6 – Roland JX-3P

Years of production: 1983-85
Spec: 6-voice analogue polysynth
Key features: dual DCOs per voice, classic Roland VCF
Current second-hand price: £200-300

Almost every analogue synth Roland ever built is considered a classic. Unfortunately, the obvious result is that second-hand prices are accordingly high. The JX range is the main exception to the rule for one simple reason: it doesn’t have knobs.

Following the release of the Yamaha DX7, manufacturers spotted a great opportunity to cut their production costs. Pots, switches, sliders and knobs are some of the most expensive components in any synth. By abandoning the traditional one-knob-per-function editing approach, manufacturers could save themselves money while also copying the futuristic look of the DX.

Synths like the Korg Poly800, Ensoniq ESQ-1 and Roland JX-3P all took this approach, but they aren’t generally considered classics because most people assume they’re as hard to program as the DX. The truth isn’t quite so extreme; programming the JX isn’t nearly as tricky as it’s made out to be, and you can always buy the optional PG-200 programmer if you really need a knob for every setting (although bear in mind that it’ll cost you nearly as much as the synth itself).

What you’ll find if you give the JX a go is a surprisingly capable synth. Two Juno-style digitally controlled oscillators (DCOs) per voice feed into a filter based around the same IR3109 VCF chip used in most of the Juno and Jupiter synths. The sound isn’t quite the same as either the Juno or the Jupiter, but it’s still distinctively Roland.

The later JX-8P and JX-10P models have their strengths – mainly when it comes to producing pad and string sounds – but the entry-level 3P is the best all-rounder, turning its hand equally as well to subby basses and funky leads. If you can pick one up for somewhere in the region of £200 it’s one of the biggest bargains around.

19th September, 2012

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