Manufacturer: Roland Corporation
Release Date: 1986
Type: Analog / Subtractive Synthesis
Released in 1986, the JX-10 / Super JX was Roland’s last true analog synthesizer.
The sleek grey exterior and minimalist interface belies the true power inside this machine: essentially two JX-8P boards in one synth for 12 voices of pure analog polyphony (which can be layered, split or used all at once), a 76-note velocity and aftertouch sensitive keyboard, and a flexible (albeit somewhat complicated) synth engine.
In order to wield that power effectively you definitely need to obtain the accompanying PG-800 controller, which gives you true knob-per-function access to most parameters via its sliders.
With the PG800 you get access to a variety of editing parameters including oscillator pitch control, tuning, waveform selection (sawtooth, pulse, square, noise), a mixer between oscillator 1 and 2, a non resonant high-pass filter and resonant low-pass filter, 1 LFO (sine, square or random) which can be routed to various destinations including filter and osc pitch, polarity and dynamics toggles, key follow, 2 ADSR envelope generators (each with key follow), 3 levels of cross modulation/sync and of course the classic Roland chorus effect (3 adjustable levels).
Probably due to the rarity (and expense) of the PG800 and/or the specific “sound” of this synth, most people never bother to dabble with the JX-10 — a blessing in disguise really, which has kept its price low on the second-hand market, even though this was once Roland’s flagship (and last) analog synthesizer.
I myself was lucky enough to pick up a JX-10 + PG800 controller for a decent price, and the first thing that struck me about the synth was its impressive size and weight. This thing is built like a tank and made to last, heavy, and takes up a lot of room due to 76-note keyboard.
The presets are certainly dated sounding, some of them trying to emulate a Yamaha DX7 FM even, but they also give a hint at the synthesis power under the hood. With the PG800 controller, initializing a patch and starting from scratch is easy, and gives you access to build from the ground up. This is where things can get interesting, sonically speaking.
The overall sound of the JX-10, its filters and envelopes has often been described online as “soft”, “muted”, having a “digital sheen” and “slow”. Personally, I accept each synth has its own personality and if those qualities are integral to a synth’s sound, so be it — I don’t find them to be detriments, just character traits.
In this case, I do tend to agree that the JX-10 synth has a “soft” overall tone to it, which makes it great for 12-voice monster pads and ambient music. On the other hand, it can also do some amazing hard sync/cross modulation metallic sounds which I have yet to emulate on any other synth I have tried. Unfortunately there is no on-board arpeggiator, but there is a squencer (which requires either an M16 or M64 cartridge to record notes).
The envelopes are software generated (not hardware) and the filter uses a different chip compared to earlier Roland Jupiters like the 6 or 8, so don’t expect an exact replica of those models or super snappy hardware envelopes… just take the synth for what it is, work with what it provides and you will be rewarded regardless.
The DCOs do give a certain precision to the sound (little to no drift) but there is also a timeless quality to the JX-10’s tone that I can’t quite put my finger on — it instantly transports you to another era, one of nostalgia. It has that classic “Roland” sound in a modernish analog way — not too bright or clean (ie, MKS-80 Super Jupiter), but also not too brash — it is definitely very smooth. In addition, the low-end on this synth can sound massive.
Nonetheless, there are also some caveats: the JX-10 has notoriously poor factory MIDI/sysex capabilities which can be frustrating if you’re trying to integrate it into a home studio. That said, there are aftermarket upgrades to make the JX-10 fully MIDI operational (such as Colin Fraser’s ROM) and the even more exciting JX10 ePROM and voice board OS upgrade from Fred Vecoven, which adds an arpeggiator, extra LFOs, new (snappy!) envelopes, adjustable pulsewidth modulation (coming soon via daughterboard) and many other features and enhancements.
Overall, the JX-10 is an interesting synth if you are looking for that “Roland” sound in a modern context, with 12 voices of analog polyphony. A full 76 note keyboard with velocity sensitivity and aftertouch is also nothing to sneeze at on an analog polysynth.
The JX-10 can require some deep diving to understand the minimalist interface and synth engine, but that can make it all the more rewarding once you learn to master it. That said, a PG800 controller is almost essential to gain real-time tweakability of this machine, as without it editing parameters is a slow, painful process.
Even though current market value of this synth is a bargain, that may change. With new aftermarket ePROM upgrades from Fred Vercoven, the true power of the JX-10 is being unlocked and enhanced, which could certainly makes this a hot item for many synth enthusiasts down the road.
The Roland JX-10 / Super JX has its merits and its downfalls, but overall it is well worth considering as part of any studio if you are willing to put the time into it, and work with its distinct sonic qualities, character and quirks.
|Interface||42 buttons, 1 keypad, 6 sliders, 1 pitch bender, 1 memory card slot|
|Oscillators||2 DCOs per voice (24 oscillators). Saw, pulse, square or noise.|
|LFO||1 LFO routed to DCO and VCF with rate and delay (sine, square or random waveform)|
|Filter||2 filters; 1 resonant low-pass filter and 1 non-resonant high-pass filter|
|VCA||2 ADSR envelope generators.
ADSR (i.e. 1 level, 3 rates) routed to DCO (with polarity), VCF (with polarity), VCA 2
|ModMatrix||LFO and envelope modulation; Osc sync & cross modulation.|
|Arpeggiator||No arpeggiator. 1-track real-time sequencer, 400 note memory (M-32 card), 800 note memory (M-64 card)|
|Effects||Portamento, chorus (3 levels), chase-play|
|Keyboard||76 keys with velocity and aftertouch|
|Memory||50 preset, 50 user patches, 64 Program Patches, External memory cartridges|
|Control||MIDI (2 multitimbral parts)|