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Roland's Boutique range are one of the hottest gear releases in a while, built on the ACB modelling technology of the Aira System-1 and associated plug-outs, the Boutiques are modelled synthesizers based on some of Roland classic polys.
The JU-06 is a four voice version of the much admires Juno 106 - the original 6-voice keyboard version from 1984. It was one of the first affordable 6 voice programmable poly synths, and featured a fairly simply voice architecture based around a single DCO (digitally controlled oscillator). It was also one of Roland's first MIDI equipped synthesizers. The thing that really made it stand out were two things (IMHO) the character of the filter, with rich harmonics and the Chorus which added a luch, warm width to the whole sound.
The JU-06 uses Roland's Analog Circuit Behaviour (ACB) to model the Juno, feature for feature. They have not chosen to enhance any features of the synth engine itself, though all the Boutiques, come with a simple digital delay and a basic 16 step sequencer.
Lets Get Physical
Right, so the first thing to notice is that he Boutiques are small, at roughly 30cm wide by 12cm deep, they appear even smaller in person than on video - they say the camera adds pounds...
With faders at 30mm they are indeed quite small, but the JU-06 benefits from the fairly simple uncluttered layout of the original. Power is over micro USB (no lead or PSU included) or 4 AA batteries (included). There's a small speaker on the bottom too for auditioning sounds. USB also transmits, MIDI and Audio output (2ch 44.1 16bit)
Audio is handled on mini-jack stereo, for phones, main LR and a stereo input for merging an external signal to the master outs. Master volume is on the back panel on a little Volca style knob.
MIDI in and out complete the connections - no pedal or MIDI thru.
Of course, if you want to add a 2 octave mini-key keyboard, there's the optional K25M keyboard module, you just slot your Boutique in and there you go, not sure I'd bother though - it's an odd addition to the range IMHO.
In a phrase, the JU-06 sounds pretty darned close to the original (we have one here, though it's a bit poorly), The oscillator, filter and chorus are modelled extremely well. Creating identical (or as close as possible) patches you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference, especially in a mix. The filter has been well tackled and the chorus really takes you into the world of Juno 106. Like the original, you can create beautiful wide pads, sonorous filter reso bell-like tones, those clicky organ sounds everybody seemed to use back in the day and some lovely warm bass sounds - if you want to hear the Juno 106 in action, anything by William Orbit circa 1990 on will give you plenty of listening material.
Aside from the obvious difference in the physical dimensions, the more serious omission is that there are no performance controls - on the original Juno 106, the mod/pitch stick could be routed to the filter for bend and also filter mod depth as well as pitch, there was also a dedicated Portamento depth and switch. Unfortunately on the JU-06 this is not possible, the pitch and mod sliders being hard wired to pitch and pitch depth mod only, trying to move the filter on a 30mm fader while playing and trying to get it back to your original position is nigh impossible. Portamento requires a button press and switch for on/off with the pitch ribbon, time on the mod ribbon.
MIDI control to the rescue? Unfortunately MIDI control is also very limited. The faders do not respond to MIDI CC so you can't setup a larger fader, or knob to control specific parameters - which is a real shame.
However if you are in Poly Chain mode - where you hook up two JU-06 together for 8 voices, the sliders will output Sysex, to control the second unit - but ONLY over MIDI din.
This does limit the integration with other gear to control it - there's not many MIDI controllers that work with SYSEX well. One other small thing, the original 106 had 128 patch slots, the JU-06 only 64, I guess that extra bank button might have broken the bank (geddit?).
I know this does seem like a lot of downside, but actually the JU-06 really does sound and behave like a Juno 106, it's authenticity is very impressive, even down to the slight VCA breakup and the noisy chorus too. True, it is a shame that it's only four voices, I suspect that they are using the same DSP resources in the Aira System-1 which can also only do four voices for some plug-outs too. But at this price, you could buy two and get an 8 voice rig for around £450.
As a long time owner of an original (albeit extremely poorly) Juno 106 - I have to say I'm impressed, they've really nailed this one.
And at £229/$299 it's hard to see why you wouldn't want to own one - unless you really don't like the sound of the Juno 106.
As Roland have stated, there is a limited run of these, so if you think about it too long, you may not be able to get your hands on one - a decision you may live to regret.
JU-06 Available now £229/$299 K25M keyboard £75/$99
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