Archives for : roland jd990

Roland JD-990 revolutionary concept two decades later

It’s been 22 years since its release and the unit is still going strong. Even the latest in Roland’s series, Integra is in fact based on the DNA of the legendary JD-990. But let’s get back in the the 90s for now and see how it all happened. First of all, it should be noted that when model 990 came out, market (at least the Roland’s portion of it) was already dominated by the JD-800, D-70 and the quite popular JV-80 which came year earlier in 1992. Being there at that time i can tell you we considered JD-800 as a Rolls Royce, way out of our reach, but JV-80 was definitely second best, and it sounded incredibly good (for that time) with nice juicy digital resonant filters, for all of us who were into electronic music back then. Just a year later 990 came out. But for some reason it went under the radar for the most of us. It was mostly taken by studios and the pro’s. Little did we know how powerful this synth was (internet was very limited back then, there was no such thing as Gearslutz) while reading some brochure isn’t going to tell you much about it neither.

In fact it wasn’t until JV-1080 which came year later that everyone turned their heads into the direction of Roland with a big wow(!) all over their face. For start it was one of the first synths with 64 polyphony and we were all ready to sell our kidneys to obtain one. The JD-990 came out in kinda unlucky moment, jammed in between JD-800 release in 1991 and JV-1080 released in 1994 it somehow remained unnoticed by many. While those who have heard of it assumed it was just a module version of the JD-800. And because in 1994 we already had 1080 on the market, there was nothing to think about – go for the JV-1080! (myself included)

But there was another group of people, like film composers, producers, you know people who can recognize certain things such as good audio quality right away. Many of them kept their JD-990 despite JV-1080 being the star of the show with all the spotlights focused when it came out. The reason was simple: JD-990 was soundwise class above 1080 and those who had it didn’t want to let it go that easy. Technical differences between 990 and 1080 are explained here. Unfortunately JD-990 wasn’t perfect and had some drawbacks compared to JV-1080 which is why some studios and composers decided to use both (such as for example Vangelis did). Drawbacks are obvious smaller waveform ROM content compared to 1080 ROM, and nasty digital distortion at higher resonance values. This is why in model 1080 Roland implemented variable waveform gain to avoid such scenarios happen ever again (unless you intentionally want them).

Image copyright: Cloudschatze

It is a know fact that Super JV’s architecture is based on the JD-990. On top of that it comes with the same type of aggressive filter (as opposed to other JV series like JV-80, JV-90 and JV-1000 which had mellower filter resonance) and it came with the now legendary “structures”. When the XV series came out, Roland continued the DNA line of the Super JV. The only thing “different” was that its SYX patch data was based on JV line of synths. Hence why XV can normally load Super JV patches via sysex, yet is unable to load the JD-990 patches. Then the Fantom came out, which again is based on the same concept. And now we have the Integra, which continues where XV series left, maintaining full compatibility and architecture of the Super JV. All of these synths are based on a revolutionary concept of a JD-990 synthesizer. And this is what makes it so special, along with its wide lush sound.

While a lot of extras were added with XV and Intergra series, the core structure is based on what was originally designed in a JD-990 synthesizer. Some may ask, ok but where is the JD-800 in all this? Well, the truth is, it has nothing much to to do with JD-990. It can be described as a D-70 with sliders on it with only difference of having a new effects processor and tones which are now part of a patch, and no longer separate thing. But when it comes to 990 these two synths have practically “nothing in common” except the first 108 waveforms and the mentioned JD effects processor which consists of two blocks. I will now list all the additions that 990 gave over the model 800:

  • Wave ROM was expanded to 6MB (vs 4MB on JD-800) with 195 PCM waveforms (vs 108 on JD-800).
  • Pan inside each Tone was added. On the JD-800 you can NOT pan individual tone for wide stereo sounds.
  • Matrix modulation was added on the JD-990. Let’s explain this – on JD-800 you can’t: increase cutoff point of Tone 1, decrease cutoff of Tone 2, increase resonance of Tone 3, decrease pitch of Tone 4 – all at the same time by moving the modulation wheel.
  • Multiple sources for the same destination added. On JD-990 you can for example use two different LFOs for the same destination – i.e. pitch, filter, TVA. This can create complex modulations. On JD-800 you can only use one source for the same destination.
  • SR-JV expansion card support. Next to standard JD-800 series card slots, there is additional card slot to use a 8MB expansion boards from SR-JV series. (i.e. Vintage Expansion, Orchestral, SFX, etc.)
  • Roland JV-80 patch import.
  • The LFO section has additional waveforms: sine, trapezoid and chaos.
  • Osc Sync function was added. It lets you synchronise two oscillators – a feature found in many analogue synthesisers.
  • FXM was added (Frequency Cross Modulation) – again found in some analogue synthesisers. It has 8 positions (labelled Color) that actually control the frequency of the modulating signal, and a depth setting 0 – 100 that controls the amplitude of the modulating signal.
  • Ring Modulation, for creating all kind of metallic percussion and strange effects.
  • This synth features 6 types of ”structures” which among many other things let you stack two filters in series, for building complex filter textures.
  • 24 dB filter (using structures), next to standard 12 dB which is always available.
  • Outputs increased to 8 total.
  • Polyphonic portamento.
  • Tempo MIDI sync delay.
  • Analog Feel. Which adds a random modulation to the sound to recreate an analogue synth’s “drift”. Not just on the pitch, but varying amplitude also.

Some people asked me about my opinion on JD-800 so I will give it just a brief info on why I initially didn’t became an owner but later I did. I’ve played JD-800, really liked the UI, thought of buying it, but got distracted by the fact there’s no even basic modulation matrix i.e. you can’t set modulation wheel on JD-800 to open the filter and apply some resonance. In fact there’s no even mod wheel on JD-800. Also, all the modulation buses on JD-800 are pre routed. You can’t use two or more sources to modulate the same destination (for complex modular style modulations). On top of that JD-800 is monaural per patch, there’s no pan feature per individual tone – so you can forget wide pads evolving through stereo field, which is a signature of many JD-990 sounds. However as time went by I eventually picked JD-800 as a sort of experiment. The idea was to record a sequence then to use sliders to modify some parameters of  the Tone 1 and record it into the DAW. Then to overdub the sequence but now to modify parameters of Tone 2. Important thing to note here: all of these parameters from JD-800’s front panel are being sent and recorded as MIDI into a DAW. These can later be fine tuned using editing tools on the computer and then finally data thinned before being sent back. This process can be repeated almost indefinitely with MIDI’s own maximal bandwidth (31kbps) being the only bottle neck in here. Using this method you can create very expressive soundscapes where you literally control every parameter in real time. In fact you can overdub every single parameter of every single tone realtime, although at this stage I think the MIDI notes would become quite sluggish due to before mentioned data bottleneck. This fun experiment made me started to like the JD-800. The second thing that I liked  was the fact, with that nice UI, it kinda makes you want to tweak it all the time. All in all I am now a happy JD-800 owner.