The Roland JX-10 is a 12-voice polyphonic analog synthesizer, with a semi-weighted 76-key keyboard sensitive to both velocity and aftertouch. It’s a vintage beast, considered by Roland its flagship product from 1984 to 1989. Despite of its power, it suffered a lot of the lack of MIDI implementation that, in conjunction with the need of the programmer PG-800 to fully appreciate the synth, was the main reason that kept the machine “blurred”…in a way.
Starting from 2012, the interest for this synthesizer started to increase, due also to the increase of the interest of electronic musicians and keyboard players towards the vintage world. The first milestone of the “resurrection” of this machine was without doubt the firmware 2.x made available by Colin Fraser: he introduced a good sysex implementation making the synthesizer “mangageable” using the MIDI protocol and making the users beeing able to send sounds to the machine using sysex dumps started from a PC.
The work of Colin was the entry point of the main work made by Fred Vecoven who performed a full rewrite of the assigner code of the keyboard: the firmware that deals with sound programming, tuning, MIDI, patch management and so on. Fred realized the 3.x version of the firmware that not only fully implemented the MIDI protocol making the synthesizer react to CC messages and making it fully programmable via MIDI, but also introduced a lot of new features, giving in this manner “new glory” to this marvellous machine.
If you own a JX-10 you have to take a look at his website. In summary and according to my small opinion, at least you should consider to take:
- The new firmware 3.x, that, alone, will give new life to your machine. It’s supplied inside a ROM: the installation process requires 10 minutes and no soldering.
- The new M-1024C memory cartridge, that will make your synth capable of storing store 16 banks of 64 sounds. Inside each bank you can also store 50 custom tones as well.
If you are interested in both the upgrades you should consider to buy the brand new (at the time of the article, of course) flash module that offers both the new firmware and 16 (or 32) banks of 64 sounds, giving also the capability to update the firmware via MIDI.
If you’re more expert in electronics you should also consider taking the new display made by Guy Wilkinson, the GU280, that works in tandem with the new firmware and needs it for giving access to the full set of features that it offers.
Last but not least you can consider to mod your JX-10 installing the PWM upgrade and the 4.x firmware that adds pulse width modulation to the synthesizer and additional modulation sources.
So, this is in summary the arsenal of upgrades that are available for this synthesizer nowadays thanks to the work of people like Fred and Guy. In this article I’ll start from my JX-10 that has the firmware 3.09 and the M-1024C in order to analyze how these improvements can be used to easily program the synthesizer using, for example, an iPAD and an app that costs much much more than the original PG-800 but offers more possibilities.
We’ll also take a look at how to easily and quickly save your patches inside your computer (or your iPad, indeed) using sysex dumps in order to quickly recall them when you need them.
Let’s start step by step. First of all, let’s recall briefly the synthesis engine of the machine. Each patch inside the JX-10 is made combining in different ways two tones and tweaking few other parameters in order to reach the desired result. The schema below shows the architecture of the synth and the workflow it offers.
Think about each tone as a full synthesizer organized according to the schema below.
If you remember the JX-8P you won’t have difficulties in recognizing the above architecture. It’s quite simple:
- Two DCOs with pitch going from 16′ to 2′ and offering sawtooth, square, impulse without PWM (if you don’t have Vecoven’s PWM mod), white noise. DCO1 and DCO2 can work in sync according to three modes (DCO2 slave and DCO1 master, each one of them influenced by the other in pitch and harmonic content, both modes). The pitch of each oscillator can be modulated by the LFO or one of the two envelope generators. The velocity can be used as a modulation source for the amount of pitch modulation introduced by the two envelopes . For both DCO1 and DCO2 there is a coarse pitch control from -12 to +12 semitones and, for DCO2 only, a fine pitch control;
- A mixer for DCO1 and DCO2. The DCO2 level can be modulated with one of the two envelopes. Again the velocity can modulate the level modulation of the DCO2 (cool!);
- A LFO using sine, square and noise waveforms;
- Two ADSR envelopes that can be triggered in direct or reverse mode for each parameter modulated by them (except for VCA amplitude);
- A couple of voltage controlled filters consisting of a non-resonant high-pass filter with adjustable cut-off frequency for discrete values (0,1,2) and a low resonant pass filter. The cutoff frequency of the latter can be modulated by the LFO, envelopes, velocity, key tracking;
- A VCA controlled by envelope 2 or GATE voltage;
- A Chorus effect (the famous Roland Chorus effect!)
All the parameters of the synthesis path described above can be edited using menus and submenus of course, but I’ll show how to operate on them in a more affordable way. These is what we need, despite of the JX-10 with 3.0x firmware installed and an iPad of whatever generation (who doesn’t have it, LOL?)
- The Camera Connection KIT or the Lightning to USB adapter (better if it’s the latest one with the USB-C connector for charging), according to the model of iPad you have.
- The app “iPG-8oo“
So, let’s calculate our effort. I assume you already have the JX-10 and and iPad. The first is mandatory if you want to program it, eheheh. The second…ok, I can suppose that you bought it for other purposes, do you agree? If not, you can always use it for a loooot of other things, while the PG-800 is used only to program the JX.
You need $4.95 for the app and a maximum of about $50 for the adapter, but you can find it at a lower price (my discontinued ESI MIDI MATE II costed 25 euros). Not bad if you consider that if you’re lucky enough to find a good PG-800 you’ll pay it not less than 500 bucks.
Let’s see how to connect and setup everything, quite simple. First of all you have to do is to set the MIDI channel for the upper tone and for the lower one. I suggest 1 for the upper and 2 for the lower. To do this you have to access the MIDI section of the synth and go to the right parameter. Take a look at the manual if you need help, page 41 and 42. Also you have to set to ON the transmission (send/receive) of all the MIDI parameters that are shown at page 44 and 45 of the manual, in order to let the synth correctly communicate with the editor and vice versa.
Remember to write your settings using the “Writing procedure” that is described at page 42 of the manual.
- Buy and download from the APP STORE the iPG-800 app.
- Launch it and configure it, tapping on the “i” near the VCA section, on the top-right corner of the app. You have to select the MKS-70 mode A and assign to TONE A (upper) and TONE B (lower) the correct channels. PAY ATTENTION: To switch from TONE A to TONE B and vice versa, you have to use the selector located at the center-right position of the main screen. There’s no way to switch between the two tones inside the settings popup.
Take a look at this video if you need help.
- Connect the MIDI to USB adapter to the synth, putting the MIDI OUT connector inside the MIDI IN “hole” in the back of the synthesizer and the MIDI IN connector inside the MIDI OUT hole, of course;
- Connect the MIDI to USB adapter to your Camera Connection Kit or Lightning to USB adapter;
- Connect the CCK or the Lightning to USB adapter to your iPad and reload the app;
- Try to change some parameters of the iPG-800 and check that the JX-10 reacts to what you do to your iPad. Also, try to change patch on your JX-10 and check that the iPG-800 adjusts its controls according to the selected patch as well.
So your programming workflow becomes quite straightforward, doesn’t it? What you have to do is:
- Choose if you need one or two tones, depending on the sound you have in mind;
- Choose the tone number(s) you want to use;
- Connect and launch iPG-800;
- Select the tone you have to work to and modify it using the app;
- Modify the parameter of the patch containing the tone(s);
- Give the patch a name;
- Save it;
- [optional] Send the patch to your PC as a sysex dump in order to backup it.
CAVEAT EMPTOR: at the state of the art the iPG-800 won’t work if you have upgraded your JX-10 with the PWM kit. But maybe the programmers will release a new version which will be compatible, I really hope so. If you have the PWM upgrade I suggest to use the fantastic CTRLR panel designed by Christian Roethlisberger to control your synthesizer. It also acts as a librarian. You can find it here.
For what concernes exchanging sysex dumps with your PC or your iPad what you need to do is:
- Choose a software that manages sysex dumps (to and from your synthesizer) and install it;
- Connect your JX-10 to your PC using the MIDI to USB adapter. If you are planning to use the iPad, you have to use the CCK or the Lightning to USB adapter, of course.
Regarding the software I can suggest two of them that are free:
- SysEx librarian, if you’re under OSx.
- MidiOX, if you’re under Windows.
Also, give a look at the video below realized by me, it gives a step-by-step tutorial on how to use Sysex librarian to send sysex files to your synthesizer.
Personally I prefer using the iPad, for which I found a very good app named Midi Tool Box. The app offers a very efficient librarian that lets the user also deal with collection of preferred sysex files. In addition, the app offers a lot of useful tools, like a midi monitor, a status monitor, a MIDI keyboard and a standard midi file player. In my opinion it’s the perfect companion for iPG-800 and works very well with a “Vecovened” JX-10. I kindly suggest you to check it out.
Having a good midi implementation lets you make nowadays a lot of things that before you could only imagine. Have you ever heard about Liine Lemur? Lemur is platform that let’s you design and use custom control surfaces for any MIDI machine that listens to control change messages. These control surfaces require gestures to operate with them. I use Lemur a lot and, thanks to the new firmware, I decided to program a control surface for my “Vecovened” JX-10.
It’s thought for a live contest and offers touchable shortcuts for letting you modify your patch in the most common parameters.
The control surface offers also a good (in my opinion of course) step sequencer that will give you a lot of fun.
You can download it for free visiting this section.
Well, I think it’s more or less everything. If you have questions feel free to contact me, I’ll answer for sure.
Grab one of these marvellous machines if you can, it’ll give you great fun and satisfaction.