Review: Roland Jupiter X/Xm
Classic synths don’t come more highly prized than the Roland Jupiter 8, and now Roland has re-awakened the slumbering giant. We investigate the updated versions of the king of synthesis.
Price Jupiter-X – £2199/€2499 | Jupiter-Xm – £1319/€1499 (RRP)
When it comes to vintage and classic poly-synths, there really are only a handful of products which have become the sought after synths of dreams, largely due to the way both time and the marketplace have treated their legacy. Hence, we find ourselves in a place where a reasonable condition second-hand Roland Jupiter 8 could command a price tag in excess of £10,000. Is it worth it? This is a question that largely relies on your views on the synth, which for many are largely nostalgic, so what makes Roland’s latest Jupiter offerings so intriguing is their obvious styling, which makes no apology for looking incredibly similar to a Jupiter 8.
Cards on the table time; I am one very lucky Jupiter 8 owner, having bought mine back in my student days, after many years of doing fairly mediocre part-time jobs. Would I pay £10,000+ for one now? Absolutely not! Would I miss mine – yes, but then for me it represents far more than just a synth; it formed a part of my musical education. No surprise then that there have been cries for Roland to remake the Jupiter 8 for years, and while there have been some interesting attempts, alongside some which will not be remembered well, it’s fair to say that the Boutique sized JP-08 and System 8 Plug-Out based system did an outstanding job, utilising Roland’s excellent Analog Circuit Behaviour (ACB) technology.
In our review of the System 8, it was largely impossible to tell the JP8 plug-out apart from the real Jupiter, with the exception of a couple of minor details, such as envelope timings. However, the System 8 has not been the biggest of hits, possibly due to its dark styling with slightly garish green lighting. You could dim the lights, but they also offered guiding reasons for being there, as you moved from one synth model to another.
What the Jupiter-X brings to the table is a full-sized, professional five-octave keyboard, with an interface which is robust, stylish and spacious, just like the original JP8. While this larger sibling offers a price tag to match, the smaller and miniaturised Jupiter-Xm offers a more affordable and compact form, continuing that sense of reverence, but with three octaves of ‘compact’ keys, and a fascia which is filled with rotary pots, instead of the long throw faders found on the X model.
Underneath the exterior, both sizes of Jupiter are identical; they both exploit Roland’s latest ZEN-Core technology, which is the host for their latest advancement in modelling, known as Analog Behaviour Modelling (ABM). What this means in real terms is that the Jupiter-X range includes preloaded models of the Jupiter 8, Juno 106, SH-101, JX-8P and XV-5080, along with pianos from the RD range, and drum sounds from the TR-808/909 & CR-78. This modelling differs from previous Roland formats, by offering a greater degree of resolution, resulting in very smooth and accurate operation, while the power of the ZEN-Core provides extravagant polyphony; how many notes are available depends on the employed sound engine, with the internal engine providing up to 256 note polyphony.
This radically reduces to a mere 32 notes, should you stray toward one of the ABM models which, let’s face it, is quite likely. Even so, this does mean that you can have a 32-note polyphonic Jupiter 8, which is a unique concept in itself, and the complete antithesis of the Boutique JP-08 which only offered 4-note polyphony.
You might be feeling a strange sense of déjá vu at this point; Roland has a history with polyphonic note counts, and while things have radically improved from the old days of partial polyphony, the use of the Jupiter’s in a multitimbral mode, eats further into this voice count. Roland’s new terminology for voice structure means that a ‘Scene’ is effectively a patch that can be programmed to be multi-timbral, layered or split.
Each scene can contain up to four tonal elements, as well as drum sounds on a fifth part, and a host of on-board FX, which include reverb, delay and a multi-fx, for just about anything else. Within a Scene, you could choose to layer several Jupiter 8s to create an analogue-sounding monster, or simply create a split with a 101 bass and Juno pads. In all cases, where the ABM models are being deployed, the voice count remains 32 across all parts, while part 1 takes precedent, so if you have a huge pad with long release tails, other parts will suffer note-stealing before part 1 becomes affected.
At this point, we probably need to mention the ‘A’ word; The Jupiter-X and Xm are not analogue, in any sense, other than the way you get the audio signal into the real world. Many regard this as a negative attribute, however the concept of a thirty-note, analog Jupiter 8 is an idea that any synth engineer will tell you is fairly possible, either at the engineering level, or as a cost implication. Roland has cleverly engineered elements into the modelling to create behaviour which is very similar to analog, allowing the user to dictate the synths age (up to 100 years!) while its operating temperature can also take a toll on the tuning. There’s even a circuit warm-up option, should you wish to be pedantic, which on the original JP8 was a mere four minutes.
The Jupiter-Xm is the junior model in this pairing and while the engine and sound making capabilities remain identical, what does change is the accessibility to many of the parameters, as the reduced working area means that space is tighter. The biggest physical differences are with the presence of rotary pots throughout, as well as the miniaturised keyboard format. The keybed feels nice to play, but it is a mini-key experience which proves difficult for more grandiose chordal gestures or lead-line solos. However, the point of this smaller format is to offer all the sonic benefits of the larger model, but with a footprint that makes it perfect for the desk, right next to your computer. At a mere 576mmx305mm, it’s nicely proportioned, while also being light enough to carry around.
The Xm model can be powered by eight AA batteries, and with a pair of inbuilt speakers, is truly portable. The speakers are an interesting addition which power up from get-go, although they can be disabled if required. They are essentially there to offer a form of acoustic feedback to the user, in much the same way that a more acoustic or electro-mechanical instrument might, but I’m not sure it serves the Xm well, by way of demonstration of its true sonic capabilities. Patch the Xm into your monitors and you’ll hear the unadulterated glory of the analogue-esque bottom end, which needs to be experienced properly.
Navigation is handled via the centrally located LCD display, which responds quickly with a turn of any pot, via numerical feedback on screen. By default, LFO settings and Envelope shapes are displayed onscreen with shapes that dance nicely according to any parameter changes. In the case of the envelope, three are available, but it’s a requirement to press your envelope preference before editing. Buttons underneath the ADSR and Depth pots allow for control of Pitch, Filter and Amplifier ADSR settings, which highlights one of the little niggles that we find with the newly designed format; when working with the ABM models, parameters directly align themselves with the capabilities of the original machine, so it’s likely that controls might be disabled, leaving the user to press a button to find out.
This becomes a little wearing at times, as you might find yourself using the SH-101 model, only to find that because it is intrinsically quite a basic synth, it does not allow for sync or cross modulation. On the one hand, I’m delighted that Roland has been so faithful, but then it can appear a little confusing, particularly if you are not familiar with the original.
The much bigger Jupiter X is a full-scale affair; the five octave keybed is truly a wonderful playing experience, possibly the result of feedback offered since the System 8. To anyone who regularly plays keyboards live, the additional fifth octave is indispensable, providing the ability to anchor those harmonies with a thunderous bottom end, which in the case of the Jupiter-X could also mean layering in the same register.
As a piece of product design, it looks and feels very classy, with a layout which is entirely nostalgic, being based entirely on the colour scheme of the original JP8. Moreover, as there is the space to do so, Roland has placed a classic LED display right in the centre at the front, placing the additional LCD screen over to the far left. It’s still visible, but somewhat out of the way aesthetically. The pots and faders all feel very secure, with slight lateral movement, but not anything to worry about. The faders operate very smoothly, and with a great degree of accuracy and resolution. With each fader movement, a numeric appears on LED Display, offering reassurance that each fader offers a full 1024 points of resolution, with accuracy of recall which would have been a dream on the original.
While it’s easy to get swept away with the vintage modelling aspect, which I suspect will be the biggest appeal for many, the other internal sound elements are far from lacking. There are luscious patches from all quarters, and plenty of them, and that extends from all forms of electronic sounds, through to beautiful pianos, electric pianos, synth pads, brass, percussion and more. It does rather feel as though the design team at Roland found themselves in a design meeting, with a pro-level keyboard, and thought they should throw in the kitchen sink. This can sometimes make for confusion, as the sound hierarchy takes a little bit of getting used to, although it is possible to work in Scenes in simply bring up your favoured Model, if you want to get lost in a vintage classic.
Given the nature of this beast, it’s difficult not to continually draw comparisons between the JP8 and the new ABM model, and when placed side by side, the Jupiter-X is highly convincing. There is a strong armoury of FX, which I personally find a little bit bright and 80s, but once these are defeated, the identical nature of the source material is exacting in every detail. Even the envelope shapes which were previously a little bit inaccurate, are now spot-on although the one area which continues to feel less convincing is the Cross Modulation. I cannot firmly place this at Roland’s door; the Cross Mod on the Jupiter-X is good enough, but doesn’t seem to behave in quite the same way as my vintage JP8. This is most likely down to the age of my synth, but regardless, it’s not something you would be aware of unless you had both side by side.
The analogue-style detuning on the Jupiter-X is also very convincing, but I did become aware of two notes switching tuning, in much the same way that a round-robin sample might. This is not something I have ever been aware of on my original, so might be a quirk of the installed software.
Importantly, the modelled filter is equally exacting, but in something of an extension to the original machine, there is now the presence of a Moog style ladder filter and Sequential style filter, alongside the beautiful original.
One curious point that I discovered was a lack of Pulse Width Modulation fader, directly on the front panel. This forces you to go to the menu to assign what you would like, although there are button-press shortcuts to smooth the way. The i-Arpeggio function is also a huge extension from the original arpeggiator concept. Blurring the line between sequencer, drum machine and arpeggiator, many of these go way beyond the basics, offering huge performance possibilities, especially as the Jupiter-X should be classed as a full-on performance keyboard.
Designed for the future
I have to hand it to Roland, these are brave designs, and in many respects it feels like the company is finally looking after some unfinished business. They are undoubtedly great sounding synths, with that Roland crispness in the top end and plenty of weight below. They also pack an enormous amount of content, which will keep modern producers busy for hours, while also endearing many vintage devotees. No, it’s not analogue, but you would never know it.
There is no doubt that the Jupiter-X is a more pleasant playing experience, but if this extends your budget too far, the Xm model will sound identical, and offer plenty of knob-tweaking potential. The Jupiter-X on the other hand, handles like you would expect a modern Jupiter to play creatively, and is a real joy to work with. With firmware updates available, I have no doubt that this will be a creative instrument which runs and runs, much like the original.
Do I really need this?
If you’ve always lusted after an original Jupiter 8, but know that the price is prohibitive, this could be the answer. It’s a fully functioning Jupiter 8, with 32 note polyphony! However, it’s also jam-packed with other truly convincing Models which sound fantastic, alongside a huge library of other sounds from the Roland back-catalog and beyond. You can choose between the two Jupiter models, but if you have the cash and the space, the fully-sized X model is by far the more enjoyable experience.
If you play keys, you’ll most defiantly want the bigger model, as it is a really lovely instrument to play, allowing for easy control of sounds on the fly. Take it to the studio, and the instant USB hookup will make it a dream, while the on-board Vocoder sounds beautifully crisp, and useful for modern vocoding duties. For design aesthetic alone, the Jupiter makes you smile, and when you hear it, you’ll be grinning forever.
- Unique and distinguished ‘classic’ Roland styling
- Two distinct models, for different working scenarios
- Features Roland’s new ZEN-core sound generation processor
- Six preloaded ‘Models’ of classic Roland synths & pianos
- Five-part multitimbral (four synth parts + rhythm/drums)
- USB MIDI and Audio operation, with USB port for flash drives
- Microphone input allows for vocoder operation
- Inbuilt speaker provide acoustic feedback, on both models
This predecessor still has plenty to offer, as long as you don’t mind the flashing green lights and four-octave keyboard. It sounds amazing, and will also accept other ACB models form the Roland library. It’s also a great controller for a Eurorack system, with CV/Gate options.
In another update to a classic, the Prophet 6 brings analog up to date, with a warm and inspiring poly which is firmly based on the original Prophet 5. The four-octave keyboard makes it feel less of a performance synth, but sonically it is a cut above.