Roland - JU-06

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  • The Juno-106, with its classic sound, relatively affordable price and simple interface, is a staple of many studios. A true workhorse, it's not the world's most experimental instrument, but it's capable of producing warm, earth-shaking basses, thick rave stabs and beautiful, lucid pad sounds. Secondhand units go for a relatively affordable price, but nevertheless, their inclusion in Roland's Boutique series as the JU-06 made sense. This limited-run series, like their AIRA products, recreates classic Roland gear using their Analogue Circuit Behaviour technology, which digitally models the individual components of analogue circuits rather than actually being analogue. The stigma around that doesn't really need to be restated. But it's interesting to note that, when there was a blind test performed on Muff Wiggler, most people thought the AIRA emulation of an SH-101 was the real thing, and vice versa. Perception shapes a lot of the opinion surrounding these debates, and I feel that the sound of the JU-06 is so close to an original Juno that any differences I perceived were probably more to do with my prior knowledge of the sound generation engine than what I was actually hearing. That perceived difference was mainly that the JU-06 seemed crisper, clearer and more precise—like a perfect Juno-106. It certainly maintained the Juno's lush, retro-sci-fi style and moved seamlessly through the same classic sounds. And the chorus, arguably the best part of the Juno, was as satisfying as ever. Like its forebear, the JU-06's operation is simple. There are three oscillators: a saw, a square or pulse (with adjustable pulse width) and a square wave sub-oscillator. The pulse width and pitch can be modulated by an LFO. There's also a noise generator. The result then goes through high-pass and low-pass filters in series. The first is simple, with just a frequency, and the second more involved. The low pass filter has frequency and resonance, as well as modulation of the frequency through envelope, LFO and key follow. The path then goes through a voltage-controlled amplifier, the level of which can be controlled by an ADSR envelope (the same as found on the filter) or just be a straightforward gate. As signal paths go, it doesn't get more classic than this. There are 64 patches arranged in banks—half as many as the original, with some overlap but not a carbon copy—and down at the bottom right are the same two choruses as the Juno-106. That chorus is famously lush and detailed, bringing stereo width and dimensionality to any sound—most obviously to sustained, evolving pads. A few of the Juno's features have been tucked into the row of bottom buttons and are now accessible by multi-press. The patch save, and portamento especially, are functions that you'd want to be upfront and more accessible, ostensibly, but the button presses required are pretty simple; it just takes a bit of memorizing from the manual. Maybe the most contentious physical changes are the reduced size of the faders and making the pitch bend and modulation into ribbon controllers instead of a joystick. There have been complaints that the former change would reduce the precision of control on the instrument. I don't know how much precision these people need exactly, but the faders on the JU-06, while slightly flimsy, still have enough throw to allow you to make pretty accurate adjustments. The ribbon controllers, on the other hand, make it more difficult to control both the pitch and the modulation at once. Although the size may have prohibited a mechanical joystick, something like a single pressure-sensitive ribbon might have worked better. Most obviously, there's now no keyboard. You can preview sounds using the ribbon controller, use the sequencer or buy the additional K-25m keyboard, which the unit sits within. At two octaves only, and with reduced size keys, it's probably more of an accessory to allow you to keep using the JU-06 on the move rather than a serious piece of studio gear. There are a number of additions to the feature set, too. The LFO rate can now go higher, enabling more experimental sounds verging on FM, and the high-pass filter is continuous rather than stepped. There's also a sequencer that is filled out with a fair number of features, including tie, gate timing and shuffle. There's a simple delay as well. The voices have been reduced from six to four, but there's the ability to chain two units or work around it by layering your sounds if you need bigger chords. I felt this was an acceptable loss given the cost reduction. Also, the voice chips won't go bad, which is a common problem with Juno-106s. There are a number of areas where the JU-06 isn't quite the same as a real Juno-106, but that cost reduction is the salient point here. You'll save around £500, give or take, not to mention quite a lot of studio space or tour baggage size. And the differences can be overcome using workarounds. Most importantly, the sound is, at the least, extremely close. In a mix, any differences would be further diminished. All three of the Boutique line are part of a six-month limited run according to Roland, so if you've been lusting after a classic synthesizer to form the bedrock to your studio, but you're on limited funds, it could be well worth the investment. Ratings: Sound: 4.2 Cost: 4.8 Build: 4.1 Versatility: 3.7 Ease of use: 4.6