Multitimbral Synthesiser Module
Take a JV80, add 8, subtract 61...
A rackmount JV-80 at a knockdown price - has losing your keys ever been so much fun...?
It's all down to the sounds. It doesn't matter how good the facilities are, it's the quality of the sounds on a multitimbral synth which determine how worthy it is of your consideration. And this is one area where Roland have excelled over the years. The fact that many keyboard players won't bother to edit the presets appears to be becoming part of the design ethos of many new instruments - give 'em good sounds to begin with and you'll keep them happy. Making a synth easy to edit is just a bonus.
In appearance, the JV-880 looks very much like any other Roland 1U rackmount - from the D-110 onwards. Black case, blue and white lettering, a decent-sized display and a couple of card slots - one for PCM wave data and the other for a RAM card. The sonic architecture is straightforward: seven melody parts or 'Patches' (128 preset and 64 user) - each of which can be a combination of up to four Tones - and one Rhythm part for a 61-instrument drum set (of which there are three). Take all eight Patches together and they constitute a Performance, of which the JV-880 has 32 preset and 16 for your own efforts.
Sound creation is somewhat limited with only 129 waveforms (including 46 percussion instruments), but quality, for most people, is preferable to quantity and the JV-80 waves are very good. The bass sounds have the requisite balls, while the high-frequency content shows that waves have been recorded at a decent sampling rate.
The keyboard version of the synth, the JV-80, has various user-definable sliders, but being rather awkward to fit on the front panel of a 1U rackmount(!), Roland have replaced them with a small data knob which is very precise in feel, a doddle to use and has the extra facility of changing values by ten if you push it in. It's nice to see that Roland have finally done away with their unfriendly increment/decrement buttons. In terms of facilities, the JV-880 is pretty much identical to the JV-80 (reviewed in MT, May 1992), but has an extra pair of outputs - labelled Sub Output - for taking dry sounds to an effects unit while the internal reverb and chorus operate on the main outputs. Sounds can be previewed by pushing in the volume knob which gives you four different notes on subsequent presses. Nice idea this, especially as you can change the pitches via the System menu.
On the Patches front, there's a lot of doubling up of Tones to give a full range of frequencies. For instance, 'Real Pizz' uses three Tones: two of Upright Bass panned right and left, and Pizz - an octave higher panned dead centre. 'Brass Sect 2' also uses three Tones, although one of these is a simple synth sawtooth wave. The results are very realistic, but using such Patches reduces the polyphony substantially as the JV-880 only allows for 28 voices to be used at the same time. This is, perhaps, one of its major drawbacks.
Included among the Waves are various sound snippets which are used to great effect in many Patches. For instance, 'Jazz Organ 2' uses an organ click to provide a realistic Hammond-style sound, while many of the guitar Patches use two Tones - the second one being the same as the first, but delayed until the key is released and with a very short decay to reproduce the effects of a guitar note 'accidentally' retriggering when the finger comes off the string.
Analogue Feel is a parameter worthy of closer attention. It makes the pitch of a note alter in an unpredictable manner and, as a common parameter, acts on all Tones within a Patch. Natural instruments come across as being that bit more realistic, especially string-based sounds.
The limitation of 129 Waves is overcome by the addition of the optional SR-JV80 expansion board which fits into the JV-880 via a plate on the top of the unit. This comes complete with 224 new Waves and 145 Patches, but while the Waves can be immediately accessed, Patches have to be loaded into the user bank - although they can be previewed in situ. Adding the cost of one of these takes the expanded JV-880 to a price of just under £1000 at which point it meets competition from the likes of Yamaha's new TG500 which also happens to offer 64-voice polyphony.
However, I stand by what I said earlier: in the final analysis it all comes down to the sounds and in this respect, the JV-880 scores highly. It's a most impressive synth and one you should even find easy to edit...
Review by Vic Lennard
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