Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New Equipment: Roland JU-06

The JU-06 sitting atop its ailing predecessor, the HS-60 (Juno-106S).
Since the last update I've been spending a lot of time at Wild Bill's Studio working on other people's projects. The only project of my own that's seen any advancement is the new Disco Antenna record (Side B), which is just awaiting some last-minute vocals. With Christmas approaching like a bat out of hell, I'm looking to complete at least five tracks for the new Manitou album.

One of the things that's been holding me up is my ailing Roland HS-60. Ever since I rescued it from a thrift store, the integrity of its circuitry has been slowly disintegrating, to the point that it now pops and crackles like a popular breakfast cereal whenever I turn it on. The album in question relies heavily on its contribution. A lot of the parts were written using TAL's excellent U-NO-LX software (Juno 60 emulation). But the problem with that is this: any time you multi-track the same patch, an unflattering chorus effect is produced. Something to do with the digital waveforms being too similar. Something sciency, at any rate.

The JU-06, then, promised to be a new DSP/hardware emulation of the Juno-106/HS-60, and hopefully an answer to my problems. So far it's delivered, sound-wise - if not in other areas. Time will tell if it truly is a replacement for the original.

Here are some first impressions. The controls are a little smaller, but not terrible to work with. It sounds very close to the original. Recreating some of my U-NO-LX patches on it has accentuated the inaccuracies of that particular VST. I don't see this as a problem, however, since the U-NO brings its own flavour.

The USB and MIDI implementation are, quite frankly, terrible. For instance, USB is the only way to power it (aside from batteries) and doubles as MIDI and audio conduit. This would be fantastic but for one thing: when it interfaces with my DAW (Sonar 8 in this case) it becomes the sole audio interface, incapacitating my Focusrite Saffire Audio box that handles all my inputs and outputs. Luckily there are dedicated headphone and audio outs, and MIDI in/out jacks.

Connecting it into my rig was a complex operation. Mainly because of the way I have my MIDI controller (Akai MPK 25) set up. I use it for interfacing with VST's via USB. MIDI out and USB in/out can't be used at the same time, thus in order to control the JU-06 and VST's without unplugging this and plugging in that, the JU-06 needs its own USB-to-MIDI interface, then routing has to be done in Sonar so that MIDI out from the MPK points to MIDI in on the JU-06. Not a huge deal, but a person doesn't want to think about this kind of stuff when they want to make music!

One last gripe I'll mention about this synth: it can neither send nor receive sysex information. This would have been jolly handy for importing Juno-106 patches and exporting patches from the unit itself. However, the manual does state that the contents of the unit can be backed up via USB. I've not tried this yet - I was so annoyed by the audio interface screw-up that I uninstalled the USB driver - but this will bear investigating when I've filled the 64 patch memory slots.

So, it may sound like I'm 'hating' on this little machine, but for all its quirks it sounds amazing. And one thing I absolutely love about it is the ability to turn off the emulated chorus 'noise'. The HS-60 produces a barely audible white-noise sweep when you turn the chorus switches on. The JU-06 produces this same sound (a little louder and more digital, to my ears) but gives you the option of lowering it or turning it off completely. I used to run the HS-60 through noise-reduction software to overcome this. Some people might find that grounds for heresy, but I like a clean signal.

Now to get some work done!

Update: The JU-06 also choruses when the same patch is multi-tracked, but thankfully not when mixing it with U-NO-LX. I've also re-jigued my MIDI routing. The setup I described above would stop responding to MIDI input at random times. New configuration: MPK > computer via USB, MPK > JU-06 via MIDI Out, then the signal is routed through Sonar. Now that I know this is possible, I can route other synth modules in my collection in the same manner. I can see I'll be needing at least a 4-way MIDI switch box.

Update update: I'm pretty sure the 'chorusing' issue I'm hearing is simply a matter of the same chorus effect phasing when multi-tracked. Perhaps the HS-60 itself does this too and I just never noticed.

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