Roland is holding a YouTube video contest to get people to show off their JUNO keyboard synths. They’re not just talking the currently-available Roland keyboards that wear the JUNO badge, but the classic models going back to 1982.
“How Do You JUNO?” Video Contest [Roland US]
I like to disclose our partnerships upfront, so in the interest of disclosure: Roland US is currently promoting this campaign on CDM – thanks, Roland, for supporting the site. I can also tell you that personally, selfishly, I’d really love to see some great JUNO videos up on that YouTube channel, and that I suspect the take of some of you readers will be different. Also in the interest of really full disclosure – yeah, okay, I’m partial to the vintage JUNO. That’s my own personal bias. But I’m eager to see videos of whatever you’ve got. (Also, the JUNO-G is one of my favorite mainstream keyboards at the moment, for reasons I talk about below – it has the advantages of a workstation, like the ability to load custom waveforms and do onboard audio recording and sequencing, but without some of the bells and whistles a lot of us don’t want.)
I think it’s worth reviewing the history of the JUNO line. What it’s meant to be a “JUNO” has changed pretty radically over the years; a JUNO-D and a JUNO-6 might not recognize each other. It reflects some of the changing tastes and technologies in the industry. Sometimes that represents forward progress — hooray, MIDI and patch memory! But sometimes something is lost. The analog original is something special, and even Roland wound up bringing back retro-styled front-panel editing, missing on the JUNO-D, to the JUNO-G and JUNO-STAGE. It’s not about nostalgia: it’s about making something musically productive. In some ways, that’s brought us full circle.
1982: JUNO-6, JUNO-60. The original JUNO was a six-voice polyphonic analog synth. The distinctive, punchy analog sound was so beloved, it even inspired a meticulous emulation on a dedicated Linux machine. It also introduced Roland’s friendly-looking panel layout approach with big, clear labels and a spacious setup – something to which Roland themselves have recently returned. The JUNO-60 added patch memory storage. No MIDI, although there Roland later produced add-on hardware for MIDI control.
1984: JUNO-106. The 106 has a special place in history, not only a favorite of the 80s but ever since – it’s got six analog voices as on the original JUNO, plus one digitally-controlled oscillator per voice, but adds MIDI control. It sounds great and it’s dead-simple to use. It’s also a nice choice if you’re looking to pick up an 80s keyboard as it’s a good value today as it was when released. In a world in which “vintage” often translates to elite and expensive, the JUNO-106 is one of the great populist keyboards of all time. Note that if you are looking to pick up a used 106, our friend James Grahame from Retro Thing notes tells me the voice chips are starting to die. Buyer beware: owning a used synth can be like owning a used car.
The Roland Jupiter, not the JUNO, went down in history as one of the two first synths to connect in public via MIDI – at winter NAMM, January 1983, connected to a Sequential Prophet-600. But the JUNO-106 was still one of the Roland products that helped popularize MIDI.
1986: Alpha JUNO 1. The Alphas are smaller, and eschew physical controls for LED and minimalist button selections – there was something about the mid-1980s that did that to synth design. But you can add on a PG-300 controller for additional controls, the Alphas are MIDI-friendly, and not hard to find these days. They maintained the distinctive JUNO sound and have been a favorite in the techno scene ever since.
Alpha JUNO 2. The Alpha 2 hits a nice sweet spot as a controller: aftertouch, 61-note keyboard. That could make it a decent choice on your keyboard rack even today.
The New JUNO Models
2005: JUNO-D. The JUNO-D is a budget wavetable synth, and as such, really the odd man out here. The connection to the original JUNO is presumably that it’s a friendly synth with some favorite sounds, and it does support a computer editor. There are also front-panel envelope controls. But it’s the more recent JUNO models that have brought back more of the original spirit of the JUNO. The JUNO-D has “JUNO” printed on it, but otherwise, while a solid entry-level keyboard, it lacks a lot of the features that make the other modern JUNO line appealing.
2007: JUNO-G. The JUNO-G is quite a lot more interesting if you’re interested in doing some real programming and live performance. It’s a workstation, though without some of the arranger features that are superfluous to many of us. You get the Fantom-X synth processor, but with easily-accessible front-panel editing controls and a layout inspired by the original JUNO. There are also some nice gigging features, like onboard audio/MIDI recording, 16-part MIDI sequencing, and a slot for flash memory. It’s also got additional controller features, like a D-Beam, plus USB connectivity. I reviewed the JUNO-G in summer 2007 for Keyboard Magazine. I was especially attracted to the ability to use your own waveforms as the basis of sounds, and to the front-panel editing and sequencing/recording features.
Version 2 of the JUNO-G recently added waveform editing.
2008: JUNO-STAGE. I quite liked that the JUNO-G is light, but the JUNO-STAGE gives you a 76-note, semi-weighted keyboard and additional performance controls. It gets rid of some of the sequencing and workstation features of the JUNO-G, but if you want to do all your sequencing on computer, that may not matter. The idea of the STAGE is really focused on live performance controls. Like the JUNO-G, it’s the soul of a Fantom-X in a different package, but that package is more narrowly-focused in a way that can appeal for live playing.