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The modern Jupiter-8

Review: Roland Jupiter X

Published 8:52 am on Tuesday 2nd February 2021 by Beat Magazine

Roland sounds for every taste

The sound generator is largely identical to the more compact Jupiter Xm and, thus, very flexible. It is based on Roland‘s ZEN-Core sound engine - a mixture of PCM or sample-based sound generation and various VA models. Reproductions of classics like the Jupiter-8, Juno-106, JX-8P and SH-10, as well as drum machines like the TR-808 and TR-909 are available. In addition, the popular bread-and-butter XV-5080 synth and modern RD pianos can be selected. Zenology compatibility allows exchange with the Roland Cloud, giving you access to thousands of presets in mostly very good and ready-to-use quality, which will be especially pleasing to classical keyboardists and stage musicians.

Classic Jupiter 8 design

While the Jupiter Xm doesn‘t manage to convince us on the outside with its mini keys with no aftertouch and the small wheels, the Jupiter X already makes a completely different statement. The entire design, including the color scheme of the backlit buttons, the centrally placed red 7-segment display and the silver aluminum sides are, without a doubt, strongly based on the most famous and popular polyphonic analog synthesizer of all time - the Roland Jupiter-8.

There is almost a danger of confusion here. With dimensions of 1009 x 447 x 119 mm and a weight of 16.9 kg, the Jupiter X looks like a real instrument and the metal housing should easily withstand even rough everyday touring. Without question, the Jupiter X, with its classic design, is an eye-catcher both in the studio and on stage.

Good, lightweight keyboard

The keyboard spans a full five octaves and cleanly implements velocity and after-touch. It is perfectly suited for synthesizer sounds but thanks to a slight weighting, pianos can also be played convincingly. Besides the much-loved Pitch/Mod lever, there are two freely assignable modulation wheels, which will also please classic keyboardists.

Plenty of controls

The control elements are also based on the Jupiter-8. The 15 faders, 13 knobs - including a centrally located cutoff pot - as well as various illuminated buttons offer direct access to all important sound parameters of the integrated synthesizer models; while another 13 pots are used to adjust the arpeggiator and the effects. The big candy-colored buttons above the keyboard are familiar from other Roland products like the TR-8. In particular, the 16 buttons on the right are an important part of the operating concept, because they are used not only for sound selection, but also for programming the sequencer and selecting the parts to be processed.

Optimized for rough live use

The power is professionally supplied via a built-in power supply and an IEC cable. The option of battery operation inde- pendent of the power outlet, as with the Jupiter Xm, has been omitted. This is consistent in view of the areas of appli- cation like the stage or fixed installation in a studio. The balanced stereo output in the form of two XLR sockets is also suitable for live use for avoiding unwanted interference; and there are two alternative jack outputs.

USB Interface

There are no individual analog outputs for the 5 parts. Like almost all current Roland devices, Jupiter X transmits not only MIDI, but also audio via USB and, thus, makes all tracks available digitally and losslessly for recording in the DAW. But this only runs reliably, at least on a Windows PC, if you use Jupiter X as your main audio interface. In a professional environment with a specialized audio interface, the digital outputs are, therefore, of little use. On a Mac, at least, parallel operation as an aggregate device is possible.

In addition to the USB host port, there is also a jack for a USB storage device. With the help of an USB stick, sounds can be exchanged with the Zenology plug-in from the Roland Cloud, for example. For the future, however, we would like to see a direct import/export function via USB without a detour via an external stick, such as that offered by the Roland System-8.

Microphone input, no CV/Gate

In addition to an aux input for looping in external audio signals, there is also an XLR/jack combo jack for connecting a microphone, which is interesting when combined with the built-in and good-sounding vocoder and saves on additional devices and cabling in everyday touring. The two pedal connections are especially important for the excellent sounding piano. In addition, there are MIDI IN/ OUT ports; and headphone outputs at the front and rear. Bluetooth is also built in, allowing you to wirelessly playback tracks from your smartphone and even send and receive MIDI signals. Unfortunately, analog trigger and CV connections were completely omitted.

ZEN Core sound generation

The sound generation is based on the ZEN Core engine and offers virtual analog models of the Jupiter 8, Juno 106, SH-101 and JX-8P synthesizer classics, similar to the Boutique series or the corresponding plug-ins from the Roland Cloud. Unlike the Boutiques, these models are not four-voice, but up to 32-voice polyphonic (including the SH-101, which is monophonic in the original). In total, up to 256 voices are available.

Under the hood, ZEN Core adopts the tried-and-true concept already familiar from popular Roland compers such as JV-1080 and XV-5080, with four partials that can be individually edited and mixed, layered or split. Each partial draws on a rich selection of included PCM samples representing both synthetic and acoustic instruments. Oscillator sync, cross- and ring-modulation provide additio- nal harmonics, while three envelopes and two LFOs are responsible for movement in the sound.

Fiddly handling

The essential sound parameters of the oscillator, LFO, filter and envelopes can be operated directly on the device panel; however, deeper editing is a pain via the undersized display without any touch function, combined with endless knobs and navigation buttons - the sound generation is simply too complex for that. Here, the Fantom is clearly ahead with its large and graphics-capable touch display in combination with controls for the most important sound parameters. Unfortunately, the Zenology Pro plug-in cannot currently be used as an editor for directly editing the Jupiter X‘s sounds. Fortunately, Roland does provide a lot of good presets.

Digital filter emulations

You can access various filter characteristics on the Jupiter X in order to process the sound. In addition to the Jupiter 8 filter, there is also the legendary Moog Ladder filter and the Prophet 5 circuit filter in the virtual replica, all of which match the sound character of the models well and each differs audibly, especially at high resonance values.

A dirt slinger like the MS20 filter would have been an enhancement for the relatively clean, HiFi-like basic sound. But what we missed even more was the analog master filter built into the Fantom, which can elevate the already very good sound of the ZEN Core engine to an even higher level. For us, it is completely incomprehensible why Roland gave this option to the Fantom, which is more positioned as a workstation, and not to the Jupiter X flagship synthesizer. The same question also arises with the CV/Gate connections, which are only found in the Fantom.

Five parts including drums

Five parts can be combined in a Scene, with the last part reserved for drums. So you can play four different sounds, configure them as layers or splits, and even trigger them independently from either the arpeggiator or the keyboard.

The iArpeggiator doesn‘t just break up played chords into individual note sequences, but responds intelligently to the notes you play on the keyboard. This can make for interesting and inspiring note sequences that can be subsequently fixed in the internal sequencer, similar to the capture function in Ableton Live. You should not expect Korg Karma or a comparably complex automatic accompaniment, but the arpeggiator and the drum patterns are very helpful for live use.

Drum machine

The right groove is provided by 90 drum kits in the usual good Roland quality, which sound powerful and punchy from the speakers and convincingly cover all categories. Drum patterns can be activated parallel to the arpeggiator, which is very practical when jamming. The 16 buttons can also be used to program your own grooves in the familiar Roland TR-X0X manner, which can be up to 64 steps long. Finger drumming, however, falls rather flat due to the lack of pads.

Multi-effects including vocoder

A digital multi-effects unit for refining or distorting the sounds is also integrated in the Jupiter X. It contains, among other things, a great-sounding emulation of the legendary Roland Chorus, as well as all the standards from reverb and delay to compressor and limiter to distortion and slicer. The most important parameters of the selected effects can be directly adjusted via a handful of controls. You can also send external audio through the effects. For live performance, the combination of microphone and vocoder with compressor and noise reduction is particularly interesting.

Verdict

As with the small Jupiter Xm, Roland does a lot right with the Jupiter X; but, unfortunately allows itself a few weaknesses in its concept that are difficult to comprehend. Sound, design and workmanship of the synthesizer are, without question, impressive. The Jupiter X impresses on stage or in the studio with excellent sounding VA models of various synthesizer classics, thousands of bread-and-butter sounds with proven punchy hi-fi sound, an excellent piano and powerful drum kits. You‘ll always find the right sound in the huge selection of presets, which can be used directly in conjunction with the excellent effects, even without further post-processing. With a rugged case, good keyboard, many controls, vocoder with microphone input, drum machine and intelligent arpeggiator, the Jupiter X covers almost every wish of a live keyboardist and also proves to be a reliable sound source for all music styles in the studio.

If you confine yourself to the operation of the VA models, sound tweaking via the numerous controls is also quick and intuitive. A deeper programming of the complex ZEN Core engine, on the other hand, is a pain. And unfortunately, neither the use of the Zenology plug-in as an editor, nor a direct transfer of sounds via USB is possible at the moment; hopefully, this will be improved. Also the abandonment of the analog multimode filter and the CV/Gate connectors from the Fantom is hard to understand. The bottom line is that you get a sturdy, chic and sonically very versatile synthesizer that should primarily be of interest to live keyboardists with a broad musical portfolio.


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