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Roland JX8P


Article from International Musician & Recording World, March 1985

The latest from Roland. Is it a winner? Jim Betteridge investigates

A few more 'p's from Roland

The '3P' in the title of Roland's JX3P synthesizer apparently relates to the fact that it is Preset/Programmable and Polyphonic. Tolerably logical.

A precise explanation of the '8P' in JX8P is not presently available without calling Japan, but suffice it to say that it has an extra five facilities that are considered significant enough for a cryptic inclusion in the name. Though there is no definite information, it isn't difficult to make a few educated guesses. For instance, there's no limit to how many times it can get married — Polygamous, it looks pretty good on the old keyboard rack — Prestigious, it's not very dark of colour — Palish; the list of likely possibilities is considerable.

In the November issue of IM&RW we brought you news of Roland's Mother Keyboard system that went hand in MIDI'd hand with a series of remote synthesizer modules. Included in this batch is the 'Planet 30', which I described at the time as resembling an improved, touch sensitive version of the JX3P. Although the JX8P is going to effectively replace the '3P, it's important to realise that it isn't just a Planet 30 incorporated in a keyboard controller system. It's a totally new instrument with some interesting new features.

A list price of £1,250 makes it £175 more than the '3P, and if you liked the original, it has to be said that this new model is well worth the extra sovs.

Notwithstanding the '8' in the title the JX8P provides six-note polyphony, dual DCO banks and a five-octave, plastic unweighted, non-splittable keyboard which includes both velocity and pressure sensitivity. It includes not only 'Solo' and 'Unison' modes, but also, by pushing the unison button twice, you get 'Octave Unison', whereby one of the six oscillators operates one octave below the rest; a good idea.

Each DCO can produce sawtooth, pulse and square waves plus noise. The pulse wave width can not be modulated and, in fact, is not adjustable. Either oscillator can be phase synced to the other allowing those rich sounding lead line voicings to be created. Also towards a richer sound, a two-setting chorus effect is built in. The LFO can create either sine, square or random waveforms, and includes delay, rate and depth controls. Both EG's are ADSR and can be inverted.

Like its predecessor it features an impressive 128 programme memory capacity which includes 64 factory presets that can't be changed or overwritten, although they can be used as the basis for creating other sounds. In addition there are a further 32 internal memories that also come complete with factory voicings, although they can also be used to store your own sounds, thereby overwriting the factory's efforts. If you need more, you can purchase a RAM cartridge which plugs into a slot on the control panel of the synth, and into which you can dump up to 32 more voicings for immediate, real-time recall. A box full of cartridges should see even the most extravagant player through any gig, and of course there's also the cassette dump facility, which allows all the memory contents to be recorded onto cassette for future retrieval.

Name that voice

All the sounds are selected via 32 membrane switches on which are written the names of the first 32 presets. In order to locate the remaining 96 possibilities some alternative record must be kept, although an LCD window in the centre of the control panel displays various information including the given name of the current voicing, so you do get confirmation before committing to the depression of keys. Although the 64 presets can't be renamed, a new alphanumeric name can be quickly applied to any of the remaining 64 voicings using a combination of the tone, bank, key mode and after-touch selection buttons in the edit mode.

Normally, these 128 memories do not contain performance control settings such as key mode, aftertouch, bender range, portamento on/off and portamento time. For specific voicings and settings that are often used in performance, there is the 'Patch Chain', which allows up to eight voicings to be stored in any order, including said performance control details. A pair of forward/backward nudge buttons then allow these to be sequenced through in either direction.

In its basic form, the JX8P presents the user with one of the more laborious examples of a centralised digital access control editing system. Each of the variables is allotted a number between 11 and 95, and a table printed to the right of the control panel gives the relevant details. To adjust anything, you must first lookup its number, select the edit mode, enter the number via tone selection buttons one to nine, and then adjust the value via the centralised incrementor. The LCD display is effective in reminding you of the parameter selected, and the current settings etc, but it's still a bit of a wind up, and certainly a bit slow and ungainly for live adjustments.

Those at Roland are aware of this, and so, just as with the '3P, they have provided a programmer unit, the PG-800, as an optional extra at £180 which is held in place on the control panel, where the parameter table is, by magnets. This provides separate sliders, or sliding switch controls for most variables, and makes programming a great deal easier.

The velocity sensitivity can be applied to the DCOs, the VCA or the VCF (or the mixer which I'll explain in a minute). This can be controlled via the digital access system or the PG-800, but for the ease of this description I shall refer to the latter. On each of the three sections is a four-position switch marked 'dynamics', showing off, one, two, and three. Off gives a static effect (non-touch sensitive) whilst the other three positions get progressively more sensitive. One of the gripes with earlier digitally controlled synths was that their control increments were rather coarse, thus precluding any of the fine tuning of parameters possibly by analogue means. It's rather odd, therefore, that these controls provide only three degrees of setting (as does the key follow control) rather than a continuous slider giving the standard 0-99 steps. It could, on the other hand, be argued that this provides extra flexibility without necessary complexity.

The application of after-touch is also somewhat simplified. It can be switched in or out to effect any one of three variables: vibrato, brilliance or volume (LFO, VCF or VGA). An intensity slider control allows adjustment of intensity. This review was based on a few hours spent with the JX8P in the Roland demo room, and in that short time it seemed that the limited degree of control over the touch sensitivities was adequate, although as you get to know the instrument better, you might possibly require more from it and consequently a higher level of control.

The sounds were generally better than those of the '3P, although still a little nasally. None of the pianos was very impressive, although there was a reasonable Rhodes-like preset. A whole range of full string sounds and solo bowed sounds could make for impressive sounding multitrack arrangements, with the combination of the touch and pressure sensitivity making it possible to genuinely articulate different parts, avoiding the trap of the standard 'wash of strings'. The percussive voicings were notably good for such an analogue machine, and included very usable tom-toms, bell and percussion sounds. A new inclusion is that of choir and voice sounds, which though not totally convincing, would make a nice textural addition, and perhaps suggest a rather ethereal choir.


An interesting idea is the inclusion of a kind of mixer for DCO 1 and DCO 2 in addition to their normal individual level sliders. DCO 1 always passes straight through this mixer unaltered, but DCO 2 can have either one of the two standard EGs applied to it to give it a different dynamic shape to DCO 1. After this EG comes a fader which determines how much of this altered version of DCO 2 is mixed in with the standard sound. If the normal DCO 2 level control is full up and the mixer slider is full down, the mixer will effectively be out of circuit. In the opposite extreme, the DCO 2 fader might be right down, whilst that of the mixer is at maximum, thus giving maximum effect. In practice this can be used to obtain the more percussive sounds that the DX-7 has brought into vogue (this isn't to say that it's capable of accurate mimicking of the DX). As mentioned, the keyboard dynamics can be used to control the effective position of the mixer control.

The MIDI implementation is fairly comprehensive and includes omni and poly modes. A local on/off switch allows the JX's voice circuitry to be muted whilst still being able to control remote keyboards, or conversely, it mutes all remote keyboards, leaving only the JX sounding.

I would like to spend some extra time with the JX8P, I'm sure there's more to be had from the interaction of the variables than can be discovered in a few hours at Roland. It's quite full sounding for DCO-based synth and possibly a good MIDI mate for a digital synth.

ROLAND JX8P — RRP: £1,250

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Previous Article in this issue

Dear Roland - Letters

Next article in this issue

Dynacord Digital Hit

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Mar 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer > Roland > JX-8P

Gear Tags:

Analog Synth

Review by Jim Betteridge

Previous article in this issue:

> Dear Roland - Letters

Next article in this issue:

> Dynacord Digital Hit

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