The OSC Toy-Box - Roland JU-06A
Updated: Sep 19, 2021
The "OSC Toy-box" articles look at some of the instruments and equipment I use when making my music. My ethos regards equipment is always to avoid getting the latest product, or whatever is fashionable at any given time. Instead, aim to get something that's more of a long term investment and/or a little bit quirky and unusual. Learn this equipment like the back of your hand and really exploit its every potential.
Whatever you do, don't break the bank or get in to debt. You can make very cool music that's distinctive and uniquely your own sound without spending a fortune on the latest hardware or software. As you read these articles, please remember, my collection of instruments and equipment has been amassed over the course of 15+ years, and wherever possible, I've avoided paying full retail prices, instead opting for second hand, ex-demo, or in some cases even rescuing from the trash!
Hello, my name's Steve and I'm a Roland-aholic
I'll admit it, my Roland fandom is only getting worse. I already own a JV-1080 and Jupiter-50. The music department at the school where I work has, in the last 24 months, invested in a Roland RD-2000, Roland FA-08 and Roland FP-10 upon my advice and the school also has an old Roland JV-80 which I've serviced/restored and set up in the studio at the school for teaching the students about early PCM synthesis. And now, I've gone and got myself a JU-06A. If anyone reading this works at Roland: please endorse me... 🙏🏼
Why The JU-06A When You Already Have a JV-1080 & Jupiter-50?
I love my JV-1080 and Jupiter-50, however for all that they excel in (sound-wise) they are lacking in terms of simplistic, on-the-fly tone manipulation and workflow. As discussed in my article about the Jupiter-50, the Jupiter-50 has the SuperNATURAL Audio Engine and can very authentically recreate Juno, Jupiter, D-50, JV and RD series Roland sounds. Theoretically, on paper, there's nothing the JU-06A can do that the Jupiter-50 can't.
However, this investment was less about plugging a tonal gap in my setup, and more about giving me a new creative avenue to delve further into something that's alluded my work-flow up until now; real-time, hands-on, multi-parameter manipulation and experimentation.
Pre-Programmed Vs On-The-Fly
On the Jupiter-50 and JV-1080, mid-performance parameter adjustments mostly need to be pre-programmed if you want to get the most out them (because adjustments need to be made via digital menu-diving on a small LCD). Their modus operandi is that everything's configured in advance and then when you go live on stage or hit the play/record button in the studio, you have controls configured to whatever parameter you need to adjust for each song (saved as a performance) and as you select a new performance, the parameter control configuration switches to the pre-saved settings of the new performance patch. Alternatively you can program various parameter changes in MIDI, which, whilst accurate and useful, is slow and timely.
Up until now, the pre-programmed workflow has been fine for what I've been doing in the studio, however I wanted something that had the user interface of an-school analogue synth. Something whereby I can leave a MIDI sequence on loop and just manipulate things on-the-fly and see what I can create. I.e. use the tone manipulation as part of the composition process.
How Does It Work?
Not wishing to sound lazy, as this is basically a miniaturised Juno-60/106, go and look up the Roland Juno-60 and/or Juno-106. They're hugely iconic, widely documented synthesisers and it's not worth me going into the finer details about the design and architecture of this synth, as I'm sure there are many articles and videos available that detail things more coherently and concisely than I could.
I'll just summarise it as a simple, two-oscillator, subtractive synth with an additional sub-oscillator, assignable LFO, and an envelope that's switchable between amp and filter.
A noteworthy point about the JU-06A is that it emulates both the Juno-60 and Juno-106 (i.e. two synths in one), has a very nice step sequencer, and retains the truly iconic Juno chorus with the option to include or switch off the circuit-noise the original chorus (on the Juno-60/106) added to the audio signal. There is also a simple, but effective delay effect which wasn't on the original Juno synths.
This is not an analogue synth, but (like the Jupiter-50) utilises Roland's analogue modelling tech which is superb (in my opinion, industry leading for as far as synthesis is concerned) and in A-B tests the JU-06A is virtually indistinguishable from the original analogue Juno-60/106, often with the only difference being observable in subtly different waveforms when viewed on an oscilloscope. The video above demonstrates this very well (and was influential in me deciding to purchase this synth).
Custom Wooden End-Cheeks
The Juno-106 is one of my Holy Grail synths. It will be the first synth I buy when I win the lottery! Whilst this is not a Juno-106, it's as close as I can get without breaking the bank on a second hand 106 (plus it won't have all the maintenance pitfalls of a 30+ year old analogue synthesiser). As this was getting me halfway towards one of my Holy Grail synths, I thought it deserved a little something special to give it more presence in my setup. I did a little googling and found a solid oak end-cheek pack online and now it sits on my desk as a cheeky (no pun intended), little power-house of 80s tonalities.
Where Can You Hear It?
At the time of writing this, it hasn't been used a great deal in any productions. I used it for some bass and pad tonalities on MO Ambient Time and Ambient Time: All Kind of Jubies... as well as for some poly-fills on the Fakerwave Loops & Samples Pack. I have several projects planned for 2022 however, in which this will form a significant cornerstone of the sound design.
Was I Tempted By The Mini-Keyboard Add-On?
Nope! I grew up playing the piano. I've played normal sized, hammer-action/weighted keys my whole life. I can get a bit ham-fisted and trip over my own fingers on normal-sized unweighted keys and always prefer a weighted piano-action if given the choice. This is by no means a criticism of mini-keyboards or people who play with them. It's just that I find mini-keyboards a whole other level of frustration and they are not for me. Whenever I play them, it's a mess of bum notes as my reference points feel out of place. It's like when Robocop's targeting system is a little messed up after he gets beat up by ED209. I can see where I'm meant to be pressing, but my fingers just don't go there ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .
Would I Recommend This?
Absolutely! If you're experienced and well-read in the history of synthesis you know this a great product, and you know exactly what you're getting. On the other hand, if you're completely new to synthesis and wish to dip your toe in the synth-waters and learn about signal flow and tone design, there are few better places to start. This is simply a fantastic, little instrument and great way to repackage one of the most iconic synths ever made into a modern, affordable product. Well done, Roland 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼