering, no bend; strike it hard, and the guitarist won't know what hit him!

All these dynamic effects function in three preset levels of intensity which govern the range but not the subtlety of control - subtlety is left to the player. To achieve even more control from the keyboard, Roland have also incorporated 'after touch' on this machine, where any one of three parameters (i.e., volume, brilliance and vibrato - but no more than one at a time) can be controlled by pressure on the key after the note has been played.

I mentioned earlier that all the parameters can be edited from the one-touch control panel - and those among you familiar with the Yamaha DX series will want to know immediately how this can be considered easy! Well, the JX8P has an optional programmer, the PG800 (see diagram), which sits on top of the synth and makes editing or building new sounds a doddle. With this in position, and connected to your JX8P with a 6-pin DIN cord, programming becomes exactly the same as previous Roland models and most other analogue synths. Why it wasn't made an integral part of the machine is difficult to imagine, as it's an essential not an optional extra. Ah well; ours not to reason why... ours but to twiddle the knobs and see what comes out!

Talking of what comes out (and in) brings us to MIDI. For the technically minded, the MIDI specification from the Owner's Manual is reproduced below. This illustrates just how complete the control possibilities are using MIDI.

Any combination of the MIDI commands can be programmed into a patch, so that as you change patches the MIDI information being transmitted changes according to the job required. This makes the JX8P an ideal 'mother' keyboard: it even has a setting which disconnects its own sounds but still allows you to play other instruments from it via MIDI.

By now you must be wondering where the catch is - to be honest, there isn't one. However, I must have a grumble about the memory section of the synth. Although all functions relating to synthesis, MIDI dynamic keyboard control and tuning are programmable within any patch, there are only 32 user programmable locations. This is disappointing, considering the 128 memories available on the Juno 106. Admittedly, there is a 32-memory RAM cartridge available, but this no doubt will be expensive and, again unlike the Juno 106, there is no provision for saving patches on tape cassettes. Of course there are 64 preset sounds in non-volatile locations which can be edited, but these can't be replaced by personal sounds; they're permanent.

Unfortunately (despite the excellent piano and string sounds), many of these presets, like the one labelled 'OPEN WIDE' (a very realistic dentist's drill!) are brilliant but virtually useless to the musician. One nice touch, though, is the 'patch-chain' memory, which allows any 8 patches to be stepped through in a pre-determined order either backwards or forwards. The patches in this chain can also contain information about After Tone, Key Mode, Bender Range, Portamento, LFO Depth and Unison Detune, all of which are classed by Roland as 'Performance Control' information and cannot be programmed into the 32 main memory locations.

Most of the above terms are probably familiar, apart from After Touch (which I described earlier) and Key Mode. Key Mode is the way in which oscillators are assigned to the notes, and there are three modes, each with two positions. The two Poly modes both assign one voice to each key pressed (thus, 6-voice polyphonic); the difference between them being that in the second mode the release time of the sound is curtailed by the next note played - great for runs using Portamento. In one Unison mode two voices are assigned to each key (3-voice polyphonic), and in the other Unison mode one of these two voices is an octave lower. This makes for a very fat sound which is further enhanced when the oscillators are detuned, using - yes! the Detune button. Finally, in Solo mode the JX8P is converted to a monophonic synth, with all six voices (12 oscillators) assigned to one note if required - very powerful indeed!

It only remains for me to have a little grouse about the Pitch Bend/LFO lever - sideways for bend, forward for vibrato. Suffice it to say that I've never been a fan of Roland lever, and this is no exception in spite of the fact that it's been redesigned. However, this hasn't been something that has prevented me from buying Roland in the past and it certainly won't in future. If you can afford the RAM packs (DX7 owners have to buy them!) then I would say that at a total price of around £1,500 the JX8P with the PG800 is one of the best touch-sensitive analogue synths around, and would make a great first professional keyboard, or the ideal analogue partner to a digital machine.

JX8P Synth £1,325 + PG800 Programmer £180

More details from Roland (U.K) Ltd., (Contact Details).

MIDI Specification

Function Name Description Display Value
Channel MIDI Channel Selection 1-16
Program Change Patch Selection On/Off
After Touch After Touch Value On/Off
Pitch Bend Pitch Bend Value On/Off
Modulation Wheel LFO Switch On/Off
Portamento Portamento Value On/Off
Hold Hold On/Off On/Off
Volume Volume Value On/Off
Mode This sets the JX-8P's mode. On/Off
Mode Send When this Function is on, even if the receiver is not able to set the mode on its own, the JX-8P can send the mode it selects to the receiver. On/Off
Dynamics This adjusts the intensity of the Dynamics effect caused by velocity sensitivity. At 99, the effect is its maximum, and no effect at zero. 00-99
Local This Function (OFF) disconnects the keyboard section from the synthesizer section within the JX-8P. On/Off
Active Sense When this Function is turned on, the JX-8P sends the signal that can prevent the receiver from getting out of control in case of accident such as accidental disconnection of the MIDI Cable, etc. On/Off
System Exclusive When this Function is turned on, the JX-8P sends the Exclusive Message for connecting itself to a computer and other MIDI devices. On/Off

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Doing the Business

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Casio CK500

Publisher: In Tune - Moving Music Ltd.

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In Tune - Jun 1985

Donated by: Gordon Reid

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer > Roland > JX-8P

Gear Tags:

Analog Synth

Review by Nick Graham

Previous article in this issue:

> Doing the Business

Next article in this issue:

> Casio CK500

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