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Roland Juno-Stage Review (Bonus Material)

9/1/2009

POP THE HOOD AND CHECK THE ENGINE

Although it sports the name “Juno”—a classic synth series from the vintage analog era—the Juno-Stage has little in common with the vintage-era Junos other than the name and retro-style graphics. Its sound-generating engine derives largely from Roland''s Fantom-X Series and Sonic Cell module, which contain many of the same Patches and much of the same raw waveform data.

The Juno-Stage''s architecture should be familiar to anyone who has programmed Roland''s sample-playback synths in the past. Its sound sources are PCM sample waveforms stored in ROM. The Juno-Stage operates in two different modes: Patch and Performance.

PATCH MODE

The basic building block of a Patch is called a Tone. A Tone is a set of multisamples mapped across the keyboard, and the Juno-Stage comes with a waveform set of more than 1,400 Tones. Tones can be samples of natural or electronic sounds, including acoustic and electric pianos, organs, guitars, orchestral instruments, classic analog and digital synth waveforms, drum and percussion hits, sound effects and so on. A Patch is constructed from of up to four stereo Tones. The Juno-Stage comes with 1,283 preset Patches and 41 preset Rhythm Sets. You also get memory locations to store 256 user Patches and 32 user Rhythm Sets.

The Tones that make up a Patch can be stacked to form layers of sound or programmed to respond to up to four levels of velocity. These basic sound waves are then sculpted by various synth parameters such as the TVA (time-variant amplifier), TVF (time-variant filter), EG (envelope generator) and LFO (low-frequency oscillator). Each Tone in a Patch uses one voices of polyphony, but some are stereo tones that use two voices. The Juno-Stage can generate a maximum 128 voices of polyphony.

EFFECTS

Patches are further enhanced by an integrated effect processor, providing one multi-effect (MFX), as well as chorus and reverb, per Patch. The MFX engine furnishes 79 different kinds of effects and can add some really exciting dimensions to the sound. Beyond the usual delays and phasers, you get some pretty sophisticated DSP algorithms, including a Humanizer filter effect, lo-fi effects, telephone and phonograph effects, guitar amp and speaker simulation, stepped pitch-shifting, extensive overdrive and distortion, and other sound manglers and enhancers to energize your sounds.

PERFORMANCE MODE

At the highest level of the sound-generating engine, Patches are combined in three different ways to form a Performance: layers, splits or 16-part multichannel MIDI sequencing setups. Patches layered in Performance mode can rapidly eat up polyphony. For example, a Performance comprising two 4-Tone Patches uses eight voices of polyphony with each key you play.

The Juno-Stage comes with 64 preset and 64 user Performances. All of the presets are splits or layers (except for Performance #33, GM2 Template). Many make clever use of the built-in arpeggio function, such as Jazz n' Rhtm, which gives you a walking bass on the keyboard''s left side and vibes on the right, or EP/BsOrg, which features a perky B3 in the bass and an electric piano arpeggio chord pattern in the right; that one seems ready-made for house grooves.

Creating or editing your own two-way spilt or layer Performances couldn''t be easier thanks to dedicated Split and Layer buttons. These take you into easy-edit screens where you can quickly assign your two parts and adjust their levels. Changing your split point is as easy as holding down a button and pressing a note on the keyboard.

Because the Juno-Stage's main focus is being a stage keyboard, it makes sense that Roland designed its Performance mode for easy creation of splits and layers first. At the same time, however, the Juno-Stage''s designers apparently took their eye off the ball a bit when it came to multitimbral sequencing needs. There is precious little mention of the procedure in the manual, and when I sat down to create sequences with the Juno-Stage and my computer, I found that Performance mode was less intuitive than what I was accustomed to with my XP-80, XV-5080 and other Roland synths. Thankfully, an e-mail to tech support yielded a YouTube video. which helped flesh out some of the details. I''m all for making splits and layers simpler, but not at the expense of easy multitimbral sequencing.

Another important issue with Performance mode is how it handles effects. Effects can be an integral part of many Patches, but when you use them in a Performance, you may find that they suddenly sound different. This is because each Patch uses one MFX, one chorus and one reverb, but in a Performance all the Patches (up to 16 parts) must share the same chorus and reverb. You do have the ability to use as many as three MFXs in a Performance, so three parts may use the same MFX that they do in Patch mode. But it is not an automatic process, and setting up multitimbral Performances often involves time spent tweaking effects parameters to get your parts sounding like you want them.

Once again, the manual gives scant coverage of this procedure. However, Roland has a good history of providing excellent tutorial videos and documents to help supplement the manual, and with any luck we''ll see one on this topic.

Spreading effects around in Multitimbral mode is a common issue for most synths. Fortunately, many parts (like piano, bass or drums) typically do not use effects, so three MFXs is often enough for many arrangements.

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