Roland JV1000 Music Workstation
Does Roland's flagship workstation live up to its promise?
The JV line grows apace, with this flagship workstation melding the facilities of the popular MC50 sequencer with the sophisticated and powerful sounds and synthesis possibilities of the JV80/880. Derek Johnson checks it out.
Roland as a company are known for innovation. They are also known for consolidation. Now, "consolidation" isn't just a polite way of saying that they try to find as many ways as possible to sell us the same technology, but that they try to make their technology attractive to different types of musician with different needs and bank balances (see Roland's Alan Townsend's letter in last month's Crosstalk for a full explanation of the rationale). Thus, if you want a synth featuring Roland's latest RS-PCM (resynthesized pulse code modulation) and DI (Differential Interpolation) synthesis, buy a JV80; if you want a module along the same lines, go for the JV880; and if a workstation with that little bit extra is on your shopping list, then the new JV1000 is the one for you. All three machines offer the same high quality sample-based synthesis, and all are optimised for their target audiences: the JV80 has a traditional 61-note keyboard and traditional slick synth styling, while the JV880 module fits into 1U of rack space, and offers all the sounds and expansion possibilities of the JV80 as well as adding an extra pair of audio outputs. The JV1000, on the other hand, adds a few extra waveforms, double the preset patches (256 altogether, plus two banks of JV80 equivalent patches), throws in a 76-note keyboard with controller keyboard type options, a fully functioning MC50-type sequencer with double density 3.5" disk drive and — uniquely amongst workstations — tape synchroniser. It also has space for yet another internal voice expander card (the VE-GS1 GM/GS compatible module, which also doubles the JV1000's polyphony to 56 notes). One thing that Roland haven't yet implemented is onboard sample RAM, which seems to be becoming de rigeur for upmarket synths (Yamaha's SY85, the Gem S2/S3, Korg T1, to name a few); the JV1000 would have been an ideal synth to add this feature to.
As with the JV80/JV880, effects processing is limited to a reverb/delay and a chorus. Reverbs include two rooms, two stages, two halls, a delay and a pan delay, with level, time and feedback parameters, while the chorus offers three types of effect, providing a conventional chorus plus slow and deep variants; parameters tweakable on the chorus are level, rate, depth and feedback. The effects can be output in parallel, or you can route the chorus through the reverb.
Given that the JV1000 has all those extra keys on its keyboard, it's surprising how light and compact it manages to be. The look is elegant, with the controllers and disk drive at the left of the instrument, and the synth and sequencer section each taking up a section of the front panel. Turn it on, and you're struck by a couple of things: two backlit LCDs, one for the synth section and one for the sequencer, and a collection of clear, illuminated buttons. There are 10 such buttons (lit red) for the sequencer tracks, eight buttons (also red) that do double duty as the Tone Select/Tone Switch buttons and multitimbral performance part switches, and a matrix of 3x4 green lit buttons for selecting Patches and Performances. The controllers are much the same as on the JV80, with Roland's combination bender/mod wheel, volume and brightness sliders and an assignable slider (there are additional volume and brightness controls for the optional internal VE-GS1 sound module).
From a sonic point of view, there really isn't anything new about the JV1000. Like the JV80/JV880 before it, it features 4Mb of compressed waveform ROM, equivalent to 8Mb of 16-bit samples — although Roland have managed to squeeze 22 extra waveforms into that space, to a new total of 152, including some extra reversed waveforms and additional piano waveforms. The piano waveforms include clunks and general piano noise that help make piano patches a little more realistic (JV80/880 owners can get versions of these waveforms on an optional PCM card).
What you can do to those waveforms will be familiar to regular readers (we reviewed the JV80 in April 1992 and the <10518>JV880 in March 1993). However, it's probably worth a recap. A basic Patch comprises up to four Tones — although the JV1000's 28-note polyphony is cut to seven notes when using Patches made up of the full four Tones — and each Tone consists of a waveform with a collection of parameters attached to it. Amongst others, these parameters include pitch, pan, Time Variant Filter (high pass and low pass with resonance), Time Variant Amplifier (rather like a sophisticated envelope generator), two LFOs and chorus and reverb send levels. Some other nice touches carried over from the JV80/880 include FXM (Frequency Cross Modulation) and Analog Feel. FXM modulates the waveform with another fixed, internal waveform to create something like a new sound — a great effect, easily over-used — and the Analog Feel creates subtle or rather obvious random pitch variations in an effort to mimic unstable oscillators. Other nifty features worth reiterating are the ability to delay the start times of, and to set velocity splits between, Tones.
Rhythm Sets assign a percussion waveform to each note on the keyboard, but again each waveform can be treated to a wide range of synth editing facilities (TVA, TVF, pitch envelope, effects and so on). Your drum kits will never be the same again. As they come, none of the rhythm sets respond to pitch bend, including the Presets. This can be added by the user on a per sound/note basis, but that still means none of the Presets come so equipped. This is especially irritating since there is only one user-storable Rhythm Set on board, plus one on RAM card.
The next step up the ladder (and this is as high as it goes) is the Performance, which is a selection of seven Patches plus a Rhythm Set. These Patches can be layered, split or used multitimbrally. In a multitimbral setup, such real time information as part levels and pan positions can actually be recorded into the sequencer (using the eight faders) for a form of automated mixing. This works as well as it did on the JV80, and makes the JV1000 even more of an integrated system.
Talking of integration, many of the facilities available in a Performance can be used to control external synths, which makes the JV1000 eminently suitable as a controller keyboard at the heart of your MIDI system. Used in this way, the JV1000 can transmit on eight channels at once, each with its own key zone, transposition, level and programme change - pretty powerful.
Patch editing can be undertaken in two ways, and in both instances, buttons on the JV1000's front panel labelled Level, Pan, Tune, Wave, Cutoff, Resonance, Attack, Release, Effect, TVF, TVA and so on make finding the parameter you'd like to edit pretty easy.
• SIMPLE PATCH EDITING involves use of the Edit Palette, to the left of the synth LCD. This can be accessed as you play without going into Edit mode as such, and offers quite extensive control over patch tweaking — parameters available include TVA level, attack and release, wave, FXM depth, pan, tuning, and filter cutoff and resonance. In some ways this is actually more satisfying than full editing since the display shows the value of the current parameter for all four Tones (if you're using all four Tones that is); in this way, it's easier to edit Tones in relation to each other.
• FULL EDITING, where you can really delve into the minute corners of a sound, is undertaken by pressing Edit and using the eight Function Select buttons almost exactly in the middle of the synth. Here you edit each Tone separately — there are eight illuminated buttons under the LCD, and in edit mode, four are used to select a Tone for editing, and the other four for turning Tones on or off. You may only want one or two Tones to a Patch (makes sense polyphonically) or you may want to isolate a Tone to refine its sonic response. In all cases, the eight sliders or inc/dec buttons can be used for parameter adjustment. There are only ever a maximum of eight parameters in a window, so this works fine; however, the sliders are somewhat removed from the display, so it's not always immediately obvious which slider lines up to (and controls) which parameter — a bit clumsy and not very intuitive. It would have been more useful if Roland had placed the faders and buttons immediately under the display, rather like virtually every other synth on the market — it works.
Performance parameters can also be edited in the same two ways, and many of the buttons in the Edit Palette and Function Select sections also have Performance parameter labels.
Initially, the button and slider-laden front panel of the JV1000 looks a little confusing, but all the buttons are labelled so this impression soon passes. Just as well, since you may be overwhelmed by having to plough your way through four (count 'em) manuals; but the skinny introductory and quick start manuals are really rather helpful, which leaves one full-sized manual each for the synth and sequencer sections. This is only fair — you'd have two manuals if you bought a synth and a sequencer separately!
The clear, lit buttons are an attractive feature, and the instrument as a whole feels rather comfortable; the 76-note keyboard makes the average 61-note keyboard feel more than a little constricted by comparison.
It's hard to fault the JV1000's synth section, apart from accusing it of being a little too polite. Sounds can easily be given depth, richness and balls, but when it comes to dirt, it's possible but not so easy; wheeling in the FXM and making extreme moves with the filters helps here. Given that the JV1000 can be easily and fairly economically provided with more everyday, pedestrian sounds with the installation of Roland's General MIDI sound board (adding the sounds and polyphony of a Sound Canvas) I'm surprised that Roland didn't provide the JV1000 with a more adventurous selection of basic waveforms and preset patches. It is a very capable sound creation machine, and to be presented with an excellent sounding but over-familiar selection of straight simulations of acoustic instruments is a little odd. For me, synthesizers are about synthesizing new sounds.
Perhaps some will bemoan the lack of dedicated multi-effects a la 01/W or SY85; I'm almost inclined to agree, but having a simple reverb/delay and chorus means that you can do basic processing without making an effect an integral part of a sound and then losing it when it's used in a multitimbral setup. A typical example of this problem would be a distorted guitar patch which loses its edge in a multi setup. The JV1000's effects are very good, though, and their simplicity makes you program a Patch to sound good without relying on effects. I'd like to have seen more than two pairs of stereo outputs, especially since one pair is dedicated to the optional General MIDI expansion board.
One last problem concerns the disk drive: it is completely dedicated to the sequencer section, and the only way that the synth section can access it (for storing Patches and Performances to disk) is by first sending a System Exclusive dump to the sequencer, and then saving the data as a sequencer file. This isn't a crippling oversight, just a little inconvenient. The positive side of this situation is that you can actually carry on playing the synth while the sequencer is saving a file or formatting disks, which makes mass disk formatting sessions a lot less boring. One last thing: it's been said before about the JV80/JV880, but why so many non-overwriteable Presets?
In a world awash with sample-based synthesis, it's a marvel that anyone can still produce a synth with character. Roland succeed yet again with the JV1000 — the filters and other familiar features manage to give this instrument the feeling of having a genuine place in the Roland family. Although the JV1000 can be used as an instantly gratifying source of sounds, facilities such as FXM and the comprehensive filters, LFOs and enveloping coupled with real-time controls mean that sound sculptors in search of their own aural signature won't be disappointed, although s/he may have to work a little harder to get really dirty sounds — I return to the FXM once again, which is capable of being used to produce sounds pretty well impossible on other synths. Overall, the sound is big, sophisticated and rich, with a punchy bottom end — sample and synthesis based instruments have generally improved immensely in this department over the last couple of years.
It's true of many current synths, but comprehensive sound editing is possible without even leaving the main play page. This makes a synth a little more friendly and immediate. While there are no real sonic surprises on the JV1000, the instrument as a whole has been implemented in a particularly elegant manner. The extra long keyboard will make it immediately attractive to "players" looking for a compromise between 61-note synth keyboards and bulky 88-note master controllers, and the built-in sequencer and tape synchronisation make Roland's latest offering a true workstation — in fact, that synchroniser adds to the perceived value of the JV1000. One feature that I haven't mentioned but was very glad to find was the Scale Tune function; this allows non-equal temperament tuning systems to be easily set up. While not as comprehensive as similar facilities on some other synths (Emu's MPS and various Ensoniq instruments, for example), it's welcome all the same.
On the point of value for money, the JV1000 does appear to be a little expensive. However, when you add up the cost of the bits that go to make up this synth — in Roland terms, about £1500 for a JV80 and £800 for an MC50 MkII — the new workstation starts to look rather more reasonable. You really do get a lot of synth for your money. Period.
JV1000 £1859; VE-GS1 General MIDI expansion £259; SRJV-80-01 Pop, 02 Orchestral, 03 Piano boards, £250 each. Prices inc VAT.
Roland UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Derek Johnson
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