It’s been a long time since the wheels of the rumour mill have turned as quickly as in the weeks before the press release of the Japanese manufacturer Roland, announcing a new synthesizer by the name of ‚Jupiter‘. Too many synthesizer enthusiasts were still hoping to finally get hold of a Jupiter-8, or to be more precise, an adequate successor. The author of these lines is no exception. I only associate positive memories with this instrument. Probably a few of them have become soft focus over time.
With the release of the technical data that hope faded, and once again happy faces were confronted with disappointed ones. Which group was larger is difficult to say at this point in time, but supposing that it was the latter would make you less likely to be wrong.
Objectively speaking, there was no reason why the manufacturer who has impressed us with their V-series should delight us with a new analogue synthesizer. Ignoring for once the component problem for analogue synthesizers (please also see the Stefan Schmidt interview) let us take as examples Roland’s V-Synth, V-Piano, and V-Drums. They all are a pretty clear signal for the kind of technology people in Hamamatsu have been focusing on in recent years. And so I wondered what would be awaiting me in the form of the Roland Jupiter-80, to give it its exact name.
As you would expect from Roland, the finish of the Jupiter-80 leaves no room for criticism. The side panels scream ‚quality‘ and seem built to last. The touch-sensitive display set into the surface of the casing (800 x 400 dots) is the central interface between man and machine and is characterized by equally good readability as operability. At the bottom of the screen are four incremental rotary encoders that allow the user to control what is happening aurally. The row of push buttons between the keyboard and the display is no doubt a tribute to its famous ancestor. The rainbow-like colour palette is reflected in the 27 buttons. These allow quick access to the ‚tones‘, as they are called.
‚Tones?‘ you will ask yourself. Yes. But we will come to that later. For some reason the image of Hansi Hinterseer in ‚The Phantom of the Opera‘ popped into my head when I found the two buttons ‚theater organ‘ and ‚accordion/harmonica‘ close to each other and as chance would have it, in the middle. Well ….. Back to the surface of the Jupiter-80. This is well-organised and therefore enables quick orientation. And so we have already reached the keyboard. As someone who has been an avowed fan of weighted 88 keyboards over the years, my joy regarding plastic keyboards remains within reasonable limits. At least it did until now. The keyboard of the Jupiter-80 has taught me a lesson in this respect. It is extremely comfortable to play, accurate and above all very well adapted to the internal sounds. Especially the latter is not negligible since the Jupiter-80 boasts a sizeable tonal range. Whether piano or synthesizer sound, violin or vibraphone, acoustic bass or brass instruments, they all require an appropriate and sometimes quite different playing style, which this keyboard supports. Nothing hinders the playing of these sounds in a dynamic way.
Roland Jupiter-80 demo track, sounds used in this track – JD-990 Pad, Piano, Humanizer Bass, Old Pad, Strings, Matrix Pad
But let us explore the inner values and begin with how the sounds in the Jupiter-80 are organized. Incidentally, this is an appropriate time to prepare yourself a coffee. My recommendation: Ristretto with sugar. Why? You will probably understand it in the next few lines. The structure of the Roland Jupiter-80 can be described as quite complex. The attached manual does not entirely acknowledge this fact. On the other hand, who reads manuals? Although I have found myself doing so a few times, only in emergency situations of course. To spare you this, I would like to use screenshots – which should correctly be called photos – to explain the structure. Yes, keeping enjoying that mouthful, because now it’s really kicking off ..
Everything starts with SuperNATURAL. SuperNATURAL Acoustic and SuperNATURAL Synth, to be exact. These two form the foundation of the Jupiter-80 generated sounds.
My careful general inquiries of the Roland customer service representative responsible for Austria are still awaiting an answer [Addendum – please consider, this review was first published in December 2011 – this changed since then]. Any answer at all, let’s just say at this point. Therefore, I can’t offer any detailed and official information on the SuperNATURAL. It seems to be a sample-based technology that can fade between different forms of articulation by means of a special algorithm. Some of you certainly know the ARX boards of the Fantom series, which extend this workstation series with the SuperNATURAL technology, as well as the APSynthese, which formed part of the V-Synth GT’s gifts. The latter stands for Articulate Phrase Synthesis, which takes the typical way of playing each instrument into account.
Roland Jupiter-80 demo track „Tan Dun – Kind of Hero“
At the lowest point in the hierarchy what Roland’s jargon calls the TONE is found. In the case of a SuperNATURAL acoustic sound, you can currently choose from 117 different sounds, which are organised into 17 categories (from piano to percussion). In the picture you can see an ‚erhu‘ (a two-stringed Chinese instrument), an example of the category ‚Solo Strings‘ [you can listen to these sounds in the „Tan Dun Kind of Hero“ demo track].
The 117 sounds are made up of various acoustic and electric pianos, clavinets, a tonewheel organ, harmonica, accordion, harp, guitars and bass guitars, brass, woodwind and string instruments (the latter as a solo and ensemble) and percussion sounds. What they all have in common is a small number of parameters that either switch between typical articulations typical for the instruments, or take different sound characteristics into account. Strong modifications and combinations, as you may know and perhaps like from physical modelling, are not achievable here. It would not be the Jupiter-80 if there were not a small exception in terms of ’sound modification‘, which I will return to later.
In general, the SuperNATURAL acoustic sounds are characterized by a high degree of authenticity. Particularly good examples are the acoustic bass, vibraphone and acoustic piano. The latter provides access to six parameters (string resonance, key off resonance, hammer noise, stereo width, nuance and tone character) allowing for very different sound characteristics. The sequence of both piano audio files was chosen so that the focus is not on fast runs, which often flatter the sound as much as the performer. Especially when you are playing legato, the overtone progression often presents a special challenge (keyword ’sympathetic resonance‘) in the case of the chords as well as in the case of individual notes played to chords. Despite this, I must attest to the high quality of sound and it naturally raises the question of to what extent the technology of the V-Piano has come into play.
Flugelhorn (sustained notes, first played dry, then plus internal reverb)
Trombone (sustained notes, first played dry, then plus internal reverb)
In addition to the doubtlessly excellent flamenco guitar, you have probably already heard several demos of the Jupiter-80’s various brass instruments. In our two audio files you can hear the trombone and flugelhorn. Both are first dry and then with reverb.
Roland Jupiter-80 demo track „Montana“, all sounds Jupiter-80
How does the whole thing look in the case of the ‚SuperNATURAL synth’? Different.
A ‘TONE’ is here composed of three partials. A partial is equivalent to an Osc/filter/amp/EG block. Each oscillator offers, as well as the classics, saw, square, pulse-width, triangle, sine, noise even SuperSaw and PCM waveforms. Amongst the 363 PCM waveforms, there are some classics, such as Moog saw, Jupiter saw but also sync as well as vox and formants.
Roland Jupiter-80 sound example „JD-990 pad“. Please find at the end of this review a short workshop showing how easy it is to get to this kind of pad sound.
The pulse width can be freely determined and of course modulated. A waveshaper and ring modulator are also part of the repertoire as are two LFOs. In this way, each partial is in itself a synthesizer. The filter of one partial is moreover no less versatile, with its low pass, high pass, band pass and peaking filter (-12/-24 dB/oct resonance). At this level a pretty potent synthesizer already can be put together.
But this is not enough. A SuperNATURAL Synth TONE is, as you know, composed of three of the partials we have just discussed (= osc/filter/amp/ EG blocks) and still allows changes in pitch, filter, amp, LFO and modulation LFO. In the next picture you see the TONE filter in the „Modify“ Screen. You have guessed correctly that we can additionally filter here (LPF, BPF, HPF, PKG and tone) or not (OFF). The all-around feel-good package includes cutoff Frequency, keyfollow cutoff, resonance and a filter envelope (ADSR).
What is that good for, you ask? Imagine, for example, you had a pad sound that in one song needed a slow amp attack and a long release, but in another piece could work well with a shorter attack and release with a more widely opened filter. Before, you had to tiresomely change the applicable parameter in each partial, one after the other, or set a partial and then copy it into the next one only to find that the previously written over partial was on the other side in the panorama and the oscillator was finely detuned by +2 instead of -2 and that it did not use a pulse width but the PCM waveform #135, etc… all of this not a problem. You edit the overlapping parameters at TONE level, quickly and easily. That’s it.
The ‚mild filter sweep‘ was recorded with an existing TONE from one of the three partials. As a starting point the individual partials were initialized, then selected from the PCM waveforms # 1 (JP-8 Saw) and in each partial the -24dB/oct low pass filter was selected. Attack and release time were adjusted accordingly, and afterwards the data was copied from partial #1 to partial #2. The two were then separated in the panorama, and the third partial (SuperSaw) placed in the middle. You hear the pure tone, without any internal or external effects (not any modulation like Chorus, or anything else). For the recording the cutoff frequency was initially increased from -63 to 0 on the ‘TONE edit’ level and at this stage the converse operation was carried out with the resonance (from 0 to +63). Finally, the filter was lowered back to the starting position (-63).
With version 2 Jupiter-80 owners get three more additional low pass filters:
Roland Jupiter-80: LPF1
Roland Jupiter-80: LPF2
Roland Jupiter-80: LPF3
Roland Jupiter-80: LPF4
In the above example LPF4 shows the biggest difference, whereas the differences of the other three examples might be more subtle. However, the three new LPFs are more than welcome and a nice addition to the Jupiter-80.
In the likely event that sugar and caffeine have diminished in their effect, I hope to win back your undivided attention with a short statement regarding the tonal quality of the SuperNATURAL synth.
Roland Jupiter-80 demo track „Steam“, all sounds Jupiter-80
Let me start with something surprising. And that is the audible artefacts in the higher octave ranges. Not flashy, but present. How does it sound otherwise? Surprisingly good even on the TONE level. Some of the factory registrations – please just accept this name as it is, an attempt to explain it follows later – make little use of it. In the top spots it ‚brasses‘ and ‚jupiters‘ a bit too much for my liking, e.g.  A-3 ‚Jupiter in 1981‘. I would have liked to have seen one or two sounds here that can at least be created using the 1900 preset SuperNatural Synth tones. The Jupiter-80 can do much more and produces soft, Roland-typical pad sounds as easily as bass and lead sounds. Anyone looking for analogue self-oscillation of the filter with resonance turned to the maximum will probably sit not down in front of this instrument anyway. Which does not change the fact that the Jupiter 80 offers a variety of different synthetic sounds of consistently high quality.
When viewing the screenshots ‘live set tone modify’ you have probably noticed the function ‘Tone Blender’ on the right at the bottom. Yes, ‚blending‘ is Jupiter’s strength, you might think at this point. And surprise, surprise, even if you meant it in a different way, it is true in some respects.
A satirical, however respectful recreation approach of one of the keyboard players I liked in the early 80ies
We are talking about a parameter set in which individual target values can be assigned. With the dedicated rotary encoders the four TONEs can collectively be changed from the current to the target settings (‚morph‘). With the ’shuffle‘ function, the target values of the parameter sets can be randomized. Morphing can also be controlled with the built-in D-beam. The imagination knows no limits. From fading sounds in and out and transitions to sounds that are drowning in resonance or smothered by distortion, everything is possible. Each intermediate level can be saved as a new live set and selected as a starting point for new changes. A clear case of “like”.
You have probably noticed, we are now finally leaving the level of TONEs to turn to the LIVE SETs.
A LIVE SET can be comprised of up to four tones. The Jupiter-80 offers as default 2300 LIVE SETs so that you don’t have to start with nothing. These are organized in 50 categories. For the sake of correctness, you have to point out here that, for example, the categories sound FX and drums are currently empty. Whether live sets will be offered in the future or whether this is intended as a service for the user is beyond my knowledge.
The parameters are largely self-explanatory and offer an appropriate distribution of the TONEs within a LIVE SET. As you have already seen from the description of the TONE Blender, SuperNATURAL acoustic tones can be as readily combined with SuperNATURAL synth tones as monophonic with polyphonic sounds.
Thus we come to the effects section consisting of four multi-effects and reverb (see illustration). The four multi-effects can be selected from 76 different effects, which are available in the usual Roland quality. From equalizer to humanizer, auto-wah, phaser, chorus, flanger and delay to Lo-Fi Noise, overdrive and pitch shifter, everything is represented. To first send a sound through the chorus and then (serial routing of MFX), for example, through the humanizer is unfortunately not possible. I don’t like that much.
Finally we come to the REGISTRATIONS.
REGISTRATIONS can be backed up to a total of 256 memory locations. If you have been asking yourself all along what the buttons below the keyboard are, you have now found the answer. They are used to select the individual registrations. Using ‚previous‘ and ’next‘ you can switch through 8 banks, which each contain 4 (A, B, C, D) by 8 memory slots. I wasn’t enthusiastic about this initially, primarily for aesthetic reasons, but their functionality, especially in live use, is hard to deny.
A registration consists of PERC, LOWER, UPPER and SOLO parts. The PERC part is probably the most unusual of the four. Let’s start simply. You assign the PERC to a sound, ie. in this case a TONE. In addition to the 107 SuperNATURAL Acoustic and the 1900 SuperNATURAL Synth TONEs 16 additional drums/SFX TONEs are available to you. The ‘drum’ sounds that are distributed across the upper half of the keyboard, to be more precise, three and a half upper octaves, are identical in all 16 drums/SFX TONEs. On the other hand, if you press the ‘manual percussion’ button, you have as many different drum and percussion sounds as the 15 lower buttons. It wouldn’t be the Jupiter-80 if you couldn’t choose from 8 different drum kit TONEs.
Both the PERC and SOLO parts use their own effects loop, and are therefore independent of those of the LIVE SETs. These two independent effects loops are connected serially and consist of a compressor, EQ and delay. The reverb is fed in parallel. Other effects are not available.
Everything which applies to the SOLO PART is almost the same for the PERC PART. The SOLO PART however ‘only’ has access to the SuperNATURAL Acoustic and SuperNATURAL Synth TONEs. Now we are left with the UPPER and LOWER parts, to which are assigned LIVE SETs. This may seem a bit short and sweet. Therefore, in summary – a LIVE SET consists of up to four TONEs, which in turn as a SuperNATURAL Synth can be made of three Partials! Otherwise, everything that is necessary at this level for a given distribution with regard to volume, pan, pitch, etc. is available. A nice ‘live’ feature is the ‘alternate’ button, which can assign each of the two parts an alternative sound that is activated by pressing the pushbutton.
In the ‘Tan Dun Hero pmm’ REGISTRATION, PERC part of the SuperNATURAL Acoustic I chose the ‘strings’ TONE, which is, however, inactive in the illustration. In the SOLO part the ‘shakuhachi’ comes into play, in the UPPER part the „erhu“ and in the LOWER a „string section“. The corresponding audio file was recorded in one go, virtually ‘live’. No MIDI, no multitracking, no quantization. The strings in the lower layers were selected ‘on the fly’, just as the switch between Shakuhachi and Erhu was. I was surprised by the ease of use and above all the implementation, especially while playing. Of course, this requires extensive familiarization with the sounds and their distribution across the keyboard beforehand.
Roland Jupiter-80: The final question, and how does the piano sound? In this example I tried to demo single notes, chords, the dynamic range. The good news, in general it will cut thru a mix. However, for my personal taste the sound in general, but mainly the sustain is a bit on the thin side. But this might be fixed with a little EQ increase in the lower range.
‘Arpeggiator’ and ‘harmony intelligence’ can be found in the ‘CONTROL’ section and LOWER and UPPER Parts are available. According to the manual, arpeggiator patterns can be created from MIDI files, in case the 128 patterns already on board are not enough for you. By the way, in the acoustic bass audio file you can hear a factory arpeggio pattern. This is not only a simple up/down or random pattern, but is in part tailored to the specific ways of playing some instruments. The corresponding settings are saved with the REGISTRATION.
That leaves the audio player, which according to my manual plays mp3 files in 44.1 kHz. Conversely, recordings are saved as 44.1 kHz, 16 bit WAV files. Yes, you have read correctly, the Jupiter-80 not only provides a stereo audio player but also a recorder. Songs being played can be equalized with a specialised ‘song EQ’. Furthermore, in the system setup a master EQ can be found, which allows a cross-rate adjustment for the final sound.
The Jupiter-80 offers a lot of features and options. The longer you occupy yourself with it the clearer it becomes that it was primarily conceived as a tool for musicians playing live. Which finally brings me and particularly you to the…
Whoever was responsible for naming this instrument Jupiter has not really done this synthesizer a favour. More than a few potential customers will believe that this was a primarily marketing campaign aiming to cash in. Ultimately, everyone has to find out for themselves whether this is true or not, preferably after playing this instrument.
No denying it, the Jupiter-80 is at the cutting edge. Some of the SuperNATURAL sounds are undoubtedly of impressive quality and you will not find them in any other keyboard these days. That they have to be played as impressively should not be ignored. Despite the artefacts mentioned in the higher ranges, the quality on offer can be described as very good. This may sound contradictory at first glance, but if you play the Jupiter-80 itself, you will understand how to interpret this statement.
On the plus side is an excellent basic sound with enough basic material. What I did not like is the fact that the SuperNATURAL acoustic sounds cannot be adequately distorted. This would probably be in oppostition to the SuperNATURAL principle, but it would enrich the synthesizer. Moreover, they still exist, the musicians who see sound as an essential component of musical expression and program their own sounds to provide themselves with an individual language. You can’t expect creative freedom and the associated type of flexibility offered in the case of physical modelling here. On the other hand, there are the tonal facets, which are based on different playing techniques, and in many cases are very well done. In some places your own way of playing is challenged so at the successful end of the process can be quite a lesson and may thus lead to an improvement.
You would now like to briefly review the key points? I’ll try to fulfill your request. The sounds, the finish and even the operation of this synthesizer speak in its favour. The keyboard is excellently adjusted for sound production and the sometimes very different instruments and their articulations. My Yamaha CP-1 with its wooden keyboard remains unchallenged in this respect, if we are only talking about e-pianos. But it probably registered my unmistakeable pleasure with the Jupiter-80 otherwise with a certain envy.
This is all well and good, but the crucial question remains unanswered – how does it sound? From full, warm pads to the nuanced sounds of mechanical instruments, whether the acoustic bass, vibraphone, marimba, piano, guitars, strings, etc., the Jupiter-80 covers everything in very good quality. The SuperNATURAL Synth sounds are of similar quality. With a TONE comprised of three partials, the user already has access to a powerful synthesizer. Four of them form a LIVE SET. Combination possibilities abound.
The Jupiter-80 offers a variety of intervention options. Stratification of many different types as well as modifications thatcan be performed simply and quickly, for example, by using the control dial of the tone blender, and are limited only by the structure. The D-Beam does its duty well in this respect, particularly live. The effects routing lacks a little flexibility, but you may attest to the Roland quality of the effects included.
What convinced me less at the beginning was the often cumbersome hierarchy and architecture. Unfortunately, the manual does not really bring enough clarity. However, the excellent touch-sensitive screen presented an optimal interface throughout. Even small display areas were always easy to read and select. Do not be confused by the images shown. They are all photos of the display and not real screenshots. In short, this display is a joy to work with.
Let’s talk about price. I do not consider the pricing as problematic as the biggest drawback of the Jupiter. And that is plainly and simply its name, as I have mentioned earlier. Perhaps the sales figures will one day teach me a lesson, who knows. But the name ‘Jupiter’ is probably more of a burden than a boon. A shame, really. Even taking into account the criticisms raised here, this synthesizer sounds stunning at times. Above all, the SuperNATURAL Acoustic sounds offer a vitality and authenticity that other hardware instruments of this quality do not currently offer. Pointing this out, and above all being listened to, is not always easy for the aforementioned reasons. Too quickly, and above all to often, it is all about the comparion with the all-powerful ancestor, which for Jupiter-80 is not even necessary. So if you are looking for a versatile, very good-sounding digital synthesizer that you want to use live, then take some time and test it yourself. This synthesizer is more than worth it, and your search could come to a successful conclusion more quickly than you might think.
Last but not least, here is a Roland Jupiter-80 Workshop show how easy it is to get a typical Roland Pad sound:
[First published Dec 2011]