Over the weekend, full details leaked out about the new Roland Boutique synthesizer line – one of the most talked about introductions of the year.
The Boutique line will feature three new synths:
- The Roland Boutique JX-03 Synthesizer Module;
- The Roland Boutique JU-06 Synthesizer Module; and
- The Roland Boutique JP-08 Synthesizer Module.
While no official announcement has yet been made for the Boutique line, the leaked details and images have been given coverage across the web, even getting attention at Engadget. The coverage thus far, though, has not gone much deeper than a copy and paste of the leaked material.
Here’s our take on some of the most interesting facts about the three new synths – along with some important questions about the new synths that remain unanswered.
10 Facts About The 3 New Roland Boutique Synthesizers
- The Roland Boutique synthesizers are virtual analog synths that emulate classic Roland analog keyboards:
- The Roland JX-03 module is based on the JX-3P synth;
- The Roland JU-06 is a recreation of the iconic Juno-106 synthesizer; and
- The Roland JP-08 Synthesizer Module recreates the sound of the legendary Jupiter-8 synth.
- Each of the Boutique synths expand on the capabilities of their vintage counterparts:
- The JX-03 adds extra waveforms for the LFO and both DCOs, along with extended DCO range;
- The JU-06 adds a faster LFO and continuously variable HPF; and
- The JP-08 adds extra waveforms and an expanded VCO range.
- With at least the JP-08, Roland is using the same virtual analog technology, Analog Circuit Behaviour (ACB), that it’s used with the Aira line. While most virtual analogs are based on software recreations of basic synthesizers functions, ACB is based on recreating the behavior of individual electronic components, with their associated quirks, that make up classic synth circuit designs.
- The Roland Boutique synths use a new ‘keyboard optional’ synth design. One of the most common criticisms of many of the recent entry-level synth designs is that they use mini-keys. While mini-keys allow manufactures to keep the size and cost of synths down, they signal ‘toy’ to many players. The Boutique design makes the keyboard an optional accessory, which means the synths are designed to be used independently as synth modules, or in combination with the Roland K-25M USB MIDI mini-keyboard as a synth keyboard.
- The Boutique line signals a renewed emphasis on hands-on usability. All of the members of the Roland Boutique line have hands-on user interfaces that are inspired by their classic keyboard counterparts. In some ways, though, the Boutique line improves on the user interface of the originals. For example, the original JX-3P had a minimal interface and required the optional PG-200 controller, if you wanted hands-on tweakability. The Boutique version, the JX-03, inherits all 24 knobs from the PG-200, and adds additional features. Each of the Boutique synths have similarly tweakable interfaces, but tailored to their individual synth’s architecture.
- Unlike the originals, the Boutique line is designed for portability and mobile use. Each of the synth modules is surprisingly small – about 12″ wide x 5″ tall x 2″ deep – and weighs just over 2 lbs. And each Boutique synth can run on battery power. They even offer a built-in speaker for previewing sounds.
- The Boutique synths have limited polyphony, but can be chained together for more voices. Each of the Boutique synths is limited to four voices, like the Aira System-1, a voice count that Sound On Sound described as ‘miserly’ in their review. None of them match the polyphony of their vintage counterparts. But the Boutique synths are inexpensive, compared to vintage Roland synths, and are designed to be chained together for expanded polyphony.
- The Boutique synths are designed for modern workflows. Each of the new keyboards has a USB connector that double as both a power source for the keyboard and a 24 bit/ 44.1 kHz stereo IN/OUT interface for working with your DAW.
- The Boutique synths all feature ribbon controllers – ribbon controllers were relatively rare on vintage synths, but prized on the synths that offered them. All of the synths in the Boutique line offer dual ribbon controllers – for pitch bend, modulation, and sound preview.
- Each Boutique synth offers a 16-stage step sequencer, with 16 pattern memories. The onboard sequencer is scratchpad that lets you try out new ideas without bringing lots of gear – it can even be used without a keyboard. And if there’s no keyboard connected, the ribbon controller lets you preview the sound, making it an ideal way to program patches quickly and easily.
5 Questions To Be Answered About The Roland Boutique Synthesizers
While photos and features for the Roland Boutique synths have leaked, the information that we do know raises several questions:
- What do they sound like, and how well do they recreate their vintage counterparts? The Boutique synths appear to use a very similar architecture to the Roland System-1, which offers similar connectivity, polyphony & ACB technology. The sound of Roland’s System-1 emulations has largely been well-received, which bodes well for the Boutique line.
- Are the Boutique synths based on the System-1 synth? The Boutique synths have a lot of similarities to the System-1, featuring the same polyphony, similar connectivity and the same Analog Circuit Behaviour technology. Has Roland re-purposed the System-1 design to created inexpensive single-purpose polysynths? And, if so, will the Boutique synths eventually be avaialble for the System-1?
- What exactly is ’boutique’ or ‘limited’ about these synths? Roland describes the synths in the Boutique line as ‘limited-edition’, but it’s not clear what’s limited about them. Is manufacturing really limited to a certain number – or just limited to however many they can sell?
- Will these work with the AIRA MX-1? The MX-1 is designed to work in an integrated way with the AIRA synth line. While the Boutique synths look like they may have a similar architecture to the System-1, there’s no mention of compatibility with the MX-1.
- Will plug-in versions of the three new synth designs be made available? Roland has made each of the software synths designed for the System-1 platform available in several formats, including plug-in and plug-out versions.
Details on the Roland Boutique synths are still to be officially announced. In the meantime, though, let us know what you think of them – and what questions you have about them!