Concept: Full channel strip with tube mic preamp.
Big deal: Compressor auto-adjusts settings based on program complexity and overall levels. Includes logic-assisted gate, de-esser, Big Bottom bass extender, Aphex’s trademark Aural Exciter, and parametric midrange EQ.
We think: This is a lot of features for the money, and you’ll hear a big difference in sound quality stepping up to this compared with strips in the $200–$500 range.
List: $1,299 | Approx. street: $1,000 | aphex.com
Concept: Korg’s new top-end arranger keyboard.
Big deal: Improved sounds and effects, including some from the SV-1 Stage Vintage piano. Internal sound ROM and sample RAM of 256MB each. Color touch screen has motorized tilt on 76-key model. Optional PA-AS speaker piggybacks on keyboard with no cables or extra support. TC-Helicon vocal effects and Waves mastering effects.
We think: Think Korg threw the arranger game? Think again. This thing is a beast.
61 keys list: $4,600 | Approx. street: $3,700 | 76 keys list: $5,000 | Approx. street: $4,000 | korg.com/pa3x
VIENNA DIMENSION BRASS
Concept: Virtual brass instrument.
Big deal: Seamless transitions from unison to divisi to harmony playing, depending on what your fingers are doing. Tons of articulation and humanizing options.
We think: Quite possibly the most realistic and playable virtual brass we’ve ever heard. Find our NAMM video at keyboardmag.com/article/126283 and hear for yourself.
Direct or retail: $745 | vsl.co.at | ilio.com
Concept: Full-featured MIDI controller at a budget price.
Big deal: Eight knobs and eight faders. Four MPC-style velocity-sensitive drum pads. Transport controls. Five-pin MIDI as well as USB. Bus powered. Includes Ableton Live Lite.
We think: How do those Volkswagen ads go? “Niiice” for the price of “nice.”
List: $199.99 | Approx street: $160 | alesis.com
At the NAMM show, the good folks from Roland sidled up to me and whispered, “We have something big to show you, but it’s in our hotel room and you can’t tell anyone.” My first thought was, “I’d get pepper sprayed for using that line, but you guys pull it off.” My second was, “Hell, yeah!” Well, now I can tell you, so for all who’ve been wondering when and if Roland will bring back the Jupiter, feast your eyes. I played it, and better, heard it played by Roland’s Scott Tibbs and Lady Gaga’s keyboardist Brockett Parsons.
Concept: It’s a live performance synth—there’s an arpeggiator, but no sequencing. Instead, the focus is on quick splits and layers, but much more importantly, on acoustic and electric sounds with realism that makes absolutely no compromises.
Technology: You may be familiar with Roland’s term “SuperNatural.” It refers to a combination of exhaustive sampling (and depending on the type of sound, modeling) and realtime analysis of your playing. The goal is for you to think and play like a keyboardist but sound like the instrument you’re emulating, without any of the usual telltales that you’re playing (for example) brass, strings, or woodwinds on a synth. This isn’t a new idea, as orchestral sample libraries have long made use of controllerswitched articulations. SuperNatural, though, really aims to make all the decisions about what samples are played (or what the model does) better and faster than you and I can. Where other Roland keyboards have used SuperNatural for featured sounds, every sound in the Jupiter-80 is SuperNatural.
Does it work? The demo units weren’t yet fully populated with sounds, but those that I did get to play—including pianos, saxes, guitars, strings, and synths—were simply uncanny. The upright bass was the most realistic I’ve ever heard. What really made the sounds pop was the finger connection. It was almost as if all I had to do to get a proper slur, trill, use of divisi, or other musical statement was simply to think about what I wanted and just let my hands go. Roland calls this “behavior modeling.” I call it artificial intelligence taking over the world.
But does it do B-3s? Yes, as hinted at by the dedicated rotary buttons. The production model will contain Roland’s latest generation of clonewheel modeling with full drawbar control onscreen.
What’s in a name? Ask Roland founder Mr. Kakehashi, and he’ll tell you that “Jupiter” has always referred to Roland’s most forward-thinking synths. In fact, it wasn’t until now that he felt ready to put this name on an instrument again. For that very reason, “Jupiter” also has indelible analog connotations for many of us. Since the Jupiter-80 can make all those synth sounds wonderfully, but is short on the knob factor, I think it’d be a great move for Roland to make a new PG “programmer” to park atop that nice big space on the right. Then, they’d truly have an instrument that pleases everybody.
Price TBD | rolandconnect.com