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Roland Juno‑X

Polyphonic Synthesizer By Gordon Reid
Published October 2022

Roland Juno‑X

Is the Zen‑powered X the best Juno Roland have ever made?

I reviewed the Jupiter‑X and Xm in the Sound On Sound July 2020 issue, and spent the first part of the article discussing how Roland’s BMC hardware and Zen software could be combined to create a range of instruments based upon a single technology. Since then, we’ve seen the release of numerous small Zen‑based products as well as larger ones including a new series of Fantoms. But now there’s another Zen synthesizer that — apart from physical differences — appears to be little different from the Jupiter‑X. Where does it fit into the Zen universe?

The Juno‑X is again based upon the BMC chip and is again akin to a digital photo album of Roland’s Greatest Hits, this time offering three flavours of Juno (instead of virtual analogue models of the Jupiter‑8, Juno‑60/106, JX‑8P and SH‑101) alongside a modified XV‑5080, RD piano, Vocoder and generic Zen Core synthesizer. Behind the buttons that select these, you’ll find the legend Preloaded Models and, during the course of the review, it became possible to replace the installed instrument‑specific engines with your choice of synth engines from the Zen universe including, somewhat perversely, the Jupiter‑8. However, in parallel with a newer and more powerful Jupiter‑X engine that is restricted to installation in the Jupiter‑X hardware, the new Juno‑X engine is exclusive to the Juno‑X hardware. This is certainly a way to differentiate the two synths from one another and from other Zen products, but it’s an entirely artificial one and only time will tell whether the company will be able to resist the pressure to make these engines more widely available if they come under pressure to do so.

Despite the different choice of pre‑installed engines, the underlying facilities of the two synths are pretty much the same. Cynics might therefore suggest that Roland is trying to sell us two synths for the cost and effort of developing just one, and they would be right. Nevertheless, there are numerous exemplars for this, of which the most obvious is probably the huge family of Yamaha 4‑op FM synths released in the 1980s. The justification for the existence of the Juno‑X therefore seems to be that it provides a simpler and more intuitive interface for controlling the synth engines than is provided by the Jupiter‑X, the new Fantoms and the Zenology software environment.

I can see how Roland reached this position. When they launched the System 8 in 2017, they received numerous compliments regarding the instrument’s sound and flexibility but widespread criticism concerning its short keyboard and unusual control panel. Consequently, it must have made a lot of sense to develop a wider synth with a more expensive feel as well as a programming interface modelled on a revered vintage synth. We can therefore view the Jupiter‑X and the Juno‑X as two variants of essentially the same instrument that allow us to choose between a larger, more complex panel, or a smaller and simpler one. That’s not as daft as it might sound. I have already spoken to people who claim to prefer the more basic Juno panel and are happy to work within its limitations while leaving the heavy lifting (whether through a larger and more detailed control panel, menu‑diving or an editor) to someone else.

The Juno‑X Engine

I’m not going to review all of the synth engines available for the Juno‑X, nor delve into things like its five‑part arpeggiator, multiple MFX effects generators, global effects, integrated speakers and Bluetooth connectivity because I’ve covered much of this ground before. But it behoves us to take a few moments to consider the new bit, which is the Juno‑X synth engine itself. I suppose that one could describe this as a reimagining of the original Junos with a few extra parameters thrown in. But that would be to undersell it considerably.

I carried out a detailed comparison of the Juno‑60, 106 and X engines, and those “few extended parameters” include (take a deep breath...) a choice of LFO waveforms, LFO sync with a large range of clock ratios, LFO amp modulation, variable waveform levels rather than on/off buttons, envelope control of the pulse width, a SuperSaw option with manual as well as LFO and envelope control of detune, two options for the relative phase of the sub‑oscillator, oscillator transposition in semitones rather than just 16’, 8’ and 4’ options, detuning of the sawtooth, pulse/SuperSaw and sub‑oscillator waves against one another, panning of the oscillator waveforms, velocity sensitivity directed independently to both the LP filter and amplifier, a bi‑polar and velocity‑sensitive ADSR pitch contour generator, and the ability to use pitch bend to control the filter cutoff frequency. Oh yes... and all of this is in addition to the extended facilities it shares with the Juno‑60 and 106 engines including aftertouch, parameter range expansion and the usual three Zen filter options. You’ll have to decide whether the last of these is a good thing because it provides flexibility, or a bad one because it means that there’s a common tonality across many of the Zen engines. I must admit that I would have preferred it to offer a single, unique filter to further justify its existence.

The expansion in capabilities is immediately apparent when creating sounds, lifting the Juno‑X engine way above any vintage Juno. Add increased polyphony (although, as always nowadays, Roland decline to tell you what this is), velocity sensitivity and aftertouch, and you have to question whether this is a Juno at all; about the only thing that ties it to that class of synth is its single‑oscillator‑per‑voice architecture. But despite its undeniable quality, please don’t be misled by statements elsewhere that the Juno‑X or, for that matter, the 60 and 106 engines, sound indistinguishable from the original Junos. They are very close, but there are numerous subtle differences as well as an obvious one that leaps out when programming some of the classic Juno patches. This is the behaviour of the filter which, when oscillating, doesn’t lock to the oscillator frequency when you tune it appropriately. But there’s so much more that you can achieve with the Juno‑X that a slavish loyalty to the past would be rather self‑defeating.

In Use

Do we really believe that synthesizer designers got everything right in the 1970s and early 1980s? If we look at the current slew of digital instruments that pretend to be vintage analogue synths, it’s easy to believe that manufacturers do or, more pertinently, believe that we do. I wish that I could claim to be immune to this fallacy, but my immediate reaction when I unboxed the Juno‑X was ‘Oooo...’ because it looked so similar to something that pressed my buttons in 1984. There’s no doubt that the designers of the Juno‑6, 60 and 106 did a fantastic job but, if the industry hasn’t made any improvements in the past 40 years (or, more likely, a slice of the buying public doesn’t want them) it says something less than complimentary about all of us. I strongly suspect that Roland could have designed an even better panel for the Juno‑X but that it would then have sold in far fewer numbers. Nostalgia is most certainly what it used to be, especially for people who are far too young to have been there in the first place!

To be fair, the Juno‑106‑inspired design is a very good one. In addition, the Juno‑X is not too heavy, it’s a comfortable size, and it offers at least one operational advantage over the Jupiter‑X; programming is easier because the diminutive OLED screen and its associated knobs are sensibly located in the centre. If I have to find a fault, it’s in the choice of its unweighted keyboard. Despite generating velocity and channel aftertouch, it’s a bit light and springy. Given the presence of both the RD and XV engines, I had expected something a bit more substantial and, since the Juno‑X responds to polyphonic aftertouch, it would have been nice if this were generated by the synth itself. In contrast, I really like the pitch‑bend/modulation lever, which is a lovely chunky affair.

The review model was shipped with v1.02 firmware, which was clearly not the finished article. However, v1.10 was released during the time that the unit was with me so I downloaded and installed this. In addition to fixing a number of small bugs, it’s v1.10 that makes it possible to load other instrument‑specific models such as the Jupiter‑8, JX‑8P, SH‑101 and JD‑800 into the Juno‑X. It also supports the Juno‑X Editor, MainStage, and Roland Cloud Connect WC‑1, the last of which allows you to access synth engines and additional sounds from the Roland Cloud via Wi‑Fi. If you’re still running an earlier version, you really should upgrade.

The expansion in capabilities is immediately apparent when creating sounds, lifting the Juno‑X engine way above any vintage Juno.

Nevertheless, and despite some improvements introduced since it first appeared on the Jupiter‑X, I still don’t like the way in which Zen presents its Model/Tone/Part/Scene structure to the user. But sticking with this confers one of the greatest benefits of the Zen concept — the ability to share sounds across instruments. Apart from those generated using the Juno‑X engine, you can share any sounds created on the Juno‑X hardware with collaborators who are running the same engines on other Zen instruments — whether in hardware or software. In principle, this is no different from someone in the 1980s sharing a handful of Fairlight samples or DX7 patches with collaborators but, because the recipient doesn’t need to own the same product — just something from the same family — it’s more flexible, and each musician can choose to use the piece of Zen hardware or software that is most appropriate at any given moment. Time will tell whether this will become part of our standard working practices or is one of those bright ideas that sounds great in principle but quietly disappears a few years later.

Unfortunately, there’s no space here to discuss the huge breadth of high‑quality sounds that the Juno‑X can generate; it’s capable of such an immense range that any attempt to do so would be fruitless. You want Junos? Within the limitations discussed, it does Junos. You want the Jupiter‑8, the JX‑8P, the SH‑101 and other classic Roland synths? Pay for the appropriate engines and it will do those too. You want an XV‑5080, a small range of acoustic pianos and the hugely flexible Zen Core synth? They’re all here, and I doubt that anybody other than a deranged analogue synth monomaniac will find fault with the underlying sound quality.

So finally we come to the question of price. With the Jupiter‑X currently retailing for around £2000$2800 and the Juno‑X selling for a tad under £1700over $2000, the newer model isn’t the low‑cost option that previous bearers of the Juno name have been. That’s not surprising given the similarities between the two; notwithstanding the different hardware, they’re largely the same instrument in two different packages. So if you’re tempted by a Zen synth, your choice will probably be determined by your preference for size, keybed and control panel layout. But is it good value? At the time of writing there are four original Juno‑106s on eBay with insane Buy It Now prices of £1700 and above. Suddenly the Juno‑X starts to look very attractive indeed!


The Juno‑X is a Zen synth that focuses on the look and feel of the Juno‑106, just as the Jupiter‑X is a Zen synth that focuses on the look and feel of the Jupiter‑8. This means that it offers the sound quality, flexibility, and other benefits of Roland’s Zen universe in a somewhat smaller (some would say neater) and slightly lower‑cost format. It also offers a dedicated Juno‑X synth engine but, since this uses existing Zen building blocks, it’s not as radical a departure as you might think. To express this another way, the Juno‑X is pretty much a Jupiter‑X in a Juno’s clothing, with some artificial product differentiation thrown in to help — or maybe hinder — your choice of one over the other. If you don’t already own one of Roland’s Zen‑based keyboards, it offers an alternative that might appeal. You decide.  

The Rear Panel

Roland Juno‑X rear panel.Roland Juno‑X rear panel.

The Juno‑X is a synthesizer rather than a workstation and its relatively sparse rear panel reflects this. Analogue audio I/O is provided by quarter‑inch unbalanced and XLR balanced stereo outputs, the latter of which are very welcome on a professional‑leaning instrument. Dual headphone outputs — 3.5mm on the front and quarter‑inch on the rear — are also a nice touch. A concentric quarter‑inch/XLR audio input (unfortunately without phantom power) feeds the vocoder or the effects busses, and a 3.5mm stereo auxiliary input is routed directly to the outputs for accompaniment purposes. There are just two control inputs — one for a sustain pedal and the other for an expression pedal.

Digital I/O is provided via USB B, which carries both audio and MIDI, the latter of which is also available via two 5‑pin DIN sockets offering in and out, but no thru. (It should be noted that you have to jump through some arcane hoops to make the Juno‑X send MIDI CCs as well as receive them, but it all works if you can find the appropriate commands.) A USB A memory socket facilitates backup and upgrades. The final hole is an IEC mains input for the internal, universal power supply.

The Editor

Roland Juno‑X Editor.Roland Juno‑X Editor.

You can download the Juno‑X editor free of charge from the Roland Cloud, although you’ll also need to install the appropriate Mac or PC driver because the synth itself isn’t class compliant.

Once running, it allows you to program patches and build scenes, and it also acts as a useful librarian for all of your sounds. Happily, it communicates with the Juno‑X in real time, so you can adjust a sound in the editor and immediately hear the results when playing the synth, and adjust a sound on the synth’s control panel whereupon it will immediately be reflected in the appropriate page in the editor. It’s a valuable tool, and there’s no excuse not to use it.


  • The sound quality is excellent.
  • It’s very flexible.
  • It looks gorgeous.
  • Velocity and aftertouch — quite right too!
  • Balanced XLR audio outputs are always welcome.
  • An internal power supply — no wall‑wart needed.


  • The voicing architecture remains a bit arcane.
  • The keyboard doesn’t lend itself to playing acoustic or e‑pianos.
  • It’s crying out for a larger screen and shorter menus.
  • It’s not cheap.


It’s the Zen experience in a Juno‑shaped package.


£1689 including VAT.