Gear | January 5, 2013

Roland Super JX-10 Review

Back in May last year I got hold of a second hand Roland Super JX-10 and its associated programmer, the PG-800.

This was, I understand, the last of Roland’s analogue polysynths, and in particularly the last of the Jupiter line. It has some well-documented weaknesses with its MIDI implementation, not least of all that you can’t store or edit patches via MIDI. As its interface is via a two line menu and selector dials and buttons, the external programmer is considered something of a must-have for anyone seriously interested in programming it or tweaking it in realtime.

The JX-10 has a 76 note keyboard with aftertouch, pitchbend wheel and modulation and a couple of performance sliders. Architecturally it’s a 12 note polyphonic, dual oscillator synth with a noise generator, high and low pass filters. It also has a simple but very characteristic chorus effect. Being an early digitally controlled it has fairly noticeable digital quantisation and its filters are, I am told, rather slow. As I am still really coming at analogue synths fresh, this doesn’t bother me too much. If I want versatility I’ll pick up something modern and digital, but in the Great Synth Review Project I consider these limitations are as much a part of the character as the positive features.

Unfortunately, my JX-10 appears not to have functioning aftertouch. Apparently this is a common problem caused by corrosion of the aftertouch sensor. It’s repairable with time and careful effort, but having taken it apart once to fix some dodgy keys I’m not in a major hurry to do it again and for an even more major operation.

So how does it sound? Mine came with only some of the original sounds. As mentioned before, there is no way of uploading them via MIDI, and no factory reset, so I’m not sure which sounds have been modified (though some are obvious). But let’s get this out of the way right now in case there’s any doubt: this keyboard sounds like the 80’s. I haven’t managed to make it sound like one of its ancestors or like anything else for that matter. It and the rest of the Jupiter line are, I can now hear, so much the 80’s sound that trying to disguise it as anything else is like trying to put an elephant on stilts and calling it a giraffe.

Apparently its string sounds are highly rated, but from my first experiences of playing it the sound I remember the most was its attempt at a piano. It was certainly nothing like a real piano or an electromechanical piano, but it was musical and the chorus gave it a very definite character. Speaking of which, the chorus is of course quite primitive and it tends to evoke very black and white responses from people but for my money I like it. It’s not subtle and it’s not versatile but it has a lot of character. If I were to produce a whole track from the one synth I imagine it would start to feel like everything was coated by a sticky residue, but for use on one instrument it sounds valid and, indeed, good.

As a practical keyboard¬† for me it’s a bit of a difficult one. It’s big and heavy and though it feels nice and solid to play, with limited MIDI and broken aftertouch it can’t really act as a useful controller keyboard. It spends most of its time on my storage rack, one shelf up from its stable mate the D50. At some point I imagine I will slip it into a recording either as a pad sound or using its electric piano sound, but the strength of its character combined with the limitations and means it’s always going to be sparingly used in my studio.

For a while now I’ve been intending to get it down and play with it again, perhaps pairing it with the Line 6 M9 and seeing whether I can get anything else out of it with fresh ears. If I do so, I’ll come back and put a link to my thoughts here.

So for this instance of the Grand Synthesizer Research Project, I’d say the result is a qualified “interesting” and “worth exploring” but it hasn’t yet won a permanent place in my studio or a¬† inaugural appearance on any recordings. I wouldn’t part with it just yet, but it wouldn’t be high on my list of must-keep items if I had to clear space.


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2 Responses to “Roland Super JX-10 Review”

  1. Walt Bell says:

    Give it time….it’s clear you understand what that synth is all about…it’s what all of the newer stuff strives to be…always looking back. Sure the midi side is what it is, but the sound is what matters and that baby is a horse, even now.

  2. bjb says:

    Thanks Walt! Yes, I can see the appeal of it definitely. It’s one I expect I’ll get out once in a while for a change to try to shake me out of ruts and inspire me to think in different musical directions.

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