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Return To Jupiter, A Look at the Jupiter-8 Synthesizer

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Many of today's musicians have probably forgotten the speed at which technology progressed in the early 1980s. Analog synthesizers went from being clunky, hard to tune devices with spaghetti-strands of patch cables to sleek, self-contained boxes that anyone, with a little practice, could get some remarkable sounds out of.

A key driving force beyond this development was Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder of Roland Corporation. In addition to advancing keyboard synths in general, Kakehashi also spearheaded the development of the portable drum machine and the guitar synthesizer. But one of Roland's best selling products of the time was their classic Jupiter-8 keyboard, produced from 1981 to 1984, and played by musicians ranging from Howard Jones to Jan Hammer to even Elvis Costello. It's recently been recreated in software synthesizer form by France's Arturia, their latest in a growing line of software versions of classic synths.

Designed to work in PC and Mac formats as a standalone product, or synced to most digital audio workstations via RTAS, VST, and AU, Arturia's software reissue version of Roland's legendary Jupiter-8 synthesizer has some great sounds built into it. The unit ships with over 400 presets, and a programmable GUI which beautifully recreates the original Jupiter-8's hardware interface.

The Jupiter-8 was noted for its wide range of sounds, from the expected fat analog tones, to more crystalline sounds that foreshadow Yamaha's DX-7, whose digital tones would supplant the Jupiter-8's dominance in the mid-1980s. There are also loads of interesting percussion effects, including snare and bass hits and even tribal-sounding sequences.

Fun With Arpeggiation

And then there's the Jupiter-8V's arpeggiator. Surprisingly, considering what a fun and useful sonic tool it is, there don't seem to be enough software synths that come equipped with arpeggiators. And even in the mid-1980s, when the Jupiter-8 was revised by Roland as first the Super Jupiter and later the JX-8P (inside a case whose aesthetics were clearly DX-7 inspired), that feature was inexplicably left off.

During his Miami Vice days, Jan Hammer remarked to Keyboard magazine in September of 1985, "I'm not going to touch another Jupiter until they put the random arpeggiator back in. That's one of the most amazing tools of the last decade".

Well, it's back; the Jupiter-8V's arpeggiator includes parameters for up, down, up and down and random, and over one to four octaves. In fact, it's a better version than the arpeggiator that the Jupiter-8 was originally equipped with, as its tempo can be controlled two ways: manually, or synced to the tempo of a track, when the unit is employed as a VST-compatible synthesizer in a digital audio workstation (DAW) program.

Who's A Good Candidate For Jupiter?

Apparently, a number of Arturia's software synths are notorious for their high CPU loads, and unfortunately, the Jupiter-8V is no exception, frequently generating a 20 percent CPU load on Cakewalk Sonar's RAM usage meter. (My test PC, built by Sweetwater, is a dual core Intel with two gigs of RAM, incidentally.) Many DAW programs have built-in "Freeze" functions for MIDI synth tracks to reduce CPU loads; the Jupiter-8V is a good candidate for this feature.

So who is a good candidate for the Jupiter-8V itself? This isn't a product I'd recommend to beginners — Propellerhead's Reason remains probably the easiest and most versatile software synth right out of the box. And Zero-G's Nostalgia contains a much broader cross-section of vintage synthesizers, though it lacks an arpeggiator. But if you owned one of the original Jupiter-8s and want to experience the joys of its analog sounds without the temperamental qualities of a 25-year old piece of hardware, or enjoy recreating the sounds of the early 1980s, then this is the instrument for you.

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