In 1981, Roland released the Jupiter 8 synthesizer. A true flagship, it offered, amongst other things, a massive (for the time) 8 voices, keyboard split and layering, a powerful arpeggiator, a unison mode…and lots of sexy multi coloured buttons. Most importantly though, it was more reliable and flexible than many of its contemporaries.
Naturally, it was an instant hit…and was used to make many instant hits, in fact the list of acts who used it reads like a who’s who of early 80s electronic music…Duran Duran…Depeche Mode…Heaven 17…Vince Clarke…Blancmange…Frankie Goes to Hollywood…John Foxx…I could go on (I generally do), but I won’t…suffice it say that everyone who was anyone…and everyone who wanted to be someone, wanted one. But at over three grand a ‘pop’, most people couldn’t afford one…until now that is, as soft synth experts, Arturia, have finally brought to the masses, one of the most sought after synths of all time, by using their unique TAE (True Analog Emulation) technology to faithfully model the JP8 in all its former glory.
But this is a JP8 with a twist, as it offers 32 voices instead of the original 8 and adds three brand new sections that between them put a very contemporary spin on a very classic synth.
These sections are accessed via tabs in the header section above the synth (which, at the click of a button, expands and contracts to accommodate them). The first two, ‘Galaxy’ and ‘Sequencer’, are accessed via the modulations tab. The third one, ‘Effect’, via the effects tab.
Galaxy offers three extra LFOs, all of which offer a choice of Sine, Square, Sawtooth & Triangle waveforms and a simple rate control knob. The outputs from LFOs 1 & 2 (AKA ‘Y’ and ‘X’) can be assigned to up to three simultaneous modulation sources (from a choice of VCO 1 & 2 Pitch, VCO 1 & 2 PW, HPF Cutoff, VCO Cutoff, VCO Resonance, VCO Filter & VCA).
This might not sound too exciting, as although the original JP8 lacked one, a modulation matrix is pretty standard issue nowadays. But add LFO 3 into the mix and things start to get rather interesting as, in place of a modulation matrix, it offers an axis control. If LFOs 1 & 2 are your X and Y axis’, then, LFO 3 is effectively your ‘Z’ axis, offering ‘3D’ modulation by allowing you to modify the alpha angle between the X and Y axis’ with the ‘axis’ control…and to see the results on a rudimentary oscilloscope of sorts…in glorious 2D…and enabling rich and bizarre modulations previously unheard of.
Sequencer is, as it implies on the tin, a 1-32 step sequencer, offering the same choice of three simultaneous output sources as LFOs 1 & 2 in Galaxy. This means it can be used as both a note sequencer and as an additional modulation source, placing the Jupiter-8V right up there with the best of Reason and my favourite Cakewalk soft synths.
Each step offers a range of up to +2 / -2 octaves, plus glide and accent buttons, for a truly analogue experience. You can change internal tempo or sync to the clock of your host, adjust swing, quantization and even change the attack and decay times of the accent envelope. Although there is a real-time readout which changes as you alter the levels of each step, there are no calibrations (other then top, middle and bottom…unhelpfully labelled 0, +1 & -1) and no snapping option, which though it is not a problem if you’re using sequencer as a modulation source, makes accurate pitch sequencing something of a challenge…unless you’re making eastern music… At the very least semitone markings and a snap to the nearest semi tone option would make it far more usable for this purpose. The option to snap to specific scales would be even better.
The other problem that is shared by both Sequencer and Galaxy, is that neither section has a bypass button, which is bloody annoying. The effects section improves on this situation somewhat, by offering bypass buttons for each individual effect (but still no master bypass button) and none of these three sections allow you to export/import your configurations, so if, for example, by some fluke you manage to program a pitch sequence that is perfect…for an entirely different patch…it’s back to the drawing board.
Talking of the effects section, it offers 2 ‘voice’ effects and 2 ‘master’ effects. The first voice effect slots in between the VCO and the filter, the second, between the filter and the VCA and offers a choice between chorus/flanger, distortion, parametric EQ, phaser & ring modulator. Meanwhile, the two master effects (which are confusingly labelled ‘patch’). are placed in series at the final output stage and offer a choice between stereo chorus/flanger, stereo delay, stereo reverb and stereo phaser.
In an ideal world, Arturia would have modelled the chorus unit from Roland’s Juno series…which really would be having your cheesecake and eating it…but since the Jupiter series lacked any kind of effects and the Jupiter-8V offers 4, I’m not complaining…much…
What I am complaining about, however, is that the one aspect of the Jupiter 8 that has not been precisely modelled, is the patch selection. Most of the extensive library of over 400 specially programmed and thoroughly excellent sounds is accessed from the patch tab of the expanded header section, which is fine, as it’s a thoroughly sensible way of doing things. But there are also 16 buttons and an LED display on the synth fascia from which you can select a limited number of patches and view a limited amount of information and these do not work in the same way as the original JP8. While this will not be a problem for anyone unacquainted with the original, those of us who are really old school will find it counter intuitive.
The other thing worth pointing out is that whilst Arturia have clearly gone to great lengths to make the graphics as authentic as the sound, there is a major disparity between the JP8 section in all its Technicolor glory and the stark, black and white, Galaxy/Sequencer/Effects section, which, at times, looks like it has been drawn on in pencil. Don’t get me wrong, it does have a certain aesthetic that in some ways is quite appealing, but I can’t help wondering whether it was the result of a conscious choice or a last minute rush to get this synth out there? Whatever the case, bearing in mind that some of the knobs are not even labelled, it could certainly do with a little refinement.
And on the subject of rushing to get this synthesizer out there, the current version of this synth is missing the 64 factory presets which shipped with the original Jupiter 8. However, they will be available for download from Arturia’s web site, at the end of this month.
So in conclusion, although version 1 of the Jupiter-8V isn’t quite perfect in every respect, it looks and sounds excellent, authentically recreating the character of the original Jupiter 8 whilst taking it to the next level. I predict it is destined to become an instant classic…especially amongst the Trance community within which I suspect its usage will spread like…a virus…
More info: www.arbiter.co.uk
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