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Back to the future with Roland

909 Day sees Roland paying homage to some classic synth tech

The new Roland Fantom 8, the 88-key model of the latest Fantom workstation family.The new Roland Fantom 8, the 88-key model of the latest Fantom workstation family.

Just ahead of the worldwide 909 Day (ie. September 9th, or 9/09...), Roland dropped a ton of new synth kit, paying homage to some of their past synthesizers, including classic 1980s designs.

The first announcement concerned the new series of Roland Fantom workstations.

Fantom, of course, is a name that has been associated with Roland synth workstations since late 2001, when the original FA76 Fantom was released, and the concept was subsequently updated with Fantoms S (2003), X (2004), Xa (2005), G (2009), and FA06/08 (2014). Designed for studio or live use, the new Fantom range is available in 61-note, 76-note and 88-note hammer‑action models (all with aftertouch), known respectively as the Fantom 6, 7, and 8. (The Fantom 8 is shown at the top of this news item.)

The new Fantoms are 16-part multitimbral and offer a variety of on‑board synthesis types via the new Zen Core synth engine (of which more below). There's also a built-in pattern-based and real‑time sequencer and a real analogue filter, plus built-in effects powerful enough to remain assigned to all 16 possible parts simultaneously if required. Everything is controlled via a combination of the colour touchscreen and the variety of assignable top-panel real-time faders and controls, including dedicated oscillator, filter, amplifier and envelope knobs and a 4x4 grid of assignable light-up RGB playback pads for triggering clips. According to Roland, the Fantom’s user interface can also control computer-based DAWs and other performance software directly, including Apple’s Logic Pro and MainStage, as well as virtual instruments in Roland Cloud. Older tech can also be driven via the new workstations’ twin CV and gate outputs.

Fantoms 6, 7 and 8 should be released in early Autumn, costing £3069$3999.99, £3249$3599.99, and £3519$3299.99 respectively.

Roland's Jupiter X pays undeniable homage to the look of 1981's classic Jupiter 8 analogue polysynth, once described in SOS as 'the prettiest synth ever built'.Roland's Jupiter X pays undeniable homage to the look of 1981's classic Jupiter 8 analogue polysynth, once described in SOS as 'the prettiest synth ever built'.

Perhaps the most eye-catching of the 909 day releases were the £2199$2499.99 Jupiter-X 61-note synth (above) and its more portable (and battery-powerable) 37-note sibling the Jupiter Xm (£1319$1499.99). The second of these, shown below, will be available at the end of October, but the flagship, which is styled unashamedly after 1981's Jupiter 8, is not due until Spring next year.

The smaller of Roland's two new Jupiters, the battery-powerable Jupiter Xm.The smaller of Roland's two new Jupiters, the battery-powerable Jupiter Xm.

Both new Jupiters employ a new digital synth engine, Zen Core, which is five-part multitimbral with one part dedicated to rhythmic sounds and the other four for synth duties. Roland are being very coy about Zen Core's capabilities, and say that more details will become available nearer the launch of the Jupiter X, but what we do know is that on the new Jupiters, the engine incorporates sampled sounds (including those of the classic TR and CR78 drum machines), a digital synth architecture (including sounds from the sample-and-synthesis XV5080 and RD pianos) and analogue modelling (including models of the analogue 1980s SH101, Juno 106, and the original Jupiter 8). However, the modelling is less processor-heavy than Roland's previous ACB technology (as used on the recent Boutique and System synths), so more notes can be played simultaneously on the Zen Core instruments than on ACB gear. All Roland would originally say about this is that the Jupiter X would offer "loads" of polyphony, but they have now admitted that both the Jupiter X and Jupiter Xm will offer a maximum of 256 available voices, although of course this total will drop depending on what synths are loaded. There are also basic processing and effects, an audio input and an interactive arpeggiator, which it is claimed intelligently generates musically appropriate accompaniment (including rhythm parts) based on your input.

The Zen Core engine also lies at the heart of two new Grooveboxes, the four-track £439$499.99 MC101 and the £879$799.99 eight-track MC707 (below), which continue the tradition of the classic 1980s TB303 and MC202, and the later MCs (303, 505, 307 and 909) from the late 1990s.

Roland's new Grooveboxes: the four-track MC101 (left) and the eight-track MC707 (right).Roland's new Grooveboxes: the four-track MC101 (left) and the eight-track MC707 (right).

The new 101 and 707, available now, combine classic Roland drum and synth sounds with multitrack real- and step-time sequencing, sampling, processing, and full-blown audio recording. Both also act as audio interfaces for easy integration with a computer.

Coming right down in price, the £349$399.99 JU-06A (below) updates the Boutique JU-06 analogue emulation reviewed in SOS February 2016.

The JU-06A uses Roland's ACB analogue modelling to emulate many of the best features of the 1980s synths the Juno 6 and 60, and the Juno 106 (although sadly not the six-voice polyphony of the originals...).The JU-06A uses Roland's ACB analogue modelling to emulate many of the best features of the 1980s synths the Juno 6 and 60, and the Juno 106 (although sadly not the six-voice polyphony of the originals...).

The JU-06A is still an emulation of aspects of the early 1980s digitally controlled analogue Juno 6/60 and 106 synths (although like the JU-06, it's still bafflingly four-note polyphonic where the original 1980s synths, as their model names suggest, had six voices), but there are new features the JU-06 missed, such as an arpeggiator, envelope-controllable PWM and a MIDI Clock input for sequencer and arpeggiator sync. The front panel styling is also very different (and arguably closer to that of the original 6 and 60), with added dedicated controls for the sequencer and arpeggiator.

You can see all of the above instruments in action at the recent SynthFest UK show in Sheffield, England, in a series of videos we shot in the Roland room at the show: link coming soon!

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