I think it was the mid '80s. I had just given up my job and was about to try and break into the music business. I had always had a soft spot for Roland synthesizers, even going so far as to make an external case for my Wasp and painting 'ROLAND', in the company typeface, on the back. (I spelled it 'RONALD' but no one noticed). So it was 1985, or thereabouts, I had six hundred hard-earned pounds pressed against my thigh and I was going to buy a Roland synthesizer. Unfortunately, it wasn't the one described in this article.
I went in, paid out the dosh for the cheaper machine, and then spent the next two hours playing the Jupiter 6. It was a sort of cut-down Jupiter 8, but to my eyes it looked even better, and to my ears, sounded just as good.
Now, it's 10 years on, and I'm looking over my monitor at the Jupiter 6 sitting on my keyboard rack. Physically, it's impressive, about four feet long and one and a half feet wide, and covered in sliders, knobs and flashing lights. Having sold the tape machines and mixing desks in my studio, the Jupiter 6 is the only 'wow!' factor I have left to impress new clients.
The Jupiter 6 is a simple yet powerful analogue synth. As its name implies, it's a 6-voice polyphonic machine with 12 oscillators, and it fell just below the Jupiter 8 in the Roland product line. Unlike the Jupiter 8, however, it has MIDI. No-one quite knew what to do with MIDI in 1985, and the Jupiter 6's limited specifications reflect this. Fortunately, these days there are one or two updates available from Roland and third parties.
All the synth's parameters are accessible from the front panel via sliders and switches. Some of these are the typical Roland 'LED-in-a-switch' types, but on the Jupiter 6 they're much more visible than on newer Roland synths. The other push-buttons are small, lego-like widgets with an internal, gently-lit red neon. The synth can store 48 patches in six banks of eight and as these are selected, the red neons change to their new settings. This looks brilliant!
A patch is the basic sound unit on the Jupiter 6 and is made up of filter settings, oscillator waveforms, envelope generator parameters, and so on. The next level up is Patch Preset mode, where you access functions such as keyboard splitting and arpeggiator programming. All parameters except those on the performance panel (such as pitch-bend and LFO2), can be stored within the synth.
The Jupiter 6 is a very intuitive synthesizer to program. You can either choose an existing patch to modify, or go into manual mode and start from scratch. In manual mode, the sliders and buttons work in 'real time', their positions reflecting the actual settings in the synthesizer. This can be the source of some lovely accidental sounds, derived from random tweaks performed on existing patches. Editing an existing patch is slightly different. The slider position does not necessarily reflect the actual position stored in the synth, and when the slider is moved, nothing will happen until you reach the stored value. When this is reached, the slider becomes active and the parameter can be adjusted, then the patch light flashes to indicate that an edit has been performed. There's no parameter value display but it's not really needed -- ears are enough! Patches can then be stored, and there's the usual memory protection switch to make sure they stay stored. Externally, patches can only be dumped to cassette tape -- no SysEx here (see 'MIDI Upgrades' box, though).
It would be a pointless exercise to go through all the Jupiter 6's parameters here, but I'll single out some of the most noteworthy. The oscillators are voltage controlled (VCO) and are very stable, with a warm tonal quality. They provide four waveforms, and three can be used at the same time. They can be modulated separately by the LFO, sync'd together for those searing lead sounds, or cross-modulated for FM-type clangs.
The two envelope generators are of the ADSR type, with either routable to the VCF (Voltage Controlled Filter), Envelope 1 routable to the VCO Modulation or Cross Modulation controls and Envelope 2 routable to the VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier). The filter itself is very flexible, with a choice of high-, low- or band-pass types with frequency and self-oscillating resonance. It's a typical Roland analogue filter, clean and versatile. If you really want the filter sounds of an Oberheim or Moog then the JP6 is, perhaps, not for you. In general, the synth is a fully specified polysynth of the period and follows the facilities and signal path laid out in early polysynths such as the Sequential Prophet 5.
Jupiter 6 patches can be organised into Patch Presets, as mentioned at the start of this article. There are 32 of these, which are similar in function to 'Performances' on some modern synths. A Patch Preset can consist of up to two patches, which can be split across the keyboard in various ways, but not layered. Portamento and glissando can be applied, and there are various key modes. With these, you can play the Jupiter 6 polyphonically; in solo mode, where it acts as a monosynth (great for bass and lead lines); and in unison mode, where all 12 of the oscillators are stacked and detuned, for a monster monosynth noise. The Jupiter 6 has a powerful bass end, so watch your speakers!
The rather nice arpeggiator provides an arpeggio rate control, up and/or down buttons, and a range of up to four octaves. There's also a hold button, so you can go and fiddle with something else while the Jupiter 6 arpeggiates away. The arpeggiator can also be triggered by a (non-MIDI) clock input.
The performance panel is perhaps the weakest part of the synth. It has the usual Roland bend lever (love 'em or hate 'em) but the modulation (LFO2) is a separate momentary on/off push button. Neither bend or modulation are received or transmitted over MIDI. On the plus side, each VCO can be bent separately and the filter can be swept with the bender.
Before I got the Jupiter 6, my main experience of analogue polysynths was with the likes of the Roland JX3P and the Cheetah MS6. Although both sounded fine to my ears, I was unaware at the time of the vast superiority of the Jupiter 6's output. It's not easy to put this difference in quality into words. The bass is deeper, and the sounds stand out more in a mix -- it's just class!
The Jupiter 6 is perfectly capable of rich whooshes and strings without the benefit of external effects -- except, perhaps, a little reverb. The flexible filter, however, makes the production of 'thinner' sounds a cinch. Unlike the Oberheims and Prophets which, to my ears, sound full and fat all the time, the Jupiter 6 can be coaxed into producing techno timbres and ethereal lead lines.
If you like the Roland sound and want an analogue poly, the Jupiter 6 is highly recommended. It's cheaper than the Jupiter 8, has MIDI built in, and Roland still have spares and upgrades available in the UK. Its competitors, the Oberheims, Moogs and Sequentials, are much more of an unknown quantity as far as maintenance and upgrades are concerned. For me, newer synths just don't cut it in terms of quality of sounds, and no rackmount anonymity is going to compete with the sheer pose value of the Roland Jupiter 6.
The original MIDI specification of the Jupiter 6 was very primitive. It could only respond to MIDI note on/off information and Patch Preset changes -- not the patches themselves -- and the synth was also in permanent omni-on mode. Roland UK (01792 702701) still supply an upgrade which allows you to set individual MIDI channel reception, though it loses this setting on power down. Jupiter 6 owners simply have to send £15 to Roland; they send you the new ROM, and if you return your old System ROM to them, they send you £7.50 back! So the upgrade essentially costs as little as £7.50. In addition, American company Synthcom Systems have developed a MIDI upgrade which provides numerous improvements, including local on and off; patch dumping over MIDI; MIDI SysEx control of front panel buttons and sliders, excluding pitch bender and master volume control; assignment of various MIDI controllers to sliders; transmission of arpeggio notes over MIDI; and sync'ing the arpeggiator to MIDI Clock. Other new arpeggiator features provided by the mod include additional time divisions and programmable arpeggio rhythms. Contact Synthcom Systems at 16275 NW Schendel, Unit E, Beaverton, Oregon 97006 USA. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
These upgrades are provided on an easily-fitted chip. Just remember to earth yourselves before you touch any semi-conductors, and don't bend the pins! The Jupiter 6 is very well built and was designed with servicing in mind, so it comes apart easily. Bear in mind, though, that opening the synth will void any warranty you may have.
A mint-condition Jupiter 6 will probably set you back between £600 and £650 today, against a release price of around £2000. If you're looking to buy a second-hand Jupiter, check obvious stuff first, such as whether all the sliders work, and make sure that the machine looks in good condition. The Jupiter 6 is very well built, and if it looks scarred, it's probably taken quite a beating. The only problem I had with mine was that the internal battery, which maintains the patches, failed. I rang Roland, they sent me a battery, and I fixed it myself. This instrument is more than 10 years old, after all, and the manuals do warn that the battery will only last this long. The machine takes about five minutes to warm up, and during this period, the oscillators can sound out of tune. If, after this time, the Auto Tune button doesn't bring them into line, just walk away -- or re-negotiate the price!
KEYBOARD: 61 key
KEY MODE: Split 4-2, Split 2-4, Whole
VCO1: Waveforms: Sawtooth, Triangle, Pulse, Square; Range: 32', 16', 8', 2' with chromatic adjustment; Cross Mod: ENV1, Manual
VCO2: Waveforms: Sawtooth, Triangle, Pulse, Noise; Range: 32', 16', 8', 2' with chromatic adjustment plus high and low extension; Tune: +/-50 cent
SYNC: VCO1-VCO2 or VCO2-VCO1
VCO MOD: LFO & ENV1 amount; VCO1 & VCO2 selectors
CROSS MOD: Manual & ENV1 amount
PWM: Pulse Width: 50%-0%; PWM Select: ENV1 or LFO
VCF: Mode: LPF/24dB, HPF/24dB, BPF/12dB; Cutoff Freq: 5Hz-30kHz; Resonance: Peak Gain 15dB; ENV selector; ENV, LFO & Key Follow amounts
VCA: ENV2 & LFO Level
ENVl & 2: Attack Time (Max 18s); Decay Time (Max 20s); Sustain Level; Release Time (Max 20s); Key Follow (0-120%); Polarity selector (ENV1 only)
LFO1: Waveform: triangle, sawtooth, square, random; Rate: 0.04-1O0Hz (0.04-400Hz for Random waveform); Delay Time: 0-2s
LFO2: VCO/VCF amount; Rate: 1-10Hz; Rise time: 50ms-1s