Roland's JV1080 was a great success with serious synthesists, and recognising that if it ain't broke there's no need to fix it, Roland have provided more of the same with the new 2080. Derek Johnson's spoilt for choice...
With the synth world becoming ever more focused on instruments that provide DSP‑based simulations of ancient analogue synths — a strange case of cutting‑edge technology looking backwards rather than to the future — it's easy to forget that creative synthesis is not necessarily the sole domain of those original instruments, or their modern, hi‑tech simulated counterparts. Sample‑based digital synths, the introduction of which in the mid‑'80s virtually killed off the knob‑laden analogue synth as a commercially viable mass‑market product, are still very much with us, for good or ill. The downside of this accessible technology is a dependence on short, static looped snapshots of sound — the raw samples. So much hinges on how well‑recorded they are, how many multi‑samples make up an individual 'waveform', whether the loops are obvious, and so on. The upside is epitomised by cost‑effectiveness: who, apart from the extremely rich or the intrepidly home‑brew, would have dreamed of having 16 different synths, complete with multi‑effects, in the late '70s or early '80s? Yet this is precisely what the average multitimbral sample + synthesis instrument offers today, often at a very low price indeed. A fine example of what is possible with today's technology is Roland's new JV2080, which is the focus of this review.
Essentially, the JV2080 is very similar to its predecessor, the still‑current JV1080 (reviewed in SOS December 1994). Features common to both 2U modules include 64‑voice polyphony, 16‑part multitimbrality, 448‑waveform ROM, three sets of stereo outs, General MIDI compatibility, and the ability to add Roland's SR‑JV80‑series sound expansion cards. The sound architecture is built around a collection of four‑element Patches (the more elements per Patch, the less available polyphony), and 16‑part Performances, which can either offer full multitimbral operation, layers and/or key/velocity splits of various Patches on one MIDI channel, or a mixture of both.
And so to the enhancements: most visible is the redesigned front panel, which now sports a large, friendly liquid crystal display (the JV1080 manages with a 2‑line, 40‑character display), an array of helpful 'soft keys' under the LCD, and redeployed buttons. These physical changes are echoed in an operating system which has been streamlined in several ways. Not only is editing made much easier by the large display, but Patches are more accessible using the new 'Patch Search' facility — you select Patches using a computer‑like hierarchy. Auditioning Patches (press the volume control) is also more fun, with the option of using chords or phrases as well as individual notes. You can even change the font of the display's text. One excellent feature of recent Roland synths has been the ability to expand your instrument by simply slotting in optional voice expansion cards: the JV1080 accommodates four, while the JV2080 can take eight.
Other areas where the JV2080 improves on the JV1080 include number of Patches (the 2080 has 768 to the 1080's 640, including 128 User Patches), drum kits (12 up from 10, with two user kits) and effects. The basic reverb and chorus 'system' effects are joined by no less than three 'insertion' multi‑effects (called EFX by Roland) in Performance mode (the JV1080 has just one insert effect). This means that, apart from the main system effects, there are three extra effect units, chosen from a collection of 40 effect types, that can be used independently in a Performance. Note that Patches can only use a single EFX in addition to chorus and reverb.
Performances remain static at 64 preset and 32 user, and the JV2080 actually loses something: there is no PCM card slot, which the JV1080 uses to expand its waveform allocation. A data card slot, for storing more Patches, Performances and drum kits, remains in place. Oh, and Roland haven't called the JV2080 a Super JV, either, as they did with the 1080.
As just mentioned, the front panel has been significantly redesigned. The huge display and array of six function keys make accessing parameters and editing Patches and Performances much easier. The large parameter value knob and cursor buttons are in the middle of the front panel, and the remaining buttons, which are spread around the panel of the JV1080, are arranged tidily to the right of the 2080's panel. The first row of buttons selects an operating mode (Performance, Patch, Rhythm or System), the next includes the three effects on/off switches, and the last two rows are used to select and enable Elements within Patches and Parts within Performances.
A headphone socket is at the front, along with a master volume control; all other connections are at the rear. As you may have already noted, these are identical to the JV1080: a main stereo out is joined by two sets of fully assignable 'direct' stereo outs, and the usual trio of MIDI sockets.
Not surprisingly, the JV2080's architecture has a lot in common with that of the JV1080 — in fact, Patches and Performances from the JV1080 and the similarly‑specified XP50/80 synths are completely compatible with the JV2080. Up to four basic elements — called Tones — make up a Patch, and these Tones can be arranged in a variety of 'Structures', which configure the Tones and filters in some rather interesting ways, either independently or with some interaction; several Structures also include ring modulation and a 'booster'. This latter parameter introduces a form of distortion or pulse wave modulation, which is further enhanced by the use of each Element's 'Wave Gain' parameter plus FXM (frequency cross modulation).
Each Element in a Patch is also treated by its own TVA (Time Variant Amplifier, a sophisticated envelope generator), TVF (Time Variant Filter, with resonance and its own envelope), two highly comprehensive LFOs (with no fewer than eight waveforms, including sample & hold and chaos) and Pitch EG. Interestingly, individual Tones can also be delayed, or triggered on a key‑up. Effects — chorus, reverb and EFX — are also available as part of a Patch. Although there can only be one EFX per Patch, not all Tones have to be routed through it
A separate mode is used to edit drum kits. Any waveform can be selected for each 'drum', and a range of tuning, envelope, filter and effects options are also available — individual pitch bend is assignable to each sound in a kit. Note that drum kits are usually on MIDI channel 10, so set your controller to that channel when playing sounds during editing.
So far, so good: use the key range and velocity crossfade options cleverly, and you can make a single Patch sound like a full band — almost. For real knuckle‑cracking layers of sound, try a Performance. Here you can layer or key split up to 15 Patches on one MIDI channel (Part 10 is drums, remember), or have 16‑part multitimbrality. As mentioned earlier, in Performance mode you can access not just the global reverb and chorus effects, but up to three insert effects. This means that three parts can have drastically different dedicated effects. Routing options also allow for a Performance's various Parts to be routed to any of the three stereo output pairs, with or without effects; use hard panning and no effects and you have individual outs.
As was noted in SOS's JV1080 review, Roland's latest generation of S+S technology offers an excellent source of raw sound, pretty nifty filters and fast‑acting envelope generators under the control of a powerful central processor. You can create slowly evolving sounds, and set up sluggish envelopes, but if you need a tightly clipped sound, the JV2080 won't let you down. Zipper noise and quantisation artifacts? Not here, mate!
The effects are superb, as one would expect from Roland. Extracting them from the JV2080 would produce a good stand‑alone processor. One nice thing about the delays (amongst the EFX effects) is that when you use the maximum feedback value, the delays repeat for ages, but don't degrade and get distorted (unless you've overloaded the input). Instead, they build up to a really dense level, and then fade slowly to nothing.
I can't stress enough how helpful the new large display is; it makes moving around the operating system and editing Patches and Performances a rather agreeable affair. Total newcomers may find it a bit confusing, but just keep your eye on the menu bar, at the bottom of the display. This will usually tell you what you need to know. If you're unsure as to where you are or what you've done, hit the Exit button, to the right of the LCD, or press 'Undo', which will get rid of your last edit.
Such ease of use is especially welcome given that the main user manual is not the most helpful that Roland have produced. Beginners will welcome the smaller quick‑start manual, but expect a little head‑scratching when it comes to extracting the big issues from the main manual.
Don't get me wrong: the JV2080 is a fabulous synth, with power, depth, subtlety and sophistication in reserve for the adventurous sound mangler, a hefty number of excellent presets and friendly operating system for the slightly more timid, and amazing expandability. The provision of three floating insert effects in Performance mode is also highly gratifying — doubly so when coupled with the ability to route dry or EFX‑treated parts to the two pairs of direct outs (although how nice it would have been to use more than one EFX per Part!).
But the spec offered by the popular JV1080 isn't that inferior, and the 1080 cost £350 less than the 2080 does on its release just about two years ago; the disparity is even greater now that the older synth has been "re‑positioned" at £999. Whether a bigger display, two extra insert effects, some extra sounds, a tweaked operating system, and the open invitation to spend more money on expansion boards (£2000 to fill all eight slots!) is worth the extra cash is up to you. Facilities that would have been really welcome — double the multitimbrality, more user Patch memories and perhaps more audio outputs — have not been provided. Let's take an example from elsewhere in Roland's range: the SC88 Super Sound Canvas GM module was released at around the same time as the JV1080, for £799. The SC88 Pro, reviewed last month, retails for the same price, yet offers a significant number of sonic and hardware enhancements over the original. However, Roland report a initial sell‑out on JV2080s, so the customer must be making up his or her own mind.
Reservations aside, the JV2080 is one of the best examples of a high‑class sample + synthesis‑based module on the market at the moment. It sounds great, editing has been made highly accessible, and the effects provision is particularly generous. If you only want one MIDI sound module, could this be the one?
- 64‑note polyphony.
- 16‑part multitimbrality.
- 768 patches, including GM patches and 128 User Patches.
- Three effects systems: reverb, chorus and multi‑effects (EFX).
- 320 x 80‑dot LCD.
- Three sets of stereo outputs.
- Eight wave expansion board slots.
- Data card slot, for M512E memory card.
EFX types available as insert effects include the following: Stereo EQ; Overdrive; Distortion; Phaser; Spectrum Enhancer; Auto‑wah; Rotary; Compressor; Limiter; Hexachorus; Tremolo Chorus; Space D; Stereo Chorus; Stereo Flanger; Step Flanger; Stereo Delay; Modulation Delay; Triple‑Tap Delay; Quadruple‑Tap Delay; Time Control Delay; Two Voice Pitch‑Shifter; Feedback Pitch‑Shifter; Reverb; Gate Reverb; Overdrive>Chorus; Overdrive>Flanger; Overdrive>Delay; Distortion>Chorus; Distortion>Flanger; Distortion>Delay; Enhancer>Chorus; Enhancer>Flanger; Enhancer>Delay; Chorus>Delay; Flanger>Delay; Chorus>Delay; Chorus/Delay; Flanger/Delay; Chorus/Flanger.
Some users will want to play back General MIDI format song files with the JV2080's sounds. Accessing the GM mode is as simple as sending a GM System On message, or pressing the Shift and Performance buttons. GM Files will play back perfectly, but be warned that this is not a GS (Roland's expanded GM) instrument, so files written to that standard, with its larger variety of sounds, will not play back accurately.
Staying with MIDI matters for the moment, the JV2080 can be comprehensively controlled over MIDI. Quite apart from accessing individual parameters via System Exclusive data, several MIDI Controllers can be assigned to various Patch and effect parameters for painless real‑time control, which can be recorded into a MIDI sequencer for accurate playback later. Many time‑dependent functions — the LFOs and EFX delay times for example — can be sync'd to MIDI clock. In fact, when sync'ing these parameters to MIDI, the display helpfully provides note values (16th, quarter, dotted half note and so on), rather than millisecond timings. Creating arpeggio‑like effects is a doddle when you start playing with MIDI clocks, the LFO, Pitch EG, timed delays and the Tone delay function, not to mention locking these crucial parameters to the tempo of the current track.
The JV2080 can host up to eight expansion boards, and while adding one of these doesn't increase your polyphony, it does strengthen the sonic arsenal by a good deal for the price of a few sample CDs — if you're intrepid (and rich) enough to eventually fill all eight slots, you'll have something like 144Mb of raw waveforms to play with, not to mention an additional 2900 preset Patches. And you don't lose any rack space.
Roland's current range of easily‑installable SR‑JV80 expansion boards (£255 each) all fit various Roland synths and modules (including the XP50, XP80, JV1080, JV90, JV880, JV1000 and JD990). The newest is the SR‑JV80‑10 Bass & Drums board, with which the review JV2080 was supplied.
The 241 waveforms on the SR‑JV80‑10 board are derived from the Spectrasonics sample CDs Bass Legend, Burning Grooves and Liquid Grooves. The artists who provide the bass and drum hits are all clearly name‑checked (come on down, Marcus Miller, Abraham Laboriel, John Patitucci, Abe Laboriel Jr and Bob Wilson). I think this board's name has been carefully chosen, so that jungle‑merchants don't get confused. While funky and varied, this is not a sub‑bass, drums and bass collection — but when it comes to bass Patches, if it ain't here, you probably don't need it. There are even 'menu' waveforms made up of a variety of different bass (and drum) variations; for example, collections of different slide and fret noises. Drum kits are also excellent — there are eight altogether. What makes this board different from the others is a nifty collection of 10 ready‑made acoustic drum phrase loops. These can be sync'd to MIDI, and allow you to create instant grooves.
The remaining nine boards in the Roland collection are:
- SR‑JV80‑01 Pop
- SR‑JV80‑02 Orchestral
- SR‑JV80‑03 Piano
- SR‑JV80‑04 Vintage
- SR‑JV80‑05 World
- SR‑JV80‑06 Dance
- SR‑JV80‑07 Super Sound Set
- SR‑JV80‑08 Keyboards of the 60s and 70s
- SR‑JV80‑09 Session.
- Three insert effects in Performances.
- Excellent new display and operating system enhancements make editing a breeze.
- Ability to host an amazing eight sound expansion boards.
- Still only 16‑part multitimbral.
- Manual a bit scatty.
- Quite similar to the JV1080, which is still current.
Whether you go for the sub‑£1000 JV1080 or the sub‑£1500 JV2080, with its additional effects and superb display, depends on your requirements. Those extra features are very tempting...