Roland Juno 106
There are countless reasons why the Juno 106 remains a staple of so many dance producers’ studios. It’s a wonderful analogue all-rounder with an intuitive editing system, flexible synth architecture and a truly classic sound. If you can stretch to this level of investment in a first vintage synth, it’s our recommended option by quite some distance.
When the Juno series was introduced in 1982, it was pitched as a new budget line for Roland, undercutting the flagship Jupiter range by a huge margin. Its more basic synth architecture centred around a digitally controlled analogue oscillator (DCO) per voice, feeding into 24dB/oct resonant filters, all based on proprietary voice chips. The setup is very simple – in the case of the 106 you have pulse and sawtooth waves plus a square wave sub, noise source, LFO, high-pass filter and VCF, with one envelope generator to control the VCF and/or VCA.
The Junos sold in their thousands, meaning there are still loads around today, despite some irritating reliability issues that we’ll get to shortly. The 106 remains a really versatile synth even by today’s standards, excelling at strings and pads but also working well for basslines, chunky analogue organs and pianos, FX and even the odd lead. It’s hard to think of a style of electronic music that it wouldn’t lend itself to; it’s never going to give you the most aggressive sounds, but it can do most other things incredibly well.
The only major flaw is the reliability of the voice chips. They’re notoriously temperamental, and even the newest 106s are now approaching 30 years old. If you buy an untouched original synth today you can just about guarantee that one of the six voices will start to play up within the next couple of years; most have already had some repair work done. The expensive option is to buy a unit with all its voice chips already replaced, but the more pragmatic approach is to take a risk, stock up on one or two spares and have the phone number of a synth tech ready for when the inevitable happens.
Despite the reliability issue, the 106 is a great buy. Maintenance is one of the challenges of vintage synth ownership, but the benefits far outweigh the minor inconvenience of occasional repairs in this case. The Juno 106 is that rare beast: a true classic which remains just about affordable to the average producer. Yes, it’s a big investment, but in the unlikely event that you don’t fall in love, resale value is all but guaranteed.