Midi Cables versus DIN Sync Cables for Synchronization

The gist of this article is to basically say, watch out for those DIN Sync Cables as some will likely not work. Also, contrary to what some people might say, I have found some MIDI cables to work perfectly fine as DIN Sync cables for my old Roland and Korg gear. Perhaps this is not new to everyone, but I practically spent two weeks frustrated trying to get all my gear to work with two DIN Sync cables I purchased from a reputable guy on Ebay. The fact is, the DIN Sync cables didn’t work at all, or at least the two I bought didn’t. It was on a whim that I decided to plug in a basic old MIDI cable and suddenly everything worked perfectly. Amazing I didn’t think of that before, but to my defense, it’s clearly written on some sites that MIDI cables are not to be used for DIN Sync cabling. Why I wonder?

Roland TR626 Drum Machine
Roland TR626 Drum Machine

What am I trying to do?

First I am chaining some drum machines to provide multiple trigger outs to create interesting patterns for use with the Roland JX-3P, Juno-60, Juno-6, Roland SH-101, Korg Poly-61, and Korg PolySix synthesizers. If I want to sync multiple synths I often use a Belkin 5-Way splitter cable connected from a Roland TR-626 which is then slaved to a Korg ESX-1 with Oberheim DMX samples for example. This works GREAT!! I cannot recommend enough the Roland-TR626 for MIDI and Pulse Trigger Synchronization. It works perfect and is extremely tight. Using a 5-way splitter also synch 5 synths no problem at all. The only issue is that you are using the same pattern on the TR-626. If you want to mix things up a bit, then you’ll need multiple patterns. To do this I add a second Roland TR-626 and a Roland TR-606 with two pattern trigger outs.

Belkin 5-Way Splitter
Belkin 5-Way Splitter

The Roland TR-606 is awesome as a trigger device because of two VERY IMPORTANT reasons. First, it has two trigger outs which allow you to program two DIFFERENT custom patterns for your syth arp or sequencer. The second reason is that it can act as a SLAVE and doesn’t have to be the master. The only problem is that there is no midi.

Roland TR-606 Drumatix
Roland TR-606 Drumatix

To rectify this problem I use the Korg KMS-30 which I found in Japan. The KMS-30 is slaved to Roland TR-626 which in turn is slaved to my Korg ESX-1 as Master via midi. The KMS-30 then syncs and converts the MIDI input to DIN Syn OUT and sends it to DIN SYNC IN on the TR-606. When I start the Korg ESX-1, all is in PERFECT timing. Plus I now have three trigger outs ( 1 on the TR-626 and 2 on the TR-606 ) for triggering synths with uniquely programmed patterns. I can then insert another TR-626 that will work for an additional 4th trigger pattern. If you add a 5-way splitter then you can sync an additional 5 synths using one of the TR-626 or TR-606 patterns. ALL SYNC PERFECTLY to MIDI and DIN SYNC. Fantastic!

What do I mean by patterns? On the TR-626 or TR-606 you have to program your triggers which are usually rimshots. When they are triggered, they send a pulse through the trigger out and into the synth that it’s connected to. If you use 16th notes, then it will trigger the arp as it’s played on the Juno-60 for example. If you wish to syncopate or create a unique rhythm or variation, you can simply program different notes on the TR-626 or TR-606. This causes notes to trigger differently causing a cool and unique arp line on the synth. It how a lot of 80’s synth bands programmed their arps to get different results.

Korg KMS-30 Midi Synchronizer
Korg KMS-30 Midi Synchronizer

Another device that works well too is the Deopfer M.A.U.S.I which I used before getting the Korg KMS-30. I found the Deopfer for pretty cheap here in Japan. I don’t like the menu system and it’s quite complicated for any use outside of syncing my devices, so I much prefer the Korg KMS-30. There are other options to sync old midi gear such as KENTON but they are expensive and don’t have the options I need such as pattern creation. I like triggering via drum machines rather than connecting a sequencer to a trigger out box. While that is useful for CV/Gate functions, it’s a bit cumbersome for me.

Deopfer M.A.U.S.I
Deopfer M.A.U.S.I

Now keep in mind, while connecting all of this, I was told that I needed a SPECIAL DIN Sync cable to connect the KMS-30 to the TR-606. I bought two on Ebay. They arrived after a week or so and when plugging them in, I couldn’t get anything to sync properly. I tried every imaginable combination and read the manuals of all my devices three fold. Nothing worked!! I finally got back onto the web and after some research found many people with a similar problem. The TR-606 would not sync and just freeze when slaved via DIN Sync to any other device. I then found a few people claiming that regular MIDI cables worked just fine. Out of desperation and pure frustration, I decided to connect an old MIDI cable I had lying around. Wouldn’t you know, it all worked beautifully!!!

NOTE: I’ve heard that NOT ALL Midi cables work like this. Some do and some don’t. I have no way of telling why the one random MIDI cable I chose worked. I purchased it in 1998 used, so likely it was made in the 90’s.

So if you are having ANY PROBLEMS with syncing your DIN Sync capable gear and you THINK you are using a proper DIN SYNC cable. Be sure to try your regular trusty old MIDI cables instead. You might just be pleasantly surprised as I was today. Unbelievable!

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Roland JX-3P Synthesizer Delight

Roland JX-3P Synthesizer
Roland JX-3P Synthesizer

This month I picked up a used Roland JX-3P with PG-200 programmer pictured in the photograph above. The JX-3P Synthesizer is an absolute sweet synth to work with. When I pulled it out of the case, I noticed it was rather light weight which was a nice surprise. The Roland JX-8P which I also have is rather large and heavy. I found the PG-200 Programmer to be built very solid and it had a kind of magnetic base to it which allowed it to adhere to the top of the JX-3P nicely. Overall, the Roland JX-3P is a very solid and cool looking retro synthesizer with the colorful red, blue, and green stripes.

What I absolutely love about the synth is the on board sequencer. It has 16 steps and it’s extremely simple to program cool basslines, melodies, and all sorts of arpeggiator like grooves. In fact, the JX-3P does not have an arp, BUT I find the sequencer is almost better because you can program your own. You can also transpose the sequencer up and down the keyboard using the transpose button. You simply have to press down on this button while hitting a key to trigger the sequencer in a different key. Sure it’s one extra step and may requires an extra hand, but otherwise it works exactly like an arp. Another brilliant aspect about the sequencer is that while it’s running you can solo or play notes over the top of the sequence. You can’t change or adjust the sound without affecting the sequence, but it is musical and useful enough to have the ability to play over the top of the sequence. Oh boy, is it fun too!

Another great feature is the LFO trigger which is not quite close to the keys, but still manageable. You can adjust the LFO parameters using the PG-200 and then press the LFO trigger wherever you want the effect applied. There is an on board chorus which sounds great as well. There looks to be a whole bunch of other interesting features I’ve yet to experiment. Overall the Roland JX-3P is a joy to play and dare I say a bit more fun than my Juno synths including the Juno-60. If you sync a drum machine with the JX-3P via the Sequencer trigger input and jam over the top of your sequence on the JX-3P, you can create some really great 80’s Italo Disco oriented grooves with ease while only using one synth!! Couple the JX-3P with either a JX-8P, Juno, or other analog synth an you have a nice setup indeed.

If you are into Analog synths, I highly recommend the Roland JX-3P. I definitely recommend the JX-3P over the MKS-30 module because it doesn’t have the voice chip issues that the MKS-30 and Juno synths have. In additon, I do feel the PG-200 is required to get the most out of this synth and it raises the fun factor as well. If I had a choice between the JX-3P and the Juno-106, I think I’d take the JX-3P. The reason is that while the Juno-106 might be better in sound slightly, the JX-3P with the sequencer just adds more “stuff” to work with in a musical performance. In fact, the JX-3P with the sequencer reminds me more of my Roland SH-101 than anything else in functionality but without the tuning issues I often deal with on the Sh-101.

The Roland JX-3P is a solid performer with a lot to offer. If you are looking for an old Roland analog synth that is fun, versatile, retro looking, and overall a good sounding synth, then you can’t go wrong with owning a Roland JX-3P. Snap one up while you can because I honestly feel these are getting harder to get and the prices will likely rise.

Here’s a great video showcasing what the Roland JX-3P is capable of. The Roland JX-3P simply ROCKS!!