The differences between Roland Juno-106 and MKS-7

The Roland MKS-7, a “6 note polyphonic / mono bass / TR707 drum sound” module

The Roland MKS-7 was allegedly intended for MIDI-file playback and karaoke, thus being a consumer market product. The voicing hardware is similar, but not identical, to the Juno-106.

Roland Juno-106 patch-making controls

Background

A Roland MKS-7 could be considered a more affordable, yet in some respects more capable, version of the Juno-106.

Juno-106 advantages

  • Sliders and buttons for every patch parameter
  • User patch storage
  • No restrictions on how to use the 6 voices – simple

MKS-7 advantages

  • Velocity control of filter and VCA
  • Lower second hand price than Juno-106
  • 6 voices, plus one dedicated bass voice, plus drum sounds
  • Multitimbrality, to some extent

I put price up at position 2, because I sincerely believe that very few would be interested in the MKS-7 if it was as expensive as the Juno-106. No settings can be saved, and there’s restrictions in the voice architecture, compared to a Juno-106.

Here are the parameter differences between the two. The tables are from the MKS-7 service manual, with Juno-106 specifics noted in orange. My notes follow after the image.

Differences, not mentioning Juno-106 keys, knobs and sliders…
  • Dynamic select (aka velocity control) – Yeah baby! This is a big thing. The Juno-106 lack of velocity sensitivity is possibly its biggest weakness.
  • Sub OSC level in 4 steps instead of slider – Seriously, this wouldn’t make much of a difference.
  • High Pass Filter is ON/OFF instead of a slider – Personally I don’t think this damages patch creation much.
  • Chorus, only one mode – This is a problem. A lot of the dreamy character of Juno-106 stems from Chorus II.
  • Noise – Noise is only available on 2 of the 6 voices, and even so it’s only available at full volume or nothing. Some people like to add grit to a pad sound with a little noise. I wouldn’t consider lack of noise to be a big problem though.

The Bass voice

The bass voice differs from the ordinary voices in many respects. It has no modulation at all except envelope. It cannot have saw and pulse waveforms at the same time. No noise, no inverse envelope, no HPF etc. On the plus side, it’s the only voice that has an analog envelope. This is important because it’s exponential, so more punch with short attack- and decay settings. All things considered, this bass is a lot more trimmed-down than any bass synth, like SH-101 or MC-202. Since it lacks velocity sensitivity I dare say it’s even more basic than the TB-303 sound engine which sports accent and slide controls. Still, it’s a rock solid bass, and a lot of people like it a lot.

Creating patches and saving them

The MKS-7 comes with 100 chord / melody presets and 20 bass presets. A software SysEx editor, or DAW plugin, can be used to edit the MKS-7 parameters. But everybody ideally wants hardware sliders and buttons. You could get a Stereoping Juno-106 programmer or a Behringer BCR for that. But doing so, you still can’t save your patches in the MKS-7. So you will have to save your SysEx patch in your sequencer, in a SysEx librarian, or within your programmer if it allows that (Behringer BCR does not).

Conclusion

Using the MKS-7 to get a Juno-106 is just too much hassle. The only things making me consider it is the price difference and that the MKS is velocity sensitive. I’ll stay with the JU-06.