Over the past few months Roland have released two massive updates for the System-8 PLUG-OUT synthesizer! The updates introduced classic FM oscillators, a collection of new filters to use in the System-8 mode and a brand new PLUG-OUT version of a classic Roland synth, the JX-3P.
Contributed by Zachary Odgers for the Roland Australia Blog
The v1.20 Update – New FM engine and new System 8 filters
Released in June, the v1.20 update brought a wave of new features to add to the already huge amount of power in the System-8. This powerful update adds a whole new FM engine along with five variations to the filter. Let’s check out what it includes!
– Two new FM oscillator variations
– Five new filter variations
– An overdub mode added to the step sequencer
The FM Oscillators
Let’s break down FM synthesis
Frequency modulation synthesis (commonly referred to as FM synthesis) when a source/carrier wave (square, sawtooth, triangle, etc.) is used to modulate the frequency of another wave. This results in a new type of complex waveform.
For example, say we have a sine wave modulating another sine wave. At the top of the modulator curve the carrier wave is oscillating quickly and at the bottom, it is oscillating slower.
This results in a waveform that squishes in and out. It’s much more dynamic than a standard sine wave.
As you increase the frequency of the modulator, new harmonic frequencies called sidebands are created. The number and frequency of these sidebands are controlled by changing the ratio of the modulator frequency to the carrier frequency (i.e. 1:2, 6:1). Of course, they do not just need to be sine waves, you can also use other waveforms like triangle or square waves.
The sound of FM synthesis rose to prominence in the 1980s due largely to the unique sounds it was capable of producing. Such sounds are difficult to create with other types of synthesis.
Roland has now reintroduced FM for the 21st century. This update allows the System-8 to produce the iconic bell-like sounds of classic FM synths.
Let’s get into more depth on how it works on the System-8. The FM oscillators can be accessed by selecting VARIATION 3 and 4 on either OSC 1 or OSC 2. VARIATION 3 (or FM Oscillator 1) is a waveform created by two sine wave operators. VARIATION 4, on the other hand, is created by three sine wave and two triangle operators.
The original System-8 did actually include an FM oscillator in VARIATION 2 however it differs from the FM oscillators in v1.20. The FM oscillators in VARIATION 3 and 4 feature linear scale frequency modulation. This is different from the logarithmic scale frequency modulation that is found in the FM oscillators on VARIATION 2.
Many vintage synthesizers used logarithmic (or its inverse, exponential) scales for a type of FM synthesis. These produce a complex sound but as you increase the ratio the perceived pitch shifts, so it’s often interpreted as a different fundamental note. Linear scale frequency FM is generally more stable as you go to higher ratios and higher or lower on the keyboard resulting in a more harmonic patch that maintains its tuning.
You can apply any of the classic System 8 techniques to the FM engine, combining the best of FM sounds with modern subtractive synthesis.
In this video below, we’ve combined an FM oscillator with a square wave to create a more complex sound using both FM and Subtractive techniques.
The v1.20 update also added five new filters to the System-8. In addition to the classic LPF/HPF filter, Side Band filter and System-1 filter, the System-8 engine now includes the Jupiter-8 and Juno-106 HPF and VCF from their respective PLUG-OUT versions, a pair of formant filters and an all new harmonics filter. For example, you could apply the vintage Juno 106 filter to the modern System 8 sounds, greatly expanding sound design possibilities.
The Jupiter-8 and Juno-106 filter will be familiar to anyone who’s experienced the System 8 plug-outs or the original synthesizers from the early 1980s. The filter is one of the defining characteristics of a synth’s tone and the Juno 106 filters, in particular, are one of the reasons it is so sort after. The Jupiter 8 and Juno 106 HPF and VCF filters are now available in the System-8 engine allowing huge, lush sweeps reminiscent of these classic analogue synths.
Formant filters simulate the tone created by audio passing through your vocal tract. This produces vowel type sounds from the original waveform. They are usually made up of two or more bandpass filters working together at frequencies that simulate “Ahh”, “Ohh” and “Eee” sounds.
FMT2 and FMT3 are the two new formant filters now in the System-8. The FMT2 filter on VARIATION 6 morphs between two formants whilst the FMT3 filter on VARIATION 7 morphs between three. Both filters feature a unique vocal sound that is capable of creating basslines that are synonymous with modern dubstep and dance music. It’s worth noting that adjusting the LPF control in formant filter mode will change the vowel sounds that the synth makes.
The harmonic filter on VARIATION 8 is the last of the new filters. It uses a feedback delay to vary the overtones that can be heard. Make sure to experiment with this filter, as it can be used to create some interesting dark textures!
The v1.30 Update –JX-3P plug out
Released on 808 Day 2018 (8th of August), v1.30 added a brand new pre-loaded PLUG-OUT synth based on the classic JX-3P! The JX-3P PLUG-OUT synth joins the already legendary pre-loaded Jupiter-8 and Juno-106 PLUG-OUT’s and is a stunning recreation of Roland’s classic dual-DCO monster from 1983.
The JX-3P is renowned for having a similar architecture to the Juno synths. but has two oscillators per voice (the Juno’s only have one) with detuning and cross modulation. Furthermore, unlike the original Juno, the JX-3P allows for the pitch of either oscillator to be controlled via the envelope. The JX-3P was also one of the first synths to feature MIDI.
This increases the sonic potential of the System 8 dramatically! Not only are there lots of new sounds to synthesise with, but new circuit paths and component modelling have also been opened up.
The JX-3P PLUG-OUT is not Roland’s re-imagining of this classic synth. The limited edition JX-03 was part of the first Roland Boutique line and was a compact ACB version of the original JX-3P. Released alongside the JU-06 and JP-08 which have already been converted into System-8 PLUG-OUT form, the JX-03 has joined its legendary cousins and is now a free update for all System-8 owners. This new PLUG-OUT has also been upgraded from the original 4 voice JX-03, featuring 8 note polyphony!
The JX-3P PLUG-OUT utilises the extensive control-ability of the System-8 to incorporate the classic JX-3P and PC-200 controller combo in one convenient piece of hardware. For those who want to hear was the PLUG-OUT version of the JX-3P has to offer before getting in depth with creating their own sounds, the update also includes a huge bank of pre-made JX-3P patches designed specifically for the System 8. As with the Jupiter 8 and Juno 106 plug-outs bank H is the original patches from when the JX-3P was released in 1983.
One of the defining features of the original JX-3P was its lush, wet chorus effect. While this was available on the JX-03, it has been re-imagined for this PLUG-OUT. There’s a dedicated knob for blending in chorus noise that is immediately recognizable from the original JX-3P. It also includes a depth control to increase the level of the chorus, which we dare say sounds stunning in stereo. The chorus controls are located in the EFFECT section of the System-8, specifically in the MT section.
Another great feature of this PLUG-OUT is the ability to control brilliance. This was one of the knobs/faders from the original JX-3P that was not available on the JX-03 Boutique model. It’s controlled through the TONE knob in the AMP section of the System-8.
As with the Jupiter and Juno plug-outs you can combine the JX-3P with other engines, splitting and layering different synths in one amazing unit. This gives you sound design options that were previously not possible. Imagine having a hybrid JX-3P and Jupiter 8 in one synth. Now you can!
The v1.30 update is available now from https://www.roland.com/au/products/system-8/downloads/
*note: You don’t need to install the System-8 v1.20 update before updating to v1.30. When you update to v1.30 all previous updates will also be loaded.