The Roland JD-800 Synthesizer

The Roland JD-800 is a classic digital synth that stands out for its incredibly hands-on interface.

The JD-800 was introduced in 1991, at a time when menu-driven digital synths dominated the market. Roland responded by creating a synth that they wanted to be easy to program and play:

‘The JD-800 is designed to make it fun to create sounds. So please go ahead and move those sliders! We hope you will make lots of different sounds; original sounds with which to play your original music.”

– from the JD-800 manual

In this video, composer Paul Baraka demos the factory presets of the Roland JD-800, and then offers a small review of the synth.


16 thoughts on “The Roland JD-800 Synthesizer

    1. Actually this demo vid isn’t great. It shows presets which SUCK on the JD! The synth can do so much more, partly why people misjudge it. There are much better JD-800 vids out there (Check retrosound for example). The thing is near analog in places and does more besides, very clear and wooshy filter that normally takes expensive analog to get close to!

      This is NOT a rompler as many of the presets would imply.

  1. The JD800 is my favorite ROLAND synth of all times.
    It also was an amazing control surface to program the “Super JD990” (JD800 rack version)

    Sadly the JD800 have a famous issue with the keyboard hardware construction, mine stop working for that reason.

    I never buy again a Roland Synths because nothing they produce compare to this amazing machine.

      1. I used to have one of these. Some guy purchased it from me on a payment plan. He gave me $100 up front and haven’t seen him since.

    1. same here. i loved that synth till it broke for the 4th time in a row. i had to sell it. and like you, i never got another Roland product.

      just opened the box was an experience i will not have again. a moment of pure happiness.
      in my mind, this is what a synthesizer should look like.

  2. I have one, and my keyboard’s got the dreaded red glue auto destruct thing going;
    but I do have the string card, and still after twenty years I am finding new sounds.
    Alas there is no lfo midi sync, for there are eight per patch.. The JD990 though,
    allows interaction between the 4 partials that make up a patch (4 lots of 52
    sliders to program !), and a ring mod over the 800, which as a previous poster
    says, can be used as an editor for the 990. Think ‘the prodigy’, they used it a lot.

  3. I’ve got a JD-800 and have had over 35 synths in my time, I’m now down to basically a JD-800 and an analog. Skriptico is obviously either trying to get the prices down so he can buy one OR has never actually played one and making false statements.

    JD-800 has it’s faults but it is never boring, that is if you actually know how to program synths rather than playing just the presets. Some of the presets and overly digital sounds really do sound a bit naff, like any digital of the day the thing is this synth has a great engine inside and crucially probably the best interface any synth ever had (including analog and that’s because with most analogs they are not that deep so even if slider laden they are fairly simple things, even something like a Jupiter 8!) with the power this synth has, and the 4 layers of individual multi band filters and 2 LFOs per layer and 3 envelopes per layer (so let’s see thats: 4 filters, 8 LFOs and 12 envelopes per 4 tone patch!) you really NEED an imagination and the skills to get the best from it.

    Simply selected a bog standard preset and tweaking the cut-off slider will only get you so far and is a waste of this beast’s potential!

    Aside from how good it is to program, it’s basic sound is also great. Not if you are trying to pianos etc but for ‘synth sounds’ especially gritty bass/lead and amazing epic filter swept pads, there’s little out there that sounds as good. A true super analog obv sounds warmer, beefier and punchier but you’d be suprised how the JD-800 actually DOES sound better than some lesser analogs. It’s filter is a work of magic, god knows how they got that sound from a digital filter but it’s better than many of their own analogs (IE the JX-8P which sounds uninspired and ugly by comparison to a JD).

    Also important to note, aside from the occasinal building block making it sound a bit rompler-ish, it’s not strictly a rompler. It’s not a synth that contains a recording of a perfect sound in 1991 that now sounds dated (like the horrible Korg M1) it contains only tiny snippets of texture, many of them and the ones Roland steer you to using being the first 13 or so wave portions which are saw, square, pulse etc. These are PCM samples of analog synths basic oscillators which are then passed through the rest of the machine (and that great filter as mentioned), this really does give it more a virtual analog vibe than a ‘pure rompler’ but unlike VA this thing has sheen and presence and doesn’t SOUND like software! It sounds beautiful and weighty.

    Lastly the looks – what a machine! Have never seen such a beautiful synth (in the tech/machine sense) than JD-800, and a great choice on LED colours, and metal finish (only the end caps are plastic – ALL the middle is metal/brushed metal – looks amazing when it catches the light). This was some love letter to synth fans in 1991 and I bet Roland felt rightly upset when the masses didn’t take to it as they expected (not for any fault of the synth just the time it was released)

    With modern love of ‘hands on’ the JD-800 has had a re-birth and people are finding out it’s engine is more than capable of producing ear splitting filter effects (yes it self oscillates like a proper ‘wet sounding’ analog!) and as said the filter does sound nicer or as nice as many of my past analogs includ some VCOs with SSM filters! It’s not quite the same, it’s digital of course, but you know what? in a song it doesn’t matter at all, it’s base texture and sonic quality sound better than nearly any other digital i can think of and better than many cheap analogs.

    If you are a synth fan and have never tried a JD-800 (and PROGRAMMED IT well) then you owe it to yourself to try!

    10/10 for this beauty.

  4. Yey!!!
    Just picked up a JD-800 for $260!!!
    Three dead momentary switches needed replacement, fixed in one afternoon
    and this thing is as good as new!
    Also, I really lucked out – absolutely no sign of dripping red glue on the keybed,
    perhaps this one has been serviced 🙂

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