Buying Guide:Roland Jupiter-80


Rethinking the synthesizer

 

By Craig Anderton, Editor in Chief, Harmony Central

 

Check what you know about synthesis at the door. The Roland Jupiter-80 isn’t just a “Jupiter-8 remix,” nor does it use a conventional synth or effects architecture. It has nothing to do with being a multitimbral workstation, choosing instead to focus primarily—but not exclusively—on live performance. And to top it all off, there’s the “secret sauce”: Roland’s SuperNATURAL synthesis technology, which made its debut in their ARX expansion boards but goes much further with the Jupiter-80 synth. Trying to explain the details of a synth with this depth would require more space than we have (the main manual is 104 pages), so let’s concentrate on the soul of this machine, and where it fits in the world of synthesis.

 

Overview


The Roland Jupiter-80 has a 76-key, semi-weighted action with responsive channel aftertouch. It’s big and substantial, with plenty of metal—your first clue that it’s meant to be taken out of a road case and set up for a gig. Interaction is via an 800x480 pixel color touchscreen, which is a very natural way to edit settings. However, when performing the Roland synth also has realtime controls (pitch bend, mod lever, two assignable buttons, and four assignable knobs), including my favorite option for soloing—assigning the the Tone Blender (which affects macros of multiple parameters for complex, real time changes) to the onboard D-beam controller.

 

The architect


You need to wrap your head around a new synth architecture. The basic element is a Tone that consists of three Partials (essentially mini-synths with waveform selection, LFOs, and filtering). Layering up to four Tones creates a Live Set. Finally, the Registration level incorporates four Parts—a Lower Live set, Upper Live Set, Solo Tone, and Percussion Tone (which can switch into a second Solo Tone). Each Part has a slider for realtime mixing, and they can be layered or split. If you do the math, that’s up to 10 tones so you can get huge sounds. Pads, anyone?

 

Although the acoustic part of the SuperNATURAL sound engine has been getting all the attention, there are also plenty of traditional synthesizer sounds; at least to my ears, they seem to be based on a modeling-type virtual analog engine.

 

SuperNATURAL

 

I never felt the purpose of synthesizers was to re-create the sound of acoustic instruments, except in a sort of expressionistic way—like the way a painting offers a valid alternative to a photograph. While you can indeed make stunning acoustic instrument sounds with the Roland Jupiter-80 synth, I would liken the SuperNATURAL process more to CGI graphics in the movies. CGI has supremely realistic characteristics, but also has a sort of “perfection” that’s not of this world. SuperNATURAL includes what Roland calls Behavior Modeling Technology, which allows for exceptional expressiveness—it analyzes your playing while inserting subtle, and appropriate, performance gestures—but there’s a quality that goes beyond synth-trying-to-sound-like-an-acoustic instrument. The guitar doesn’t have any dead spots on its virtual neck, and the brass sounds like it was recorded with the Ribbon Mic of the Gods. There’s a perfection and clarity to the sound that’s, well, not necessarily natural but supernatural (or hyperrealistic, if you prefer).

 

The Roland Jupiter-80 did an end run around my prejudices against emulating acoustic instruments by introducing a new type of sound quality that goes beyond mere emulation, and morphs the attributes of acoustic sounds with synthesis. Sonically, it’s very impressive—especially when using multiple layers—and most important, its highly playable.

 

Other features

 

We can’t touch on all the details, but other noteworthy features are an arpeggiator; USB memory stick song player (WAV, AIF, MP3)/recorder (WAV, 44.1kHz/16-bit); “intelligent” harmonizing; XLR and 1/4" balanced main outs along with stereo sub outs (1/4" balanced for each channel); S/PDIF coax out; and 1/8" audio input.

 

Conclusions

 

There’s nothing like the Jupiter-80 synth. At its most basic level, you could treat it like a mega-stage piano because it has all the essential stage sounds—piano, brass, bass, strings (that really sound like strings), electric pianos, and the like. You could just set it up, call up presets, and go. Or, take it one step further and control the sounds extensively as you play for greater expressiveness.

 

However, the live performance aspect doesn’t preclude the studio by any means. Granted, the Jupiter-80 isn’t a workstation, so you’ll likely end up recording audio into your DAW (just like “real” instruments—imagine that!) via the audio outs, S/PDIF out, or USB audio/MIDI interface (Windows/Mac, including Lion). The end result is tracks that are gorgeous—defined, expressive, rich, and able to sit politely in a mix or take center stage, depending on how you tweak them. I predict we’ll be hearing this synth in a ton of movies and TV shows.

 

When I first heard about the Roland Jupiter-80 synth, my first thought was “does the world really need another synthesizer, especially at this price?” And the answer was no . . . until I actually sat down and played it. The Jupiter-80 rethinks what a synthesizer should be and implements that vision with intelligence and style.

 

Features & Specs:

 

  • Comfortable, semi-weighted 76-key keybed with aftertouch
  • 800 x 480 pixel color touchscreen
  • Substantial construction, designed for the road
  • USB audio/MIDI interface
  • New synth architecture accommodates massive layered sounds
  • Decent onboard effects implementation
  • USB memory stick-based file player/recorder
  • Multiple realtime controls and jacks for pedals

 

 

The Jupiter-80 is a bold rethinking of the synthesizer that’s born for the stage but offers expressive sound quality for the studio. Order today with the complete assurance of Musician’s Friend’s 45-Day Total Satisfaction and Lowest Price Guarantees.