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 Roland JD-800 

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Watch out for: dead keys / aftertouch resulting from the infamous "glue issue" (old factory glue messing the underside of the keybed).


The Jay-Dee Eight Hundred is one of those quieter names in the synth world, a bi-polar case, perceived to be a gem by the synth-freaks but overlooked by pretty much everyone else, hence its curious price halfway between "cheap" and "expensive" I guess. Why is it a gem? I think mainly because it's the last one to have this classic silky Roland sound (marking the end of the vintage epoch), because it has dreamlike UI, and because it's able to produce a ton of various - and especially dreamlike - sounds. Why is it overlooked by everyone else? Because it's obsolete technology. A curio.

In terms of design, the JD-800 is a serious thing - or was - in 1991. Let me, for a start, describe the basic idea behind this synth and its architecture. It is a rompler with internal waveshapes (or samples) stackable upon each other, so that you can have a patch made of four sounds. The first one can be a saw wave, the second one a vox-choir wave, the third one a marimba-pluck and the fourth one a white noise wave. Then you route it (not all of it - each oscillator / wave independently) through multi-type filter, mangle it with the use of two multi-shape LFOs and a pitch envelope, and so on. Nothing mind-blowing, yet a considerable step ahead after the 1983-86 series of simple Roland synths. The place to stop for a while and dig deeper is the FX section with a variety of effects to choose from. EQ, Distortion, Phaser, Spectrum, Enhancer, Chrous, Delay and Reverb sprinkled over the various aforementioned waves let you achieve a wide range of sounds, patch-wise as well as timbre-wise. After spending some time with this synth, creating around hundred patches, recording all the jams and then listening to it, I had an impression that this collection of sounds comes from a team of synths which includes an Alpha Juno, a V-Synth, a DX7 and a closely unspecified Waldorf in its ranks.

Nonetheless it's 2013 and using a 15-kilogram piece of hardware to route simple waveforms (which are not editable) through filters has more to do with entertaining yourself in a time-capsule, rather than with easy and efficient music-making. Everything that the JD does is done easier by software samplers / romplers (or Korg Radias), more inerestingly by the V-Synth and more genuinely by the Alpha Juno / JX8p. Of course this kind of scientific babble is irrelevant to us Duran-Duran fans (also, there is an onboard sample that I believe was used to create the cold, spooky sound in Depeche Mode's "Barrel of a Gun").

I mentioned once that if the Korg DW-8000 had real-time controls, it would be worth every money (and would be superb). The JD-800 has all the controls, but I think it lacks the Korg's crystalline sound, filter action and agility. Imagine the DW or Wavestation with JD's panel... Unfortunately, as Tom Sowell says, "there are rarely solutions, only trade-offs". One area in which this synth is truly superb is in its interface, especially the buttons. All buttons on all synths should be like that. The large ones have great spongy action. The little ones resemble Clavia's buttons and require zero-effort to depress them.

(The delays, reverbs and some weird tonal stuff in the mp3 demo are of course the onboard JD-800 effects).



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