FIG. 1: Like all of Arturia''s classic-synth emulations, the Jupiter-8V interface looks just like the real deal.
Having successfully reproduced the Minimoog, Moog Modular, Yamaha CS-80, ARP 2600, and Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, the retro-synth-loving techies at Arturia have turned their attention to Roland's famous Jupiter-8. With its built-in arpeggiator, a keyboard that could be split or layered, and the ability to sync to its stablemate the TR-808 drum machine, the Jupiter-8 helped drive the wave of synth pop that dominated radio in the 1980s.
In typical Arturia style, Jupiter-8V does its best to emulate the original and then throws in some appropriate extra goodies. The Jupiter-8 offered 8-voice polyphony, whereas 8V allows up to 32 voices if your CPU can handle it. The rest of the basic sound engine is strictly emulative except for effects, a flexible step sequencer, and an imaginative x-y modulator called Galaxy. Jupiter-8V is available for the PC or the Mac, including Universal Binary, and works as a standalone instrument or as an AU, RTAS, or VST plug-in.
Like the original, 8V features two oscillators, two filters, and two envelopes, all with controls patterned after the hardware version (see Fig. 1). Knobs are set by moving the mouse vertically, as though they were sliders. I ordinarily find this behavior preferable to circular motion, which the manual says is the default mode. As it turns out, circular motion is not even an option.
Another manual error suggests that either right-clicking or Shift-clicking on a knob or slider offers fine adjustment, when in fact only Shift-clicking works. That's unfortunate; right-clicking is a lot more convenient because it requires only one hand.
The architecture of the Jupiter-8 was not revolutionary, but its actual implementation — the character of the oscillators, filters, and envelopes — gave it a sound all its own. The sound of 8V is immediately reminiscent of the original and distinct from the rest of the virtual field. Although it lends itself easily to light sounds with air and bounce, with a bit of digging you can find beefier tones (see Web Clip 1).
FIG. 2: The Galaxy module is good for some serious fun, with an x-y modulation grid that you can rotate. You can map each axis to three different destinations.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of Jupiter-8V is the Galaxy modulation module (see Fig. 2). Were it merely a straightforward x-y modulation grid, it would be welcome. What sets it apart, however, is the ability to rotate the axes, creating wonderfully complex modulation patterns (see Web Clip 2). Each axis is controlled by an LFO, as is the grid's rotation. You can set each LFO to sine, square, saw, or triangle waves, and you can vary the initial angle of the grid's x axis. You can map each axis to three parameters, including the pitch or pulse width of either oscillator, the cutoff of either filter, the lowpass filter's resonance, or the VCA. You can set the modulation amount of each assignment independently.
Galaxy's LFOs optionally sync to tempo, and they can retrigger with each note or run freely. These two settings are not independent, though — your choice applies to all three LFOs. You can adjust all ten knobs (six modulation amounts, three LFO rates, and grid angle) in real time or automate them with MIDI Control Change messages. If, despite all this, your pads are static and boring, you have no one to blame but yourself.
The modulation section also features a single step sequencer with up to 32 steps that you can map to any 3 of the same 8 parameters as Galaxy. The sequencer syncs to project tempo or runs at its own rate, and it will optionally retrigger with each note. You can quantize its three outputs to semitones when mapped to oscillator pitch. The sequencer will run forward, backward, forward then backward, or randomly, and it offers nice subtleties such as smoothing, accents, glide, and swing. You might wish for a second sequencer to build complementary patterns, but at least each part of a keyboard split or layer (called Dual mode) has its own sequencer.
The effects section (see Fig. 3) is divided into voice effects, which are independent for each part of a layer or split, and patch effects, which are global. The voice effects include chorus-flanger, distortion, parametric EQ, phaser, and ring modulation. You can insert one between the oscillator section and the filter section and another between the filters and the VCA. Additionally, you can insert two stereo patch effects (chorus-flanger, phaser, reverb, and delay) at the instrument's output.
I don't ordinarily take much interest in the built-in effects of a software or hardware synthesizer. Often they are provided as conveniences for live performance, and the first thing I do in the studio is defeat them. The patch effects are perfectly serviceable, standard effects. But aside from their ability to sync to tempo, you may find them less useful than your DAW's standard plug-ins. The voice effects, however, are a worthy exception because of the way they are integrated into the synth's signal flow and can be shaped by any of the instrument's modulation sources.
In a perfect world, it would take a single mouse-click to disable all the effects, or at worst one click for the voice effects and another for the patch effects. Instead, it can take as many as eight clicks, and that's assuming the Effects page is already displayed. By itself this is a minor quibble, but if this and a few other mouse-intensive operations were streamlined, the user interface would provide a much smoother flow for designing sounds. For example, there should be an easy way to bypass Galaxy or the step sequencer should you want to tweak a sound in isolation from those modules.
Web Clips: Listen to audio examples of bass patches, pads, and more from Jupiter-8V
FIG. 3: The effects section includes both voice effects, which are inserted into the synthesis chain, and patch effects, which occur at the instrument''s outputs.
My wish list for the next version contains a few other items. When the plug-in window is open in Digidesign Pro Tools, it steals all keystrokes from the application, including essential transport functions. You must either close the plug-in window to start, stop, rewind, and record, or resort to using the mouse to initiate playback. Because the patch effects are all stereo, the plug-in will appear only on a stereo track in Pro Tools. Although not a fatal flaw, it requires a couple of extra steps to make the instrument behave like the mono original.
While I'm picking on the manual, note that it doesn't document the procedure for assigning a Favorite patch to one of the 16 buttons that the original used to store its presets. (Simply call up the patch and then Shift-click on the desired button.) The original factory presets are not included as promised in the manual, but they are now available from Arturia's Web site. Patches are not organized in banks, sub-banks, and presets (as the manual says), but rather as projects.
Arturia does deserve kudos for including historical background on the Jupiter-8 along with a couple of good chapters on programming the instrument. But with the poor translation and rather large number of errors, the current manual is unworthy of such a good product. Because Arturia doesn't make its manuals available electronically, the chances of seeing a corrected version are pretty slim. I hope the company will at least post a persistent topic in its Jupiter-8V user forum listing known manual errors.
Arturia's system requirements for Jupiter-8V are a bit optimistic. It recommends a 1.5 GHz Mac or PC, but I couldn't get any sort of usable performance on my Athlon 2500+, which is significantly more powerful than that. Performance was better on my 2 GHz Centrino CPU (a notebook processor roughly equivalent to a 4 GHz desktop processor), and better still on my dual-core 2.33 GHz MacBook Pro. However, this synth can be an extraordinary resource hog.
Running within Cakewalk Sonar 6.2 with no other tracks, one active pad preset chewed up 35 percent of my notebook's CPU to play a 3-note chord. That's not too bad, but when I played a progression of 3-note chords, the overlapping releases overwhelmed my CPU completely by the time I played the third chord. I repeated this on my MacBook Pro in standalone mode, and although the CPU meter was somewhat lower, the third chord still choked the CPU. Disabling Galaxy and other effects did not help significantly. For all practical purposes, this particular preset is unusable. The moral of the story is that you should be prepared to make good use of printing or freezing Jupiter-8V tracks.
When running the plug-in within Sonar 6.2, I could escape constant distortion only by setting the buffer to an absurdly large size. I got the same results in Sonar 5, so I went digging for information. I found a link to a version 1.0.3 upgrade in Arturia's Jupiter-8V forum. It solved the problem, although I could still only get the latency down to a barely manageable 30 ms without distortion on my Centrino notebook. Arturia puts links to interim updates in its user forums and, less frequently, releases formal updates that have been fully tested. If you encounter problems, be sure to check the forums.
Like all recent Arturia virtual instruments, Jupiter-8V uses a Syncrosoft USB dongle. Authorization was straightforward, and the USB key allowed me to use the instrument easily on several different computers. However, Pro Tools refused to start without the USB key. Arturia says this should not happen, and it is looking into the matter.
Despite the handful of issues I encountered, I like Jupiter-8V a lot. Its ability to produce nostalgic sounds takes me back, but at the same time, its sonic potential has me looking forward. The more time I spend absorbing its sound-sculpting logic and making new sounds and templates for further experimentation, the less significant my quibbles about its interface seem. The Galaxy modulation module and the ability to patch effects into the synthesis chain promise nearly endless opportunities for timbre tweaking. Check out the demo when you're in the mood for some serious fun.
Brian Smithers is course director of audio workstations at Full Sail Real World Education in Winter Park, Florida. His latest book is Mixing in Pro Tools: Skill Pack (Thomson Learning, 2006).
FEATURES4EASE OF USE3QUALITY OF SOUNDS4VALUE3
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Great for both emulative and original sounds. Broad plug-in format compatibility and standalone mode. Useful nonemulative features, including presets, effects, and 32-voice polyphony. Innovative Galaxy module provides complex modulation curves.
CONS: Major CPU hog. Manual suffers from inaccuracies and poor translation. Interface should be more streamlined.