System-8 Plug-Outs / VSTs

Introduction

    This is intended to be a brief statistical analysis of the patches available for the System-8 and its various Plug-Outs: the Jupiter-8, the Juno-106, and the JX-3P.  For any of the other Plug-Outs that work with the System-1 (the Pro Mars, SH-2, SH-101, and System-100), please see that page.
    I’ve used these plug-outs from within a DAW, and so I wanted to review them.  But keep in mind this is not an in-depth review because I do not own a System-8 (yet).
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    Mathematically, here's how their patches line up.  Please see the end of this article where I detail what specific church-related voices (like timpani and saxophone, etc) exist on each system.

SYSTEM
TOTAL
Keys
Pads
Sequencers
Brass
Effects
Plucks
Bells
Drums
Bass
Leads
Synths
Vocoder
FM
System-8
303
31
45
29
9
17
9
5
1
56
58
34
1
8
Juno-106
105
3
14
5
2
5
11
1
5
13
13
9
0
0
Jupiter-8
105
2
20
8
2
5
12
1*
4
12
12
4
0
0
JX-3P §
64
2
5
2
4
2
3
0
0
5
4
8
0
0
D-50 ¥
512
32
19
1
20
?
3
19
?
34
2
23
0
?
* Technically a pluck patch.
§ Difficult to estimate; read below.
¥ A guess; read below.

System-8

System-8

    I’m very impressed by its capabilities.  If there was a flagship of the Aira series, this would definitely be it.  All the factory patches sound great.  Now, to be fair, it only had two complete factory presets of 64 each, meaning technically it came from the factory with fewer patches than the System-1 (255).  However, all the additional patches on the Aira website more than compensate for this, bringing the total patches to 303.
    A few things.  First, given that this synthesizer can split the keyboard in two for two patches at a time, it’s easy to see why Roland included so many bass patches.  To compliment these, there are easily enough pads, synths, and leads to go around for either full keyboard or split keyboard use.
    Church musicians will probably be interested in the 4 piano, 3 organ, 2 string, 1 flute, and 1 harp patches, an excellent assortment.  However, there are plenty of very nice KY (keys) category patches to use, such as the RANDOM SPARKS preset, a very beautiful preset.  There is not a timpani patch, so users at certain churches might want to synthesize one or include one using one of the other Plug-Outs that have one.  At my church, so far if I needed a Timpani, I used the System-1 with the Pro Mars Plug-Out.  The Juno-106 and Jupiter-8 do NOT have a timpani patch.  I'm not sure if this is an oversight, because I understand that it’s rare to find Timpani in modern music.  But they’re very useful for soundtrack use.
    Millions of pads!  Not only does it have 45 of its own pads (if you include all the available extra Aira presets, like I did), but you can (obviously) install the Juno-106 and/or Jupiter-8, meaning this thing has more pads than you could ever use!  Definitely happy there.
    All in all, I’m very happy with my System-8!  I got it for less than list price, too.

Juno-106

Juno-106

    Some have called it the queen of the synthesizers.  To me, because I’m a newbie to synthesizers, the Juno-106 seems to be a polyphonic SH-101 with a larger keyboard.  I have previously extolled the SH-101 for its beautifully simple “one oscillator” sound (but with three mixable waveforms).  Technically, according to Wikipedia, the original Juno-106 has six digitally-controlled oscillators.  I say the Juno-106 seems like a SH-101 because some of its controls seem similar.
    I have to say the first time I learned about the Juno was while using the System-1’s patch “SY LIKE A JUNO”.  So yeah, that’s how much of a newbie I am.
    The sound of the Juno-106 Plug-Out on my System-8 is absolutely fantastic!  It excels at pads and other gentle sounds like harps and bells.  In fact, I use the Juno-106 Plug-Out PD SOFT PAD preset in church almost religiously.
    Mathematically, here’s how the patches on the Juno-106 work out.  You get 64 patches from the factory, with 24 of them bearing the “1984” prefix, so I’m assuming these are factory patches.  Given that I loved this on the Pro Mars, yes, I appreciate having the original patches, or their copy.  On my own church set, I split the factory patches into useful, maybe useful, and not useful in church.  I put these in order, but I placed the 1984 patches first in the first two categories.
    Because I love pads, the fact that it has 14 pads makes me very happy.  Unless you count “synth pad” and the two strings patches that are part of the original set, in which case there are 17, which means more happiness.  I can play this thing for hours!
    That being said, I didn't find a super bombastic patch included with the Juno-106 Plug-Out, which is sort of weird because the System-1 came with "SY LIKE A JUNO" that is beautifully bombastic.  (I ended up exporting that System-1 patch to my System-8.)  This isn't a complaint, just something unexpected, as I'm a newbie.
    If the System-8 didn’t come with piano patches (like the System-1), it would be very disappointing.  But the System-8 doesn’t disappoint.  All the Plug-Outs and the System-8 itself has a piano patch or two.  So the System-8 is already very capable for use in church with a piano patch and several strings and pads.  There are also clavs, brass, choirs, organs, etc.  On the System-1, I had to synthesize my own piano and electric piano patches to make it useful for church, as well as some other assorted items like harps.  Not with the System-8!
    The 105 patches above are composed of 64 factory and 41 techno patches.  The techno patches might not work well in church, but there are at least 2 pads that will work for church, so the Techno set is useful.  And free.  Not to mention it has the Sizzle effect, which sounds like bacon cooking.  Maybe I can get people to leave church sooner if I use this to trigger their hunger.
    The Juno-106 is a very nice sounding, useful Plug-Out for church use.

Jupiter-8

Jupiter-8

    Yet another iconic synthesizer from Roland in a Plug-Out.  Wikipedia says this synthesizer originally came with 16 oscillators.  Again, I’ve never played an original, so here I am, the newbie, reviewing a VST Plug-Out without the decades of experience.
    Like the Juno-106, the Jupiter-8 VST has 64 factory and 41 techno patches for a total of 105.  However, the factory patches are called “1981” on this Plug-Out.
    Some websites claim the Jupiter-8 was originally intended for strings.  In use for church, I tend to rely on the “1981 MELLOW STRINGS” patch a lot.  Overall, it has pads, sure, and I can run almost everything I need from this Plug-Out, but ultimately I mainly use it for strings.
    This Plug-Out sounds fantastic and has many patches that are great for church use!  The pads sound great in church.  It also has pianos, harps, strings, and organs, all of which will work great for worship music.

JX-3P

JX-3P

    This is a good synth, and works well on my System-8.  And I find it especially suited for church use because, although (obviously) the synthesized instruments aren’t going to sound perfectly organic, having such a wide array of them is useful for church.  You never know when you’re going to need chimes, accordion, violin, etc.
    One of the few things I don’t like is the lack of a legitimate piano patch.  There are electric piano patches, but not a strictly piano-sounding patch.  Given the other Plug-Outs for the System-8, this isn’t an oversight or a liability.
    It works and sounds great with the System-8!  I have used the “ORGAN 2” patch quite a bit in church.
    One potential problem is the inclusion of only 64 patches.  Sure, the ones it comes with are good, so I’m not complaining so much about that as the limited presets.  And the first 32 are not labeled in typical Roland fashion of having a prefix like “SY” and “FX”, so I had to text search them to see which ones are technically certain types.  I did it strictly, i.e. if it doesn’t contain the word “pad”, it’s not a pad, etc.  Technically all the individual patches that are instruments (like accordion, flute, oboe, etc) could be thought of as leads, but I didn’t bother processing them that way.
    Is it useful?  I like having an oboe patch and I like the organ patch, but ultimately only time will tell.  So far, of all the three Plug-Outs on the System-8, I use the JX-3P the least.  So if I need, in the spur of the moment, to utilize a different Plug-Out, this will probably be the one I delete to make room.  The oboe patch doesn’t sound super realistic, but it could prove useful.  But for my church’s Christmas music service, we happened to find a Christian who could assist us by playing oboe.  She did an excellent job, too!

D-50

D-50

    This is an iconic Linear Arithmetic synthesizer, per Wikipedia.  Reading over its architecture, it’s a cool concept, and one that definitely should (in theory) result in a more realistic synthesis of real instruments.
    The first thing that struck me is its 512 patches!  This is utterly ridiculous, and in theory this should mean I could find everything I want in this synthesizer’s patches.  If the stock 384 weren't enough, the other 128 are a set called "Beyond Fantasia."  I’m thinking at this point, “Great!  Let’s get to work!”
    Not so fast.  First of all, these patches do not contain the typical Roland patch name prefixes, like “LD” = “Lead”, etc.  So mathematically analyzing them is not very accurate, unlike the other VSTs and synthesizers on this page.  I resorted to using Excel to count patch descriptions that contain “harp”, “string”, etc.  This wildcard search is going to lead to a few false positives.
    Then I discovered that the patches are mostly named creatively rather than analytically, so there are many patches whose name defies mathematical or textual classification.  One would have to go through all 512 of them and decide what category they fit into, if any.
    Don’t get me wrong: a quick Google search found many hits on what famous song uses what patch on the D-50.  So I am not denigrating the synthesizer.  It’s got a ton of beautiful patches.
    My main frustration is that it is only available in VST.  I was hoping it could be adapted to the System-8, as that would be a fantastic addition, and make the System-8 even more difficult to beat in price per value.  For $1,500 (at the time of writing) you already get a very capable System-8 plus a Juno-106, a Jupiter-8, and access to several other iconic Roland Plug-Outs.  With how expensive the old 80s synthesizers are that you can get used on the internet, the System-8 is an incredible bargain.
    But the D-50, apparently, will remain a VST.  For a $20/month Roland Cloud subscription, that’s a steal.  But I prefer hardware, so if I absolutely needed some D-50 patches as a professional musician, I’d have to buy the Boutique D-05 and connect a MIDI keyboard to it.  But since I’m not rich, nor a touring musician, for now I will have to dream.

Church Instrument Patches

    One of the things that is also helpful in a church environment is having instrument patches for random needs.  You never know when you're going to need a flute patch, for example, if either the flutist is out sick, or you don't have one at your church.
    Now to be fair, those patches on the System-8 aren’t going to sound super realistic.  For example, I played viola and string bass in college.  I can spin through the string patches on my System-8 and its Plug-Outs and tell the strings aren’t realistic.  So I mainly judge patches by what they sound like on their own.
    Synthesizers aren't going to sound perfectly like the instrument they're intending to copy, but often they can be helpful when you are missing things you want to have.  So what instrument-like patches do the System-8, the System-8 Plug-Outs, and other Roland VSTs have?  This chart should tell you which one includes what patches, not by patch type code, but by description.  So unlike the first chart, which was mathematical, this one will be based on description.  Note that brass-type patches qualify as horns here.  Also note that I am not including the D-50: this chart is for System-8 users.

SYSTEM
Trumpet
Cello
Marimba
Clavichord
Bells
Clarinet
Oboe
Bassoon
Flute
Piccolo
Harp
Accordion
System-8



X
X



X

X

Juno-106
X


X
X







Jupiter-8

X

X
X



X

X

JX-3P



X


X

X


X

    As you can see, the D-50 has a very large amount of real instruments it can synthesize, at least based on the patches that are included.  That's why it's slightly disappointing as only a VST: the D-50 would be killer as a Plug-Out for the System-8.