Roland JV-80

There's not a lot of information out there about the JV-80, it's basically known as the precursor to the hugely popular Super JV/XP series of Roland ROMplers/workstations (and then XV, which turned into Fantom) and that's about it.  I've had the rack version (JV-880) and one of the keyboard variations (JV-90) for a while now so I thought I'd share some information about these synths and what they're good for.  They are fairly capable synthesizers that are often overlooked as just simple ROMplers.


Roland's first digital synth, the D-50, was released in 1987.  It was a very good sounding synth that was capable of covering digital and analog type sounds.  They designed a couple other synths with this technology (the MT-32, and D-5, 10, 20, 110) while at the same time they introduced some semi-pro ROMplers (the U series).  These ROMplers were just that, very simple single voice ROM playback instruments with no filter.  Their next step was developing what was to be their top of the line U series, the U-50.  This synth was basically a U series x4 voices plus filters, so now approaching the synthesizing depth of the D-50.  Hearing that the D-50 was still selling quite well, they decided at the last minute to call it the D-70.  Unfortunately it was plagued by unnecessarily complicated interface and poor documentation.

The D-70 not being that successful, they took the technology and experimented with a couple of different directions.
In one direction they decided to make the biggest baddest synth they could from this technology, the JD-800.  Essentially upping the specs a bit and adding vintage style fader controls, this was an extremely powerful digital synth and is still highly regarded today.  In the other they made a keyboard similar to the D-70 but much easier to use and not quite as ambitious in sound, the JV-80.  Where the JD-800 had focused on synthesizing your own complex sounds, the JV-80 was an attempt to provide a keyboard with many polished presets derived from a relatively small waveform sample set.  Comparable in many ways to the earlier U series with it's included rhythm section and multi-instrument performance mode.  Roland quickly figured out that the "preset box" was a very popular idea and eventually capitalized on it with the JV-1080 Super JV.


Now due to it's marketed reputation as just a box of preset sounds people tend to overlook these synths as nothing more than sample playback machines.  However these are fairly powerful fully functioning synthesizers with a relatively easy to learn editing interface.  If you know something about subtractive synthesis it shouldn't take you long to figure out the parameters.  If you don't know anything about subtractive synthesis, go read a basic guide on it (the JD-800 manual has a good introduction), watch a couple youtube videos on it, etc. and come back and you should find it quite simple to get into.  It's definitely capable of operating as a sort of ghetto JD-800.  While the filter, waveform fidelity, and effects are not quite up to the level of the JD-800 with a little effort you can get some nice sounds from it.  Interestingly, the JV-80, JD-800, and D-50 all have roughly the same amount of samples, and roughly the same kind of samples, many of them being based on samples that originated with the D-50.

The sound of the JV-80 is quite beefy and punchy.  It is capable of some earth shaking bass.  Try the JP-8 Pad patch or Doom Bass patch (from Contemporary Composer card or included on JV-90) in a stereo setup for maximum fatness and you will see what I mean.  It might not have quite the clarity of the later Super JV stuff.  The filter is not as perfectly smooth as the D-50 or JD-800.  It noticeably steps through the sweep but the Alpha Juno/MKS-50 also had this.  Unless you're sitting there carefully listening for it you wont notice.  It's like this because they made the roll off sweep linearly across the frequency spectrum so a good 2/3s or 3/4s of the values are devoted to the upper frequencies where it's impossible to detect any change so it has the effect of almost the entire filter sweep being jammed into the bottom 40 values.  odd.  oh well.

Wave List

I have made a closer analysis of the similarities between the sample sets in these early Roland synths and written it up here.  JV-80 Waveform Info

Variations of the JV-80

     The JV-880

The JV-880 is the rackmount version of the JV-80.  The benefit of this is obviously that you can get the same sounds as you can get from the JV-80 keyboard out of a 1U rack space.  This can be useful for adding some extra sounds to your rig or just increasing the polyphony of your JV-80.  The only actual upgrade that it has over the JV-80 is that it has four outs; main (L+R) and sub (L+R).  You could potentially use this to send instruments out of exclusive outputs to process them in different ways.

However it also lacks a lot more functionality than you might think by just being a JV-80 sans-keyboard.  All the functions in the JV-80 like keyboard splitting, using the sliders to control level of tones (or for anything else), and the C1 slider are built into the JV-80 itself.  There is no way to control those things on the JV-880.  There is no CC# for any of these things.  Using a JV-880 in a split setup is completely reliant on the controlling keyboard.  You have to create a split into different MIDI channels and set the JV-880 performance parts to different channels.  Another drawback is it's small screen which pretty much guarantees you'll be making patches for it on a computer or actual JV-80.  Also, it really would have been nice if it had inputs for expression and sustain, but at least you can control those via MIDI.  There's also no presence control, but it seems like they've fixed it at a fairly tame setting, so that's fine.

     The JV-90 and JV-1000

The JV-90 is kind of a big brother version of the JV-80.  Similar to how the Yamaha DX-7 had deluxe versions in the DX-1 and DX-5, the JV-80 had the JV-90.  There is an extra octave of keys (they got rid of the key weights though probably because of problems with the glue for the weights on the JV-80.  they are somewhat notorious for melting into a sticky mess.)  The JV-90 can also be expanded with optional expansion boards known as the VE-JV1 and the VE-GS1.  These add many many banks of new sounds and double the polyphony as they act as a separate module even with their own MIDI connections but they are not editable and have no user memory.

It has a few extra waveforms for the piano and drum kit, so it's actually capable of a decent piano.  The rest of the waveforms are the same so for the most part it can share patches with the JV-80.  They doubled the amount of preset patches adding all the sounds from the contemporary composer card and many more.  These widely cover many categories that the JV-80 barely has any patches for.

The JV-1000 is a JV-90 with a built in MC-50 sequencer.  So kind of a proto-XP workstation.

     Super JV

With the JV-1080 the next generation of the technology was introduced, called Super JV. The JV-80 and Super JV all use the exact same 8-bit 30kHz digitally compressed samples, the difference is the Super JV has a much faster processor for smoother sounding glitch free envelopes and it incorporated the filter from the JD series.  Also, the JV-80, 1080, and 2080 all had different digital to analog converters that impacted their sound in different ways.  Many people seem to regard the JV-1080 as sounding the best of the three. JV-80 is considered to be more punchy, JV-1080 more full and clear, and the JV-2080 similar to the former but maybe a little darker and it has some decay noise.

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