If you knew nothing about Roland’s Jupiter legacy, you
would immediately appreciate the Jupiter-50 for the colossal, deep, and
incredibly useful stage instrument that it is. If you’re familiar with
the Jovian ancestry, you might compare it to its analog forebears, or
more likely its most recent older brother, the Jupiter-80 (reviewed Oct.
’11). Like the 80, it offers a three-layer virtual analog synth, a full
clonewheel organ, and a host of Roland’s best keyboard and acoustic
instrument sounds. Also like the 80, it’s not a sequencing workstation;
it focuses instead on letting you split and layer all those sounds on
the fly. Most importantly, it does so at a price that far more working
musicians will find approachable. Comparisons aside, it stands on its
own as a do-it-all gig powerhouse.
CLICK HERE for editor Stephen Fortner's first look videos from 2012.
The Jupiter-50 is always in a turbocharged “combi” mode,
letting you call up extremely dynamic soundscapes with one button press.
If you’re unfamiliar with how the new Jupiters “think,” the two models
are alike enough that our review of the Jupiter-80 is required reading. Click here to read it.
The highest level of organization in the Jupiter-50 is the
Registration, which saves the entire state of the instrument. Then you
have parts, which correspond to three settable keyboard zones:
Percussion/Lower, Upper, and Solo. Single sound programs that can occupy
these parts are called Tones, but wait—there’s more. Where the
Percussion/Lower and Solo parts are single-Tone affairs, the Upper part
can group up to four Tones in what’s called a Live Set. Live Sets can be
saved as their own objects (amounting to four-way templates for
building Registrations) and have their own split and layer settings for
the four Tones. Hit either Split button (there are two), however, and
you’ll be playing only the Lower or Solo part in the corresponding key
zone, not anything in the Upper part.
So, think of the Upper part as your main well of layered
sounds, and Percussion/Lower and Solo as what you’d bring in way down
low and way up high, respectively. The Jupiter-80’s Lower part was
separate from its Percussion part, and could also contain a four-way
Live Set. Other than the lack of a touchscreen, that’s one of the
biggest downscales from the 80: one less Live Set, so six-Tone
multitimbral capability instead of ten.
The Jupiter-50 appeals to the graphic artist in me: It’s
an intentional contrast of black metal sprinkled with Halloween hard
candies, capped at its ends with silver plastic trapezoids. Roland’s
ever-present D-Beam, two assignable knobs defaulted to filter cutoff and
resonance, two assignable buttons (that often switch articulations on
acoustic instrument sounds), and sliders to mix the three parts are all
on hand. On an instrument this targeted at gigging pros, I think it’s
fair to want a few more controls still. For example, even Yamaha’s
little MX gives you 12 possible tweaks with its four knobs
times three rows of functions. The Jupiter-50 does have a “Tone
Blender,” though, which is a macro that sweeps several parameters at
once. You can scale entry and destination values for each parameter
(allowing for, say, a big cutoff sweep but just a little more
resonance), and the Resonance knob does the sweep.
Beneath the knobs are the arpeggiator triggers as well as
the transpose/octave shift buttons. The arpeggiator is much like that on
the Jupiter-80: it has “played” phrases appropriate to various Tones as
well as up-down retro synth fare. It also stores 16 of your own
Rounding out the top of the panel is a song recorder that
captures everything you do on the Jupiter-50 as a stereo audio file to
an inserted USB stick, or play audio backing tracks from same. Owing to
the Jupiter-50’s six-part capability (as opposed to the usual 16), it
doesn’t do multitimbral playback of Standard MIDI files.
Unlike the Jupiter-80’s touchscreen, the 240 x 64
monochrome display won't allow quick live adjustment of the drawbar
organ or virtual analog synth, but I found in-studio adjustments and
editing to be an intuitive breeze.
If you use the D-Beam—which can do volume swells, pitch
dive-bombs, or be assigned to a destination of your choice—its location
on the upper left might make it tough to put a second keyboard above the
Jupiter on a two-tier stand. Given the Jupiter’s layering and splitting
capabilities, though, it may be all you need to take to the gig, but
this depends on how attached you are to your other keyboards.
The Registration section has moved to the lower left of
the panel from its pipe organ-like place below the keys of the
Jupiter-80. Next, a Manual button is useful for basic patch browsing and
forcing a kind of non-combi mode. This is an improvement over the
Jupiter-80, where the always-multitimbral approach made a lot of
keyboardists go, “How do I get just a piano? Or a Clav?” One answer was
that you created a Live Set that contained your desired single Tone and
made sure the other slots were turned off. Though this was fairly quick
once you knew how, but here, you just hit the Manual button and browse
sounds using the category buttons. Hit one of these a second time and
you get a list of single Tones that you can scroll through. Many of the
categories hide multiple sub-lists (straight pianos versus ’80s
ballad-style layered pianos, for example), which you get to by arrowing
left or right.
The Perc/Lower and Lower Tone buttons toggle between drum
kits and standard pitched sounds; the Percussion/Lower part can contain
one or the other but not both at the same time. The adjacent Split
button zones this part leftmost on the keyboard.
Next up are the category buttons for the Upper section
(Piano, Bass, Strings, etc.). Since the Upper part contains the four-way
Live Set, these buttons select Live Sets by default as opposed to
single Tones—which you’d choose by pushing in one level deeper to a slot
in your Live Set. An “Alternate” button does a quick patch swap to a
programmable sister sound, and is useful for backing off to just a grand
piano (for example), then going back to your big layer. Why not just
change patches altogether? Because you might want to keep everything
else about your Registration in place during that song.
The Upper part’s Other button initially presents seven
families, including most of the synth pads and special effects sounds.
Arrow around a bit, though, and you’ll discover that “Other” can
actually access every sound in the machine. One analogy is that if the
category buttons are like those tiles on the Windows 8 desktop, the
Other button is like clicking on your C drive.
The Solo section accesses several families of mainly
monophonic string, woodwinds, and brass Tones, but also has an Other
button, which you could use to send any Tone to this part.
Sounds and Performance
Roland’s term “SuperNatural” refers to a combination of
sampled raw materials, modeled sonic details, and realtime articulations
based on how your fingers interact with the keyboard and other
performance controls. As on the Jupiter-80, SuperNatural Synth refers to
the virtual analog synth (it's parameters can all be seen and tweaked in the JP Synth Editor iPad app), and
SuperNatural Acoustic refers to everything else—even Tones that aren’t
technically acoustic. The synth actually consists of three “Partials,”
or independent oscillator-filter-amp signal paths, and you can stack up
all three while only using a single Tone.
If you prefer a joystick to wheels, you'll be happy with
this one—it’s durable and lively. The silky semi-weighted 76-key action
made gigging on the Jupiter-50 a very rewarding experience. There’s a
snappy quality to the keys that makes racing up and down scales
effortless. Expressive performers will miss aftertouch, which seems like
a blaring omission on a synth that emulates acoustic instruments so
well. In spite of this, the overall sonic flavor is as delicious as the
candy-coated panel suggests.
I appreciated the dedicated buttons for the rotary effect,
which become active if you’re using a drawbar organ Tone somewhere.
These are derived from Roland’s V-Combo organs, and you do get
individual drawbar control if you’re okay with some menu-diving. By
today’s dedicated clone standards, the rotary effect is good but not
great. A puzzling omission is that there’s no vibrato/chorus
effect—something you’ll find on every Roland clonewheel going back to
Using the solo and ensemble strings, brass, and woodwinds,
you can whip up outrageously good orchestral arrangements. Strings in
particular have always been a real strength for Roland, and here they’re
just stratospherically advanced. It’s not like they’ll replace high-end
sample libraries used on feature films, but the SuperNatural engine
makes it eerily easy to just “play keyboards” and get a result that
sounds like you spent time massaging articulations in a DAW.
The main piano is essentially the same SuperNatural sound
that debuted in the RD-700NX stage piano (reviewed Mar. ’11) and that
has appeared in the Jupiter-80 and Integra-7 (reviewed Mar. ’13). It’s
full, rich, bright when you want it to be, and every bit the premium
piano sound a professional stage keyboard should have. Vintage electric
keys like Rhodes, Wurly, and Clav likewise leave little to be desired in
terms of variety and attitude.
Guitar sounds make use of the SuperNatural engine to voice
realistic strums, note orders in chords, harmonics, mutes, and more. It
takes practice to achieve an artful, convincing performance, but it’s
do-able. Reproducing every physical nuance of strings or wind always
puts more pressure on the performer than on the digital origin of the
sound itself, and the Jupiter-50 is no different in this regard.
The Harmony Intelligence feature adds notes to your
right-hand lead based on your left-hand chords. Depending on how you use
the presets geared to different styles of music, it can sound as
cutting-edge as something you’d do on a modular synth or as cheesy as a
vintage Lowrey organ. [Hey, Gotye used an old Lowrey and he won two Grammys! –Ed.]
The Jupiter-50 maxes out at 128 voices of polyphony
compared to the Jupiter-80’s 256. It was a bit easier than expected to
bump against this ceiling when doing a lot of layering, especially if
the analog synth was involved, as this engine seem to use more
JP Synth Editor App
Like the Jupiter-80, the Jupiter-50 has a big space on the right with
nothing but the logo. One thing you could put there is your iPad,
controlling the virtual analog synth (but at this time, not the other
sounds) using the free JP Synth Editor app. Pros will want more physical
knobs and sliders, but unlike hardware, an app can be easily updated.
We hope such updates add drawbar control for the organ, and some
graphical editing of SuperNatural acoustic sounds like in the ARX
expansions for Roland’s Fantom-G.
Physically and metaphorically, the Jupiter-50 bears a resemblance to the monolith from Kubrick’s film 2001:
It’s full of vast power and potential, and signifies evolution.
Specifically, evolution of how we think about arranging and accessing
sounds in a professional keyboard. Its standout quality is that realism
and playability are exemplary across all of those sounds,
acoustic and synthetic alike. If you’re shopping for a “main keyboard”
for your rig and don’t need a workstation, the Jupiter-50 should be on
your short list of instruments to audition.
Seemingly bottomless well of sounds. Rich, multi-way
splitting and layering. Gig-friendly weight for a 76-key instrument.
Full drawbar organ and virtual analog synth engines. Orchestral realism
is unmatched in a gig-oriented keyboard.
Layering potential can outclass the 128-voice polyphony.
Small screen and few physical controls not ideal for controlling drawbar
organ and synth sounds. No aftertouch.
Uncommon excellence across all sound categories and a
fresh approach to splitting and layering make this a compelling
instrument for pros—at a sensible price.
$2,399 list | $1,999 street