Roland JUNO-Di by tjporter
This review is in two parts: first, my initial review that I wrote for my blog about a year ago, and then how I feel about the Di today.
Roland Juno Di Review
Price (new): $820 US, tax included, from Zuhal Müzik, Istanbul.
1. Does it do something that you can’t do now? __Yes__
2. Does it have lots of flashing lights and knobs and/or sliders to play with? __No__
3. Can you afford it? __Yes__
Buying the Juno-Di was a new experience for me: I actually planned to make this purchase. I read the manual and reviews before buying it. I was even ready to compare it with another similarly priced keyboard. I really did try to use my head. In the end, though, it was the same old story: I followed my heart and my ears.
The Juno-Di is a hybrid: it is loaded with presets like a home/school keyboard, but all parameters can be edited like a real synth. Apparently, Roland is trying to cut into Yamaha’s profitable home/school market, while at the same creating an affordable board for gear heads. You’ve never heard me say this before, and may never hear it again, but this my kind of “Middle of the Road.”
Where to start? From the top left, of course. Under that little door is one of the features that first got my attention: the USB memory port. Think of it as bringing the concept of midi files on floppy discs (remember those) into the 21st century. In typical Roland fashion, they don’t include a USB device, but this is hardly a deal breaker. Anyway, you can load wav, mp3, or midi files onto your flash, and access the files with the very easy to use song player on the right hand side. Everything comes up on the huge LCD screen. This set-up is brilliant, and certainly a huge step up from plugging an mp3 player into an external source jack. The sound quality of the playback is excellent, with no coloration from the Juno. So, basically, you can have the backing tracks at your finger tips. Doubleplusgood. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing this feature become commonplace.
Moving along, we come to the D-Beam. Meh. Cool for about 30 seconds. If I want a Theremin, I’ll buy a Theremin.
Next, the volume. Self-explanatory. What is handy, however, is that with a quick global edit, you can increase the output by 12db.
Mode/Mic: Haven’t even touched the Midi controller or Preview buttons yet, though I guess they do something. The Menu button, however, let’s you do all kinds of wonderful things. Well, actually, it only allows you to see the Menu, and then you can do all kinds of wonderful things. Trust me, we’d be here all day if I started listing all you could do. But this is one of those points that sets the Juno on a higher level than a home/school keyboard – the Menu is so gear heads can go nuts.
Unlike the volume level, you can’t adjust the global level of the Mic. However, it does have its own dedicated reverb.
Ahhhh, the Keyboard section. Lovely bits here. Especially those top three buttons: Split, Dual, & Super Layer. Split does what you think it does – splits the keyboard. Simply pressing the button automatically assigns the split at keyboard C3. However, you can also easily assign your own split by holding the Split button and pressing any key on the board. May not sound like much, but I’m impressed.
Confession: when trying this out in the store, the Dual was THE BUTTON that pushed me over the edge. Dual, here, means layer, or two sounds at the same time. Okay, fine, we have a 20-year-old Yamaha PSR-38 at home that can do the same thing, big deal. BUT, we are truly into tons of fun territory here. Let us take a brief detour, and consider some sounds. More specifically, some synth sounds. Oh look, a saw preset. And over there, a square preset. Gee, wonder what they sound like together. A familiar scenario? Yep, basically a two oscillator synth. And yes, you can adjust the levels of the two layers/oscillators.
Super Layer is a fancy name for unison detune. You can stack up to five layers of the same sound and detune to your hearts content. Clearly designed for gear heads. Unfortunately, you can’t use Dual and Super Layer at the same time, but you can’t have everything (at least, not in this price range).
The Arpeggio requires some Menu work to get the most out of it, but it is nothing special. Chord Memory I haven’t bothered with, and the V-Link (to control video/images from the keyboard) requires another investment I’m not ready to make. Transpose, Octave, self-explanatory.
The poor next section, it didn’t even get a name. Battery indicator – you can run it on batteries for your next techno busking gig. Numeric – something to do with numbers, haven’t been bothered yet. Favorite – oh, yes please. Okay, I haven’t mentioned this yet, but now is the time to get a little fact out of the way: the Juno-Di has over 1200 sounds. Naturally, there are hundreds of these sounds that I will listen to once and never want to hear again (most of the natural sounding Brass immediately come to mind). However, that still leaves several hundred more that I will want to use at some point. And, like all lazy bastards, there are some that I will want to use again and again. Favorite lets you organize up to 127 of your, well, favorites.
The Middle: good bits here too. First, big thumbs up on the LCD screen. Big, bright, legible, the only negative thing I can say about it is that it is orange (a truly hideous color). The Dial is even better, mostly because it is black.
Under the screen are the Banks: Rhythm, Piano, Organ/Keyboards, Guitar/Bass, Orchestra, World, Brass, Vocal/Pad, & Synth. Again, I could spend all day here, but I won’t. Suffice to say, if you can’t find something useful among all these sounds, you probably already own higher-end gear. Personally, I wanted the Juno to replace the computer/VSTs while playing. So, I was mostly looking at the Vocals, Pads, and Strings, all of which are of a high quality, though not always particularly useful (the Vocal bank starts with two Jazz scats – why?).
In the Vocal Bank you will also find three vocoder settings – the other is in the MFX section which I haven’t fully explored. As someone with a severe Kraftwerk obsession, I have wanted a vocoder for ages. Now, this is one area where the Juno is kicking competitor butt. Forget about the e-Bay price, in Istanbul a Microkorg will cost you 1000 TL / $630 US. The new Mini AK by Akai/Alesis is 1200 TL / $755 US. So, to get a vocoder, I could by something with miniature keys – no, if I want to play miniature keys, I’ll get out my Casio VL-Tone or my Monotron. Or, I could by something that wants to be a Novation Xio 25 – no, got one already that I’m madly in love with. Or, I could buy something that costs a little more and get 61 keys and tons of features. Bit of a no-brainer.
The next no-name section is where you do a lot of the Menu stuff, so I don’t know why the Menu button isn’t located there, but anyway. I haven’t written anything yet either, mostly because I am not sure what I’ll be over-writing, but I’ll get there soon enough. Looks easy.
I’ve already discussed the Song Player section, so let’s skip over to Sound Modify. Again, this is a point that sets the Juno on a higher level than a home/school keyboard. The Attack, Release, Cutoff and Resonance are all amazingly responsive – you almost want to sit there doing filter sweeps all afternoon. Okay, so there’s no decay or sustain – but you can’t have everything (at least, not in this price range). Oh, Déjà vu.
Moving down now, the Pitch/Mod wheel is alright – haven’t seen if you can modify its parameters, but I’ll keep looking. And the finally, the keyboard. Alright, so I’ve not played a lot of high-end boards, but it feels good to me – light, responsive, good sized keys. When discussing the keyboard velocity settings in the manual, you see how Roland is thinking about the home/school market:
LIGHT: This sets the keyboard to a light touch. You can achieve fortissimo (ff) play with a less forceful touch than MEDIUM setting, so the keyboard feels lighter. This setting makes it easier for children, whose hands have less strength.
Roland is right – my nine-year-old daughter has no problems achieving fortissimo. She even knows what fortissimo means: comes from having a music teacher for a mother.
Right, that’s enough. Just a few more things:
a. You can plug in just about anything you need to in the back.
b. You can modify any parameter via the computer using the Juno-Di Editor provided by Roland.
c. Dude, it’s a Juno.
Conclusion: The Juno-Di is serious value for your money. Music Radar said it well when they called it “definitely one to check out if you're on a budget and need a workhorse keyboard.”
Right – almost a year since this review was written and the initial enthusiasm has passed, so how does the Juno-Di still rate? Well, not bad.
First, while I used the USB memory port a lot during the first few months, I haven’t touched it in quite a while. However, this has a lot to do with having more gear now (simple things like a sequencer & drum machine) that create rhythms in real time. The other thing is that if you want to run the Di through any effects, it messes up the backing tracks on the USB.
I still can’t be bothered with the D-beam.
While the Dual button may have initial impressed me (ah, the naiveté of youth), the split has become my default: almost everything I do on the Di involves splitting the keyboard & saving it as a Performance.
“The Arpeggio requires some Menu work to get the most out of it, but it is nothing special.” Boy, was I wrong. The arp is probably what I love most about the Di, but not for the obvious reasons. First of all, the Di’s arp is capable of incredibly slow tempos, down to five BPM. Secondly, I use the arp for pad and string patches. With the Di’s numerous sequence patterns, I end up with these slowly evolving pads and drones that have become an essential part of my sound. The secret is setting the arp gate to full and using the attack/release to make the notes overlap (the attack/release settings, along with cutoff & resonance settings can be saved with the Performance, but not the arp settings).
On the other hand, I was right about the Vocals, Pads, and Strings. In fact, they are pretty much the only sounds I use on the Di.
Ended up buying a MiniAK several months ago – but not for the vocoder (the mic was sitting in a drawer in less than a week after the purchase). Still wouldn’t buy a MicroKorg.
The editor turned out to be more of a pain than its worth – it is easier to create patches on my JV-1080.
In the end, I’m happy with my Di, but I can see where a lot of others wouldn’t be. I think it is a great pad machine, but still I bought the JV-1080 to create more complexity (the Di is the master keyboard for the JV). The Di has become an essential part of my sound because I am using the Arpeggio in a way that wasn’t intended: could be that Roland (TR-909, TB-303, Jupiter 8) screwed up the right way again.