Roland has long dominated the mid-range synthesizer workstation market, having multiple product lines that have remained relevant for years and years.

The Roland Di is a perfect example.  Seven years is a long lifespan for any product in this niche, so it’s safe to say that I was pleased when the new DS line was announced. This product is a welcome update to an already fantastic synthesizer, and one that will likely be around for years to come.

roland-juno-ds88

Let’s take a look at a few of the core components that make up the DS88, as well as a few notes on how well it stacks up to the competition in 2016.

And below, please take a moment to use our interactive table to directly compare the Roland JUNO DS88 to other noteworthy keyboards like the JUNO DS61, Roland FA-08, Korg Kross and more:

PhotoModelKeysWeightPrice
roland-juno-ds88Roland Juno DS888835.12 lbs.$$$
roland-juno-ds61Roland Juno DS616111.12 lbs.$$
korg-krossKorg Kross619.48 lbs.$$
Korg KROSS888827.34 lbs$$
roland-fa-06
Roland FA-066112 lbs.$$
roland-fa-08Roland FA-088836 lbs.$$$

General Overview

The DS series workstations are largely an evolution to the earlier Di line, as apposed to a revolution.  That being said, there are numerous features included this time around that serve to modernize the feature-set a bit, and all of them are welcome changes to an already-great core product.

One of the standout features available in the DS line is the ability to upload your own sounds to the synthesis engine; not exactly a groundbreaking feature by todays standards, but a welcome one nonetheless.

Additionally, there are a bevy of new tweaking options for various parameters, eight pads for triggering sequences and samples, and pitch quantization to go with the (really well-done) built-in vocoder.

The keys on the 88-key version (the one I currently use) are semi-weighted Ivory “Feel-G” keys, which feel excellent and will certainly appeal to any classical pianists who might be looking for this feature in a Juno synth (this is the first such synthesizer in the family to include this).

The build quality is as solid as ever, and all of the knobs and buttons are laid out with the trademark simplicity Roland is known for. One thing is for sure; this is simply a fun keyboard to play.

The weighted keys coupled with the intelligent design means hours of fun before even diving deeper in the impressive workstations feature-set.

Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling synthesizers currently available on Amazon:

  1. Novation MiniNova
  2. Arturia MicroBrute
  3. Novation Bass Station II
  4. Korg VOLCAFM
  5. Korg MicroKorg

Sound/Effect Quality

Roland continues its long and storied affair with quality in the sound design department with the DS88. There are tons of impressive-sounding presets to be had here; over 1200 of them in fact!

Additionally, the DS88 comes with 30 drum kits and 64 performance slots to customize your sound even further. If you’ve ever owned a Juno Di, you will be extremely pleased to know that the sound bank from your device is fully represented here as well. Overall, there’s a ton of variation to be had here, and most of the sounds are quite excellent.

A huge bonus for this new DS series is the ability to download expansion packs from the Roland Axial website. When last I checked, there were over 1,000 downloadable sounds on the site, and while I haven’t tried them all personally, the ones I have downloaded have been fantastic.

This being a true workstation, those who enjoy commercial work and scoring will find a lot to love here, I think. The one holdout I have with this new line is in regards to the analogue presets included in the stock model. As other reviewers have noted, I feel they have an unconvincing “digital” tone to them that really doesn’t do the Juno series service in that respect. This is more of a nitpick for most today, so I won’t let my bias show too blatantly here.

The synthesis engine itself remains largely the same as it was in the Di before it. Every patch on the workstation contains a combination of layered noises, with a total of 4 possible tones for any given preset.

There’s the standard set of parameters to control here: resonant filters, a par of LFO’s, time/level envelopes and more are all at your control within each preset sound.

Another minor (and long-standing) gripe of mine is the small LED screen these synths have. When you are knee deep into the editing options, things can get very cramped very quickly, and for how impressive the actual engine itself is, I really wish Roland would devote more surface real-estate to the screen. That being said, it’s reasonable to assume that with such a wide variety of high-quality presets and effects at your disposal, finding a sound that works for you using just the basic parameter editing shouldn’t be too much of an issue in most cases.

If you are into more advanced editing, however, the DS88 has you covered. A quick download of Roland’s editor program allows you to be up and running in minutes creating your own sounds and tweaking the existing ones in deep, powerful ways. I love uploading my own samples and messing around in the editor, tweaking the sounds and creating interesting textures to play with later.

As for the effects themselves, there is a dizzying array to choose from straight out of the box. The usual chorus, reverb and phasers are available here, but there are also some really cool piano resonance filters and pitch-shifters to play with on all of the different presets.

The performance sets allow for up to 16 parts to be combined, split and arranged however you see fit. You can split the keyboard itself into 16 different sections, or layer them all together to create massive textures. Everything here is an iteration of features that have been around forever, but the execution is simple and effective, and I see this workstation being a real power-player in a live scenario (I’ve used it on stage many times myself).

Sequencing/Phrasing

Compared to the Di series, the only real surprise here are the new Phrase pads. The sequencer itself is an 8-track pattern sequencer that is set up particularly well for live performance. You can load whole songs and other media directly onto the pads/sequencer from a USB thumb drive, or you can vary backing tracks to an existing arrangement and apply them to the loops.

For live improvisation, this is a huge boon.

I find the sequencer to be incredibly fun to play around within, even if it’s not the deepest or most intuitive I’ve ever used.

Comparisons

While this synthesizer workstation is truly a remarkable all-around instrument for its price, that isn’t to say there isn’t worthy competition on the market. Below, I’ve broken down two other models in an effort to explore how well the DS88 stacks up.

JUNO DS 88 vs the Korg Kross

The Korg Kross is a competing keyboard in the same price range as the DS88, but while there are similarities between the two devices, I’ve found that there are several differences that are worth noting to potential buyers.

korg-kross

For one thing, the Korg Kross didn’t seem to have as nice of a key-bed as the Roland workstation, from my limited playtest at least. It seemed that the action of the keys wasn’t quite as fluid, and the product simply didn’t feel as solid as a whole.

Another key differentiator lies in the fact that there are almost zero sound design capabilities included with the Korg Kross. Compared to Roland’s robust editor, this feels like a glaring omission for those who might be wishing to make a purchase based on editing capabilities. It also only includes 112MB of wave storage, with no expansions possible. Compared with the incredible expansions available for the Roland offering, and you’ve got a convincing argument for sound designers to opt for the Juno.

Still, many others enjoyed the Kross highly, so it’ll be up to you to do some research and decide what fits your needs best.

JUNO DS 88 vs the Roland FA-08

The Roland FA Series have long been lauded as being some of the most advanced workstations on the market, and while there are many similarities between the FA-08 and the Juno DS88 on the surface, there are also plenty of core differences in both the design and the execution of these two workstations.

roland-fa-08

For one, the higher end (and higher priced at $1799) FA-08 features Roland’s flagship “SuperNatural” sound engine, which includes the company’s latest sampling and sound design technology. These sounds are particularly incredible at smoothing transitions between different velocity layers, and from my experience, the results can be nothing short of spectacular.

Even though the FA series has some of these sounds available, the full suite isn’t included; you’ll have to step up to the flagship Jupiter line to get the full treatment of these sound banks.

The overall layout of the FA-08 also has a few improvements over the Juno, as well. The mod wheel section is incredibly intuitive, and represents the next leap forward in terms of playability and creative flexibility. There really seems to be a cohesive and fundamental elation to even the most basic features on this fantastic workstation.

All of that aside, coupled with the price-point and the fact that the Juno still does 95% of what you’d want to do on the FA-08, I’d say it certainly isn’t a real competitor. The two keyboards serve more complementary roles to each other, providing a natural stepping-stone along your journey as a musician.

If you are simply looking for a workstation that will provide you an incredible feature-set for an affordable price, the Juno DS88 is likely still your best bet.

Additional Notes

All in all, this is a synthesizer workstation that screams quality and playability for a price tag that impresses me greatly. While I own this model and play it every day, I have at times even contemplated purchasing the DS61 for live performance purposes. Owning what amounts to essentially two of the same keyboards might sound like a waste of time and money to some, but the feature-set and overall quality on this series keeps me coming back again and again.

Little extras on the unit like a microphone input, a pitch quantizer for vocal editing and manipulation, and basic DAW control for a number of different platforms are fantastic.  Sadly, there’s no love for Ableton Live or Pro Tools users, but with a bit of finagling, you can set it up manually as well.

Conclusion

All told, the Juno DS88 really and truthfully impresses me each an every time I sit down to play it. At the $999 price point (or $699 for the 61-key variant), you will be hard-pressed to find a harder working, more feature-rich synthesizer workstation on today’s market.

I actually think it is quite possibly the best synthesizer for the money available this year. The combination of the 128-voice synthesis engine, the phrase pads, the robust sequencer, the sample editing and sound design capabilities, and the overall quality of execution makes this product an extremely well-rounded, reliable purchase for anyone looking for a workstation to grow with.

This isn’t just a Roland 88 key digital piano. The Juno-DS88 is a fantastic, adaptable synthesizer that will surprise and delight even the most demanding players. The Juno DS88 sets the bar extremely high for the generations of synthesizers to come in in the future.

4.7/5 Stars

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And below, please take a quick moment to view our summary of the notable pros and cons of the Roland JUNO DS88:

Pros

  • Wide variety of quality effects
  • User-loadable samples
  • Fantastic “Feel G” Ivory Keys
  • Tons of small, delightful feature surprises

Cons

  • Slightly too-small screen
  • Digital-sounding analog presets