New Sounds from Old Gear: Roland JV/XV Range

US Plenty of life left in classic synths      02/03/24

New Sounds from Old Gear: Roland JV/XV Range

If you're of a certain age, you'll probably remember the JV & XV ranges as great "bread & butter synths". Pre VST-age boxes full of all the obvious presets you might need to produce contemporary music. There was even a booming market in expansion cards full of waveforms, loops & yet more presets.

Starting with workstation keyboards like the JV80 & JV30 (the latter being a lowly Soundcanvas in disguise!), Roland progressed onto the JV880 and the legendary JV1080. XP keyboards, MC "groove boxes" & finally, an XV range; all packaging what was essentially the same synth engine into different formats.

Some had big screens, some had tiny ones; some had realtime controller knobs, others buttons & a data wheel. You can read about the technological minutiae in this article from Don Solaris: The ultimate Roland JV, JD, XV F.A.Q. |

I've got to say, for my purposes, it didn't matter too much what physical format the synth came in - I knew I'd only play the classic presets for 5 minutes anyway - I wanted to make weird sounds.

Roland's modules offered a huge range of different timbres for their day - perfect for all types of popular music.

All of these instruments share common waveforms, but later examples will likely have far more (my XV2020 has over 1000!). These waveforms, many full of naive vintage charm by now - are certainly good starting points for your own presets. The obvious synthesis processes like enveloping and filtering are here. Special mention must be given to the PKG filter, which has a unique sound - especially stunning when combined with some more exotic synth processes I will get to in a moment.

Patch TVF of Roland XV2020

Pretty much all of the range has FXM - a kind of crude exponential FM synthesis, that doesn't track very well, but is useful on percussion sounds for adding interest. But starting with the JV1080, we got structures. These allowed you to combine the waveforms and filters in unique ways, with optional Ring Modulator & Booster per-note effects in the signal path.

XV2020 Structures

Ringmod is really the killer feature here IMHO. It creates all sorts of intense pads, exotic percussion and sounds that defy belief. I recently live-streamed a bunch of my patches, and from that created a highlight reel; so if you'd like to hear this wild side of the JV/XV, then sit back and enjoy! The JV's odd, beautiful cousin, the JD-990, has even more cool synthesis features, like hard sync - I hope to obtain one one day, but they're quite expensive on the used market.

Which JV/XV?

With different generations of machine and different price points within the range, there's key differences in number of effects, waveforms, expansion card types (SR-JV vs SRX) sound quality & how sounds are edited. Ultimately in the end I went for "cheap: quantity not quality."

The Roland MC307 is like the more well-known 505, but with less outputs. Yet, it has a bigger screen and an extra bank of samples. I find that it's ROM waves, taken from across the JV expansion cards, offer great variety, with plenty of vintage Roland drum sounds, sound effects and synth waveforms. It's not too bad to program from the panel either as the screen is a decent size!

The XV2020 is also a bit of a bargain. Limited to one insert effect - it's nevertheless a tiny powerhouse. It has USB connectivity for editing (yeah, you'll need an editor!) and offers a huge playground to explore. I added a cheaper - forgotten SRX card ("Platinum Trax") and found that the loops can be delightfully mangled by the Ringmod; you'll hear that in my video.

The USB takes some cajoliong to work with Windows 10, but some discussion & help is available online. Manually installing the driver worked for me!


So yeah, I think if you see these boxes come up for around £100, they're definitely worth a punt. All sorts of wild sounds are waiting inside...

Posted by MagicalSynthAdventure an expert in synthesis technology from last Century and Amiga enthusiast.

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