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Roland JV80

Digital Synthesiser

Roland's latest professional digital synthesiser crosses the frontier between their successful D-series technology and a new generation of Roland synths - without costing a fortune. Simon Trask welcomes the JV80.


It's not always stunning innovations that make stunning synths - Roland's new JV80 represents a stunning refinement of proven synth technology.


Most synths represent an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary advance on what has gone before. Roland's new pro synth, representing the latest stage in a line of development which began with the trail-blazing D50 back in 1987, falls into the evolutionary category. However, notice that Roland haven't called it the D80. Instead, they consider the JV80 and its cheaper companion, the JV30, the first of a new generation of Roland synthesisers. Yet in many ways the JV80 is the ultimate D-series synth, the one which succeeds in synthesising (pardon the pun) all the best elements of D-series design as it has evolved over the years.

NEW HORIZONS



There are two particular developments on the JV80 which automatically win it major brownie points from this reviewer: at last, Roland have produced a synth which can sustain sounds over patch changes and which doesn't cut dead any active notes whenever you move between Play and Edit modes.

Other significant developments include the optional SR-JV80 8Mb wave data expansion board, which has to be fitted inside the synth, and Roland's use of a proprietary data-compression technology to effectively double the storage capacity of the JV80's standard 4Mb wave data ROM, the 8Mb board and the 2Mb wave data cards to a grand total of 28Mb! What this seems to mean in practice is not that you get double the number of samples but that the existing samples are longer and/or there are more multisamples per Wave. Many of these multisampled sounds have been newly recorded for the JV80. A general overhauling of the sound source includes the use of enhanced RS-PCM and DI "synthesis techniques"; as usual, Roland deign to explain sod all in the manual about what this actually means, though I presume DI stands for Differential Interpolation, which is Roland's way of playing back samples at a constant rate regardless of their playback pitch (as introduced on their S770 sampler). As the JV80's samples are blessed with the same degree of clarity and cleanliness across a wide pitch range, this would seem to be the case. Another advance comes at the synth's audio output stage, which has been given 18-bit D/A signal conversion for high S/N ratio and wide dynamic range - and it shows in the quality and vitality of the JV80's output signal. Talking of dynamics, the JV80's 61-note keyboard, while being of the synth persuasion, has a modest amount of body to it, and is sensitive to both attack and release velocity as well as channel aftertouch. The JV80 has a number of parameters dedicated to getting velocity (and therefore dynamic performance) to control musically meaningful parameters.

The standard Wave ROM which the JV80 comes fitted with contains 129 16-bit linear PCM Waves, 14 of which are actually playback-reversed versions of other Waves in the ROM. Roland will initially be making available a choice of two SR-JV80 boards: Contemporary (more samples along the lines of those already available in the standard Wave ROM - basses, organs, guitars, brass, pianos, ethnic instruments and plenty of modern drum and percussion samples) and Orchestral (shades of Proteus, methinks). The first two PCM Wave cards for the JV80 are apparently going to be, respectively, U20 acoustic piano and others, and sax and trombones. According to Roland, JD800 Wave cards will work in the JV80 and vice versa, though as JD800 cards are only available in two-card sets with corresponding patch data cards (which aren't compatible with the JV80), I can't see that many JV80 owners taking advantage of the JD800 option.

ORGANISATION



The JV80 can be played in either one of two operational modes: Patch and Performance. In Patch mode you can call a single Patch onto the keyboard using the Bank and Number buttons to select any one of 64 Patches, and the User/Preset and Int/Card/A/B buttons to select one of four sets of 64 Patches (User Internal or Card, and Preset A or B). A Patch consists of up to four Tones, each one of which in turn consists of a Wave Generator, a Time Variant Filter and a Time Variant Amplifier, along with associated pitch, filter and amplitude envelopes and two freely-assignable LFOs. The JV80's chorus and reverb processing is programmable per Patch.

In Patch mode the JV80 transmits on a single MIDI channel (1-16, Rx Channel, Off) and receives on a single MIDI channel (1-16), both of which are set globally in System mode - where you can also set Local keyboard routing on or off and define MIDI transmit on/off and MIDI receive on/off settings for various types of MIDI data globally. However, when you select Performance mode the JV80 becomes eight-Part multitimbral, with Parts 1-7 each having a Patch assigned to them and Part 8 being reserved for one of the synth's four Rhythm Sets (drumkits). Each Part can, of course, be given its own MIDI receive channel assignment. The JV80's 28-note polyphony is allocated dynamically across the Parts, but you can also reserve a number of voices for individual Parts.

In Performance mode you get four sets of 16 Performances; as with the Patches, two of these are factory preset, a third is internally programmable and a fourth is card programmable. As you might guess, the JV80's chorus and reverb effects are programmable per Performance; routing of Patches to effects is determined by the settings of the Part chorus and reverb switch parameters.

There's a lot more to the JV80's Performance mode than just MIDI multitimbral reception, though. You can also program up to eight Internal Zones and eight (MIDI) Transmit Zones per Performance, allowing you to create all manner of internal and/or MIDI splits, layers and overlaps on the JV80's keyboard. So, you could have Parts 5-8 being played from four tracks on a sequencer on, say, MIDI channels 13-16 while you play a multi split and overlap texture on the synth's keyboard which features a mixture of internal and MIDI'd sounds. Other parameters allow you to define pan, volume and patch change values to be transmitted on the relevant Transmit Zone channels when the Performance is selected, decide whether or not each Part will respond to MIDI patch change, volume and sustain-pedal data, and set Patch number, volume level, pan, coarse tune amount and fine tune amount for each Part.



"Roland's proprietary data-compression technology effectively gives the JV80 a grand total of 28Mb!"


Performances can be selected remotely via MIDI patch changes. All you have to do is assign a MIDI channel to the JV80's global Control Channel parameter and the synth will respond to any MIDI patch changes received on that channel by selecting the relevant Performance.


FRONTING IT



Roland's new synth adopts the Edit Palette concept of reassignable sliders which the company introduced on the D70. The Edit Palette is essentially a halfway house between having no sliders at all and having a front panel full of 'em. As it is, the Palette takes up about a third of the synth's front panel, to the left of the LCD window. The eight Assign buttons to the left of the Parameter sliders take on different functions in Patch and Performance Play modes. In Patch Play mode you get a choice of eight parameters: Level, Pan, Coarse Tune, Fine Tune, Filter Cutoff Point, Resonance, Attack Time and Release Time. In Performance Play mode these become Level, Pan, Coarse Tune, Fine Tune, Transmit Volume, Transmit Pan, Transmit Transposition and Internal Transposition. For example, in Patch Play mode, if you press the Level button, Parameter sliders 1-4 allow you to adjust the levels of the four Tones assigned to the current Patch; select Filter Cutoff Point and you can control, yes, the filter cutoff points of the four Tones. One more button-press and you're controlling resonance, or perhaps attack time, from the sliders.

In Performance Play mode, you can use the sliders to, say, adjust the level, pan, coarse tune and fine tune of each Part independently. If you press the Assign button labelled Tx Volume, you can control the volume balance of external MIDI instruments from the sliders; select Tx Pan and you can pan external MIDI instruments across the stereo spectrum. Many other parameters can be controlled independently for each Part from the sliders, the assignment being determined by which software page is selected. For example, with the Chorus Switch page selected you can turn the Chorus effect on/off for each Part. In Patch and Performance Edit modes, the Parameter sliders edit whatever parameters are in the currently-selected window. Any edits you make in any of the four modes can be Written to a Patch or Performance, as relevant.

The four buttons located above the Assign buttons govern chorus on/off, reverb on/off, transpose on/off and Rhythm Set edit select. The first three are all global settings, so if you turn off the JV80's internal reverb processing, it will stay off, regardless of what Patch or Performance you select, until you turn it on again using the same button. Transpose affects keyboard performance in the same way, though the transpose amount (over a range of ±36 in semitone steps) is set on the System Tune page.

The front-panel centrepiece is the 2 x 40-character backlit LCD and the eight buttons beneath it. When the JV80 is in Patch mode, buttons 14 act as on/off switches for the four Tones which make up a Patch, while buttons 5-8 allow you to select Tone(s) for editing. In multitimbral Performance mode, the buttons act as Part Switches, with one for each of the eight Parts; the actual functions of the buttons differ depending on context.

When you're in Performance Play mode, the buttons function as MIDI receive on/off, MIDI transmit on/off or MIDI transmit and receive on/off switches, depending on which one of the eight Assign buttons is selected. In Performance Edit mode, the functions of the Part Switches are dependent on which Function button (Common, Effect, Transmit Zone, Internal Zone and Part) and in some cases which LCD page is selected. For instance, with Common selected, the Switches turn MIDI data reception on and off per Part, while with Effect selected they function as Part-specific on/off switches for the chorus effect when you're on the Perform Chorus page and for the reverb effect when you're on the Perform Reverb page. With Internal Zone selected, they turn the Local parameter (which governs whether or not the JV80's keyboard is routed to its internal sounds) on/off per Part.



"What 1/f modulation does is introduce non-periodic fluctuations of pitch which can certainly add to the character of a sound."


The next grouping of buttons contains Performance Play and Edit and Patch Play and Edit mode select buttons, together with LCD page select and cursor buttons, Inc/Dec buttons and Enter and Exit buttons. To the right of these, the two lower rows of buttons govern Patch and Performance selection while the upper row governs selection of the various function areas in the System, Patch Edit and Performance Edit modes. While the Access buttons allow you to edit selected parameters in the Patch and Performance Play modes, the Function buttons give you access to all the relevant parameters (such as all the TVF parameters rather than just filter cutoff point and resonance).

On the synth's rear panel are a stereo headphones socket, L(Mono)/R stereo outs, MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets, a sustain pedal input, two programmable footpedal inputs, a PCM sample card slot and a Data card slot, plus of course the power on/off switch and AC power cord input.

SOUND & STRUCTURE



The 129 ROM waveforms with which the JV80 comes fitted provide a familiar general-purpose Roland spread of instrument sounds, attack samples and waveforms, with a generous selection of drum and percussion sounds providing the single most prominent category - and the sort of modernist collection of sounds we've come to expect from Roland. Keyboard sounds include acoustic piano, two Rhodes pianos, electric piano and jazz and pipe organs. Basses provide synth, pick, electric, fretless, upright and slapped varieties, while guitars include nylon, six-string, mute and harmonics. Strings, vocals and bell-like pad sounds are also represented, as is the odd trumpet, sax and horn. Digital chimes, steel drums, metal wind, white noise and various waveforms such as sawtooth, pulse and sine round off the picture. You can expect the usual combination of clarity, sharpness, and in some cases thinness from the sounds.

If this mixture offers no particular surprises, there is a way of "playing around" with the sounds to create a much wider range of timbres. The trendy practice in synth design currently seems to entail adding waveform modification functions to the oscillator stage. Roland perhaps started this off with Differential Loop Modulation on the D70, then Korg came along with Waveshaping on the 01/W, and now Roland have implemented a new/old feature on the JV80: Frequency Cross-Modulation, or FXM to give it its snappy title. This can be set for each Tone in a Patch, and has just two parameters: on/off switch and depth (1-16). The manual tells you virtually nothing about what the JV80 is getting up to here - you won't, for instance, discover what the modulating waveform is. According to Roland UK, it's a sine wave, nothing more, nothing less. The general effect seems to be to make things sound more metallic in varying degrees, an effect which works better with some sounds than others - certainly a worthwhile inclusion, but not earth-shatteringly exciting. A choice of modulating waveforms could perhaps have made FXM more versatile. As it is, the Waveshaping feature on Korg's 01/W synth has more to offer. Still, FXM is very accessible operationally, only requiring a couple of slider movements to implement.

Another feature which is presented in a very straightforward way is Analog Feel. Some of you may recall that this was introduced on the D70 in an attempt to emulate the tuning instability of analogue oscillators in an extremely stable digital world. Yet it only did it in a fixed way. The JV80 adds something called 1/f modulation, although you still only set one parameter (depth) which apparently includes special types of modulation such as the murmur of a little stream and the rustling sound of a gentle breeze. Very poetic. What 1/f modulation does is introduce subtle non-periodic fluctuations of pitch (or much less subtle ones if you whack the depth right up) which can certainly add to the character of a sound. Indeed, an improvement on the D70's implementation.

Pitch variations of another kind are to be found in the Fine-tune section, which includes a useful feature called Random Pitch which literally randomly shifts the pitch of a Tone within a selected pitch range in response to each received note on. The smallest range is 1/20th semitone, the biggest is an octave.

LFO parameters allow you to set waveform (triangle/sine/sawtooth/square wave and random 1 and 2), phase synchronisation (with the note on) on/off, rate and offset, delay time, fade mode and fade time, together with modulation depth settings for LFO1 and LFO2 for each envelope.



"The JV80 has the different sound ranges well covered, from powerful speaker-flapping basses to 'epic' pads."


The Filter section implements low-pass and high-pass types (but not band-pass), and of course Roland's excellent resonance; there's also a Resonance Mode parameter which allows you to select either hard or soft response. Other filter parameters include TVF Envelope Depth, TVF Envelope Velocity, TVF LFO1 and LFO2 Depth and Cutoff Frequency Key Follow, plus, of course, TVF envelope parameters. Dynamic modulation of filter cutoff and envelope settings is provided; Roland want you to take full advantage of that extra dynamic range.

Drum and percussion samples and keyboard "drumkits" have seemingly become an essential part of the modern synth, and the JV80 happily obliges with its Rhythm Sets. These are made far more than simple "sample playback" kits by the fact that each sound assigned to the keyboard can be routed through its own synthesis settings (although FXM and the LFOs are, frustratingly, not included).

By taking advantage of the TVF you can create completely new sounds out of existing ones. What's more, any of the JV80's Waveforms can be included in a Rhythm Set. Each sound in a kit can have its own dry, chorus and reverb send level settings, while, if you have some sounds that you want to use to cut short others, the Mute Group parameter provides you with 31 groups. Something I would like to see is Roland providing more programmable Rhythm Sets - perhaps a bank of 16, something like that. Particularly when there's so much scope for individual sound creation within the Rhythm Sets, it seems a shame to restrict people.

In contrast to just about every other manufacturer, Roland seem to deliberately keep their effects processing stripped to the basic requirements and this can actually work quite well, especially in a Performance. The JV80 provides eight reverb types: Rooms 1 and 2, Stage 1 and 2, Hall 1 and 2, Delay and Pan-Delay together with level, time and feedback settings. For the Chorus effect there are three types of chorus, providing successively stronger effects; other parameters are chorus level, rate, depth and feedback, together with a parameter which lets you determine where the chorussed signal will be routed to.

VERDICT



The JV80 is a synth which brings a lot of good things together in a very satisfying way. I found it to be a friendly, accessible instrument; I could find my way around it sans manual without any great difficulty. The implementation of Performance mode is impressively well thought out and versatile, and in both Patch and Performance modes a lot of parameters are made readily accessible thanks to the buttons and Parameter sliders. What's more, interesting live applications suggest themselves for the sliders and Tone/Part switches. The Patches and Performances which come with the synth are a well-programmed bunch which show off an impressive sonic versatility.

The JV80 has the different sound ranges well covered, from powerful, speaker-flapping basses to full, rich string ensembles to cutting electric pianos to sparkling bell sounds to "epic" pad sounds. There's even a rave-y blockbuster chord Performance (Movie Stab). I also found that it was a synth I enjoyed programming - not just because of its accessibility, but because of what I was able to get from it. As to sound quality, if vitality, presence, clarity and brightness seem like appealing qualities to you, you may well find the JV80 a fatally attractive synth.

Prices JV80, £1245; EB-JV80 ROM expansion board, £210; WC-JV80 Wave Cards, £53 each. All prices include VAT.

More from Roland (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).


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Previous Article in this issue

Fostex X18

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The Lone Raver


Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

 

Music Technology - May 1992

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer > Roland > JV80


Gear Tags:

Digital Synth
Polysynth

Review by Simon Trask

Previous article in this issue:

> Fostex X18

Next article in this issue:

> The Lone Raver


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