I’m going to start posting about some of the synth gear I use on my tunes and first up is my favorite: the Roland Jupiter 8. And yes, the post has appeared on some of my other blogs so I’m shamelessly rehashing.
Of all the things I own it’s easy to gaze upon my Jupiter 8 and say “THAT is my favorite”. Not only is it an engaging musical instrument, but it’s a fantastic looking piece of gear — inspirational just to behold.
The Jupiter 8 is a child of the golden age of synthesizers (late 70s thru early 80s) and follows the most common configuration for that era’s subtractive synthesizers. It was produced between 1981 to 1984 and only about 2000 were ever made. Its statistics are repeated on a hundred Web sites and I’ve listed them below.
What often isn’t mentioned is why the Jupiter 8 is such a gem. There are plenty of similar unit. The Voyetra 8, Prophet 5, Crumar Bit One, Chroma Polaris, various Oberheiem units and even Roland’s own MKS-80 Super Jupiter. I’ve tried every single one of those units and while they all have their charm, none of them have clicked with me personally like the J8. I attribute this to two main issues: ergonomics and sound.
In his 1985 book Keyfax Julian Colbeck summed up the J8’s appearance:
“The control panel is bristling with features. Eye-catching without being gaudy, professional without being dull. Few instruments have perfected such a balance”
A year earlier in a Keyboard Magazine interview Nick Rhode of Duran Duran fame, a huge J8 aficionado who still uses one on tour, gushed:
“The Jupiter-8 is the best designed synthesizer I’ve ever seen. it’s so streamlined, and everything is in the right place.”
Layout and usability are factors that are hard to quantify and intrinsically subjective, but I’ve never heard of anyone disliking the J8’s. For myself, it’s a huge part of the appeal. The unit is enticing and invites experimentation. When I sit down at it I can’t help grabbing knobs and pulling sliders. It’s complex but easily understood, nuanced but accessible. It’s a unit that can readily be “played” as an electronic instrument AND a keyboard. Nothing else I own comes close in this regard.
Again, sound is an extremely subjective attribute. I’m very partial to the J8’s so let me try and pin down why.
The J8 does not have the sonic heft and grit of a Moog or Oberheim. Nor does it possess the sound sculpting possibilities of a synth with great a modulation matrix like the APR 2600. What it does offer are warm, rich sounds that are a bit thinner than many classic polysynths, and thus tend to sit much better in mix with other instruments. If you listen to Van Halen’s classic “Jump” it’s easy to hear just how overpowering some polysynths could be. Layer something against that? Good luck. The Jupiter 8 can sound pretty big, but more often its a refined sound that invites other instruments in instead of crowding them out. It also possess that incredible mid-range “sparkle” or warmth that I only find in synths from that era. It’s a difficult attribute to describe but definitely identifiable.
Here’s an mp3 collage of some of my favorite patches. No effects or eq.
- Oscillators – 2 VCO’s per voice offering triangle, sawtooth, pulse (with modulation), and square waves (plus noise on OSC 2). 8 voice polyphony (depending on mode)
- LFO – 1 per voice offering sine, triangle, ramp, and random waves
- Filter – 1 lowpass (switchable between 24 dB/oct and 12 dB/oct) with resonance, 1 6dB highpass
- Envelopes – 2 four-stage envelopes with key follow. envelop 1 with polarity control.
- VCA – Standard VCA with routing to envelop 2
- Keyboard – 61 note keyboard offering Dual and Split modes, voice assign mode, hold, portamento, and several modulation settings
- Arpeggiator – 4 modes (up, down, up & down, random) over 1-4 octaves with hold option. Stays in bottom of keyboard in split mode.
- Memory – 64 patches (individual tones) and 8 patch presets (two tones organized into a layer or split)
- Control – Some models offer DCB Roland. Arpeggiator sync-able to external clock with an option of 8th notes, triplets, or sixteenth notes. Midi retrofit available.
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- Roland has also made the Jupiter 8’s manual available online as a PDF: http://www.rolandus.com/support/product_manual.asp