What to know about Roland's mini, dockable "boutique" synths - Create Digital Music

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What to know about Roland’s mini, dockable “boutique” synths Roland’s “Boutique” Synths are now here officially, after most of the details of these mini synths leaked out in advance of their launch. And we get a real look at this line of inexpensive, mini synths – three models, with an optional keyboard dock. First up, Mitch Gallagher has a hands-on for retailer Sweetwater, the first I’ve seen. It’s a 9-minute “Sweetwater Minute” which is to say… it’s made up of several minutes chained together? The most important thing about the Boutique series is that Roland says they’re powered by Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) – that’s the same modeling employed in the AIRA series, and it’s been pretty well-received there. They also give you a lot of hands-on control, and they’re not expensive. That combination I suspect will make them a big hit. At the same time, the main thing is whether you’ll want these particular models. There are a lot of ways you could spend your money here, from other synths to soft synths to loading software models onto Roland’s own AIRA SYSTEM-1. And, of course, this prompted speculation as to why Roland didn’t just keep releasing software models for the SYSTEM-1. That seems obvious. One, the SYSTEM-1’s control layout doesn’t really suit every software model – or, really, almost any software model other than the original. Two, it seems there’s more money to be made selling new hardware, not to mention to customers who find this appealing but not the SYSTEM-1. We also know at last what the “boutique” moniker means. Roland says these are a limited edition, though from one of the largest instrument makers in the world, it’s hard to know precisely what that means. Anyway, we do get color-graded, hipster-friendly images of the line if that makes you feel any better. Also, this video: That song. But no, let’s be honest: these will appeal if you wanted a model of one these synths in standalone, mobile form. If you hate mini keys, the good thing about that dock is, you can also use these modules with your favorite keyboard. We could go copy-paste all the specs, but I suspect you’re capable of reading the Roland website. Instead, here are the most interesting details: They’re cheap. Street US$299 for the Juno or JX or $399 for the JP-08, plus $99 for the dock. That might be all you need to know. There’s not much else in that price class: Arturia MicroBrute has a unique, analog character, there’s, um, MeeBlip (bring your own keyboard/sequencer), there’s the KORG volca series (KEYS is still a great choice, and it’s battery powered), some Waldorf pieces, and that’s about it. And now there’s also Novation Circuit. But nothing really doing this sort of emulation, so I think this is a good deal. (Commenters compared the Roland entries to Yamaha’s Reface, but that’s significantly more expensive and covers a completely different sound range. Parallel product philosophies, sure, but different results.) Metal, dude. If you hate plastic, the front panel here is made of metal (though it appears to have a plastic chassic, and the dock is plastic). Curious how these feel. They use USB or battery power. Bus power works, too, so you don’t need a wall wart. And that’s only 4 AA’s. The batteries can go in the dock, too. Each has a step sequencer. And it looks a lot like the TR-8 drum machine step sequencer. Smart – and this means you can fiddle with these on the go even without the keyboard dock, though it’s more useful with the keyboard handy. (I think the clicking in the Sweetwater video is just a wonky envelope setting, not a bug.) USB works for MIDI and audio. That is a full-fledged audio interface there. And you can run MIDI over USB. And there are still dedicated MIDI DIN jacks. That combination means I do think one of these modules might make a smart purchase. You already own a keyboard with MIDI out, right? Solo, unison, polyphonic. This makes loads of sense, too. They’re chain-able. That adds polyphony. But it involves chaining together two of the same unit, and I can’t imagine anyone outside a Roland dealer doing that. So, one unit gives you 4 voices, which a lot of commenters are complaining about, except… well, do you really want 8 voices of this sound? (ducks) They’re small. Hey, they’re cute. They’re portable. They’re, according to Roland, “the size of a book.” You want the JP-08, right? I mean, seriously. The JX-03 cleverly puts the PG-200 controller on the JX-3P keyboard, but … the appeal for both the JU-06 and JX-03 seems to me primarily for people who owned those keyboards; I’m not sure these are the best-aging sounds in synth history. The JP-08 Jupiter is really the sound it seems that has the largest draw; the control layout looks great and the sound is indeed lust-worthy. Heck, Roland even priced the JP-08 $100 more than the other two, almost as if knowing it’d be the one in demand. It’s like the “this is the one you really want” tax. Then again, there’s yo…

Modeled Roland classics in mobile form. $299-399 per module, plus $99 for mini keys (or BYO keyboard). Details, plus the one we want:

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