What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

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What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by georgemarauder » Sat Oct 29, 2011 5:10 pm

Any users of this synth out there that want to throw in their opinions on this synth? I've always been attracted to it due to the ton of sliders on it's front panel. It looks relatively fun to program. I've read as much as I can find online about them, but it would be great to hear some pros/cons/comments/opinions from some users who have played one on here. Are they as cool as they look?

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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by rhino » Sat Oct 29, 2011 5:55 pm

Lots of fun. To my ears, the Jd-800 seems to have more high frequencies that other synths - good for piercing, screaming, buzzy tones - Makes lots of smooth mellow tones, too.
Programing is easy, but there are a few "gotchas"...such as being able to edit a tone even while it is muted.
Watch the melting red goo on the key weights...this can be a killer.
Effects are good, but limited...also somewhat convoluted menus to program.
Limited polyphony - 24 oscillators give only 6 notes if all four layers are used.
Build-wise, it has a steel base and an aluminium panel, but the plastic end caps - especaly the left - are prone to major damage from impacts (they are no longer stocked at Roland-trust me).

Bottom line: A synth different enough to earn a place in your setup. If you love to program, then you'll like this one.
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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by cornutt » Sat Oct 29, 2011 6:06 pm

I think it's a great synth. It's basically a subtractive synth with about 110 single-cycle waveforms (and you can get more via a waveform expansion card). Yes, the knobs and sliders make it very easy and quick to get around on, although there are still some parameters that you have to go to the menus for (mainly the effects parameters). Lots of modulation options; one thing I really have gotten a lot of use out of is the multi-segment envelopes. Two LFOs and you can offset them so that, for instance, when you modulate pitch by an LFO, you can offset it so that pitch does not go below, or above, the base pitch.

A patch can have up to four layers. In monotimbral mode, you have two groups of effects, an A group (lots of weird things like distortions, flangers, wave shapers, and formants), and a B group (chorus, reverb, delay). In multitimbral mode, you can only have the B group effects. The multitimbral mode lets you play up to five patches, via keyboard split or separate MIDI channels. There's also a "special part" where basically every note on the keyboard can be assigned its own single-layer patch -- handy for building drum kits or collections of effect noises. The layer and multitimbral controls that select what you are editing at any moment are a bit confusing at first; you have to read the manual and then play with them to see how they work.

One thing to know is that this is an unapologetically digital synth. It is not intended to be a VA, and you won't get much out of it that sounds like it came from an analog synth. It has its own sound, and actually sometimes the digital aspect lets you do some unique things. For example, the filter doesn't self-oscillate -- but since it can go to very extreme resonance settings without self-oscillating, you can get sounds out of it that you couldn't get from an analog filter.

The MIDI implementation is very complete, although it does use Roland-format sysex for the slider values, rather than CCs or NPRNs, so if you want to control parameters with an external knob box, that may be a problem. But you've got so many controls on the panel, why would you need an external knob box? There is a rack mount version of the synth called the JD-990, which has some additional features. If you have both, the JD-800's controls can edit most of the patch parameters on the 990.

The performance controls include a good version of the Roland combination pitch bend and mod lever. There are buttons for solo mode (basically a mono mode), portamento on/off, and a transpose whose interval you can set. (I keep mine set to one octave down.) There is also a set of four sliders called the "pallette", which can be handy for multi-layer patches. How that works is: You can choose a parameter for the pallette sliders to control, and then each slider will control that parameter in one of the four layers. During a performance, you can turn off all of the layer edit buttons so that touching a knob or slider or button selects that parameter but doesn't change it. The pallette sliders will then control that parameter.

So how does it sound? Well, as I said, it doesn't sound analog. Having said that, it can do some great smooth evolving pads with the multiple layers, some very cutting lead sounds, lots of things that sort of sound orchestral but are also kind of quirky. The filter is multimode and with high resonance it can be very cutting if you want it to be. Some of the waveforms are really out there and can do extreme noises, or add quirk to other sounds.

Things to watch out for: Mainly the keyboard. Nearly all JD-800s suffer from the aftertouch rot that was typical of Rolands of this era. Some also have had problems with glue delamination in the contact strips that cause dead notes or uneven velocity response. These can all be fixed if you have patience. It used to be possible to buy entire replacement keyboard mechanisms from Roland, but I think they have gone out of stock recently. Other than that, the JD-800 has no particular maintenance problems. It's a good idea to periodically get a vacuum cleaner with a crevice or brush tool and vacuum out the sliders. One other thing: it's big and heavy. Make sure that your stand or wherever you're going to put it can hold it.
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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by Z » Sat Oct 29, 2011 6:09 pm

Folks that have been around here a while know that the JD-800 is one of my "desert island" synths. While most of the PCM samples are a bit dated, it's still one of the easiest "power synths" out there. It's usually the first synth powered on in my rig and the first one I start messing with. I call up an existing program and start tweaking away to my current mood.

Rhino already touched on its major cons. Although the JD-800 is multi-timbral, it only shines as a mono-timbral synth. In Multi mode, you don't have access to the EQ and effects such as distortion, phasor, spectracral enhancer. Only chorus and reverb in mutli-mode.

As inexpensive as they are these days (around $500 used as opposed to its $2700 list price in 1992), it is a wise choice.

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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by gd » Sat Oct 29, 2011 8:19 pm

I really liked th 800 for the many yrs that I owned it. Traded straight up for a Juno 60 last winter. I never had an issue with mine, liked the kybd feel much better than the Fantom X6 I also own. In the end I just wanted the Juno and with having the Fantom and 2 JD 990's and a JP8080 I thought I had that area of the Roland sound covered and let it go.
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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by mharris80 » Sun Oct 30, 2011 4:09 am

rhino wrote: Build-wise, it has a steel base and an aluminium panel, but the plastic end caps - especaly the left - are prone to major damage from impacts (they are no longer stocked at Roland-trust me.
Much as I love old Roland stuff, this is what burns me the most. My JX-8P sounds awesome, but I loathe those damned plastic ends on it. The previous owner was less than kind to mine, and the ends are just barely hanging on, to the point where I'm almost afraid to move it. :(

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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by Pro5 » Sun Oct 30, 2011 4:23 am

(update - got one of my own instead of playing around on a mates :P forget everything bad I said... ) :lol:
Last edited by Pro5 on Sat Sep 22, 2012 4:09 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by ianjhicks » Sun Oct 30, 2011 7:50 pm

I love my JD800.. when you play around with it by itself it kind of has a cheesy 90s sheen to it... but it sounds really good contrasted with analog gear... a lot of the sounds have a character that remind me of underworld or orbital

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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by minime123 » Tue Nov 01, 2011 2:33 am

get the jd990 instead. we've got a couple jd800s with that horrible glue problem and the keyboards are unusable. add this to the 80017 on the list of flawed roland designs. anyone got any others?
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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by sizzlemeister » Tue Nov 01, 2011 6:47 am

minime123 wrote:get the jd990 instead. we've got a couple jd800s with that horrible glue problem and the keyboards are unusable. add this to the 80017 on the list of flawed roland designs. anyone got any others?

The fix for the glue is so easy it's not even funny. It just takes a little time depending on the severity of the problem.

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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by Alex E » Tue Nov 01, 2011 7:00 am

I used to have the JV-2080 which shared the 990's interface and programming layout. While a completely brilliant design for a rack module, I'd still rather have keys and sliders.
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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by synthRodriguez » Tue Nov 01, 2011 12:41 pm

sizzlemeister wrote: The fix for the glue is so easy it's not even funny. It just takes a little time depending on the severity of the problem.
What is the fix (or a link)?

I couldn't find anything definitive on the web, just a lot of half-baked suggestions...

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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by griffin avid » Tue Nov 01, 2011 1:06 pm

I had the keyboard replaced.
http://www.davidsonelectronics.com/2005Location.html

A few companies said the boards were no longer available.
Davidson Electronics was able to find some.
Producer's Edge did a profile on their company
http://www.editionduo.com/publication/?i=74822
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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by madtheory » Tue Nov 01, 2011 5:36 pm

I think the entire JD and JV series sound really great. I still have a JV-1080 in the rack. Very easy to get it out of cliched nineties bread and butter rompler mode, and into "what the h**l is that!??!" mode. Spent a lot of time with the JD-800 when it came out, but never owned one. The 4 layer thing and the muting Rhino mentioned are annoying at first, but you get used to it.

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Re: What's the deal with the Roland JD-800?

Post by Phenom » Wed Nov 02, 2011 4:41 pm

I like the JD800 a great deal, most of the criticism it seems to get is that it isn't the JD990, which of course it isn't, but it's attractive for other reasons.

The tone palette system works well after you have 10 mins to get used to it. The FX are very nice, but the interface for them is more annoying than some synths with a poor reputation for programability. The FX are the only part of the synth that throws you back into digital h**l. It misses the cross modualation between partials that you can do on the D50 and latterly, the JD990 by way of tone structures. No osc sync, no ring modulation etc.

But it's still a classic synth, one of a kind, takes you further than most synths of the era, certainly more than the Korg stuff that was selling big at the time. The samples are top notch, and may be dated, but you have enough tools to steer well clear and escape from them, unlike of course the Korgs. Great filter (not to everyone's taste, but certainly to mine) and nice TIme/Level envelopes, which tend to be annoying on other designs, but with dedicated sliders actually work very well. Sure the JV1080 would take you further programming wise, but you have to factor in all that potential, into your actual desire to sepnd a lot of time programming it. This is where the JD800 scores so highly.

I'm keeping mine, unique, beautiful, and interesting.

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