The OSC Toy-Box - Roland Jupiter-50
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
The "OSC Toy-box" articles look at some of the instruments and equipment I use when making my own 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, this 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!
The Jupiter-50 is a streamlined version of Roland’s current flagship performance synthesiser, the Jupiter-80. It's "streamlined" in so much as it has slightly scaled back tone layering and lacks some MIDI functionality that goes deeply into aspects of control I'm unlikely to ever use. The one thing I would like from the Jupiter-80 is the touchscreen, but a conventional OLED display (with jog-wheel and navigation buttons) keeps the Jupiter-50 at a far more economically viable price-point compared to the Jupiter-80 (which I could never afford).
I feel it's fair to say that this is a very misunderstood instrument, largely due to the name "Jupiter". Roland regard the name “Jupiter” to be reserved for their flagship synthesiser keyboards (regardless of how they work). It’s not an indication of being directly related to the legendary Jupiter-4, Jupiter-6 and Jupiter-8 that were made so famous in the 1980s. Nevertheless, customers and Roland fans alike could be forgiven for seeing the name "Jupiter" alongside the visual design of the keyboard and assume it must be a modernised version of the classic synthesiser range from the 1980s. There are parallels in terms of tonal layering, but I'll discuss this more later.
The misconception that it must be a direct descendant of its namesake has led many people and reviewers to be confused and/or disappointed by its functionality and overall tonal nature (given that it does so much acoustic stuff and relies heavily on PCM sounds as opposed to oscillators), however if you understand it for what it is and judge it on its own merit (setting the "Jupiter" name aside), it’s an incredibly powerful tool.
It’s categorised as a “Performance Keyboard” and is firmly aimed at the live performance needs of your typical professionally gigging keyboard player, in so much as it has a wide range of very high quality sounds, clearly categorised and instantly accessible in the structure of its menu system. There are no arranger or workstation functions and it's purely focussed on sound design; both synthetic and acoustic emulation.
The "SuperNATURAL" & "Behaviour Modelling Technology" Audio Engine
SuperNATURAL tones are Roland's current flagship keyboard technology found in both the Jupiter-50 and Jupiter-80 keyboards, as well as the Integra-8 rack-mounted synthesiser. It utilises the very best acoustic sampling technology Roland has ever developed and couples it with their patented Behaviour Modelling Technology.
Behaviour Modelling is real time analysis of player input and adaptation of the sample playback accordingly. I don't know, but imagine this is done by having an enormous array of note samples (coupled with samples of instrument mechanisms) that are triggered (sometimes layered simultaneously) via algorithmic analysis of the MIDI input from the keyboard. I also expect there's sophisticated effects processing that is dynamically controlled via the same algorithmic analysis on MIDI input.
It's hard to explain in text, as it needs to be heard to be understood; it's seriously impressive when you experience it first hand. There are videos demonstrating some of these sounds on YouTube, and I'd recommend you have a browse to get a sense of exactly what this keyboard can do with acoustic sounds. If you're a pianist, go to your local Roland dealership and have a play with solo string and brass, acoustic guitars and marimbas, I expect you'll be very pleasantly surprised.
There are too many variables to discuss in detail, however, key identifiers of Behaviour Modelling are the mechanical characteristics of; rapidly repeated notes; grace notes; semi-tonal notes; large register note jumps and so on.
These characteristics manifest in string squeak, hammer action, tine action, brass instrument valve noise, string bowing action, string squeak, mallet/block action and so on. Moreover, imagine a piano string or marimba woodblock already resonating when it's struck again; the string/woodblock will behave differently and therefore sound minutely different in character. This is the level of realism present in this instrument and it's very impressive.
But what about the synthesis?
The Behaviour Modelling Technology is also applied to the Jupiter-50 synthesiser oscillator and filter characteristics. Naturally, it's applied in different ways to the acoustic and electro-mechanical instruments and focuses more on circuit and component emulation, recreating very analogue feeling synthesiser tones.
Roland describe in the owner's manual how they've carried out in-depth tonal, harmonic and character analysis of their flagship analogue synthesisers of old, as well as their legacy digital synthesisers and applied these characteristics to their oscillators and filters. The result is incredibly rich and lush emulation of the tones from synthesisers such as the Jupiter-8, Juno-108, SH-101, D-50, Fantom-G8 and more.
Alongside multiple oscillator options (3 variants for each waveform shape and a "Super Saw" based on the 1980s Jupiter oscillators), there are multiple filter options modelled on classic analogue filters, not just Roland but also Moog and DSI (4x LPF variants, HPF, BPF and PKG).
JV1080 style PCM sounds
(if you've not read my piece on the JV-1080, it's probably best to do that before continuing with this article)
Alongside the SuperNATURAL oscillator and filter options are 363 JV-1080 style PCM wave files to choose from. Options include many iconic and well known JV era PCM wave files along with new wave files including some based on distinctive, frequency modulation wave shapes (meaning this Roland can capture some of that notable 1980s Yamaha sound without breaching patent laws and using FM synthesis).
Tones and Live-Sets
Ever since the early Jupiter synthesisers in the 1980s, Roland have liked to utilise a multi-layered tone architecture. I've heard the original Jupiter-8 described as two Juno-108s stacked together, which (very crudely speaking) is how the old Jupiter synthesisers functioned. Furthermore, keep in mind how the JV-1080 utilises layered tones to create Patches. The Jupiter-50 keeps with this tradition by allowing four Tones (there are 2048 Tone save-slots, with almost 2000 of them populated with presets from the factory) to be layered into what Roland refer to as a Live-Set. The Live-Set is processed through the effects matrix and there are master filter cutoff and resonance settings that control each Tone's filter simultaneously.
Each synthesiser tone follows a typical subtractive synthesis model in terms of signal flow (from left to right):
Oscillator or PCM Wave File - Filter (Enveloped) - Amplitude Envelope
Note that for each tone:
The oscillator has a pitch envelope
The filters can be velocity sensitive with key follow
The envelopes can be velocity sensitive with key follow
There are two LFOs that can be assigned to pitch, filter, amplitude and pan simultaneously
The amplitude envelope is loop-able (quite an interesting feature, especially with pads)
As with any Roland of this calibre, the effects matrix is very comprehensive, with all the warmth and colour you'd expect from Roland effects. There are 76 effects in total and four can be applied to a Live-Set. 11 of the effects are doubled/stacked effects, for example Chorus>Delay, which is both a Chorus and Delay in one effect slot, meaning for certain applications you can run two effects in one effect slot. A nice workaround should four effect slots be insufficient for your sound design needs.
Each effect has very detailed control parameters making them fully customisable and where applicable they're sync-able with the tempo BPM settings of the Live-Set. Alongside all the conventional effects you'd expect to find, such as Chorus, Tremolo, Phaser, Flanger, EQ, Compression, Delay and so on, there are also unusual and interesting effects like "3D" versions of several effects (that use psycho-acoustics to create pseudo surround sound impressions), Phonograph Emulation, Guitar Amp Emulation and Sympathetic Resonance (which resonates the sound as if it were being generated from inside the body of a Grand Piano - including piano mechanism).
Each Tone can be individually routed through the Live-Set's reverb-send both pre and/or post effects. There are five Reverb algorithms that are fully adjustable with custom parameters (that differ for each type of reverb).
Acoustic Tone Character Control
Acoustic tones don't have filter and envelope options, instead they include instrument specific adjustable parameters. For example, on the acoustic pianos you can adjust string resonance, key resonance, hammer noise, stereo width, nuance (this sounds like 3 different microphone placements or lid heights) and tone (brightness). Below are two examples for instrument specific acoustic Tone modifier settings.
Piano Tone Modify
Trumpet Tone Modify
You can layer any type of tone with another one, there are no restrictions, meaning you can underpin acoustic sounds with synthesiser tones or vice versa. You can also stack up the same tone multiple times is you wish. For example, your Live Set could combine different solo-brass to make a trio or quartet or marry D-50-like bells with Juno-like pads. The possibilities are endless.
The Live-Set can be flanked by two further Tones if you like. These can be acoustic or synthesiser Tones. (Roland recommends flanking synthesiser-Tone Live-Sets with acoustic Tones for most sophisticated sounds). Personally, I tend not to utilise this feature much as I work with simpler, more vintage styles Tones, however it's a great function to have at my disposal should I wish to use it.
All six tones combined is referred to as a Register, which has an incredibly detailed selection of overarching control parameters ranging from volume and tempo, to control interface functions and foot-pedal controls. Each tone in the Live-Set can be played simultaneously and/or mixed on the fly with faders on the control panel. The Live-Set, Upper and Lower Tones in a Register can be switched on or off with button presses during play. Tones can be divided up (or crossfaded) across the keyboard's register too; it's very customisable. It's worth noting that the Jupiter-80 has two Live Sets meaning sounds on the Jupiter-80 can be comprised of ten tonal layers.
In many ways, the specifications of this instrument speak for themselves, and it will come as no surprise that I use this all of the time. Whilst my other synthesisers have specific characteristics that I like to utilise for their niche charms, this is just a powerhouse and absolute workhorse, delivering me the bulk of my sound design.
I bought this primarily for its synthesis capabilities as it shares a lot of technology with the the Roland Boutique range and can be considered like most of the boutique range bundled together with top notch acoustic instrument emulation on top.
Once you're familiar with the user interface, editing tones on the OLED screen isn't so bad and of course there are modern perks like USB file transfer and backup options. Roland offer many free-to-download artist preset packages too, which is good customer support.
I bought this in the post Christmas sales in 2014. My local music instrument shop had an ex-demo model, marked at 20% off. I did some research on it, had a play with it in store and fell in love with it. I was able to negotiate 12 months interest free credit, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.
Obviously, I've used the synthesiser and digital electric-piano sounds a great deal on my music ever since I bought it, however more recently, for my upcoming album, I've really explored some of the acoustic instrument capabilities. I've made use of the pianos, electric bass, electric guitar, slap bass, orchestral strings, orchestral and solo brass, flute and more. It was the source of the piano tone I used for my recent piano-only EP, such is the strength of the piano tones.
Frankly, I couldn't make a lot of the music the way I do without it and most importantly, whenever I have an idea and/or try something new, this instrument allows me to realise it without much trouble. It's an inspirational instrument that's helped me develop and grow as a musician and producer. I simply couldn't be making the music I do today without it.