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Roland JX305

Groovesynth By Derek Johnson
Published October 1998

Roland JX305

Roland have repackaged their techno‑centric Groovebox, the MC505, adding a keyboard and removing some of the performance features. The result is the JX305. But have they thrown out the baby with the bathwater? Derek Johnson finds out...

Anyone who keeps an eye on hi‑tech musical manufacturing and marketing might have predicted it: since the all‑singing, all‑dancing, all‑arpeggiating silver dance boxes that have enjoyed such a vogue in recent years lack only one thing — a keyboard — the next logical step in their commercial exploitation must be to add a keyboard. It's an obvious move — both Roland and Quasimidi, in developing tools which sought to emulate the sound and immediacy of earlier analogue instruments such as the TB303, came up with some highly usable and creative ideas for the musician, and what better way to repackage them than in a keyboard format?

Take Roland's mega Groovebox, the MC505: it would certainly seem logical to bolt a keyboard on to a tool like this, to make it completely self‑contained and more suited, perhaps, to the musician with traditional keyboard skills — and that's just what Roland have done, in the shape of the JX305. But what really made the MC505 so special was its user interface. Have Roland preserved this important advantage for the new instrument?

Some You Win...

The JX305's control panel features seven assignable Real‑Time Modify knobs.The JX305's control panel features seven assignable Real‑Time Modify knobs.

First impressions don't suggest a family relationship between the MC505 and the new JX — the funky silver metal body of the 505 is replaced by a conventional modern plastic synth casing in dark blue. And though an encouraging total of 10 knobs and 56 buttons, plus an alpha dial for parameter adjustment, adorn the front panel, there are none of the 505's dinky, retro‑styled sliders, faders or chunky flashing lights, though the 505's old‑fashioned pots are carried across to the 305. The new synth looks like a late '90s instrument: sleek, with low‑profile buttons, pinpoint LEDs and a group of twiddlable Real‑time Modify knobs to go some way towards satisfying the need for hands‑on control. Most of the physical knobs and switches have several functions, and a system of three‑colour labelling, as on the MC505, tells you what's doing what in any given mode. A 61‑note synth‑action keyboard, with velocity and aftertouch sensitivity, is fitted, as is Roland's traditional combination pitch‑bend/mod controller.

The MC505 exuded a feeling of quality in its presentation, and this impression was bolstered by its internal power supply and six audio outputs. The 305, by contrast, settles for a wall‑wart external PSU and has the standard mid‑range keyboard complement of two audio outs. The 505's Part Mixer faders have gone, and its slider‑based envelope controls are substituted on the 305 by the Real‑time Modify knobs, which also double up for other functions. The 505's large red Current/Next Pattern number LED indicator, which used to keep you fully informed if you were doing on‑the‑fly Pattern juggling, is also missing on the JX305. In addition, the new synth lacks the Low Boost control which emphasised the bottom end of the MC505's audio output, while one or two operational features are also missing. Perhaps the saddest omission on the new instrument is the wonderful D‑Beam infra‑red controller, which will surely make the 505 sought after on the second‑hand market in years to come. However, its distinctive 'turntable' effect can be replicated by the JX305's pitch‑bend controller.

On the positive side, the JX305 has three footpedal sockets to the 505's one, so you can plug in a sustain pedal, a volume pedal and a programmable switch. The front panel also has Portamento, Split and Dual controls, so you can instantly set up keyboard splits and layers. Also new is a front‑panel switching routine that lets you turn off the effects completely, which will be welcome in some patch‑programming situations. In spite, or perhaps because, of the fact that there are fewer controls on the JX305's front panel, its control layout is certainly easier to comprehend at first sight than that of the MC505, which is no bad thing. Internally, the 305 benefits from additional waveforms and sequencer Patterns, and is 100 percent compatible with the MC505 in terms of Pattern and sound data. The reverse is not true, however — the JX305's new waveforms mean that some Patches will not translate to the MC505.

Inside The Blue Magic Box

The JX305 is a maximum 64‑note polyphonic, 8‑part multitimbral synth with a built‑in eight‑track pattern‑based sequencer and fully‑featured arpeggiator. Roland's Realtime Phrase Sequencer (more later) extends the capabilities and apparent multitimbrality of the instrument, by allowing up to 16 'phrases' to be played or triggered alongside an eight‑part sequence. On the sound front, the JX305 contains an S&S synthesis engine, with over 600 waveforms available as raw material for your sonic machinations. A healthy 640 factory Patches (as opposed to the MC505's 512) and 32 Rhythm Sets (the 505 only had 26) are on board. User Patches can be saved in 250 memory locations, and when these slots are full you can save your creations to a Smart Media card, just as with the MC505, along with sequencer Patterns and Songs. Unless, of course, you're saving over MIDI to a computer with a patch librarian (and saving money at the same time, since the cards cost £30‑£40 each).

As you'd expect, the 305 has digital effects processors — three, to be exact. One provides reverb in various flavours, one delays, and one offers a selection of more exotic treatments, such as enhancer, overdrive, chorus and phaser.

Sound Stuff

Where the MC505 offered, appropriately, 505 raw sample waveforms, the JX305 boasts over 600, comprising the MC505's set (synth and drum machine waveforms, sound effects, percussion and a few 'real' instrument sounds) plus an additional bank of traditional instrument sounds such as you might find on a GM Synth — violins, pianos, harpsichords, lots of ethnic instrument samples, and so on. These additions tend to make the JX305 more of a general‑purpose instrument than the MC505, though it's certainly not General MIDI.

Just as with the MC505, the sound generator within the JX305 is from the Roland JV family, and allows you to combine up to four Tones to make a Patch, though four‑Tone Patches cut down on the available polyphony. Each Tone is a raw waveform which has passed through a collection of modifying stages — two LFOs, a pitch envelope, a filter (with envelope), and an amplifier (with envelope). The synth also offers a set of 10 Tone Structures, which define how pairs of Tones will combine within a Patch. Some of the Structures include a ring modulator, for example, while others add a 'booster gain' effect which is described as controlled distortion. You can, of course, use a simple Tone Structure that just configures four Tones in parallel.

Patch editing is via the LCD and a collection of 16 buttons on the far right of the front panel. The Patch button under the LCD takes the display into Patch mode, whereupon you select a Patch to work on. The Edit button in the Edit/Utility section of the panel now makes that Patch ready to edit, and you can switch Tones on and off in the Patch, select them for editing, and access such parameter groups as:

  • Wave: choose the waveform you want to assign to a Tone, offset its gain in relation to the other Tones, and apply frequency cross‑modulation (FXM).
  • Pitch: transpose Tones, apply a Random Pitch effect for a more analogue feel, and impose a pitch envelope.
  • Filter: set a filter type (low‑pass, band‑pass, high‑pass or peaking), define filter cutoff frequency and resonance, and set a filter envelope.
  • Amplifier: set an overall level for a Tone, plus pan position and an overall amplitude envelope.
  • LFO: choose LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) waveform (triangle, sine, sawtooth, square, trapezoid, sample and hold, random or chaos), set LFO rate, and access the option to sync the LFO to incoming MIDI clocks. The onset of the LFO can also be delayed or faded in here.

For quick tweaking of key sound parameters, take a look at the seven Real‑time Modify knobs on the left of the panel. Two of these adjust filter cutoff and resonance; or tone level and pan position; or portamento time and fine tuning. You select which pair of parameters you want to access with the adjacent switch. The remaining five knobs have an associated switch that lets you use them to edit the envelopes, LFO 1 or some of the effects parameters. If, for example, you've chosen to edit LFO 1, the five knobs give immediate access to LFO 1 rate, fade time, pitch depth, filter depth and amp depth. This seven‑knob system is not as good as having a dedicated knob for each function, but it's a lot better than having to rely on the two‑line LCD and some obscure parameter‑access menu. Roland have also chosen their key sound parameters well, and 90 percent of the time you could make just the right changes to a sound using them.

The real‑time knobs also come into play outside Edit mode, where they can be used to alter exactly the same parameters, but for every Tone in a Patch simultaneously. If you achieve a sound you like with this kind of on‑the‑fly twiddling, you can save it as a new user Patch. Dynamic movements of the knobs can also be recorded as part of a sequence, but more on that later.

As you'd expect, Rhythm Sets can also be edited; each sound within a Rhythm set has its own set of synth parameters. When the Coarse Tuning parameter is used with rhythm sounds a strange 'feature' comes to light: as soon as you reach +24 semitones the waveform starts to play backwards. This is referred to very obscurely in the manual, and though it could come in handy it would be nicer to have a dedicated switch for reversing waveforms.

Sequencer Statements

The JX305's Pattern‑based sequencer is functionally identical to the MC505's, but there's sometimes a difference in feel because of the JX305's different user interface. For a more detailed look at the 505 sequencer's facilities, take a look at the MC505 review in the April 1998 SOS. For now, here's a lightning tour.

The sequencer offers eight tracks, with real‑ or step‑time recording and sophisticated quantising, including Roland's version of groove templates. If you read the MC505 review you'll notice that the 505 offered a grid‑style step‑time recording option like the classic TR909 drumbox. Anyone who's fond of this technique can rest easy — you can do it on the 305 too, with an LCD‑based grid display.

The sequencer comes ready‑stuffed with 768 preset Patterns (as opposed to the MC505's 714), in a variety of styles, though of course you can save your own Patterns. Movements of most of the 305's front‑panel knobs can be recorded as part of a Pattern, so you can introduce quite a lot of dynamic interest. Those of you familiar with the MC505 will remember that machine's eight Part Mixer faders, which altered level, pan, effects sends and transposition of the eight parts that can make up a Pattern. Movements of these faders were also recorded as part of a Pattern. On the JX305, of course, there are no Part Mixer Faders; however, a couple of key presses get you to a Part Mixer page in the display. You choose what parameter you want to tweak and the seven Real‑time Modify knobs, plus the Quantise knob, then affect that parameter for the eight Parts in a Pattern. It's only slightly less friendly than the MC505's way of doing the same thing.

To make a Song, up to 50 Patterns, each up to 32 bars in length and with a tempo of 20‑240bpm, are chained together, and though 50 steps may not seem like many, each step can have different effects and Part Mixer settings, so there's really no excuse for a dull‑sounding Song.

Editing facilities are exactly as you'd expect from a high‑spec sequencer of this type — you can copy, paste, erase, delete, insert bars and Patterns, move Pattern data in time, alter velocity and transposition, thin controller information, and fix a quantise value. The MC505's sluggishness when saving Patterns was noted in the SOS review; the JX305 is slightly better, in that saving Patterns takes about half the time of the MC505.

Adding to the versatility of the 305's sequencer is the Pattern Set feature. When you're in Pattern Set mode you can assign up to 16 Patterns to the 16 Patch/Pattern select buttons, for real‑time triggering. This is more of a performance feature than a compositional aid.

About The Arpeggiator

The 305's arpeggiator is exactly the same as the 505's, and even the 305's altered user interface makes little difference to how it is used. In fact, the only slight change is for the better: the dedicated Hold button which was provided on the MC505 panel is in a better location on the 305, right next to the Arpeggiator button.

You can produce anything from a simple up or down chord arpeggiation to a bossanova extravaganza with this device. In fact, it edges towards home‑keyboard type auto‑accompaniment in some ways. First, you choose a Style of arpeggiation, of which there are 43, plus slots for 10 of your own. Styles range from House to Tango by way of Waltz, Shamisen and more. Then you can tailor the arpeggio, by using different Motifs, which define in what order the notes in a chord will play, and Beat Patterns, which alter accent location and length of notes. Add the ability to vary 'shuffle' rate (which, to be scientific, makes the result more 'bouncy'), and to set a three‑octave range (up or down) over which the arpeggio will play, and you can see the potential. When you have a result you like, you can record it into a sequencer Pattern too.

Real‑time Phrase Sequencing crops up in most recent Roland sequencer‑equipped instruments and offers a way of quickly and interactively creating a new performance, or adding 'fills' to existing Patterns. A Phrase, in the Roland universe, is simply an individual part, such as a bass line or a drum pattern. You can use any part from any Pattern within the synth, a preset or your own, to create an RPS 'set' (there are 60 on board, including snare fills, short chord sequences, lead lines and sound effects). RPS phrases are triggered on the JX305 with the bottom 16 notes of the keyboard, but it's not possible to jam with RPS phrases and record the result into a new Pattern. If you like a particular performance, you'll have to make a note of which phrases you used, and create a new Pattern by copying those phrases into it. When using the RPS to add fills to a playing Pattern, apparent multitimbrality increases, since phrases play alongside the eight parts of a Pattern.

Explaining Effects

As with the MC505, Roland have provided reverb, delay and 'multi' effects, and as well as giving them parallel routings you can also choose from a few serial routings (Multi‑effects ‑> Delay ‑> Reverb ‑> Output, for example), which can give you a little extra sonic versatility.

The reverb effect is simple, though perfectly serviceable: six reverbs — two rooms, two stages and two halls — with basic editing parameters including reverb time, level, and high‑frequency damping. The delay processor simply offers short or long delays, though the latter can be sync'ed to the current pattern's tempo. Editing parameters available here include delay time, feedback, high‑frequency damping, and level.

The multi‑effect processor doesn't, as you might hope, provide several effects at once, but several different (ie. not reverb or delay) effects, of which you can use one at a time. There are 24 options, amongst which are various choruses, phasers and flangers, compression, tremolo, overdrive and gated reverb, and a bunch of strange processes such as Lo‑Fi, which "simulates low‑fidelity sound", and Noise Generator, which can add hum, disc noise and pink noise to your lovely clean digital sounds. There are no 'insert' effects that you can apply only to individual Parts.

Getting Into The Groovesynth

Despite the fact that it lacks the MC505's high knobs‑to‑square‑inch ratio, the JX305 is just about as easy to use. In some cases, the front panel's spacious layout — including the parameter access system — is easier to navigate from scratch, which should suit newcomers. The JX305's Patch and Pattern numbering system (as with many Roland synths, each bank is itself broken down into eight sub‑banks of eight Patches or Patterns) is actually friendlier than the MC505's, where you have to scroll through the complete list to find what you want. Everything the MC505 can do is achievable on the 305, bar the Mega Mix and D‑Beam functions (which depend upon hardware the 305 doesn't have). Even Tap Tempo is available; the JX lacks the dedicated button, but one of the foot pedals can be assigned to it.

The many keyboard‑specific tricks — instant splits and layers from dedicated buttons, three footpedal inputs and pitch bend/mod wheel — bring added value to the package, and about the only thing that gets in the way of smooth operations is the manual, which is pretty much a verbatim reprint of the MC505's. All the big issues are covered reasonably thoroughly, but there are some features you won't discover unless you happen upon them by accident. Neither the index nor the contents pages are as comprehensive as they should be. When you're using the Part Mixer's Key Shift function, for example, shifting the Rhythm Part past a certain point causes all sounds in that Part to play backwards, rather as with editing Rhythm Set sounds. This is an excellent feature, very effective in performance, yet there seems to be no reference to it in the manual.

A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing?

Roland have essentially taken the guts of an MC505 and transplanted them into a conventional synth‑shaped package, but at the same time the JX305 isn't exactly a keyboard‑equipped MC505, as contradictory as this might seem. The radical retro styling and controller‑laden front panel of the 505 went a long way towards making it what it was. The D‑Beam controller, the silver metal case, the Low Boost feature, the chunky flashing lights and finger‑friendly knobs and sliders were pretty much non‑essential — but they added sparkle and fitted the 505 perfectly for its role as a top dance tool. Although the JX305 is more practical than the MC505 in many ways, it's certainly less hip in appearance. Having said this, Roland have made a very good job of translating the 505's features to a different user interface, and have really lost very little of its fundamental functionality in the process. The JX305 will appeal to the player looking for an instrument that will do more than one job — that will accompany him to a pub gig as easily as to a rave, and double as a writing and recording tool in the studio, courtesy of its decent complement of traditional waveforms. The buying public seem to like the look of the spec, too: apparently Roland are already back‑ordered on the 305.

While it's a shame that Roland didn't go the whole hog and create a retro keyboard as beautifully styled as the MC505, the JX305 is a very well‑thought out workstation instrument (with an understandable analogue/dance bias) which gives you everything you could reasonably need to create virtually any style of music.

Brief Specification

  • 61‑note velocity/aftertouch‑sensitive keyboard
  • 8‑part multitimbrality (plus 16 RPS parts)
  • 64‑voice polyphony
  • 640 preset and 256 user Patches
  • 32 factory and 20 User drum sets
  • 3 effects processors
  • 8‑track sequencer: 96ppqn resolution; 768 preset, 256 user Patterns; 50 Songs; 50,000 notes; plays internal or external sounds
  • Arpeggiator with 43 Styles
  • Real‑time Phrase Sequencer
  • 7 Real‑time Modify knobs plus Quantise and Arpeggiator knob
  • Full MIDI spec: all knob movements recordable over MIDI; sequencer syncs to or from MIDI clock
  • Smart Media card slot

Patches & Patterns

The JX305's factory Patches comprise a brilliant collection of varied synth sounds and textures, plus some pretty well‑programmed Patterns. The new 'real instrument' factory Patches, using the extra waveform ROM, help make the JX305 more of an all‑rounder and include a good variety of pianos and other keyboard simulations — Patches I21 Rhodes and I22 Hard Rhodes are excellent, while the two new harpsichord examples are bright and playable. New guitar Patches include a pair of nice nylon‑strung guitar/string layers, plus I64 Guitar FX — dive‑bombs, amp noise and so on. There's not so much variety amongst the string and wind Patches, although the quality is consistent and some of the ensemble strings (I86 Stereo Slow Strings is very lush and atmospheric) are welcome additions to the set.

The 305's new Patterns cover more pop territory: its two Motown Patterns are pretty authentic, and D81 Grunge is better than it should be, but several Patterns are a bit too slick for their own good — D85 AOR and D84 Slick Groove, for example. A handful of extra contemporary dance grooves, based on almost recognisable hits, are also provided.


  • Extra waveforms, preset Patches and Patterns.
  • Velocity/aftertouch‑sensitive keyboard.
  • Good translation of MC505 features to a different user interface.
  • Still fun!


  • Loses MC505's D‑Beam controller and Low Boost feature.
  • External power supply.
  • Only two audio outs, compared to the MC505's six.
  • Cosmetically not as exciting as the MC505.


It's not as sexy as the MC505, but the JX305 has 99 percent of the functionality and sounds just as good — with the bonus of a keyboard and a clutch of new waveforms.