Roland is continuing its series of tiny synths with some unlikely additions – the 1985 JX-8P and 1991 JD-800. But maybe the big news is, under the hood, you finally get serious polyphony.
That’ll be the JD-80 (JD-800) and JX-08 (JX-8P), US$399.99 each, with USB bus power or batteries just like the other Boutique range. Coming to the USA in January. (I have to check worldwide availability.)
Okay, let’s be honest – the JD-800 might rank dead last as a candidate for Boutique treatment, on the face of it. Kids, ask your parents, but basically, the whole point of the JD-800 in the 1990s was putting as many controls and faders and knobs and editing on a really big synth as possible. The basic form factor of the Boutique Series is essentially the TB-303 and TD-606 – so the very opposite of that. You can shrink down an 808, since the original had a lot of space. But the JD-800?
The explanation of why Roland suddenly has runaway JD-800 fever, at least, is simpler – a lot of you evidently now love the D-50 all over again, which you’ve translated into buying a bunch of the D-50 Boutique. (Maybe not you reading this but… someone.) The JD-800 is basically the more 90s, more rave-y, more expansive D-50 with a ton of editing. You just have to then buy into the idea of it being newly minimal.
For more background, I wrote about some of the best music made on this instrument, which included the chance to talk to Mouse on Mars, A Guy Called Gerald, Ingmar Koch (Air Liquide), and King Britt about it – and they all raved:
The JX-8P is more one for history buffs, but it’s nice to see it get a (small) homage. Unlike the JD-800, the JX-8P actually gets more control in this reimagining. Plus the timing is right for anything capable of some 80s sounds. (See also: Depeche Mode, Biosphere, Tangerine Dream, and yes, 808 State.)
Yes, there’s polyphony. The thing that makes this not a completely daft idea is, Roland mercifully has upped the polyphony under the hood. Now, readers mercilessly complained that the JU-06A JUNO recreation had only four voices, but I still thoroughly enjoy mine so stand by my review. But having four voices on a JUNO instead of six on a tiny synth is one thing. Having four voices on a JD-800 or even a JX-8P would actually defeat the purpose.
So here’s the deal: the JD-08 has a maximum polyphony of 128 voices; JX-08 maxes out at 20. That will vary from patch to patch, especially on the layered-up architecture of the JD-08. But this turns out to be a pretty powerful polysynth in a tiny space.
Yes, those faders are tiny. PALETTE faders on the JD-08 are 30mm, but all the others are 20mm. On the upside, they have 8-bit fader resolution – 0 to 256. How you’ll actually get that on a 20mm fader is another matter.
I’m going to try. I’m even changing my artist name to Thumbelina.
The JD-08 works with the Roland Cloud software version. The new JD-08 hardware acts as a pre-mapped controller for the new JD-880 plug-in that’s part of Roland Cloud; the JU-06A you can use the same way as a controller for the JUNO 60. That’s not a bad feature if you’re a Roland Cloud subscriber – I’ve definitely used it to jam a bit with the JUNO plug-in and a track came out of doing just that.
It’s way, way too small to really program JD-800 patches from scratch, but it would lend itself to two-handed JD-800 programming – probably your non-dominant hand for some simple envelope adjustments and PALETTE controls, and your dominant hand on the computer mouse for everything else. It’s not really the amount of hands-on control on the JD-800, but remember even that still required a lot of switching on the four tone controls. I think someone should make something like an iPad controller or the 60KNOBS creation from Bastl if they’re really JD-obsessed.
Roland has confusingly made two slightly incompatible versions of the same plug-in, but I’ll get to that separately.
All the JD-800 effects are there. If your memory of Roland in the 90s is still a bunch of cheesy presets – and you’re truly not wrong – let me introduce you to the JD-800’s ace in the hole. Its group A effects engine is really genius:
The JD-08 in fact recreates the full architecture of the original, including the ability to swap between different distortion presets – mellow, overdrive, a very-bright “cry,” light, fat, and fuzz.
I mean, these are still definitely fairly ridiculous. Tiny 80s and 90s polys, yes – they’re weird. But maybe they’re weird in a good way. Because either of these winds up being a strong polysynth that runs on batteries and USB and tucks away into a spare pocket of your bag. They also have full-size MIDI ports (though no jack plug, so you’d need an adapter), and they work as USB MIDI and audio interfaces in a pinch.
There are also some refreshes here – in addition to updated horsepower to support the additional polyphony, these units, at last, have USB-C.
Plus, I have to admit, having spent some time with the same engine in software – the JD-08 is really versatile in a way the D-50 isn’t, even though the two get lumped together. There are 64 of the original presets (oh, yes, Millenium is back), but no need – you can easily program your own and shape them with the spectrum and distortion into something that doesn’t sound 90s at all, if you so choose.
And for all the hate the Boutique series get – there is a logic to the form factor. Battery power plus tiny size means you can pretty much always add them to a live gig, and program parts on the bus or train and fit them in your bag without having to worry.
I just do hope Roland has a new big – little? – idea. Because they are running out of back catalog to reissue. Although we’re now in such strange territory, if anyone wants to take bets, let’s go.