Roland Juno-106

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The 1980s were a magical time for synthesizers. A song from that era that uses them sticks out, no matter your age or your musical taste. If you’re a retro musician, or you love collecting vintage instruments, today we’ll be looking at the Roland Juno-106. Developed in 1984 by the Roland Corporation, it was one of the first synths to use MIDI, paving the way from analog to digital. Let’s go back to the past and take a look at the Juno-106. Does it hold up today? Is it worth getting? Let’s find out.

Unique Features

The Juno-106 introduced various features that revolutionized the synth market. Here is a list of these unique features.

The Oscillating Oscillators

Six oscillators, all digitally controlled, are present with the Juno-106. Digital oscillators helped improve synths amazingly, getting rid of inaccuracies and other hiccups that the analog oscillators would bring. Plus, they were much cheaper, making the instruments affordable without sacrificing quality.

You can control the oscillators to modulate pulse width, and there are switches to change the overall levels. Overall, we love how all these oscillators gave the Juno-106 its own unique sound and aesthetics.

Assign Modes

Poly 1 and Poly 2 are the unique assign modes the Juno-106 has to offer. You may be wondering what these are. Poly-1 is good if you want to play the keyboard for normal use.

As for Poly 2, it’s about the same, but just the last note will have the natural release length. If you’re using portamento, Poly 2 may be the better option. If you press both modes, it makes the Juno-106 a monophonic keyboard.

Overall, these assign modes give the Juno-106 its unique customization. While there aren’t too many modes, you can combine them and experiment in order to get the best sound possible. We say play around with them a bit and see what you can come up with.

The Filters

A filter of a synthesizer can make or break the sound, and give it its unique aesthetic. The Juno-106 uses an analog low-pass filter of 24 dB/octave. This gives the synth a sound that’s rich and buttery.

This filter is powered by voltage, and what makes it cool is that you can move the sliders to adjust how powerful it is. This gives you unique sounds and much range, which is always good for an aspiring musician.

With its different modes of control, which we will go into later, you can be able to track the sounds and combine noises of similar pitch.

The filter can self-oscillate, too. This means that you can oversaturate the circuit with feedback and create some distorted, haunting music using it. This synth can create quite a bit of music using its filter, huh? Using a switch, you can change how it gates notes and how it regulates the loudness of the music.

Overall, its filters were quite revolutionary for the time. We love using them to create our own unique sounds, and we think you’ll love it too should you give the synth a try.

What About the Controls?

Another feature that can dictate how good a synth can be is its controls. A synth that has poor controls will suffer, since no one wants that. Luckily, the Juno-106 has some of the smoothest controls available.

The back panel has many of its outputs and jacks, along with its power switch and various other features. This allows you to plug it up and turn it on, and it won’t shut off while you’re jamming because you pressed the wrong button. There is even an option to put a tape in and save your own programming into it.

As for the synth itself, it’s very easy to use. Even if you’ve never played an instrument in your life, you should be able to pick it up. That’s why this synth became famous. It has enough features for a musician to make some incredible music, but it’s simple enough to be affordable and accessible to all audiences.

Someone who has very little experience in music should be able to pick it up and play, and an aging rock veteran can still create some killer tunes with it.

MIDI

The Juno-106 was one of the first keyboards to use MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Standardized just a year before the release of the keyboard, it brought the transition to the digital age. The Juno-106 comes with 16 MIDI channels.

The MIDI SysEX Data can be exchanged between all the different buttons and sliders. The Juno-106 got it right when it came to its ports, which are located in the back and make it easier to control.

Having the ability to have MIDI in your keyboard was a revolutionary act for the time. Many of us take that stuff for granted, but this ability gives the keyboard some points.

MIDI Modes

In addition, the Juno-106 has three MIDI modes. First, there is Keyboard and Hold Data Only (KYBD). Then, there is Keyboard, Hold, Bender, Patch selection data (KYBD+BENDER+PGM CHANGE.)

Finally, there is ALL, which has all data. This is recommended for the experts, as it contains all the advanced settings. Having all these advanced settings is another great feature of this keyboard. You can customize according to your needs.

Analog Music Through Digital Control

The Juno brand of synthesizer used DCOs, or digitally controlled oscillators, in order to create their unique sound and make the experience much more different. Beforehand, the controls was through analog, which could be quite unreliable.

How the DCO works is that its pitch is created by the main microprocessor. Digital pulses come from that, and it creates waveforms. When it comes to the output, it’s still analog all the way.

It was a great way to have the best of both worlds, was more economic to the consumer, and brought the synth to the mainstream. This gives the Juno-106 even more points.

The Chorus

The chorus unit is analog and goes two ways. This on-board stereo chorus creates a sound that is unlike any other. The sound that comes from the chorus is quite rich, and it gave the synthesizer its audience.

The Juno-106 has two types of Chorus, Chorus I and Chorus II. Chorus II is much stronger than the first one, so they have their own unique uses. When you hear the synthesizer in action, you see why this is. This brings the unique sound that we love listening to.

Portamento

Before the introduction of the Juno-106, sliding between different pitches was a challenge. If you wanted portamento, which gave you that ability, you had to cough up a lot of money. Then, the Juno-106 made the feature more available.

Being able to switch between pitches with ease made it easier to perform live, and even record. You can switch the time it takes to change pitches by adjusting the knob. Being able to slide and adjust your settings with such ease makes this keyboard quite fun to use.

Memory Storage

Memory storage is important, and at the time, the Juno-106 had others beat with its 128 patches of memory. If you’re unfamiliar with what patch memory is, it gives the ability to store your own custom settings and changes to the keyboard, and it contains display data as well.

It does have battery backup so that the programming is left intact if you decide to turn off the synth. When you wanted to store or load your patches, you could do so by a cassette tape.

This was revolutionary at the time, and we do like the feature, but it may be a bit troublesome for modern audiences, many of whom haven’t touched a cassette tape in their life.

Pros

It Just Sounds Great

We all know sound is subjective, but few people can deny the unique sound of ‘80s synthesizers. Some find it cheesy, while others love how futuristic it sounds. It’s the aesthetic of a time where we were transitioning into the digital age, and we did not know what the future would bring.

It’s Quite User Friendly

When you think of old technology, especially early digital technology, you may imagine something that makes your head hurt when you try to use it. This does not apply to the Juno-106.

Regardless of your skill level with synthesizers, it’s easy to use and you’ll have while learning how everything works.

Tuning it is a Breeze

As mentioned before, this was one of the first keyboards that could easily shift pitches. Tuning this baby is quite easy, and anyone should be able to do it. If your keyboard is out of tune, you can quickly fix it and continue playing as if nothing ever happened.

MIDI Features are Revolutionary

The word “revolutionary” is overused, but it definitely applies to the Juno-106. When purchasing a vintage piece of technology, you must think about the context. Music was slowly become processed through digital means, and this keyboard helped to bring that to the future.

And because of that, we have music available for everyone.

Cons

It’s Pricey

Being a vintage keyboard, the price of the keyboard is a bit ridiculous to some people. Units go anywhere from $800-$1,500. Being a used keyboard, you always have to be skeptical about the reliability of the keyboards as well. You never know whether or not you’re going to get a dud in the mail.

With that said, buy your keyboards from a reputable seller. It’s still cheaper than buying it back in the day, however. Back in 1984, the original retail price was $1,195. Adjusted for inflation, that’s over $2,800. Some vintage collectors will pay that much, but you can spend a fraction for this and buy a more advanced synth.

It’s Heavy

This synthesizer is a bit bulky when compared to later models. In an age where our technology is lightweight, it may be shocking to some that this synthesizer is so heavy. It’s around 22 lbs, so it’s not something you want to carry around with you all the time.

Voice Chips are Fragile

Nothing makes a vintage collector sadder than a device that does not work. If you buy a Juno-106 and it doesn’t work, or if it suddenly dies on you, one culprit may be its voice chip. The voice chips are known for breaking easily, thus ending the life of your synthesizer. However, you can resurrect it! These chips are replaceable and are quite easy to fix.

Not as Advanced as Some Units at the Time

As we mentioned before, what made the Juno-106 so appealing is its simplicity. It’s a great keyboard to pick up, but if you’re looking for some crazy advanced features, then you may want to check out some other keyboards. It has enough features to satisfy most, but it’s not the most advanced keyboard for the time.

However, we feel that most people will be satisfied with what the keyboard can provide for you.

In Summary

The Juno-106 was a revolutionary keyboard for the time, and still an amazing device today. For any vintage collector, or a musician inspired by the futuristic music of the 1980s, it’s worth purchasing. It’s still very easy to use, sounds amazing, and you can easily replace any parts that are broken.

While there are modern synthesizers that have more features, they still don’t reach the aesthetic that the Juno-106 brought to the table. So whether you’re young, old, a new musician, or someone who is seasoned, this keyboard is definitely worth buying.

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