Roland JX-8P
– a good all-rounder

Does this sound familiar? You buy a synthesizer and then, after some time, you want to sell it again. Years later you find yourself looking for the same instrument again.

Roland JX-8P
Roland JX-8P

Maybe you just feel a little nostalgic (“I SOLD mine?”) … or you find a really cheap one (“190 Euros? That’s a bargain!”). Maybe you just get curious (“I couldn’t stand that aspect of it then, but eventually things have changed ..?”).

Anyway … if, for some reason or other, you buy that same synthesizer again, you may be astonished at how gooooood it sounds. So, paying the low price was worth it, there was a reason for you feeling nostalgic and your taste has completely changed for the better.

Roland JX-8P
Roland JX-8P

So you’ve matured some years and know that – as with people – no synthesizer is perfect. But you’re able to correctly evaluate the strengths of the instruments. Fast envelopes aren’t the only criteria for electronic happiness and DCOs have lost that “second choice” stigma. You see that the feel of the keyboard is astonishingly good and you come to terms with the fact that your taste has been prone to error and, in fact, has changed.

Roland PG-800 Programmer
Roland PG-800 Programmer

If a buddy adds a nice programmer PG-800 to the instrument, new acoustical worlds lay at your feet. If it’s a Roland JX-8P – great! If it’s a SUPER JX-10 … even better!

„JX-8P“

Interesting name. “Hello QZ-22eb-4″ … ok, let’s stop joking. What the hell is “JX-8P”? “P” might stand for polyphonic (or maybe programmable), alright. And the “X” might be chosen with reference to the Yamaha DX-series…

Roland JX-8P Synthesizer
Roland JX-8P Synthesizer

“J” always matches with almost any Roland synthesizer (Juno, Jupiter, JD, JV, JX…), but what about the “8”? The Jupiter-4 was four voice polyphonic, its bigger brother Jupiter-8 eight voice polyphonic. We all got that, as this was concrete information coming with the instrument’s name.

Now, playing the JX-8P I’d expect the synthesizer to be an eight voice machine. Far from it! It’s six voice, that’s all. And its bigger brother – SUPER JX-10 – is a 12 voice synthesizer that somehow lost the “P”olyphony in its name.

Roland JX-8P Synthesizer
Roland JX-8P Synthesizer

Just to make things a little more complicated, the JX-10 rack version is called MKS-70, and the synthesizer programmer for all machines (JX-8P, JX-10 and MKS-70) is the PG-800. Once you you’ve sorted out the chaos in Roland’s JX-terminology, it’s time to have a closer look at the instrument’s features…

Roland JX-8P Synthesizer
Roland JX-8P Synthesizer

Oscillators – DCOs

The Roland JX-8P spots DCOs, just like its predecessors Juno-60 and Juno-106. Twelve of these (two per voice) are to be found in the machine, with the standard analogue waveforms saw, standard pulse, narrow pulse and noise. Sadly, there’s no pulse width modulation! But you get cross modulation! That’s useful for any metallic, strange sound, similar to a ring modulator. And there’s osc sync as well…

Roland JX-8P sync modes:

  1. sync1 – which is a hard sync
  2. Xmod (cross modulation) –    oscillator frequencies (DCO1 and DCO2) modulate each other
  3. sync2 – which is sync1 and Xmod
  4. off – each oscillator is independent of the other

The DCOs sound very good, in fact they are analogue modules with digital frequency control, as you know. So, VCOs and DCOs don’t sound that different. Elka’s Synthex features DCOs, too …

Back to the JX-8P. DCO modulation can be done via LFO and/or ENV. The second DCO sports a rare feature that allows volume modulation via ENV. Since velocity can control the level of envelope amount, you’re able to create organic textures with the second DCO coming and going depending on the amount of velocity.

Filter

As on many Roland synths, there’s the classic LPF – HPF combination. The HPF is a three position static high pass filter, whereas the LPF offers sliders for frequency and resonance plus various modulation options: LFO, ENV and Key Follow.

Roland PG-800 Programmer
Roland PG-800 Programmer

“Dynamics” controls the amount of velocity-to-envelope via a three position slider. The

Envelopes

are fully equipped ADSR types, one each for VCA and VCF. The envelope attack is a little soft compared to other Roland Synths (compare the JX with any Juno- or Jupiter-synth). So you feel inclined to use the JX-8P more for string and vocal textures rather then for aggressive, ripping sounds.

Chorus

Roland’s beautiful stereo chorus gives the JX-8P a lot of depth and warmth. Sure, it’s a little noisy, too. But it sounds rich and broad, and results in deep, warm analogue sounds with a nice stereo image.

Keyboard

One of the instrument’s best features is its highly responsive 61-note keyboard with velocity and aftertouch. I had forgotten about that … the JX is so much easier to play than any Jupiter synthesizer (except the MKS-80, of course). Direct keyboard control of the envelopes (velocity) and of either vibrato, brilliance or volume (aftertouch) turns the JX into a serious, powerful instrument.

Roland JX-8P Synthesizer
Roland JX-8P Synthesizer

Sure, the JX-10 is even better! Its 76-note superbly weighted keyboard has one of the best actions to be found. Sadly, the aftertouch isn’t that responsive (at least on the JX-8P). You need touch & go and force to get it to work …

Sound example “longsolo” is a smooth, long synth solo that explores the JX-keyboard’s sensitivity. Take your time listening to it …

Considering that the JX-10 contains two JX-8P, I’m going to be on the lookout for that flagship one day (again, ups … I already owned it). It’s a strong candidate for a “main instrument” …

PG-800

Like the JX-3P, the 8P has its own programmer. It uses sliders (instead of knobs) and helps you get the best out of your JX-machine. The PG-800 is the key to the instrument’s heart. As Peter Forrest says:

“The 8P and the 10 can both sound very middle-of-the-road until you start getting stuck into some experimentation with the PG-800’s neat little sliders.” (The A-Z Part II, revised edition, page 113)

Roland PG-800 Programmer
Roland PG-800 Programmer

The programmer allows direct access to most of the instrument’s sound parameters. No wonder it’s a lot more fun tweaking the PG-800 than stepping through the JX-menu. And once you realize that any sound change can be effected within seconds, you will never want to part with the PG-800 again.

Sound

The JX-8P sounds warm. At least as soon as you use the chorus, which is involved in most of the instrument’s presets in some way. The dual oscillator design, coupled with the respectable filter and the separate VCF/VCA ADSR envelope generators results in richly analogue sounds that may take you a long way towards the clarity of those early digital synths. Although it’s often described as a “hybrid” machine, I’d prefer to put it in the analogue corner. Sure, the JX offers some DX-like voices and some sounds similar to Korg’s DW-synths. Thanks to velocity and aftertouch, it’s also a joy to play. The keyboard turns the JX into a professional instrument, full of powerful and intriguing sounds. No wonder many electronic pop artists of the 80ies used this machine. Human League, Madonna, Elton John, Grace Jones (JX-10), just to name a few.

Roland JX-8P Synthesizer
Roland JX-8P Synthesizer

I like Julian Colbeck’s review of the JX-10, so let me sum up his description of the instrument’s sound. Although he’s talking about the JX-10, it may just as well be the 8P …

“The range and depth of sounds lurking in the JX is vast. Imagine a Yamaha DX7 crossed with a PPG crossed with a Jupiter-8. Beautifully rich strings can precede bells and cross-mod sounds, fat brass patches (in fifths, perhaps) can follow the most sumptuous digital pianos. A delight to listen to.” (Julian Colbeck, Keyfax 4, page 69)

Roland JX-8P Synthesizer
Roland JX-8P Synthesizer

It might be a little exaggerated to compare the JX with a Jupiter-8, but still… the warm, analogue (string) sounds are beautiful …

That soft attack does not allow for punchy, percussive sounds. If you’re looking for snappy sequencer -type tones, you might be better off using an SH-synthesizer, or any Jupiter for that matter. Still, there are heaps of professional features on the JX that turn it into a highly respectable machine. I haven’t mentioned UNISON yet. 12 DCOs may be a guarantee for sonic overkill. The SOLO mode ought to be used in combination with portamento, giving you a monophonic lead synthesizer. But after all, most of the instrument’s expressive quality originates in the wonderful keyboard action…

The limitation to six voice polyphony is a little drawback, of course. Pad sounds with long release, clearly audible in some of the samples, suffer from those polyphonic limitations. Again, the JX-10 features 12 voices and might be your better choice!

To sum it up …

Coming back to the JX-8P after a gap of 15 years, I was totally amazed at its warm, deep and expressive sound character. Being used to Jupiter-4/6, Synthex, OBX and other polyphonic analogue instruments, the touch sensitive keyboard of the JX is an extraordinary joy to play. One day I’ll look out for the JX-10 again, though, just to get Roland’s last big push in analogue superstardom.

Roland JX-8P Synthesizer
Roland JX-8P Synthesizer

Last but not least, the JX-8P is an affordable instrument. You can fetch a nice unit for less than 250 Euros. Considering all those lovely strings and superb pads, the JX-8P is one of the most recommendable analogue polyphonic (MIDI) synthesizers available. Catch one if you can …

15 thoughts on “Roland JX-8P
– a good all-rounder

  1. Great sounds and review! I’ve been longing for a website with in depth reviews of synthesizers since blue synths closed down.

    Thanks a lot!

    • Oh, yes. In some ways this is the continuation of Bluesynths – in a more modern design, and with new features. Most of the BS articles will be relaunched … including the audio files, of course. Enjoy!

    • I own this JX-8 P for some years and its sonic versatility impresses me. Often it can be read like there’s Crossmodulation allowing you metallic sounds. But in fact, this even offers a work around for the missing pulse width modulation: Chose pulse for both oscs. Then turn either to Crossmodulation or Sync2. Now (depending on the mode) either modify the coarse or the fine tuning of OSC2 to test it: It sounds like the pulse is getting thicker or thinner! Now apply an LFO for the OSC2-Pitch. There you have something which reminds a lot on PWM.

      Another tip cause it’s not readable often: The Unison Mode does not use all 12 oscillators. When pressing Unison, you still have 3 voice polyphony. It actually uses 2 voices/4 oscs so to speak. Press the Unison a second time so it flashes. Now the second voice is lowered by one octave. Now – where is the real Unison? Press the Solo button 2 times so it flashes. Now you really hear all the power on one key. Also, the Poly Mode has a double layer: Here the retriggering is altered so Envelopes and all that do not restart for new keys.

  2. I recently picked up a jx-8p and am still trying to upload the patches to my PC. I just got a copy of MIDI Ox to try and do this. Any tutorials/step by on this? The hardest part is getting the keyboard to midi to the PC and recognize each other. I do know that unlike my Korg, there is no batch dump- each patch must be copied one at a time. thanks, Gary

  3. About the JX-8P name:
    ‘8P’ stands for ‘8-patch chain’, cf. the blue buttons with which you can store and recall 8 patches, i.e. 8 tones with their respective key mode settings
    ;-)

  4. Hi, thanks for this article. Well written and even the pictures are artistic! One thing I’d like to point out is that to my experience, the JX-8P’s envelopes are actually quitte fast. The problem with this synth is that the VCFs somewhat react slowly to them, as opposed to the VCAs that give instant response. What I do to overcome this “problem” when I want really snappy filtered sounds from the JX-8P is that I reverse the envelope controling the VCF so that it *starts” from top (set the cutoff at 100%) then use the ADSR in a different way to obtain a good result (say 25% Attack, 0% Decay, 100% Sustain and about 7% release so you don’t hear a “click” at the end of the note played). Adjust VCF ENV to your taste. Of course, you won’t get “release” upon letting the note go but isn’t that’s the whole point of a “pluck” kind of sound?

  5. A couple of points about the JX8P:
    1. It has a warmer, noisier tone to the JX10/MKS70. I’ve had both and I prefer the sound of the 8P to 10. Try programming the classic 8P preset ‘Soundtrack’ into a 10, and you’ll hear a sharper and less warm sound. In the end I had to sell my MKS70 as i wanted it to function as 2 JX8P’s and it doesn’t. It has a different sound texture.
    2. The PG800 cannot edit any sound already saved on the JX. When you plug it in, you have the sound as per sliders on the PG800 and can only edit that sound. This is a real drawback of the PG800.

    • … very interesting (especially the sound comparison of JX-8P and -10 / MKS-70) – thanks!

    • “2. The PG800 cannot edit any sound already saved on the JX. When you plug it in, you have the sound as per sliders on the PG800 and can only edit that sound. This is a real drawback of the PG800.”

      Is this true whether in Edit or Play mode?

  6. Beautiful semi-budget vintage synth, and it *is* my main instrument. (Great demos by the way.) While I often wish that it could do four tones all the time (I’m used to Roland digitals like the D-50 and JV-1080 which have the 4-tone system), unison mode accomplishes this for very thick sounds, and it still gives you three notes of polyphony (not bad for me because I’m not an ace at keys).

    The only real shortcoming I feel it has is the lack of LFO to OSC 1/2 level or to the global VCA for tremolo effects. (I get around this by closing the filter all the way and routing LFO to VCF, effectively giving silence when the closed filter is activated.) However, you can route the envelopes, so I’m not sure why they neglected LFO here.

    Anyway, PG-800 is expensive, but I have a hardware controller which I designed myself which I call the PC-8P, which works with the Peavey PC1600X programmable MIDI controller (half the price of a PG-800 and still sits nicely on the JX-8P’s shell). You can get the SysEx files for it at:

    http://evanlong.net/music/music-technology/

    This is my first analog synth, and it wasn’t too expensive, yet it has nice sound and good keys, and I just find it inviting and am drawn to playing it. I find it amazing that the 8P’s more famous siblings go for $1000, $2000, $4000, etc. while this one has such nice sound and features for under $500. Good MIDI too, compared to the 3P and 10.

  7. The real predesessor of the Jx8p is the Jx3p: also six voice polyphonic with 12 oscs. Also ‘that’ chorus. Misses velocity sensitivity, although the module counterpart mks30 actually IS velocity sensitive. And the 3p has no cross mode, and had a different paint job altogether. Otherwise the two are pretty similar.

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