Sonic LAB: Roland Juno Di On Test

Mobile synthesizer - has it got legs?      27/07/09

No flash plug


   QuickTime (MP4)  | iOS MP4    Windows Media 
12:17 mins

When the first of the new Juno keyboards arrived on the scene, people scoffed - "Thats not a proper Juno!" they said, "we remember the Juno6 and 106 - now they were classics." And they might be correct, but as Roland oft pointed out, the Juno concept was to bring the features available in their higher end keyboards (at that time the Jupiter 8 and 6) into a more affordable package.

Which is precisely the Juno Di's intended purpose. Only obviously not the JP8 and 6, more the Fantom. So, here it is in my office, all 61 keys in an unfeasibly light battery (or mains) powered package.

I plug it in, I play. For quite a long time, and still I play. The Juno Di has well over 1,000 on board patches grouped (loosely) into instrument types. Hit the Piano bank and scroll through 128 acoustic and electro-mechanical pianos. Want some brass? Hit the brass button and do the same.

This is where the Juno Di scores, with these Fantom G derived sound sets (not entirely sure what this means) you get a LOT of presets to play with. There is of course a price - the only front panel tweakage comes via the five Sound Modify knobs - these have fixed assignments - Attack, Release, Reverb, Cutoff and Resonance. Further tweaking only available through the 3 built in effects generators with 79 algorithms accessed by hitting shift and one of the four bank buttons - definitely a two handed task. If you want to dig deep, your going to have to hook up via USB (rear connection) or MIDI and fire up the Juno Di editor - an application not likely to win any software design awards, but certainly functional -  and this will give you access to the familliar four tones (oscillators), TVF (filter) and TVA (amplifier) plus effects and the like. It's funny but this reminds me of the editor for the D-110 - my first ever trusty multi-timbral synth.

Juno What I Mean?
Roland have done a great job of getting the best out of 64MB of Wave ROM, and its clearly a testament to the synth and effects engine that it's capable of such a large patch library. Not all these patches are going to have you blissing out, in fact, some of them are downright dreadful, but not all that many. The grand piano is actually quite a high point, though suffers a little from the short-travel 61 key keyboard's inabillity to be really subtle. But on the whole it's a good bunch, perhaps lacking in the signature sounds that only some specialist soft or hardware synths can create.

This Is How You Juno
Where the Juno Di really scores high, is the additional features - deep breath:

Easy split/dual and Super Layer modes quick one button access
Arpeggiator and Chord Memory
D-Beam control but almost useless Solo Synth voice
Rhythm parts with six variations quick computer free jamming
Tap Tempo
Song Player -USB Stick access
MIDI files, MP3, WAV/AIFF
You can set up a preset mute group for MIDI files (eg: single or multiple parts)

Centre voice cancel for audio files
 - drop the lead vocal - can be a bit hit and miss
Mic in with separate Reverb/Delay effect shame it's not on XLR and no Compression/EQ
Vocoder
sort of
Stereo Mini-jack in for secondary audio source basically you could do a gig solo with no additional mixer if you need to.




Juno What I Think?
I'm impressed. I was rather dreading this review, as equipment this erm, feature rich is quite hard to review in a short (ish) video format, and all that work is rather wasted if you think something is totally rubbish - which had crossed my mind as a possibility. But, this is all rather moot, as the Juno Di is actually a good, solid and useable sound source. All those voices and patches mean it can fill large holes in any arrangement, with plenty to spare. And its 16 part multi-timbral performance mode means it can be a good partner with your DAW to cope with your MIDI sequences too should you need it to.

The keyboard action is probably the weakest link, taking a little work to play smooth dynamics - which you will want to with some of the voices requiring it. But at this price, something has to give. More outputs would be nice too, but D/A=$$$.

I'd say it was pretty ideal as a beginners keyboard, it will also give you enough features to find it something useful to do live and in the studio. Chuck this, a laptop and a pair of headphones in the car and you'd have more than enough firepower to write that filmscore or sketch out the bones of some songs in the cottage, or heck,  take it camping - it runs on batteries!

An excellent value keyboard.

Pricing
$799/£549 you'll find it cheaper on the streets no doubt.

Available July 2009

Nick Batt

 

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