Roland Juno G Review

Some first impressions of the Roland Juno G. It is very light, a lot lighter than the Fantom S. Most of the casing is plastic, except for the top metal panel, which folds over the back. Besides the plastic, the external power supply cuts some of the weight; at least it's not a wall wart. The Juno G is about as long as the Fantom S/X, but not nearly as wide. Lots of buttons and controls on the surface, so there's little empty space anywhere on the synth.

The first thing you notice when turning it on is the screen. It's much bigger than it looks in the pictures on Roland's site; very bright and very orange. Similar to the look of the XP-50 screen, but bigger text and a lot more information. The contrast knob has a wide range and makes the screen viewable from any angle.

Once you get over the plastic and lightweight feel when picking the keyboard up, the build quality is pretty good. The knobs are firm and have an even travel all the way through their range. The buttons are also sturdy. The sliders are smooth up and down, although they do move slightly side to side if you try, but they don't seem any better or worse than any other slider Roland has used. The data wheel is also solid, and feels like hard rubber instead of plastic. If you remember the data wheel from the XP-50, which often had a mind of its own, this is nothing like it. The keybed is not weighted and has a synth action. If you're used to the Fantoms, it will take a bit to get used to. It reminds me of the action of the XP-50 but a lot more firm and sturdy. It is velocity sensitive but does not transmit aftertouch. Strange, as you can set many patch modulation routings to respond to aftertouch.

The sound engine is the same as the latest Fantom series and sounds great. Very full and warm sounds, with noticeably more bottom-end than my Fantom S. Not much else to comment on regarding the sounds if you're already familiar with the range that the Fantoms provide. I will say that it has a few more "vintage" waves than the current Fantoms. But, I have to comment that the two mellotron patches (Tape Memory and Mello Tron), which don't use "mellotron" waves by the way, are awful. Other than that, no complaints. Pop in the SRX07 (Ultimate Keys) expansion board if you want Tron waves and a larger variety of vintage, organ and e-piano options. The bottom line is that you get a big complement of onboard waveforms (almost 1,300) across the map, but leaning more toward vintage and classic synth sounds.

The sequencer is also the same as the Fantom series, a direct descendant of the trusty MRC-Pro. Unfortunately, Roland dropped the ball a bit here regarding some functionality. Gone is the ability to record patterns; you can only record linear tracks, although you can loop them. Also not present is Roland's RPS function, which lets you trigger patterns on the keys (and pads for the Fantom). You also lose some deeper sequencer edit functions such as swapping track data, changing a track's velocity by a percentage, and the ability to extract track data. All of these are functions I've used heavily in the past, particularly the pattern sequencing. Yes, I could use an external sequencer, but that's not the point. On the plus side you get a flexible arpeggiator and a rhythm pattern function, which is like having a built-in drum machine, easily customized and triggered from the front panel.

There are lots of controls on this synth. You get six knobs: two that are dedicated to cutoff and resonance, and four that can switch between frequency and amplitude envelopes, and LFO parameters. Roland's D-Beam is also there. Besides using it as a solo or theramin-like synth, you can assign a parameter to control if you'd like. There's also a third choice, called active expression, that's seems hardwired at the patch level. Buttons are available for accessing every main function, and the large screen makes editing at a deeper level easy. A tabbed interface helps here so you don't have to scroll through lots of menu pages.

I haven't mentioned some of the functions that I won't use much, such as the audio recording and sampling, which are as deep as the rest of the sound engine. My main quibbles are the lack of some key sequencer features mentioned above, and the absence of keyboard aftertouch is strange, but no one is going to confuse this synth with the Fantom series. It's also not really related to the Junos of yore, save for the style of the top plate text. Still, a very good and compact synth with great sound possibilities.