Roland Juno 106, Vintage Synth

Roland Juno 106

£500-700

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.

As well as being slightly cheaper than the earlier Juno-6 and 60, the 106 is our choice here because it features MIDI, making it easier to integrate with modern studio gear. It also includes patch storage and an excellent analogue chorus effect, but in terms of user experience the real selling point is the slider-laden front panel: a dedicated control for every parameter, offering immediate access to every setting. It’s one of the most intuitive synths you’ll come across, making it incredibly easy to program great sounds.

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.

 

24th November, 2014

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