The obvious choice for a first foray into digital synth hardware would probably be one of Yamaha’s FM synths – probably a DX100 or a DX7 – but when Native Instruments’ FM8 comes so close to the sound with a much easier editing system, it’s worth checking out the alternatives instead. So rather than the usual 80s models, let’s turn our attention to the 90s. Synths like the Korg M1 (produced up until 1995) are already described as vintage, so why not broaden our search to the mid 90s?
The Roland JP-8000 is one of the classic 90s synths. When it was released in 1996, it retailed at £1,499. Today, you should easily be able to find one for less than £150. That says a lot about changing trends in synth hardware and software over the last 18 years – the JP-8000 has fallen out of fashion hard – but it also tells you about the value for money you can get here.
The JP-8000 is one of first generation of analogue modelling synths. In other words, that means virtual analogue – all of the sounds are generated digitally. Although it may ‘only’ be virtual analogue, it’s still got a lot of character. As you might expect, it doesn’t sound particularly analogue, but countless soft synths still mimic its ‘supersaw’ waves, which became a staple of trance and electro. It’s great at aggressive bass and lead sounds but still offers plenty in terms of more mellow pads and ambient sounds.
Some might argue that a 1990s digital synth like the JP-8000 offers no advantages over a modern soft synth, but the same could be said of any number of contemporary virtual analogue hardware synths. Bear in mind that you also get great hands-on control and a decent 49-key velocity-sensitive MIDI keyboard for your money and the advantages become clear.
You’ll probably be disappointed if you buy a JP-8000 hoping for it to increase in value or become a highly sought-after classic, but chances are you won’t be disappointed by its sound. It’s unlikely to become fashionable again, but this is a 90s staple that deserves a second look.