Roland JP-8000 by bitleyTM
15 years since its introduction on the market, the JP8000 could now be referred to as something of a classic synthesizer. Not analog, but still very much a real synthesizer in every aspect.
To be a bit cocky, I would also personally tend to call it Roland's last real subtractive synthesizer.
While they have released more keyboard instruments almost every year since its introduction in 1997, nothing really comes close to the JP8000. While the newer SH-201 and SH-01 GAIA are similar in ways, they don't touch the more "professional" impression of the JP8K, which for instance has a real power connector, is built in a more sturdy chassis, has better keys - and doesn't it look cooler too? Most people around the net also seems to think it sounds better. I have not done A/B tests but all I can say is that the JP8000 gives me a much more powerful impression while the latter ones have left me rather disappointed thinking they were "too plastic" both in sound and appearance. The SH-01 is kind of cute but it has some really strange hidden GM engine inside which just makes me feel really confused. The first V-Synth was also a very professional real synth but more of the esoteric kind (even though it has a neighbor to the JP8000 engine inside). So forgive me for thinking this but I see the SH-201 and the SH-01's more geared towards another type of customer than the JP8000. This market move is probably good for their business but it's a bit sad for us old fans of Roland's vintage gear. And I think the JP8000 is starting to belong in that category. It really carries the legacy of the Roland name. The other ones has added some distortion to the brand name in my humble opinion. Roland keeps confusing us by using "SH", "Juno" and "Jupiter" on newer instruments which really should have been given other names. Roland's pro division should spend a day or two with the SH2, Juno 60 and Jupiter 8 and start thinking about what people say in the forums. And why they say what they say. OK, sorry for the rant & let's move on.
The JP8000 gives you a really good pulse width oscillator to start with and you have two of those, something Roland did with the D-50 in a pre-VA synth way but it sounds better on the JP. It has to be said that Roland's later (JV/XP/XV/Fantom) sample playback based synthesis also can simulate PW/PWM using Structure programming. The JD-990 also had ways to do this. That's all fantastic! But on the JP8000 its much more obvious, easier to use thanks to the sliders - and also better sounding. It is their first "synth-synth" if you allow that expression, since the Jupiter 6/8/MKS 80 series, to feature dual oscillators with pulse width modulation abilities.
It also has a set of other interesting oscillator stuff in OSC 1 such as triangle mod, noise (with individual filtering for dual filter experiments) and something called feedback osc, which can provide really interesting PPG-like timbres.
Furthermore, the JP8000 also introduced the supersaw waveform, which indeed is very fun to use for creating huge sounds. It does not necessarily have to be used for typical trance leads and chords even though that's where it has found its most obvious niche. It's also very useful for really warm pad sounds.
Oscillator 2 is a little more simple and offers the standard synth waveforms but also features oscillator sync.
The filter is a multimode filter with LP/BP/HP abilities and it sounds very good for most things although not nearly as warm as the analog filter in a JX8P for instance. Warmth can be added later on in the JP8K though thanks to a chorus (again, not as warm as the old classic Roland analog chorus but anyway, still fully usable) and a very usable delay. Missing here is a reverb unit, something that would have added extra cream on top.
Where the JP8000 shines is that it was the first Roland synth since the Juno 106 to come with sliders for all sound programming tasks. Like the 106, the Jupiter 6 and 8s (and the Jupiter 4 for that matter) it brings back the fun in poly Roland synthesizers since it's so easy to tweak the sounds. A very fun instrument to use, and more fun than the older ones (when used by itself) since it sounds more "complete" thanks to the built in effects unit. You can really sit with just the JP8000 and headphones and reach marvelous, magical heights and moments. A very fun instrument.
And OK, I forgot to say PG800, PG1000 and JD800. But the Juno 106 feels more like the closest cousin to the JP8000.
Furthermore, it is divided into two separate synth engines so that it can be used for layering and splitting sounds. This takes down polyphony to a maximum of 4 simultaneous voices though, but with 4 oscillators. Roland had this layering ability with some other instruments but I would rather see it as a nod towards the original Jupiter 8.
In terms of pure synthesizer powers it can probably not touch the JP8 but still, it very much "holds its own" and sounds more transparent where many other Roland instruments can be said to have more of a typical Roland sound. The JP8K also invites to programming exercises where it can simulate other analog instruments. Some bass sounds does come close to Moog, SEM and Pro 1 territories for instance. I would also like to say that it can not replace instruments with the Roland sound. For myself I will also be keeping my JX8P and my alpha Juno synths. Those does sound different from the JP8K. Not necessarily better though. The fun factor of the JP8K is quite amazing and really makes it come alive.
So all in all, even in 2012 with our software revolution going on strong, the JP8000 is a really wonderful instrument. Never mind that it really is a software synthesizer in a hardware package. It has soul!
I also use a Nord Lead 2 and I have been using a Virus KC and several Novation VA synths but the JP8000 should not be seen as an old forgotten VA synth. Compared to Virus, it probably has much less synthesis "power" but it's still somehow more fun to use. A bigger panel and more easily overviewed. The Yamaha AN1X sounds fantastic as well but also feels more "plastic" and the Korg MS2000 has fewer voices. There are hundreds of cool synthesizers out there of course but for myself - with 25 years of experience of synthesizers, all I can say is that the JP8000 makes me very happy.
So - in my opinion, the JP8000 is quite perfect as it is. I could wish Roland would wake up and make a mark II version with the same casing but black, more polyphony and reverb, USB2 and nothing more than that. OK, an audio input.
But then again they'd probably change too much and it wouldn't be a real JP anymore!