I loved all the hoovers, but especially the Dominator, so if you had put money down with a bookie in 1991 that I’d someday be the proud owner of an Alpha Juno synth then you’d be a winner today. Well, almost. Instead of buying a reasonably sized Alpha Juno or Alpha Juno 2, I had to go and get the HS-80 SynthPlus 80, the rather unwieldy and, it has to be said, ugly home version. Introduced in 1987, a year later than the original Alphas, this behemoth widened the case to include an amp and two speakers. Gone are the fetching membrane buttons, replaced with D-50-style black push-button jobbies. The whole thing is very Darth Vader and wouldn’t look out of place on an Imperial Star Destroyer control panel.
Crack the HS-80 open and you’ll realize that the synth board is pretty small, and most of the home version is basically just keys and speakers. (In fact, a friend of mine actually chopped his down to just a module. Pretty cool.) Given that the speaker cones started disintegrating as soon as the paper hit the air, I decided to pull them out as soon as possible. I also wanted to reduce the weight. I live in a small apartment in Tokyo and the only reason I can have as many synths as I do is because my music studio is in a small loft, accessible by ladder. Carrying heavy synths up and down a ladder is pretty terrifying, so less weight is always better.
Like I said before, I bought the HS-80 for the famous Dominator hoover sound, also known as the preset “What the.” So imagine my shock and horror when the single sound I wanted—nay, the whole reason I bought it, even—was one of the few sounds that had been programmed over. With 64 factory slots and 64 programmable slots, that had to be some kind of coincidence. But it wasn’t hard to find the parameters online and I was soon gleefully programming in the Dominator. Like a lot of the old hoovers, the recorded Dominator was a sample and so sounded a little different than the real thing, but still, to hear it straight from the original machine, it’s a thing of beauty.
|Sawtooth pulse width glory.|
Like the other Junos, the Alphas are pad machines. With their relatively complicated envelopes capable of unusual swells, buzzy pulse width, and chorus, these things were made for gorgeous, floaty pads. They also do brass and bass well. If I were to compare the Alphas to the other Junos, I would describe it as the cyborg version. It’s definitely identifiable as a Juno machine, and yet there’s something slightly more synthetic about it. At times, it reminds me of the Korg Poly-800, especially when doing organs. I’m a huge fan of the Poly-800, so take my praise here with a grain of salt if you are not.
sales brochure for the synths. I don’t know about that, but it’s certainly not terrible. Probably the one parameter you’re going to want to edit on the fly is cut-off, and Roland, anticipating your needs, has included kind of “macro” parameters accessible from the front panel, including tone modify, or brilliance. It’s not quite the same as tweaking the cut-off and resonance on a PG-300 but this isn’t a synth for screaming leads anyway.
The Alpha synths really are great. I don’t think I’d want one as my primary synth—the sound is too niche. But for someone who was doing, say, retro rave tracks it would be perfect, especially with its chord memory function. Actually, I’m tempted to get another just because they’re so cheap, especially here in Japan, where they routinely sell for less than $100. But that loft studio of mine is already packed, and then where would I put the JX-3P I’ve been hankering for?