The Roland Boutique Series StoryA Behind-the-Scenes Interview with the Developers

The Roland Boutique Series Story

What was the starting point in the development of the Roland Boutique series?

Tojo:Our starting point was that we wanted to create a full-fledged synth in a compact form factor; something that might look like a gadget at first glance, but was capable of producing amazing sounds. We wanted to create a synth that people could casually enjoy, came with a built-in speaker, and could also run on batteries. Since we had the ACB (Analog Circuit Behavior) modeling technology that was developed for AIRA and a mini keyboard that was first incorporated in the JD-Xi, we thought that we could make something interesting by combining these two. That was around the end of last year, and actual development began in around January this year.

Were you playing with the idea of basing this series on synth classics right from the outset?

Tojo:Yes, we were. We wanted to combine ACB and the mini keyboard to reproduce classics that everyone was familiar with. The JUPITER-8 and JUNO-106 were candidates right from the start, since these synths are still very popular today. We wanted to add another synth to the lineup, so we decided to go with the JX-3P, which produces different types of sounds from either the JUPITER or JUNO. We reached the decision to go with these three synths rather quickly, without much debate.


You must have spent a lot of time studying the JUPITER-8, JUNO-106, and JX-3P when you were developing the Roland Boutique series. In your opinion, what are some of the points that made these three models so popular?

Tojo:My impression was that each of these had their own amazing character that was distinct from the other two, and that it was this extraordinary uniqueness that drew so many people to these synths and made them the catalysts for so many new styles of music. The other thing I felt was the developers' "soul," if you will.

Tohyama:I had a renewed realization that the chorus on the JUNO-106 was truly something special. In a conversation that we had with the original developers, we learned that the JUNO-106 was designed with only one oscillator to cut down on cost. But naturally, you could not get thick and dense sounds with just one oscillator. So what they did was add that chorus circuit to give the sound more thickness and density. The JUNO-106 is known for its fat bass sounds, but that actually came from boosting the low end when the high-pass filter was not being applied. So in other words, that characteristic sound was a product of different strategies that developers incorporated to compensate for the lack of oscillators. So this was truly an example of turning calamity into a blessing. (Laughs.)

Ohnishi:Of the three synths featured in this series, the JUNO-106 was the only one that I had a chance to actually operate [in the past], so the sounds of the real JUPITER-8 and JX-3P were very new and fresh for me. When you start playing around with analog synths, you can't fail to notice the amazing changes in sound that you get by moving their sliders. That gave me a feel for why so many people love these three synths.

Tojo:I had never touched a real JUPITER-8 until we launched this project, so it was a lot of fun being able to play around with it. (Laughs.)

Would it be correct to say that these modules digitally reproduce the sounds of the originals using ACB?

Tojo:Yes, it would be. There are no parameters that are available on the original models that are not on the Roland Boutique models. Aside from a few parameter controls that we had to move around on the panel layout due to space constraints, everything is based on the designs of the originals.

Ohnishi:That said, some parameters have been given a wider range of settings than those on the original instruments, and we've also added extra waveforms to the oscillator and LFO sections. For example, in the JP-08, which is based on the JUPITER-8, we've added triangular waves and noise to the LFO, and a sine wave to VCO-1. We've also expanded the ranges of VCO-1 and VCO-2.

Tohyama:With the JU-06, which is based on the JUNO-106, we gave the LFO rate a wider range of settings, and made the high-pass filter continually variable, whereas it was switchable in four increments on the original. So you get the faithful sound of the original instrument, as well as more options for creating sounds that you couldn't get with the original.

Ohnishi:Of the three, the JX-03, which is based on the JX-3P, has the largest number of newly added parameters, including two new types of sawtooth waveforms and noise added to the LFO, as well as sine, sawtooth, and noise waveforms added to the DCO. We also expanded the DCO's range, and added three new types of cross-modulation modes.

Tohyama:On the JU-06, you can now use Chorus 1 and Chorus 2 simultaneously. While this feature was available on the JUNO-6 and JUNO-60, you could not do this on the JUNO-106. According to feedback from enthusiasts, many seek out the JUNO-6 or JUNO-60 synths precisely for this simultaneous chorus feature, so we decided to incorporate it into the JU-06.

Tojo:We believe that this simultaneous chorus feature will be a "dream" feature for JUNO-106 fans. (Laughs.)

Is the Roland Boutique series developed by the same team that develops the AIRA products?

Tojo:No, these are two different teams. At Roland, we form development teams on a per-product basis, so this team came together exclusively for the Roland Boutique series. That said, we did get some help from AIRA developers on ACB.

You mentioned earlier that you interviewed some of the original developers. How did that go?

Tojo:With ACB, all you need is a circuit diagram and the actual synth to get pretty decent simulations. But still, you come across things in the development process that you just can't figure out. The JUNO-106's low boost was one such mystery where we were just scratching our heads wondering why they designed the circuits the way they did. So when we came across mysteries like these, we would go speak with the engineers who were actually involved in the development of the originals.

Roland Boutique

Each Roland Boutique series module has four voices of polyphony.

Tojo:That's correct. All three models come with four voices of polyphony, and you can switch between Poly, Solo, or Unison modes. If four voices aren’t enough, you can connect multiple units in a MIDI chain for more polyphony. So with two units, you get eight voices of polyphony. You can get pretty amazing sounds by connecting two JP-08 units for eight voices of polyphony. I think we've been able to reproduce the thickness and depth of the original tones. Just to let you know, while there are no restrictions to the number of units you can connect in a chain, you will start to notice some latency if you connect too many since it's a MIDI connection. (Laughs.)

Do all units in a chain connection have to be the same model?

Tojo:No, they can be different. However, if you have different models in a chain you are only increasing the polyphony, whereas with the same models, the parameters will work together between them as well.

Tohyama:These units come with stereo mini input jacks so you can combine their outputs even if they are connected in a chain. Any audio that enters the input jack is reproduced on the unit's built-in speaker, and since it’s digitized first, you can output the audio from the USB jack as well.

So each module will work as a USB audio interface too?

Tojo:Yes. You can connect the unit to your PC via USB and exchange MIDI information as well as 24-bit/44.1 kHz audio with your DAW.

The standard sampling rate for the AIRA series is 96 kHz, but for the Roland Boutique series it's 44.1 kHz.

Tojo:Yes. AIRA uses 96 kHz, as it places priority on sound quality. But we've received feedback from some users that that has made them difficult to use in some situations. We wanted the Roland Boutique series to be something that a lot of people will be able to enjoy, so we went for the standard 44.1 kHz.

Ohnishi:Based on feedback from many users, we decided to use stereo mini jacks for the input/output and headphones jacks. We reasoned that this would make it easier for people to connect speakers and smartphones and such.

The modules don't have AC adapter jacks.

Ohnishi:No, they don't. They get their power through the USB jack. When not connected to a computer, a module can be powered with batteries, or with a generic USB power adapter.

Why did you go for units in the style of desktop modules that can also be mounted in an optional keyboard dock?

Tojo:At first, we were developing these with built-in keyboards. But at one point in the process, we decided to go with a separate keyboard because we thought there would be people who just wanted the module, and it would probably be more portable if the keyboard was separate. The K-25m keyboard unit that we developed exclusively for this series comes with 25 velocity-sensitive keys, and connects to a JP-08, JU-06, or JX-03 via a 16-pin flat cable.

Ohnishi:The K-25m is designed so that you can tilt the JP-08, JU-06, or JX-03 at three different angles. We weren't thinking of this type of mechanism at first, but there was this sketch that came across our desks that showed the panel section tilted up, and it kind of had that cool "analog synth" look. So we decided to make it adjustable to three angles. But since development had been well underway at that point, I think we gave the people responsible for mechanisms design a hard time. They told us that they got hints from toys to design this tilt-up mechanism.

The keyboard has two octaves. What was the determining factor for deciding on this size?

Tojo:With the keyboard attached, we wanted to make the setup the size of a standard sheet of paper, the size of an easily portable laptop.

Tohyama:So you can fit this setup in a laptop bag. (Laughs.)

Tojo:We went to great lengths to design the packaging as well, which we based on a book style. When you are not using it, you can place it in its package and store it on your bookshelf.

Any other features that are not obvious at first glance?

Tojo:You can use a module’s ribbon controller to play notes without connecting the K-25m keyboard. The standard setting would be to play notes chromatically, but you can also choose from several preset scales. The units also come with a 16-step/16-pattern sequencer, which I think will come in quite handy. You can rearrange the steps or sync it to MIDI clock, so there's a lot you can do with this. You can also use the ribbon controller to enter sequencer events.

Roland Boutique

What were some of the points that you paid particular attention to during development?

Tojo:We wanted to make a product that would strongly appeal to users on many different levels. So we went for a metal enclosure, integrated LEDs in the sliders, and generally made sure to give everything a true "boutique" feel. All the knobs and such were designed from scratch.

The modules, which are essentially miniaturizations of the original instruments, have a really appealing look and feel. It's true—you would want to own one of these.

Tojo:We felt that the enduring uniqueness of the JUPITER-8, JUNO-106, and JX-3P lies not only in their sounds but also in their designs, so we wanted to incorporate the essence of their appearances as well. That's how we ended up with these designs.

What were some of the difficulties that you came across in the development process?

Tojo:With regard to the sound modules, we had the ACB technology, so although it was a lot of work, we never hit a wall. I think we had a rather more difficult time with the tilting mechanism and such, as well as figuring out how to fit all of the circuitry in this compact size.

Ohinishi:Another area was battery power. Initially, we wanted them to run on two AA-size batteries. But since we wanted to integrate a speaker and use select parts in the analog circuit for better signal-to-noise ratio, we settled on four AA-size batteries. A module will run for about six hours on batteries.

Tojo:He was on the team that developed the R-09, R-05, and other field recorders, so he has a lot of know-how on battery power. Roland's first field recorder, the R-1, was notorious for its short battery life. [Laughs.] So the development team went to work on that problem and the battery life got better and better. So the Roland Boutique series takes advantage of this battery power know-how, which was accumulated in the development of field recorders.

What are your feelings as developers now that these products are complete?

Tohyama:I think we were able to make instruments that people from generations who don't know the originals, including myself, will be able to enjoy.

Tojo:We've been showing the finished product around at different departments in Roland, and the universal sentiment seems to be, "I want one of these!" I think that a product that so many people want to own may be a bit of a rarity. I want one myself too. (Laughs.)

Ohnishi:These products are for limited production only, so if you want one please make sure to reserve one for yourself soon. (Laughs.)

Expectations for the release of the TR-808, TR-909, and TB-303 as the second edition of Roland Boutique is likely to be great too.

Tojo:Yes, I think so too. I think we will be getting a lot of feedback after this release, so we'd like to listen to what our customers have to say and decide on what to do next.

From left to right: Masato Ohnishi, Takeshi Tojo, and Hirotake Tohyama.
From left to right: Masato Ohnishi, Takeshi Tojo, and Hirotake Tohyama.