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Roland Juno 60

Software Synthesizer By Gordon Reid
Published May 2021

Roland Juno 60

Does Roland’s software Juno 60 capture the magic of the original?

The Roland Cloud... misguided or the best thing to happen since soft synths first dropped out of the trees? Opinion seems to be divided between those who dislike it on principle, and those who love it. It’s not my job to judge who is right; if the Cloud’s combination of subscriptions, rent‑to‑buy and purchasing works for you, that’s great. If it doesn’t, move on. But if you’re not willing to give the Cloud a chance, you might want to stop reading now because the subject of this review is only available through it. Following hot on the heels of Arturia’s Jun‑6 V, it’s Roland’s recreation of the Juno 60 called, with horrifying inevitability, the Juno 60. But since this will be very confusing when comparing it with the original, I hope that Roland will forgive me for renaming it the Cloud 60, at least for this review.

Listen to these Roland demo tracks while you continue reading.

The Signal Path

Whereas Arturia’s approach was to create a (mostly) accurate representation of the original synth and place its additional features within an Advanced panel that could be popped out when wanted, Roland have chosen to place everything in the Cloud 60 within a single GUI, adding a second ADSR contour generator, three effects and some extra facilities to give it a pumped‑up, Super‑Juno‑on‑steroids look and feel. The result is only superficially reminiscent of a Juno 60 and, the first time that I saw it, it reminded me more of a Jupiter 6.

Juno 60 soft synth's LFO and DCO controls.Juno 60 soft synth's LFO and DCO controls.

Its signal path begins with an emulation of the Juno 60’s single DCO per voice, but six footages from 64’ to 2’ now attract the eye, and the waveform on/off buttons of the original have been replaced by faders so that you can now balance the contributions from the sawtooth and pulse waveforms. These additions may not be authentic, but they’re certainly useful. In addition, the application of the LFO to the oscillator frequency is now bi‑polar, as is the application of the selected contour to the pulse width. The consequences of these additions may not be obvious, but they considerably extend the range of sounds that you can obtain.

Moving onto its high‑pass filter, the Cloud 60 offers 255 values from its minimum to its maximum frequencies — essentially a smooth fader as found on the Juno 6 rather than the four possible values found on the Juno 60 and Juno 106. It also offers a switch to choose between the HPF response of the Juno 60 (which travelled from flat through three degrees of high‑pass filtering) and that of the Juno 106 which wasn’t, strictly speaking, a high‑pass filter. Instead, it generated a significant low‑end boost at its lowest setting and approximated a high‑pass filter at its upper settings. Common wisdom is that this was a significant factor in the popularity of the Juno 106, although you can generate pretty much the same effect by careful use of external EQ.

Roland Juno 60 soft synth's HPF, VCF, VCA and Env controls.Roland Juno 60 soft synth's HPF, VCF, VCA and Env controls.

The Cloud 60’s low‑pass filter is suitably Juno‑esque, and tracks very well over more than five octaves. However, it also has a number of extra tricks up its sleeves. There’s the obvious Velocity Sensitivity knob, and the application of the LFO and the keyboard tracking are both bi‑polar. This means that, for example, you can have sounds in which the pitch of the oscillator peaks when the cutoff frequency is at its nadir and vice‑versa, which is interesting when programming resonant sounds or those in which the filter is oscillating.

Next comes the VCA section. This adds two new controls; velocity sensitivity and a tone control that does... something. Viewing its effect on an oscilloscope confirms what your ears tell you — that it imparts a bass boost at its anti‑clockwise extreme, and a mid/high lift at its clockwise extreme, but nothing in Roland’s skimpy documentation explains what it’s doing. It merely admits that “Tone adjusts the tonal character”. Well, it would, wouldn’t it! In addition, the VCA Gain source switch now has three options (Gate, ENV‑1 and ENV‑2) rather than the two of the original.

Finally, we come to the revered Juno chorus. Many companies have attempted to emulate this, but few have got it quite right. The Cloud 60 chorus is very close, and any minor differences in Chorus I and Chorus II can be minimised by tweaking them in the first of the Effects units (see below). The only significant difference is to be heard when you combine Choruses I+II, which results in a somewhat slower modulation than that of the original. But I’m not sure that any of these differences matter except when performing a forensic comparison.

Modulation & Other Stuff

The original Juno 60 LFO was a simple affair generating a single waveform, with sliders for rate and delay, and two modes — free running and a manual mode triggered using the button in the performance panel. The Cloud 60 retains the two sliders and the free‑running mode but replaces the manual mode with a key‑sync’ed mode. The documentation and the control panel also claim that the LFO can trigger the contour generators, but that’s not quite right; it Gates them for the rising phase of the LFO waveform.

Below the main row of controls and alongside the virtual keyboard, two panels replace the performance controls of the original. The first of these offers separate depths for how much the pitch‑bend wheel (or lever, joystick, ribbon, or whatever) affects the oscillator pitch and filter cutoff frequency, and how much the modulation wheel (or lever, joystick, ribbon, or whatever) affects the same two destinations. Above these, a Bend Range knob determines the maximum amount of pitch‑bend that can be applied to the oscillator and filter cutoff frequency and, alongside this, a Bend Gain switch allows you to determine a multiplier for this: 1x, 2x, 3x or 4x. I have no idea why this switch exists; to me it served only to push the pitch and cutoff frequency beyond the ability of the Cloud 60 to produce them. Maybe someone will find a use for it.

Roland Juno 60 softsynth Mod controlsMod controls.

To one side of these you’ll find the portamento controls and, to the other, four key assignments: Mono, Unison, Poly‑1 and Poly‑2. Portamento was a feature of the Juno‑106 rather than the Juno‑60, and the key assignments have been lifted from the Jupiter 8, but I won’t complain about their inclusion here. Far from it, in fact; they allow you to obtain a useful range of lead sounds and some huge basses. But be aware that there’s no unison detune, no way to choose monophonic key priority (it’s last note only) and no multi‑triggering, which might limit your widdly‑widdling.

You’ll also find a Tempo knob and a Tempo Sync button in the same panel as the Key Assign buttons. I have no idea why the knob is here because it does nothing whether Tempo Sync is engaged or not, and the arpeggiator (up, up/down, down, with a range of one, two or three octaves) is always driven by the host application. I’ve encountered this behaviour on the other Roland Cloud soft synths and I don’t understand it. When Tempo Sync is engaged, the LFO Rate and Delay Time knobs are converted into clock dividers, with the former ranging from 2:1 to 1:128 and the latter from 1:32 to 1:1 with dotted and triplet options. You can obtain some great sounds by programming the arpeggiator, LFO and Delay appropriately, but either I’m missing something (and the documentation is of no assistance whatsoever) or there’s something not quite right here.

The Arpeggiator controls on the Juno 60 soft synth.The Arpeggiator controls on the Juno 60 soft synth.

Roland’s thinking is also odd when it comes to the Key Hold button and the Octave knob because these only affect notes played using the virtual keyboard in the GUI. Other manufacturers’ soft synths allow you to hold and transpose notes received from MIDI controllers, which can be very useful (for example, when using an arpeggiator) and I must admit that I don’t understand Roland’s approach.

The final two controls are a master tune knob and another called Condition. Again, Roland have been unforthcoming about what the second of these does, stating that the Condition knob “Specifies the state (condition) of the analogue sound engine circuit that is being modelled.” That’s about as revealing as saying that it’s a thingy that does what thingies do. What’s more, the knob is pretty pointless because, unlike the equivalent in the Roland Cloud Juno 106 (which introduces a degree of unpleasant, grumbling nastiness that would result in an immediate trip to the synth doctor or to the local council dump) the one on the Cloud 60 introduces only a small tonal change in the sound.

The Effects

Roland Juno 60 Cloud effects sectionThe Effects section.The Cloud 60 offers three effects units. The first offers six types: overdrive, distortion, Juno choruses I, II and I+II, plus a recreation of the Boss CE‑1 chorus pedal. Just two parameters are offered for all of these: Tone and Depth. The second unit offers two delay effects and adds generic choruses I and II, a flanger, and a combined delay+chorus effect. This one offers Time and Level parameters. The third unit is a reverb offering Ambience, Room, two Halls, a Plate and something called Modulation, although I’m not sure what’s going on in the last of these, and the documentation is giving nothing away. The parameters are again Time and Level.

In Use

Had the Cloud 60 been launched a year ago it would have stood proud, as did the Boutique JU‑06 hardware unit when it was released in 2016. But today, it faces fiercer competition.

To start with, the maximum polyphony of the Cloud 60 is just eight voices while that of Jun‑6 V is 32 voices with polyphonic, detunable unison of up to six voices per note. The Arturia also offers a Chord mode that the Roland lacks, its Hold button works on incoming MIDI notes, and its monophonic mode offers last, high and low note priorities. Furthermore, its tempo and sync modes work as one would expect. Then there are the two slots for its second contour generator, each of which can select from 35 bi‑polar destinations (as opposed to just two destinations on the Roland) plus its second LFO, which offers six waveforms including S&H, and the same destination structure. Furthermore, the Jun‑6 V doesn’t break Gordon’s Law because, unlike the Cloud 60, it responds to aftertouch, offering 35 bi‑polar destinations for this. Furthermore, there’s no standalone version of the Cloud 60 — you can run it only as an AAX, VST or AU plug‑in.

If the renting and buying options embodied in the Roland Cloud work for you, the Cloud 60 offers a simple and effective way to obtain the sound of this venerated vintage polysynth.

On the other hand, the Cloud 60 also offers useful enhancements missing from the Arturia — in particular, the six oscillator footages, the ability to mix the oscillator waveforms freely, the Juno 106 HPF filter mode, simultaneous velocity sensitivity for its VCF and VCA sections, and a greater range of effects available from its three effects units. Which set of enhancements appeals more to you? Only you can answer that. Alternatively, you could argue that all of them are imposters that should be dragged out at dawn and have nasty things done to them because they add unnecessary complexity to what was, after all, the polysynth that made simplicity cool.

What both soft synths offer is MIDI Learn, allowing you to attach any specified parameter to a MIDI CC. But while the Cloud 60 is limited to “one CC attaches to one parameter”, the Jun‑6 V’s macros allow you to direct a given CC to a large number of destinations simultaneously with user‑definable curves for each as well as definable minimum and maximum parameter values.

So, what of the sound? By the time that I completed this review, I had programmed numerous patches on the Cloud 60, and very nice they were too. In fact, I was able to obtain strings, brass, flutes, pads, filter sweeps, basses and organs that were indistinguishable (or all but indistinguishable) from the original synth. Nonetheless, the emulation isn’t perfect. Despite Roland’s claim that the Cloud 60 “models the original filter to perfection”, I found that resonant filter sweeps — perhaps the hardest sound for a virtual analogue synth to emulate — were not the same, and patches within which the pulse width was swept could also sound different from the original. In addition, I discovered an unusual problem when programming the classic Juno organ patch. Quite by accident, I stumbled upon a set of values that caused some voices to sound quite distinct from others. Unsure of my ground, I contacted Roland expert and fellow SOS writer Nick Magnus who was unable to recreate this behaviour until I gave him the exact parameter values and… there it was: do do d‑da do d‑da do da d‑da, with inconsistencies in both tone and contour. After investigation, this seemed to be an artefact of the way that certain pulse widths interact with the self‑oscillating filter. You may never encounter it but, then again, you might.

Before finishing, I made a conscious effort to move beyond traditional Juno sounds, and it was here that the effects units stood out. Despite their paucity of controls, their value shouldn’t be underestimated. I love sounds that are slightly driven when you press one note but scream when you play a fistful (which is how I like to set up the preamps on Hammonds and Leslies) and using the overdrive and distortion effects to do this on the Cloud 60 took it to places that neither my original Junos nor the Jun‑6 V had ever visited. With the soft synth in unison mode and, say, four voices selected, the resulting lead and bass sounds could be monstrous.

Conclusions

Roland claim that, “Roland Cloud is the only authentic software resource for the true Juno‑60 sound. While the original hardware version is scarce, expensive, and in need of frequent tune‑ups, our plug‑in is always up‑to‑date and ready to play, whenever you need it.” I dispute elements of both of those statements.

Firstly, the Cloud 60 is not the only way to obtain the sound of a Juno 60, although there’s no doubt that it does an admirable job. Secondly, neither of my Juno 60s (one of which was gigged for a decade) have required a tune‑up in the combined 60+ years that I have owned them, neither did my Juno 6 before them nor the HS‑60 (Juno 106S) that I bought for playing in hotel rooms when nothing else was available. So we end up back where we started.

If the renting and buying options embodied in the Roland Cloud work for you, the Cloud 60 offers a simple and effective way to obtain the sound of this venerated vintage polysynth. Furthermore, if you fancy taking it on stage in a hardware synth (albeit one with a four‑octave keyboard rather than the regulation five), the Cloud 60’s Plug‑Out capabilities make it the obvious choice. But if you’re not wedded to the Roland Cloud or the System‑8, you should also look at the alternatives and weigh up which works best for you.

The Manual

I have a healthy dislike of Roland’s current generation of documentation. There was a time when the company’s manuals were thick and full of useful information, but many today are trivial pamphlets that leave far too much unexplained. Not only does the Cloud 60 pamphlet omit to tell you about a number of facilities — what is the difference between the Poly‑1 and Poly‑2 key assignments, what does the Condition knob do, what does the Tone knob do, and so on — but there’s at least one obvious cut‑and‑paste error where it mentions the Cloud 60’s step sequencer (which, for the avoidance of doubt, doesn’t exist).

Roland had some great manual writers in the past, and I wish that the company would re‑employ them.

'Plug-Out'

The Cloud 60 with its System‑8 GUI selected.The Cloud 60 with its System‑8 GUI selected.

As well as running as a plug‑in within your DAW or other plug‑in host, the Cloud 60 is also what Roland call a ‘Plug‑Out’ — a soft synth that can be transferred into a Roland System‑8 hardware synthesizer and used without recourse to a computer. Of course, the System‑8’s physical control panel is different from that of a Juno 60, but all of the Cloud 60’s controls are mapped to it somewhere (although I’m not sure where the VCA Gain source switch ends up) so, while programming will lack the immediacy of the Juno 60, it will work.

An approximation to the System‑8 panel is available as a GUI option in the soft synth, and you can also use a System‑8 or the control surfaces of a JU‑06 (or the more recent JU‑06A) as Cloud 60 programmers.

Memories

Roland Juno 60 Patch select.

A Cloud 60 patch bank comprises an 8x8 matrix of 64 patches from A1 to H8. This isn’t how sounds were stored on the Juno 60 (it’s the Juno 106 model) but that shouldn’t matter to anyone but the most obsessive purist. You can create new banks and save them as files to create huge libraries if you wish. Managing the sounds within a given bank is straightforward, but you can only open one bank at a time so, if you want to create a new bank drawn from multiple existing ones, you’ll have to load the sounds one at a time into the Cloud 60 and then save each of them anew. It’s not difficult, but it is long‑winded.

Pros

  • The Juno 60 is a great synth and the Cloud 60 can sometimes sound almost identical (although not always).
  • The additional effects add considerably to the sound.
  • Its unique System‑8 ‘Plug‑Out’ capabilities cannot be obtained from any other Juno‑60 emulation.

Cons

  • The documentation is woeful.
  • Some of its behaviour is odd.
  • There’s strong competition from elsewhere.

Summary

If you’re a fan of the Roland Cloud, this is another classic synth that you can add to your sonic armoury for no additional cost. It sounds great but, despite Roland’s claims to the contrary, it’s not unique in its ability to recreate the sound and character of the Juno‑60. If you’re considering buying it as an individual soft synth, it’s not the most fully featured emulation available and it’s worth weighing it against the pro and cons of the competition.

Information

Roland Cloud Ultimate annual subscription £179 per year or £17.99 per month, Juno 60 Life Time Key £139. Prices include VAT.

www.roland.com

Roland Cloud Ultimate annual subscription $199 per year or $19.99 per month, Juno 60 Life Time Key $149.

www.roland.com