Gear Review: Roland’s JD-800 Software Synthesizer

Producers and keyboardists of the early 1990s loved the original Roland JD-800 digital synthesizer for the sounds it made, but mostly because of how they could control it. Now, some 30 years after the debut of the original JD-800 hardware synth, Roland has introduced a dedicated DAW plug-in of the JD-800. The software-based synthesizer delivers a virtual recreation of the original’s unique sound and expansive control interface, plus a full complement of new features and enhancements for today’s music producers.

Producers and keyboardists are always keen on finding new ways to use classic synthesizer sounds, and the evolution of the keyboard-based synths over decades has provided a wide variety of waveforms and samples from which they can choose. Today, digital libraries are overflowing with sounds, but at the heart of the creative process—where and how a sound is ‘tweaked’ to fit a song or create a mood—is on the keyboard where the player/programmer has the ability to make minute adjustments to get just the right sound or subtly change a sound to flow with the composition. Clearly, this is not an easy thing to do. It requires a lot of knowledge of how synths create sounds and how the elements of synthesis are presented for control. 

As synths evolved in the ‘90s, preset sounds on popular synths became all the rage. Presets provided quick access to great sounds and circumvented what many users found to be tedious programming and hours spent learning an interface. What presets did not do was allow the player control and ‘shape’ sounds to ‘make them their own’. Enter the Roland JD-800 synthesizer with its many knobs and sliders for patch editing and performance control. For creatives, it was a welcome throwback to synths where you could adjust everything, and its ability to create and control great sounds made it a classic.   

Today’s JD-800 Software Synthesizer has been painstakingly recrafted by the manufacturer to sound and behave exactly like the original hardware. They could have simply bundled a bunch of JD-800 samples, but instead, Roland has wisely chosen to leverage the original waveform data and combine that with advanced modeling techniques to perfectly recreate the big, bright, spacious sound the JD-800 is known for. More importantly, it provides the same level of control as the original. For modern keyboardists and producers, this represents the potential of the best of both worlds: original sounds and playability, and versatility of a modern software synth.

Digging a little deeper, Roland has recreated and enhanced major features of the JD-800, including its formidable multistage effects section with an expanded view for real-time tweaking, a master EQ, and seven effects with adjustable controls and the ability to change the signal flow with drag-and-drop actions.

In addition to control, you’ll find the 64 original presets from the JD-800 hardware, plus 64 newly crafted presets and an extensive array of top-level controls to create all-new sounds with the look of the original interface (now, resizable for high-resolution screens). It comes in VST3, AU, and AAX formats for compatibility with popular Windows and Mac production software. The plug-in also features native Apple silicon support for Mac computers.
Roland’s software version of the JD-800 synthesizer is available as a free trial on the Roland Cloud, a subscription-based collection of VST instruments and ‘RVR’ sample libraries. Instrument downloads and installation are handled by Roland’s Cloud Manager software, and a subscription costs a lot less than buying vintage synths—if you can even find them. In addition to the JD-800, Roland Cloud’s Legendary series includes plug-in versions of other classic Roland synths like the JUNO-60, JUPITER-8, TR-808, TR-909, and D-50.

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