Original posted at: http://ihavesynth.com/review/roland-jd-800/roland-jd-800
I'm going to go out on a limb and say the JD-800 is one of the greatest synthesizers Roland's ever produced. Not because it is loaded with a ton of features, but because of it's sheer design that I wish Roland would take an opportunity to produce a new line of JD series synths.
Just the LOOK of the JD-800 gives many keyboardists a "synth boner". While constructed of molded plastic (metal side panels would have helped keep more of these around!), it's build could be described as a bit flimsy, but they were durable enough to be road worthy.
It's the philosophy of this synth that I love so much.
When the JD-800 arrived in 1992, people have had enough of analog (can you actually believe that?!?!?), and digital synthesizers were now all programmed with the idea that users would edit sounds using a computer, so real-time control was sacrificed. The JD-800 was the first one to step in and say (you know what? alpha dials suck! So do tiny little LCD screens and silkscreened menus and graphs to guide you through the synths parameters."
Before close examination, it looks like an 80's pop version of an analog synth, but it's anything but.
What you get is a 26 voice ROM-based digital synthesizer. The is ONE DCO that controls the sound source of a multitude of sampled waveforms. After that, the rest of the programming is very familiar to analog synths, with multiple filter choices, envelope sections, dual LFO's, etc. While this may not sound all that interesting, each sound layers up to 4 of these individual signal paths. In this sense, the JD-800 becomes something like a super-charged D-50, except the joystick on the D-50 would be replaced with a mixer section. Personally, I think joystick mixing would have been a better choice when they designed this synth. It's sound is actually based on the D-50, though updated with better wave ROM. While 26 voices was certainly a lot for 1992, keep in mind one voice each is used for each partial, so using all 4 partials limits you to a 6 voice instrument, plus two spare voices for whatever. At the end of the signal chain is an assortment of effects that are entirely LCD-menu driven, which makes them a little complicated to edit.
The JD-800 is fully multi-timbral, and multi-mode is where you create your keyboard splits and complex layers. I generally avoid multi use with this instrument since this synth is really created for thick pads and power-chords, and adding multi layers kills the polyphony. Also in multi mode is where you'll find the drum section, an editable palatte of drum sounds, many of which became nearly as identifyable as the "digitalnativedance" patch from the D-50.
While the JD-800 was packed with a multitude of usable sounds, Roland created a set of ROM cards that added more waveforms to work with, and come with a memory card to save your specific sound sets using those waveforms.
If you're considering one of these boards, and I HIGHLY recommend them, you should know that there is NO sequencer or appegiator, this is strictly a performance synth. I believe the panel controls transmit midi control parameters, though I've never used it in that fashion, so I'm not completely sure.
The best uses for the JD-800: brass pads, warm strings, percussive sounds, pan flute type sounds, FX pads. Drum sounds are usable.NOT good for: pianos, organs, acoustic instruments like upright basses and guitars.
My personal recommendation: slave up a JP-8080, Wavestation, or D-50 to get some truly THICK Roland pads.
Again, this synth doesn't have every bell and whistle, but you can see Roland's intent to replace their two legendary synthesizers: The Jupiter 8 (mostly in appearance and physical analog-style control) and the D-50 (in terms of sound). What they wound up creating was a synthesizer that took sound control back to the player instead of the computer, and paved the road for the JV series of instruments, that would evolve into the XV series, then ultimately the Fantom series.