Roland JD-XA review
The Roland JD-XA is the follow-up to the JD-XI, and it is the successor that Roland needed. JD-XI provided players with a synthesizer that was part-analog and part-digital. However, its analog feature was quite limited, giving users only one analog voice to play with, which was unsurprising due to this being one of Roland’s first explorations of the analog synthesis territory.
The JD-XA represents Roland’s flagship analog-digital synthesis crossover, giving users four analog voices to work with and four-part, 64-voice digital section built around the SuperNATURAL synth engine. The resulting synthesizer is a powerful one, giving users many options for patch-building and sound customization.
Below, please take a moment to check out our guide below to see how well the Roland JD-XA stacks up against the likes of the JD-XI and other notable synthesizers.
|Roland JUNO DS61||8-Track Pattern Sequencer w/Non-Stop Recording|
|Roland JUNO DS88||128 Note Polyphony|
|Korg Kross 2||Pro-quality EDS-i sound engine|
|Korg Minilogue||16-Step Polyphonic Step & Motion Sequencer|
|Roland JD-XI||Gooseneck mic w/built-in Vocoder & AutoPitch|
|Yamaha MX88||1,106 voices, 61 drum kits|
|Behringer Monopoly||VCF, 2 LFOs, 2 envelopes, sync and cross modulation|
|Novation Impulse 61||Semi-Weighted w/Aftertouch|
The Roland JD-XA is an attention grabber, lit up like a spaceship with red LED lights against a glossy black shell. Bright red LED rings shine around each knob, the sequencers toggle buttons shine bright when activated, LED lights encase the perimeter of each slider, left-side wheels are backlit, and toggle options for the analog and digital parts light up blue.
Playing the synth can make you feel like you’re the star of a science fiction movie, navigating the sonic universe. However, sometimes a panel full of bright LED lights isn’t as conducive to workflow and productivity as much as science fiction fantasy.
The red LED accents around the knobs and slider do help you quickly find where each editing option is located, especially as it contrasts with the black background of the synth’s front panel. The labels of each slider, button, and knob, however, become quite difficult to read because they are not backlit as brightly as the sliders and knobs.
Even though you can quickly find where each knob or slider is located, it’s difficult to see exactly what they control since its label doesn’t pop out. This may have been fixed by reducing the LED lights to a few important parameters or providing users with a white front panel instead of black. The aesthetic design of the Dave Smith Prophet 6 may have been a safer route for Roland to take.
The front panel itself looks very slick with its glossy finish, and it’s a beautiful looking synthesizer right out of the box. The more you play the instrument, though, the more the panel will become embellished with fingerprints and smudges, taking away from the slick, glossy aesthetic of the instrument. If you hate having these kind of marks on your instrument, you can expect to be wiping it down after every use.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling synthesizers currently available online (and see how well they fare against the Roland JD-XA).
|1) Yamaha MX88|
|2) Korg Minilogue XD|
|3) Roland JUNO-DS61|
|4) Roland JUNO-DS88|
|5) Behringer Poly D|
Despite the keyboard’s sometimes difficult-to-navigate aesthetic, the feel of every knob, button, and slider feels natural and smooth. Each toggle button produces a satisfying click when activated or deactivated, reaffirmed by the LED light turning on or off. Each knob feels sturdy and precise, and I had no trouble operating them or having them respond how I wanted.
The synth itself is surprisingly light compared to its size, weighing just over 14 pounds. This is due to the synth’s all-plastic construction. That being said, the synth does not feel cheap, but rather solid and durable.
The keys are full-sized and are very responsive. While many manufacturers are leaning towards the mini-key size, the Roland JD-XA proudly boasts full-sized keys with velocity and channel aftertouch. The action on the keys is satisfying—they bounce back quickly and are very responsive.
The analog editing section of the Roland JD-XA provides lots of room for sound experimentation and patch building. With its oscillators, filters, envelopes, and LFOs, a lot can be done and edited with this synthesizer, which is a great improvement from the JD-XI. That being said, the Roland JD-XA doesn’t have the analog specs that rival, say, the Dave Smith Prophet 12, but the analog section of this keyboard is only half the fun.
The JD-XA is a “crossover” synthesizer, meaning it is both an analog synth and a digital synth—this is what the “X” in the name represents. This is a great feature of the synth because if you are more comfortable with one kind of synthesis, you can use the JD-XA to produce your desired sounds comfortably while honing your skills in the opposite type of synthesis.
You really get the best of both worlds here, and the synth is versatile and powerful. I recommend routing the synth through a digital piano amplifier to really hear the full frequency spectrum of the synth, allowing you to dive into the nuance you can achieve in the upper partials.
Again, the analog editing of the JD-XA is a great improvement over the JD-XI, allowing for more variation, for the synth is equipped with:
- 2 voltage-controlled oscillators
- 1 Filter
- 1 AMP
- 4 ENV
- 2 LFOs
- 1 MOD LFO
This is a great set of tools to start building your sounds, and the synth responds quickly and seamlessly with every edit you make. That being said, there’s nothing here in the analog synth editing section that innovates or brings new technology to the industry—you’re getting your standard analog editing parameters.
The real editing fun happens when you start to combine the analog and digital sounds. The sum of both features makes the “crossover” aspect of the synth worthwhile. Rather than simply being a synthesizer with analog and digital capabilities, the JD-XA allows you to combine sounds from both categories and edit them via filters and modulation. The sonic potential of the instrument really opens up when you put these together, and it is a big selling point for the synth.
The sequencer is one of the most fun and rewarding features of the JD-XA, allowing you to edit your pattern TR style, in real time, or by step. This is an eight-track sequencer, but it also allows for eight tracks to be sent out to other gear, which is a nice feature.
Once you understand the workflow of the synth and how to efficiently navigate your sequencer settings, it becomes very easy to edit your patterns and add more sounds, notes, and effects. There are many fine details you can edit to have the synth adapt to your work style. For example, you can edit how many measures of count-in metronome you want.
Or, if that’s not your style, you can tell it to start the sequencer the moment you hit the first note. It’s not ground-breaking, but it’s nice that Roland included these little features to allow the player to personalize the sequencer to their work style instead of having to adjust to the synthesizer’s factory settings.
After you’ve established your desired pattern on the sequencer, it then becomes incredibly easy to edit the sounds by messing with the filter and modulation settings on the front panel. You simply press record, perform your moves on the knobs and sliders, and it automatically begin to repeat your edits. From here, you can continue to experiment, recording new material or editing existing material, allowing for a satisfyingly seamless workflow.
The ability to record up to four bars of eight separate tracks is a really nice feature that opens up so many possibilities for the sequencer. This can range from adding a buzzing lead line over the top of chord progression, a dirty funk bass underneath, or even a kick and hi-hat to turn your sequence into a dance track. All of these are possible with the JD-XA, and it remains one of the most rewarding editing features of the keyboard.
The JD-XA is a powerful synthesizer, capable of analog synthesis, digital synthesis, a combination of both, and sequencing. The amount of possibilities jump out at you the moment you look at the front panel, loaded with knobs, sliders, buttons, and wheels. There is a lot of power packed into this instrument.
The JD-XA expects you to know your way around analog and/or digital synthesizers. It begs you to play with every LED-lit trinket on the panel, and it demands you to be fluent. While a beginner in analog or digital synthesis can very well enjoy experimentation with the instrument, it’s obvious that it is an instrument geared towards the experienced player.
The $1000 price point, which is up there with a Roland digital piano price, is the main aspect that discourages purchases from the synthesis novice. There are cheaper synthesizer options that are structured for beginners, allowing for ease of workflow and a clearer, more streamlined signal route.
Therefore, because of the high price point and out-of-the-box complexity of the Roland JD-XA, I recommend it for those experienced with analog and digital synthesis and want a way to combine the two for new possibilities of sound. The novice in sound synthesis may have problems getting started with the JD-XA, and for a price point of over $1,000, I would settle for a cheaper option to begin learning analog and digital synthesis.
Bonus Tip: It should also be noted that if you really don’t like smudges on your keyboards, you may not be too happy with the JD-XA’s tendency to be littered with fingerprint smudges after a playing session.
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