Whereas the marvellous Sequential Prophet-5 was called “most sexy synthesizer in the world” (I would equally call Roland’s Jupiter-8 the same), poor Jupiter-4 was the ugly duckling.
As of 1978, it looked old even when released and surely very few musicians would have spoken of a true love at first sight. As Peter Forrest points it out: “All technology eventually goes cheesy, but the JP-4 went cheesy quicker than most.”
Well, not the best reputation for …
… a Milestone
in synthesizer history! Let’s turn back time and see the Minimoog floating in. Small, monophonic synths are getting affordable, just like the Mini, the ARP Odyssey and many others. Duophonic keyboards still are not really polyphonic, as they usually simply share oscillators between two voices. But well, “polyphonic” is in the air – in 1975 Oberheim’s SEM-philosophy offers in some way true polyphony by linking several synthesizer modules together. But 4/6/8 voice machines were not cheap, nor simple to use.
In 1978, Sequential’s Prophet-5 finally made the breakthrough. Oberheim’s answer – the OB-X – was an equally well-specified programmable polyphonic instrument. But not too many musicians could afford these machines, let apart those huge synthesizers like Polymoog or Yamaha CS-80.
It was the perfect time for the first Jupiter synthesizer to hit the market. A four voice programmable instrument with presets, memories, chorus and even an arpeggiator at the price of a Minimoog.
A dreamsynth in 1978! I forgot to mention it was COMPUPHONIC (anybody knows what that means?). Well, Roland’s advertising points out the “memory computer” for 8 sounds, that might be the compuphonic idea … People told me that the Jupiter-4 was praised as the “peak of synthesizer development” (LOL!). Indeed, many musicians could not think of a better instrument (for that price). It became sort of synthesizer standard end of the 70ies. Hard to imagine…
A personal milestone
The Jupiter-4 was my first ‘contact’ with those weird machines called ‘analog synthesizers’. A good friend borrowed me his JUP4, and as soon as the arpeggiator started to run, the synthesizer wouldn’t stop playing for many hours. You can imagine, I borrowed the Jupiter more often, extending each lending period. Finally it wouldn’t leave my room any more, so it was mine. I gave my friend some money to make the deal ‘official’. A few years later I implemented Kenton MIDI to get rid of the “interface problem”,
That’s my personal Jupiter-4 story.
From the first moment on I was totally amazed by the Jupiter-4 power. The fast envelopes sound soooo groovy, the single VCO is extremely meaty. The VCF is – more like on a MS-20 – very dirty at high resonance settings, and the LFO especially is unique within the whole Jupiter-line. All in all it’s full of character, a dry – but at the same time funky – analog sound. In the meantime there were other Jupiters in my studio: twice the Jupiter-8, once the MKS-80 and at the moment it’s the Jupiter-6. None of them offers that meaty, dry analog power. But don’t get me wrong: it is NOT the perfect synthesizer, not at all. Working with the Jupiter-4 is very strenious and costs some nervs. Simply, because it’s a real beast. It has its own soul and what you’re doing the whole day is trying to tame it.
Human League used the JUP4 on many of its records …
The SubOsc lets the VCA overdrive quite often, and while the dirty filter resonance isn’t that easy to adjust correctly, the arpeggiator runs continually throughout all four octaves and you simply desperate trying to manage the whole sonical cluster…
There are glorifying musical experiences on the one side, but frustration and desperation on the other side. Welcome to the world of the Jupiter-4.
A polyphonic SH synthesizer?
Mad people call the Jupiter-4 a “polyphonic upgraded SH synth”. Well, in fact that might be true. At least the typical VCO/SubOsc combination reminds of SH-1/2/09. But let’s have a detailled look at the features.
Each Jupiter voice consists of:
- VCO + SubOsc
- VCF + envelope + manual HPF
- VCA + envelope
Then there are some global features:
- MODIFIER-SECTION: global speed control of Arpeggiator, plus a separate VCF-modulation feature (sort of Sample/Hold being routed to the VCF – “VCF Random Modulation”)
The JUP4 performance section contains:
- Ensemble (stereo chorus)
- ASSIGN MODES: Unison 1/2, Poly 1/2
- ARPEGGIO MODES: Up, Down, Up/Down, Random
- A very flexible pitchbend-section: modulation routings of VCO/VCF/VCA (VCA modulation was quit in later Roland pitchbend-sections… what a shame! Especially combining VCF and VCA being controlled by the bender is extremely versatile!)*
* The pitchbend-to-VCO / pitchbend-to-VCF effect can be heard on most of the attached soundfiles …
Ah, yes … finally, there’s the clunky Roland keyboard. Not really fun to play, admittedly. But alright, this was 1978! So, let’s complete the JUP4 features:
- 4-octave keyboard
- 10 presets
- 8 memories
- Stereo Out (level High/Medium/Low)
- Headphones (level High/Medium/Low)
- ARP-Clock In
- VCF Modulation In
- EXP Pedal
- DAMP Pedal
Regarding its voice architecture, the Jupiter-4 is the only Jupiter synthesizer with a single VCO per voice. All other Jupiters offer two fully equipped VCOs. The onboard OSC/SubOsc philosophy was picked up by Roland again in the early 80ies with the introduction of Juno-6/60 and Juno-106 (this time with DCOs). Interestingly, the Junos sound more like 2-oscillator-synthesizers (probably thanks to the mixable waveforms, incl. PWM), whereas the Jupiter-4 sounds clearly like a 1-VCO-per-voice instrument. Quite thin at times! That’s not really bad, and I guess it’s even part of the instrument’s very personal sound character.
The Jupiter-4 filter is a highlight (no matter if it’s the early BA VCF or later IR VCF, both sound brillant). Due to its raw and almost uncontrollable filter resonance, it is the most powerful and most aggressive filter within the entire Jupiter synthesizer family.
Last but not least: The Jupiter-4 envelopes. They are extremely fast. I believe they are the best of all Jupiter synthesizers (even better than those of the Jupiter-8).
Sound & Performance
Poor Jupiter-4 never got rid of its ugly duckling image. I believe the situation even got worse during the 90s and at the beginning of the new millenium. Whenever this synthesizer was offered on the vintage market, it fetched very low street prices. In some way there are explanations for that …
First, the JUP4 has no MIDI (and no CV/Gate), and only few Jupiter-4 have be retro-fitted. Anyway, no studio purchases an instrument without MIDI or CV/Gate. Sure, a CV/Gate upgrade shouldn’t be a problem (I’m NO technician, but that’s what people say). Therefore I wonder why only a few Jupiter-4 instruments got the CV/Gate modification – like the instrument Rüdiger Lorenz had. That’s beyond me, as I would love to control all four voices of the Jupiter independantly by an analog sequencer (or via MIDI-CV/Gate by computer).
Second, most of the presets are of mediocre quality. I’m sure those musicians who had the power of a Prophet-5 in mind, were extremely disappointed of the JUP4 sound quality. Here’s Human League:
“‘Hard Times’ – I think that was the saxophone preset of a JP-4, but it sounds nothing like a saxophone. They should just say ‘elephant’ instead.”
(Human League), Peter Forrest, The A-Z of Analogue Synthesisers, Part Two, p. 105
Third, its voices are out-of-tune regularly. Best to have a screwdriver right next to the synths.
Fourth, the JUP4 is NOT a beautiful looking instrument. It’s quite the opposite, to be exact. The ugly ducking, as mentioned. A Jupiter-4 doesn’t look funky enough, instead it reminds of an home organ (especially because of the strong wooden side bars and the old-styled silly-coloured push buttons beneath the keyboard). Fact is, the Jupiter-4 has not the same Rollce-Royce design as its much-loved big brother Jupiter-8.
But if you’re clever and know about the sonical richness of a Jupiter-4, you go ahead and fetch one on the street. Why? Simply because it’s one of the most distinctive sounding analog synthesizers ever made. I’d rate it within the Top-10 music machines regarding its unique meaty character. It fits perfect in any experimental sound design, in any rhythmical-orientated music environment.
Promars – the monophonic JUP4?
The Roland Promars was my imaginary “dream machine” for many years. As I knew the Jupiter-4 quite well, a monophonic Jup-4 with CV/Gate sounded perfect to me. Well, it’s not. The Promars is no bad synthesizer, not at all. It offers TWO VCOs instead of one. So, bass sounds are more powerful (detuning of both oscillators), and in general tonal character is more “fat”. CV/Gate is a perfect feature, and the additional modulation-in port is brilliant (lets you control all bender-movements via an external CV source – you MUST try that with an analog sequencer, you’ll get stunning grooves).
But the chorus is lost (who needs a chorus with two VCOs?), and therefore the Promars has a simple mono-out jack. While LFO and filter are identical to teh JUP4, the overall unique Jupiter sound character is somehow lost. Conceptional changes always occur in a different sound. My opinion: the dual-VCO monophonic Promars is quite different from the meaty Jupiter-4 sound character. A monophonically played JUP4 – with 4 independet, slightly-out-of-tune, voices – can’t be replaced by a monophonic instrument. Even if the synth architecture of JUP4 and Promars is nearly identical, the muscial results are completely different!
It was my mistake to believe in the Promars. Although its factsheet looks convincing (a powerful voice with TWO VCOs, great interfacing, etc.), it misses the unique sound character one might be looking for. “Fat sounds” are not the only type of audio impression, right? We know those sounds since the early 70ies. Moogs are perfect fat sounding machines, Oberheim- and ARP-synthesizers as well. Just listen to a Memorymoog (18-VCO) or Prophet-5 (10-VCO) unison sound – it’ll blow you away!
Big brother Jupiter-8 sounds fat, the OSCar sounds fat, even a MS-20 may sound fat … alright, and the Jupiter-4? Well, it has unison, sure. Again “fat sounds”, if you need them. But switch to PolyMode (1 VCO per voice) and listen to those unbelievable simple, yet meaty, slight out-of-tune und thus “human” audio impressions. They are unbeatable.
“Fat” is not the only sound-quality you need. I believe dry, subtle tone colours enrich your music as well. Maybe they are even more important, as too many synthesizers sound “fat” (and that’s it). Only few instruments are able to fill up other important areas of tonal character – I believe the Jupiter-4 is one of them …
Way back in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, you could easily pick up a Roland Jupiter-4 for a mere 500 Euros / USD. Those were the days! During the last years, however, prices went through the roof. Be prepared to pay at least 10 times more nowadays. As of 2022, prices range from 4,000 to 7,000 Euros / USD. Hard times.
I‘ll make it short: I recommend picking up a Jupiter-4 and modifying it with MIDI or CV/Gate. It’s worth it! Admittedly, the Jupiter can sound terrible, but it shouldn’t take too long to learn how to program it (the Jupiter-4 is no complicating machine). And while all other synths in your setup already sound “fat”, you’re wise and switch the Jupiter-4 to PolyMode to get those meaty, simple, but “human” tone colours. Soon you’ll be quite happy with this great synthesizer. And you’ll never let it go!
In the public mind, the Jupiter-4 is no classic analog synth. It’s just an anlog polysynth that looks a little stupid. But I think it is one of the most intriguing music instruments Roland ever made. The Jupiter-4 offers a unique sound …
… with a character of its own.
We have attached 40 minutes of audio material. Most of what you hear is the Roland Jupiter-4, either soloistic, or in a mix. And yes, we used a late Jupiter-4 version, so it has IR3109 VCFs.
Polyphonic Analog Synthesizer
4 Voices, Arpeggiator
Good work Theo! Great review and super demos.
Thanks for finally reviewing and demoing this piece of history. But come on Theo, you mentioned “ugly duckling” way too often :)
Whatever Pete Forrest said, JP4 is beautiful looking and awesome sounding instrument. It really is. A crossbread design with CR78 buttons, SH series panel controls and a touch of the wood for that classical appearance.:)
I would recommand Io midi kit that really squeezes out so many additional controls for all of us; mouse clikers.
Btw, is your JP early serial with BA662 filters?
… you’re absolutely right – too many “ugly ducklings” :o)
Yes, mine is an early Jupiter-4 …
Great article! Very thoughtful.
I couldn’t agree with your comments by the way. “Fat” is far from the whole story.
I owned a Jupiter 8 in Mint Mint Mint condition for over 10 years, and I used it less than 10x. It never did it for me. Too sterile sounding. I never gelled with my Jupiter 6 either. I kept that one for only 2 years. But, I’m very xcited about getting my Jupiter 4! It’s got character, and that’s worth a LOT – something the JP8 doesn’t have at all. It’s so sterile it sounds digital (imho). A MemoryMoog – now there’s a big poly with character. I also love the Trident, the Andromeda and the CS80. Throw in an OBX – just for insurance, and you’ll never need another thing, as far as poly’s go. Ok, fine. A Quadra just for a diff’t string flavour, but that’s it! : )
Thanks for the article. You helped me make the decision!
… hi Benny …
I totally agree: the Jupiter-8 sound is too perfect. It misses some (important) analog inaccuracies. MemoryMoog, Trident, CS80 … these are the great polysynths! MY personal favourite is the Prophet-5 (and the OB-8). And don’t forget the Chroma …
Hope you like the “monster” Jupiter-4 …
(I’m quite shure you will :o)
I have a JP8, JP6, JP4, Trident, Memorymoog, and a whole bunch of other stuff too, and I’m not sure what you mean when you say the 8 sounds digital lol. It’s the prettiest of the big guys, but still definitely very, very big and analog sounding. It was the height of vco poly achievement, it’s not really fair to compare it to earlier, more unstable designs, it is its own thing.
… you’re right. Comparisons are often not very useful (I agree). Well, the Jupiter-8 is, let’s say, “analog, but with major characteristics of the digital area that followed”. Its sound is highly precise and very tight. It has none of the analog imperfections that make Oberheim and Sequential synthesizers so unique. It is far more realiable, a real PRO synth in every sense … with very few inaccuracies. But therefore it misses a strong “own” personality (compared with, let’s say, a Prophet-5, an Oberheim OB-Xa, or a Memorymoog). Same with the Jupiter-6 … extremely precise … another PRO synth, but missing the extra extra in character. It’s the Jupiter-4 that offers that wildness and roughness … it’s the most characteristic analog polysynth Roland released, in my opinion.
These are very personal assessments, of course … so, I’m sure there are many musicians who’d evaluate the instruments completely different … there’s no “right” or “wrong” … it’s all about characterizing personal experiences …
I own right now, from back in the day a jup8, a jup 6 a pro 5 xpander and 6r amongst other delights. In no way shape or form is the jp8, digitally precise. There is a nice drift, use your lfo and modulation, slightly detune one voice and you are away. Out of his list the pro5 sounds the cleanest hands down. The ob X is awesome but the most fragile of the lot. The jup 4 is gritty and a fabulous thing, it is on my hunt a clean one at £2000 list
My Jupiter 4 is the one musical instrument I would keep if I had to get rid off all the others I own. Yes, it only has one VCO per voice. Yes, it only has four voices. But it sounds fantastic and I find it so easy to get great sounds out of. Listen to Simple Minds “Empire And Dance”, “Sons And Fascination” and “Sister Feelings Call” albums – dominated by a pair of Jupiter 4 synths producing incredible sounds. It’s also proved to be robust and reliable, unlike any other synth that I’ve owned either old or new. Mine has the CHD Elektroservis MIDI retrofit, plus the Io programmer upgrade. You can hear it in action on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk5xX-OqDYdfSGnuq9ZyMvg
My JUP4 sits right between the Prophet-5 and the Jupiter-8, and believe me, it’s no ugly duckling!
Dood, I absolutely agree. The Jupiter-8 is the must lush-sounding analog of them all. Like present-day analogs (Dave Smith et al) it is much more precise than the other “big guys” and therefore sometimes less “analog”-sounding. But try it in DUAL mode and it brings character like no other.
… yes, I agree – and I apologize. It “looks” a little old-fashioned, but in fact the Jupiter-4 is unique … one of the best analog synths ever made! Fast envelopes, massive oscillator(s), strong VCF, wide-range LFO … so many goodies!
I have 1 of those Jupiter 4 synthesizers which I`m trying to sell.
It was my brother`s originally who has passed. I have a fair bit of his equipement, most of which is for sale.
I have seen the prices for these machines & am thankfull as I was thinking of asking around £75 each (for this & a casio), with a 3 level stand & some mic stands.
Now that I know they are worth a lot more, naturally I`d like a decent price for it.
The 1 I have is in a little more tired shape than those I`ve seen here. I plugged it in & the power LED does not come on. I thought it may be completely broken, when a few mins later I noticed another LED come on, (on the LFO section), then fade & go off again. This continued, the LED pulses on & off at the same interval.
I have not plugged any amp or anything into it yet, so have not heard it, nor know if any sound will come out of it.
Dependant on what is wrong with it, I`m wondering how much it may cost to have it refurbished.?
I would like to either refurbish it & sell it for around 2 – 3 grand, or, sell it to someone for around 1 grand for them to then have it refurbished to sell or keep for themselves.
Can anyone tell me roughly how much these things cost to refurbish and/or if anyone is interested in buying it.
… I think you can ask 1200 – 1400 Euros for a non-working Jupiter-4. These instruments normally can be fixed (“I” wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t an experienced synth technician, best if a skilled person does the work) … it should be possible to bring a Jupiter-4 back to life for 500-600 Euros, maybe even less. Keeping all the required shipping costs and packing (transportation) in mind, the final price of “close to” 2000 Euros (plus all the work coming with it) seems fair to me.
If the synthesizer is up and running properly (“you” fixed it or someone else did), then 2000 – 2200 Euros might be a realistic price for a Jupiter-4 which comes in a “little more tired shape”, following your description. If the cosmetic condition is really good, though, 2500 – 2800 Euros are not out of reach …
Pessoal, eu tenho um só que preciso restaurá-lo
Como não tenho dinheiro quero vendê-lo apesar de não o querer fazer…
Se alguém quiser comprar contacte me
Sou de portugal
Guys i need some help.
I have a jupiter 4 with cv gate modification but im a noob.
What i want is to use it in ableton like a midi instrument.
Also i want to record the filter as a midi track.
I know we can use the filter on the pitchband but thats a last solution.
Laszlo is impossible to reach for the midikit i tried for 3 months now.
Please any tips from u guys the specialists.
… hi Roland.
Various possibilities. With CV/Gate you need a MIDI-CV/Gate converter. Like the Doepfer MCV4 (see http://www.doepfer.de/mcv4.htm), price 110 Euros. Or one of the powerful Kenton MIDI-CV converters, there are other manufacturers as well. Regarding Ableton, you simply play the Jup4 via MIDI (Computer MIDI out – Converter MIDI in – Converter CV/GATE out – JUP 4 CV/GATE in) … you probably know the procedure. As for VCF via MIDI track … you can not record the Jup4 VCF slider movements, but with the same converter box we talked above you simply use one of the extra CV Outs to connect it with the Jupiter-4 VCF (CV) input. For example: CV3 out of the Doepfer MCV4 box is the velocity track (while CV1 is Note On/off). Thus, a certain Ableton MIDI track would not only control the Jupiter-4 notes, but also – via velocity – its filter …
Other than CV/Gate, you can also install a full MIDI kit. Examples:
– Kenton (https://kentonuk.com/product/roland-jupiter-4/), not cheap, but lots of functions (incl VEL and AT), definitely excellent quality
– CHD Elektroservice (http://www.chd-el.cz/index.php?id=403&lngid=en), really affordable, less functions than the Kenton kit (but with pitch bend control feature … so you can again address MIDI data to the VCF … via virtual pitchbend movements), sometimes problems with hardware (that’s at least our experience) …
Hope there’s some useful information for you …
But the MCV4 and i guess the Kenton ones through the gates of the jupiter you can only play one voice and not 4 right ?
So better save money for a Kenton Kit ?
… there are polyphonic MIDI-CV interfaces (such as the Vermona qMI 2 quad MIDI interface – https://www.vermona.com/en/products/modules/product/qmi-2/) … Nevertheless, a Kenton Retrofit kit would be the most eleganz solution (but also the expensiest, I have to agree). Greeting, Theo
Great read here Theo. Since this post, Cherry Audio has released a soft version of this called Mercury 4. To boot – none other than Greg Hawkes of The Cars is praising it. (Among others from the same era). For 29 bucks? It’s totally worth it.