Keyboards/Synthesisers: Roland Juno-D Synthesiser
Author: Matt Scott
In Roman mythology Juno is queen of the gods. And in the glorious kingdom of vintage synthesiser geeks, Roland's 1982-85 Juno series are revered like royalty.
While the Juno-D is not a re-release of its predecessor namesakes, it sure lives up to that regal legacy - providing breakthrough affordability, some nifty features, and hundreds of tasty sounds.
The Juno-D is a 61-note keyboard with 768 preset sounds and 22 percussion kits. All of these patches, a logical layout, and straightforward operation make it ideal for beginners. Plenty of onboard manipulation options should keep intermediate users occupied, and advanced deep editing can be achieved using the included software on a Mac or PC.
The unit weighs just five kilograms so it can easily be carried under one arm. The keyboard itself is velocity sensitive, and for the rrp of $1395 feels pretty good compared to other synths near its price range. The diversity of preset sounds stimulates endless inspiration across a variety of genres, and the sound quality is ample for professional use in live and recording environments.
Roland is one of few brands that organise preset patches into groups, such as piano, guitar, bass, etc. The Juno-D even provides 10 designated buttons for immediate access to every category, each containing about 60 to 80 individual patches. Selecting a group restores the last patch you were using within it; even after the power supply has been removed.
Users can store 128 of their own modified patches in memory. Each patch can include two sounds, either layered together or, by splitting them on the keyboard, simultaneously - such as a bass sound for left hand and a piano for right. Performance sets can be saved, allowing one-touch recall for 40 sets of 10 patches. A total of 64 simultaneous voices can be generated at any one time.
While analogue synthesisers modify a source sound that begins as a tone, the Juno-D applies synthesis to a digital audio sample. This allows a more diverse palette of sounds, and sweeping, synthetic pads with a natural, acoustic edge. My favourite patches include the organs, almost the entire 'World' category, and several samples from vintage Roland synths such as the SH, Juno, and Jupiter series.
The source audio samples can then be modified, by adjusting synthesis parameters or by tweaking effects. Synthesis parameters are digitally emulated, as opposed to a signal voltage passing through analogue circuitry. An orange-lit, 40-character LCD display and six navigation buttons allow control of LFO, resonant filter, portamento, and a 3-stage amplifier envelope (attack, decay and release - no sustain!).
Five designated rotary pots provide real-time access to the filter cut-off, resonance, and the amp envelope. The envelope knobs can also be switched to double as controls for LFO parameters. While all these shortcuts are great for tweaking sounds on the fly, the knobs are really sensitive. I found I could often hear each increment, rather than a smooth, sweeping response.
Three simultaneous digital effects can then be applied to each patch: a multi-fx, a chorus and a reverb. There are 47 multi-fx to choose from, mostly configurations of distortions, flangers, compressors, tremolos and delays. Additional are eight types of chorus, and eight types of reverb. The provision of effects onboard is especially useful for live applications. Even though the user can adjust most parameters of the effects, I couldn't make the reverbs sound subtle or believable enough for recording and preferred the sounds dry.
This synth is LOADED with features! A groovy arpeggiator comes with 400 preset templates. There's a facility for setting up one-finger chord triggering, and 30 preset drum loops made from vintage Roland drum machine sounds. My favourite feature of the Juno-D is undoubtedly the 'D-Beam', an infra-red light beam assignable to control almost any user-adjustable parameter. By waving your hand in front of the D-beam, you can control properties of pitch bend, modulation, portamento, volume, filter, lfo, fx, and pan. I really hope this idea cottons on; wouldn't it be fantastic on household appliances?
I put the Juno-D to the test during live performances, and in a commercial production studio. Personally, I found it more useful for playing live than linked up in my MIDI rig. The inclusion of 'Tap Tempo' is brilliant, and in my opinion should be mandatory on all electronic music devices. It's easy and fast to navigate through the plethora of different sounds, and to manipulate them while playing. The factory drum loops and phrase player are versatile, and sound pretty good.
The Juno-D really impressed me. There aren't many synthesisers around that provide professional features, and are suitable for beginners without a pilot's licence. Few pieces of electronic musical equipment lend themselves so easily to such a wide variety of genres and styles. You can expect to pay half this price for a straight MIDI controller keyboard (with no onboard sounds), making the Juno-D a feature-packed contender for literally anyone considering buying a keyboard.
Matt Scott has recently competed a Masters degree in Sound Recording and Design, and a two-year stint in Auckland band Farmer Pimp. He is currently resident engineer/producer at Woodcut Productions in Auckland.