Roland Alpha Juno 2 Polysynth
Big brother to the Alpha Juno 1 comes equipped with a velocity-sensitive, five-octave keyboard, as Simon Trask discovers.
Although there's currently a proliferation of competent machines at the lower end of the synthesiser market, very few of them respond to the ferocity with which you hit their keyboards. Until now, the only sub-£1000 synths that sound louder when you hit them harder have been the Bits One and 99 and SIEL's DK70/80 — Italian designs all. Yamaha have yet to come up with one in this price range, and Casio have yet to come up with one, full stop. Well, with the introduction of the Alpha Juno 2, big brother to the Juno 1 reviewed in E&MM January, Roland have taken the lead among the Japanese manufacturers, and offered a poor man's synth with a touch-sensitive keyboard.
The Juno 2 is in fact almost identical to the Juno 1, save for that five-octave touch-sensitive (attack velocity and aftertouch) keyboard. So apart from its extra length, the newest Juno looks to all intents and purposes exactly the same as the 1.
Voice structure on the big Alpha is carried over from that of the cheaper model, which means a straightforward, traditional analogue system with a single DCO per voice, a high-pass filter, LFO, VCF and VCA sections, and a built-in chorus. The 'Alpha dial' parameter access system, handy octave up/down facility and versatile Chord Memory features are all present and correct, as are the usefully backlit LCD and flexible MIDI implementation. And like most other Roland polysynths thus far, the Juno 2 is six-voice polyphonic, where eight voices would have been preferable.
New to the 2, though, is a RAM cartridge facility, which provides a third group of 64 sounds to go with the 64 preset and 64 user-programmable patches inside the machine. Thus, hey presto, you get instant performance access to 192 sounds — as many as are to be found on Yamaha's newest DXs, but more easily accessible, and with a much higher proportion of user-programmable sounds. The cartridge facility also allows you to save sounds individually or in bulk from the Juno 2, and to load sounds in bulk into it. Only problem is, the cartridges don't come cheap — and Roland have removed the cheaper Alpha's cassette storage facility. Even if you're not over-enamoured with cassettes (and who is?), you can't deny they're a cheap storage medium.
Roland have also given the Juno 2 a new set of preset and 'memory' sounds — presumably a late decision, because our review model still had the Juno 1's sounds in it. So, unfortunately, it's a case of No Sounds, No Comment. As long as they've kept those lovely Juno strings I'll be happy, but in the meantime, all I can say is that I'll keep you posted.
Velocity and aftertouch sensitivity are voice-programmable features on the Juno 1, so the newest Juno doesn't add anything in that department — it merely makes the sensitivity accessible from the synth itself. Playing the Juno 2, however, I soon realised you need to apply an inordinate amount of pressure on the synth's keys to bring the aftertouch effect in; some small alteration to the keyboard's responses certainly wouldn't go amiss.
Much better news is that Roland have just announced a programmer, the PG300, which will work with either of the Alphas, and which allows you to twiddle lots of dedicated controls for easy, rapid editing of sounds. Other manufacturers please take note — then we can kiss goodbye to the digital access nightmare...
The Alpha Juno 2's main raison d'etre, meanwhile, remains its dynamic keyboard, and many people who can't justify the expense of a JX8P will no doubt welcome a comparatively affordable touch-sensitive Roland synth. The plushest Juno yet offers nothing new in the sound department — but that does at least mean you're getting familiar sound textures, programmable in a familiar way.
My main criticism — save the high cost of memory cartridges — surrounds the Juno 2's lack of any split/dual facilities; together, they could have turned one instrument into a pair at a single, easy and cost-effective stroke.
But if the new sounds live up to the promise of the Juno 1, there won't be many disappointed with the upmarket Alpha.
Price Alpha Juno 2 £779; M64C RAM cartridge £80; PG300 Programmer £200 — all RRPs including VAT
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Review by Simon Trask
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