Oct 29

INTRODUCING THE ROLAND JUPITER 50

Yes I have one in my mitts to seriously take a good look at and discover what it is that everyone is talking about in the new Roland Jupiter 50. I know it is very lightweight 76 note keyboard and costs about a £1000 less than its bigger much heavier brother the Jupiter 80 but just how good does it sound and practically how good is it to take on the road with its cost cutting reductions? These and many other burning questions I have as I delve deeper into its charms and hopefully not too many disappointments.

JUPITER 50 OUT OF THE BOX

Yes it is very light, weighing just an incredible 11 kg which is just 24 lbs. 5 oz. – how do they do it? Well the answer is partly to do with the fact that there are no metal ends, these are now plastic and the whole keyboard is much thinner. Its sizes are – 1268 mm (49-15/16 inches) wide by 361 mm (14-1/4 inches) deep and just 117 mm (4-10/16 inches) high. Despite this lightness and thinness it still feels sturdy enough. From a gigging point of view- it is excellent – most keyboard players will be able to carry it under one arm.

As I take off the standard wrapper, its looks, remind me more of a Juno Stage rather than a Jupiter 80. The most obvious and controversial point is that there is no beautiful colour touch screen as there is on the 80. This no doubt contributes to weight loss as it has been replaced by a 240 x 64 pixel display. This is not necessarily going to be a problem because both the Jupiter 50 and 80 can be edited with ease using their free iPad App. “OK if you have an iPad” I hear you say. Well if you haven’t, please read on because as I use the smaller screen over the next couple of weeks, I will assess what difficulties (if any) it causes me. Obviously it is not going to be as good as the iPad because this is exceptionally clear and easy to see what is going on at the heart of the Jupiters.

Also in the box is a CD-ROM (USB Audio/MIDI Driver), a DVD-ROM for Sonar X1 LE, a USB Memory Protector and the AC Adapter and Power Cord. This keyboard only comes with a limited 1 year warranty.

SOUNDS, TONES, LIVE SETS, REGISTRATIONS AND SUPERNATURAL

This at first glance is a little bit confusing, so I will try and make this clear so that you don’t have to spend the time that I have on this. So far I have noticed that everyone who tries playing a Jupiter 50 in the shops starts by playing the first Registration [01] 1-1Chain Saw and thinks yeah this sounds great and works their way through the registrations and then disappointingly soon discovers that it stops on [01] 4-4 Hit – what only 16 registrations? Where are all the sounds? Most of us are used to keyboards that contain samples that you don’t see that much. Theses samples are then tweaked to form single patches and then you combine, layer and split these to form combinations. Roland’s design team have gone for a different approach with the Jupiters.

The smallest unit of sound in the Jupiter 50 is called a “Tone”; this consists of a SuperNATURAL sound. Roland state that these are proprietary Roland sounds created using Behavior Modeling Technology, which enables natural and rich expression that was difficult to achieve on earlier sound generators. There are 117 ‘Preset’ SuperNATURAL Acoustic Tones and 1909 ‘User’ SuperNATURAL Synth Tones pre-loaded and additional blank Synth Tones giving you a maximum of 2048. Each SuperNATURAL Synth Tone incorporates three Oscillator, Filter, Amp, and LFO sets; this means that powerful synth sounds can be created using just a single tone.

A Live Set consists of up to four of these tones layered, giving you very expressive sounds that you’ll mainly be playing on the Jupiter 50. There are 2321 Live Sets pre-loaded which you can edit / over-write and additional blank live sets giving you a maximum of 2560. Live Sets are assigned to something called the Upper Part.

In addition to the Upper Part, the Jupiter 50 lets you assign SuperNATURAL tones to a Percussion/Lower Part and to a Solo Part, allowing you to use sounds for a total of three parts. The combination of sounds assigned to each part, along with the Jupiter 50’s settings, are collectively called a “Registration.”
By calling up a registration, you can instantly switch sounds as appropriate for the song you’re playing, or switch setups for live performance or studio recording. There is space for 128 Registrations which should be enough for most live performances. Don’t forget that most of the time you will probably be using a Live Set patch from the 2560 of them. Also you can easily import the Jupiter 80’s Live Sets and Synth Tones into the Jupiter 50 via USB stick. I will try and do this from a download of Jupiter 80 sounds. Something worth saying again because it keeps fooling me is that a Registration has a Live Set in the Upper part but the lower and solo parts do not consist of Live Sets they are tones. I am not aware that any other keyboard is set up this way.

COLOURS AND CONTROLS

Without counting the keys themselves, the Jupiter 50 is divided in 12 sections. Eight on the top row, 3 on the second and the last is the modulation button and scene selector buttons. OK let’s start with the top row of eight which has six sections clearly labelled in bright orange. First off you have the concealed USB socket. Next is the D Beam with three buttons to control Pitch or Volume or alternatively assign something of your own choice. The third section is the Volume knob and Reverb button whereby you can easily turn Off or On a Live Set’s Reverb – very handy. The forth section is Control which gives you a Cutoff and Resonance knobs and buttons for; Arpeggiator hold, Arpeggiator Lower Part, Arpeggiator Upper Part, Tempo, Transpose, Octave Down, Octave Up and a MIDI Visual Control On/Off button. Section 5 contains the part balance and selector controls. Here you have a slider to adjust the volume of each Part, or the volume of each layer in the Live Set. You then have On and Off buttons for each of the three parts. The sixth section contains the LCD which has eight buttons underneath for; Menu, Function key buttons F1 to F6 and a Shift button. After the LCD is Section 7 the Value section providing you with the usual navigation type buttons for; Write, Increase and Decrease values, four-way cursor buttons, Main Value dial, Exit and Enter buttons. Lastly on this row – Section 8 is the Song Player and Recorder controls. OK there is quite a bit there but it is all very self-explanatory and set out clearly.

The next row introduces the famous colours of the Jupiters which really aid the sound selection process. You will probably notice that there are no under-panel registration buttons as you will find on the Jupiter 80 but four of these can be found on the 50’s main panel. OK the second row starts with the smallest section of the three – The Rotary Sound section with just two buttons to turn it Off/On or adjust the speed Slow/Fast. Next up is the Registration Section with six buttons as follows:- a Manual Button which selects a simple Registration in which only the Upper Part will be heard, a Bank Button and four Registration buttons 1 to 4. The last section is the biggest and allows you to select the tones for the parts. First off are four buttons to select Percussion, Lower Part, Split and Harmony Intelligence. Next is the Green Section with 15 instrument category buttons to select the Upper part and an alternate button to call up different sounds that are similar to the sounds of the Upper Part sound buttons. You then have the Blue Section with 4 instrument category buttons to select the Solo Part and again there is an Alternate button for the Solo Part. The last button is another Split button but this time for the Solo Part. How can anyone say you don’t have much control over this keyboard?

ROLAND JUPITER 50 LCD AND MENUS

As you power up (which by the way is very quick to load – well done Roland ), the first screen shows the name of the currently selected Registration, the sound and volume of each Part, and the split status. I thought this screen was very clear and gave me all the necessary information I wanted quickly.

Something that I learnt quickly here is spending a little time reading up on the shortcuts to get to screens. The Shift key is used extensively here and you can do things like Shift and F1 to take you straight to the Registration Screen or Shift and Assignable to access the D-Beam Assign Setting Screen.

Another useful tip is if you hold down the SHIFT button while editing a parameter’s value, the value will change in larger steps for you to quickly move through hundreds of sounds.

JUPITER 50 SINGLE PART PLAY

There is one thing I cannot understand as to why you cannot display all of the Live Sets chronologically and with the name of the live set in a font equal to that of what you input when you name the live set. I do not know of any other keyboard that does not do this. There appears to be a rather odd looking (almost pointless) screen that shows SINGLE PART PLAY. I understand the purpose of Registrations but the words “Live Set” give you the impression that you will be using these most of the time. I put this question to Roland UK who have passed this on to the developers in Japan with the hope like me, that a future O/S update could address this.

WHAT DOES THE JUPITER 50 SOUND LIKE?

Well the keyboard can produce up to six sounds at a time. It is really has the best of two worlds with fantastic SuperNatural Synth Tones as well as the truly authentic SuperNatural Acoustic tones which are just so perfect. It is hard not to like the Jupiter and I was very pleased to be saying not just that I like that sound but that I really like that. When I audition presets, I also have an ear open to think about “is the sound useable?” Whilst there are sounds that I consider to be only useful for people writing film scores, I have to appreciate that there needs to be something for everyone. Yes I would love Roland to custom make a synth to my specifications but at the end of the day if I don’t like it, I can edit it to something that is useable to me and carry out my own customisation.

It can recreate famous analogue synths and sounds that are completely up-to-date 2012 style. Something that helped this (that was not on the original Jupiter 80) was the addition of three new low-pass filter options all with 12dB/oct and 24dB/oct options. Overall this is a great sounding Synth and I am sure has loads more potential for someone to pull out from it. It is also interesting to hear the incredible power difference between a Registration and a Live Set.

THE JUPITER 50 ARPEGGIATOR

Arpeggios can be played in the Percussion/Lower Part when lower tone is selected and the Upper Part. There are 128 factory styles but just 16 memories for user styles. There are four dedicated buttons for Hold, On and Off for Lower and Upper and Tempo. They are all easy to use and the screens they display are easy to understand. To change the style and select from amongst the 128 you need to hold the Shift key down and press the Arp lower or upper button. You can also create your own original arpeggio style by importing an SMF (Standard MIDI File).

IMPORTING JUPITER 80’s LIVE SETS AND SYNTH TONES

I have downloaded the Jupiter 80’s Analog Synth Collection. There are two folders named SOUND and BACKUP. Inside the SOUND folder are two files: – Analog Synth bk.svd and Analog Synth bk.bin. Inside the BACKUP folder are also two files:- JP80.svd and JP80.bin. I have created a folder called ROLAND on my memory stick and saved the two folders SOUND and BACKUP inside the ROLAND folder. This is so that the Jupiter 50 will recognise them.

If I go to the Utility Menu and choose “Import” and press Enter, it gives me an Import (Select Sources) screen. There are then three choices Registrations, Live Sets and Tones. There are no Registrations in this set so I selected Live Sets and pressed F6. This now gives me the option to select the desired live set and then choose the F4 Mark button or the F5 Markall button. Finally there is an F6 Import button which takes you to a screen for you to specify the destination for the imported JP80 Live Set. The LCD screen was self-explanatory and it all worked well. I now have some interesting Analog sounds to play with.

JUPITER 50 EDIT AND iPAD

I found that I could edit Tones, Live Sets and Registrations on the LCD but obviously this is much easier on the iPad. The iPad App shows all what you need on one page. In the top left-hand corner there is a Read button and as you press this it displays all the settings for the current patch you have on your Jupiter, giving you full control over your synth creation and synth editing.

JUPITER 50 SONG PLAYER AND RECORDER

The USB Memory Song Player/Recorder plays back audio files in WAV, MP3 or AIFF that you’ve copied from your computer to a USB flash drive. You can also record the JUPITER-50’s performance and save it as a WAV file. This is great fun making your own backing files and playing over the top. This could add all sorts of data / samples to your live performance. What is also great is the WAV files will play up to 24 bit, 96 Hz. I tried playing some mp3’s that I had and they all played extremely well and you had some options to adjust the volume, the speed and the pitch as well as loop particular parts to practice and chain songs – excellent. Again the LCD screen was easy to use here.

CONNECTIONS ON THE JUPITER 50

The Connections start on the left with three Pedal Jack inputs for Hold, Control 1 and Control 2 for expression pedals to control various parameters or functions such as Aftertouch. Next is a Display Contrast dial and then MIDI In and Out. In the middle is a USB 1 socket to connect your computer. On the right you have a stereo audio input which has a level dial. There are then stereo unbalanced quarter-inch sockets for the Sub outputs, stereo quarter-inch TRS jacks for the main audio outputs and an output for stereo headphones, a stereo audio input. That just leaves to power supply input and the On/Off switch. I really like the flexible use of the Sub Outputs for Live Playing. Here you can connect speakers for use as monitors, or for outputting only the reverb sound. The system setting “Output Assign” specifies which sounds will be output from the Main Outs and the Sub Outs jacks. This could be either the Upper Part, Solo Part, Percussion/Lower Part, the Reverb sound, The sound from the USB memory song player and the AUDIO IN jack or the metronome sound.

JUPITER 50 ACCESSORIES

There is a handy Bag you can get for your Jupiter 50. The reference number is CB-76RL. This looks ideal to protect it in transit and storage. It has a large outer pocket and an inner pouch for storing AC adaptors and other small items. Interior cushion pads help protect your 50s controllers, knobs and bender levers.

CONCLUSION

Well what a fun and large review this has been. There are a lot of words here but still I have hardly touched the surface. I have enjoyed my time with the Jupiter 50. There is a little bit of a learning curve here but it is worth making the effort.
To summarise my thoughts on the LCD screen, I think for the majority of tasks it works very well and Roland have done a good job here. I think for sound creation I prefer to do this with the iPad.

If you intend using the Jupiter 50 in the studio, then you really do have a quality workstation and it is even better if you are a Sonar user as the Jupiter becomes the ideal controller for Sonar. If you are not a Sonar user, it can be adapted for your DAW or alternatively you can use the included Sonar LE software. The SuperNatural sounds are very realistic, smooth and warm but can also be very punchy. It is hard not to love the sound of the Jupiter and I am sure you will agree if you try one.

If you are a live performer and are weighing up whether or not to get the Jupiter 50 or 80, then it really depends on a few things. Looking at the Jupiter 50, with its fantastic sound, excellent weight and price, you have to offset these against the negative issues. However, I feel that the iPad editor gives you the screen you would ideally want it to have. If the aftertouch doesn’t cause you too much of a problem or you are happy to assign it to a footswitch for example this is fine. The 128 polyphony is annoying but in most situations of live playing, it should not cause you too much of a problem. Obviously if you can afford the price of a Jupiter 80 and really want the colour touch screen, 256 polyphony and aftertouch, before you part with money, be sure that you are OK with carrying the extra 6.7 kg (14lbs 12oz) weight. Personally, I prefer the portability and price of the 50. So why not go and get one today at the best place around – just click this Orange Banner for a great price and great service:-

Absolute Music

2 Responses

  1. Nick Says:

    Hey! Great review! Thanks for posting. I wanted to ask you something. I’m a producer and sound designer, and I’ve been thinking of buying this synth, but I find the sound editing part a bit confusing since roland desperately tries to difference itself from other brands by using unheard therms for things like timbres or oscillators.For example, I know the new KingKorg has 2 timbres, each with 3 oscillators, making that a total of 6 oscillators available per program.
    How does this work on a Roland JP50? Is it easy to start a sound from scratch? How many oscillators can I use per program?

    Thanks in advance
    Nick

  2. tonylongmusic Says:

    Nick,

    Have a look at some of the You Tube Clips on the Roland Jupiter 50, personally I think if you are intending to build sounds from scratch, you would need to use their iPad App.

    Thanks
    Tony

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