February 3, 2023

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Roland Juno-X Review: A nostalgic workhorse

Some sounds never die. Whether it’s classic rock guitarists coveting decades-old guitars and amps, or Mac DeMarco messing around with ’80s Casio keyboards, there’s something about vintage sounds that transcends nostalgia. Old guitars, synths, amps and drums have a certain tone that we haven’t necessarily missed. It could be the slight analog distortion, the age of the materials, or just the way they feel physically when we use them – there are real, non-mundane reasons why many musicians seek specific tools from specific eras.

The problem with old keyboards like Roland’s legendary Juno 6 and Juno 60 models (with sounds responsible for a ton of the hits you love from the 1980s) is that you have to pay thousands to get one real want of dollars, and then you have to service a 40-year-old, relatively fragile device. It’s an annoying claim.

But if you’re looking for the perfect modern keyboard to scratch your vintage itch, look no further than Roland’s new Juno-X, which looks like a vintage Juno, sounds like a vintage Juno, but simpler too serve (and is more versatile) in the modern world.

The sounds of the 80s

Photo: Roland

Originally built between 1982 and 1984 as a lower-cost alternative to Roland’s high-end Jupiter-8, the Juno-6 (later Juno-60 and Juno-106) is famous for its legendary chorus sound. It’s been used to spectacular effect on hits like “Time After Time” and “Take On Me,” among others. After its initial use in pop music, the Juno (as all iterations were later dubbed) became a favorite of house and dance musicians throughout the ’90s and 2000s, who liked how it balanced between bass and high notes. These days it’s considered one of the must-have synths for any nerd – the aforementioned indie rocker Mac DeMarco loves his.

The synthesizer is polyphonic, meaning you can play multiple notes at once – relatively expensive technology at the time of its release. The larger Roland Jupiter-8 was the first to introduce this to Roland products, costing $5,000 on release, but the Juno-6 was intended to bring this to the masses with an original starting price of $1,295. Part of the reason for its instant success was that it featured digitally controlled oscillators, which meant the synth stayed in tune between gigs, which was also rare at the time. You could plug it in and it would be tuned! 80s magic!

Original Junos has never really lost much of its value. To date, a genuine Juno-106 will cost you just over $2,000 on the used market, which is almost inflation with its original list price and equals this new Juno-X. That’s why I’m so excited.

The Juno-X packs significantly more technology and even more sounds. You get pinpoint emulations of Juno-6, Juno-60, and Juno-106 (each with slightly different presets and tones), including three different versions of Roland’s legendary Juno chorus to mix and match. The keyboard comes loaded with tons of other great Roland keyboard sounds and even a built-in drum sequencer. You may be familiar with Roland’s legendary TR-808 drum machine – it has an equally excellent drum sequencer on board.

Combine that with a pair of balanced XLR outputs, MIDI in and out, and even a mic input for the included vocoder (!) and you can do literally anything you want with this gorgeous 80’s design. It even has built-in speakers – a feature of a rarer Juno student model – to reproduce sounds without an amp, speakers or headphones. You can even turn them on when you’re playing live to act as a little stage monitor for your piano tones.