Roland is on fire folks, what else can we say? The company has been seeing a tremendous breath of fresh air following through its corridors as we continue to see machine after machine released that is creating such hype in hardware, that it may be safe to say music making with plug-ins is a fish dead in the water. Surely there is no argument that recording with software is an unbeatable tool that we will only continue to build upon, but having the ability to pay the same for a wonderful instrument that becomes an extension of you, rather than an extension file that sits somewhere in the dark alleys of your computer that never really quites inspires the same degree of creativity, is an idea we can no longer ignore.
Here again, is another fine synthesizer; though we must say a slightly pricey one considering the great tags on some of the recent AIRA releases, nonetheless a beautiful Analog/Digital hybrid dubbed the "JD XA". This might be the most versatile and powerful synth we have seen yet folks, allowing for the interconnectivity of its signal paths, to truly mix it all to your ear's desire. 4 parts each, give you both analog and digital synth engines, along with dedicated filters that can have either signal fed through them, not to mention the fact you can play all the parts together, mixed and matched to your taste, or independently, each with its own settings to really take it to levels no other synth has allowed us to do before.
Starting off with the oscillator section, as mentioned there are 4 parts per engine, of which the analog offers 2 oscillators per part, giving you a total of 8 simultaneous oscillators. All parts can be 'Poly-Stacked", so that you can take any or all of the (by default) Mono parts and create Polyphonic sounds, each with its own dedicated settings for the oscillators, filter and envelopes. You can even accent which part will be the lead, giving you even greater options for warm, rich and extremely expressive sounds that are but the tip of the iceberg with what you can do with this machine. Pulse Width, along with PWM (Modulation) are provided as well, not to mention the ability to Cross Modulate, and even use the digital sound sources for modulation. Another interesting feature very unique here, is that as opposed to the standard Oscillator 2 Fine tuning and Pitch; which is probably the single most important part of getting a two oscillator system to start sounding the way you want (by detuning the 2nd against the first), the JD XA allows for the changing of the pitch of both oscillators, as well as fine tuning them. It's rather curious why no one ever though of that before, since it really can have quite an impact on the sound shaping prior to filtration.
For the digital side, again 4 parts, give you 3 "partial" oscillators this time offering the standard Triangle, Square, Sine, Saw, as well as Roland's "Supersaw"; giving you plenty of waveshaping possibilities for each, but also using the company's "SuperNATURAL" synth engine borrowed from its "FA" series, and allows for a total of 64 voices between all 4 parts. All can be routed through its own dedicated digital signal path, including 14 digital filters to feed through all the mayhem, as well as envelopes and effects. Combining the digital side and the analog however, is where the real magic happens; like stacking a couple digital tones on top of another 2 or 3 warm analog sounds, and then feeding everything back through the digital filters and effects. Or simply stay analog, and feed it all through its own signal path and exclusive analog "dry" outputs, or run it through the digital effects at the end. The combinations are quite endless as are the possibilities in the kind of sounds you can create!
Before we find the filter; and we should mention this synth is laid out in the proper and more practical order of the signal path, we find the Pitch Envelope, which is a nice feature borrowed from the recent System 1m Modular Synth, and also features a dedicated Attack and Decay slider, as well as the option of affecting just Analog Oscillator 1, together with Digital oscillator 1, or just the second analog oscillator. All driven by a "Depth Knob" that can go in either Positive or Negative polarity (inversed). The oscillator Mixer section is situated right next to the Pitch, and allows for the mixing of both analog signals, along with external sources including the Mic, or the available Pink and White noise generators.
The analog filter section in this synth is fairly straightforward, and features the all-too-essential 4-pole Ladder Filter design from Moog, as well as a Multi-Mode Filter (HPF, LPF, BPF) with what Roland claims is "an all-new circuit design, the resonance of the Multi-Mode filter provides a uniquely aggressive sound character that's really cool. And because the filters are completely analog, you get a supremely smooth slope as you twist the knobs, with no stepping or unwanted artifacts". A dedicated filter envelope is also provided, along with envelope intensity and keyboard tracking (Key Follow), along with a very nice all-analog Drive knob for extra punch. The Amp envelope right next to it is your standard volume knob, along with Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release as sliders; which is a nice feature as opposed to knobs which are a little less intuitive for this type of job.
The 16-pattern sequencer is without question a very neat feature for a synth, and something we are beginning to see more of as technology improves. Here, arrangements can be started during a jam session or even in studio to maximize tracks and even save a little CPU, while letting the JD XA handle some of the load. Now this doesn't mean the JD XA is in any way a DAW of any kind, but it does mean that with 8 tracks for internal parts, as well as 8 parts for external sources to be recorded (can be done in real time or step mode), a lot of the sequencing work of a DAW can be done within this beauty, and then recorded event by event into whatever DAW you prefer. While to some it may be redundant, and perhaps it could be when already in front of a Pro Tools or Logic environment, those with limited CPU power could benefit from outboard arranging, not to mention that if just jamming away from the studio on the JD XA, you can begin to lay ideas down and save them, for later recording.
The effects section on the JD XA feature some of the recent "MFX" series as seen on the AIRA models, and include 67 different types that can be applied individually to each analog or digital part. Two TFX processors provide an additional 29 types of effects, while the essential Master EQ, Delay, and Reverb are provided as well. Again, the beauty in this one really begins to shine when you think out of the box as in running an all analog signal through the effects, or a digital signal through the analog filters, and then the effects provided. The options for sound sculpting and originality cannot be said enough!
And did we mention this thing has a Vocoder? Oh yeah, and a pretty cool one at that. Here, you don't just get the option of having a pretty decent one for some nice robotic or abstract vocal effects, you also have the Mic input as a modulation source, and as a way of controlling parameters like the filter cutoff using your voice, or even for Cross Modulation. If not, simply adding some good quality effects to your voice should suffice if you are a singer, making this synth truly a one stop shop for all your musical needs.
The Roland JD XA has also been programmed to be very flexible in studio environments, making it a very handy machine for controlling VST plug ins, or as your MIDI nerve center; and with CV/Gate, USB, and MIDI I/O, connectivity is the least of a JD XA owner's worries. The keyboard is also velocity sensitive, supporting aftertouch, not to mention the highly-lit panel will make this one a breeze for on-stage performances, or darker studio environments. The JD XA also features Pitch Bend and Mod wheels, along with Roland's infamous mod lever which is a nice bundle all together, all wrapped up in a very stylish and futuristic plastic and metal panel case that looks like something straight out of TRON.
A great synth for a true aficionado, that while the higher price as opposed to recent releases from Roland may have some shy away from it, real consideration should still be taken given the truly unique character of such an amazing synthesizer. Enough can't be said about the power of having 4 mono synths in one, which together create thick polyphonic sounds, coupled with the amazing SuperNATURAL Virtual Modeling synth engine by Roland which is just an unimaginable amount of synth at your fingertips...if you can't swing it, perhaps the JD XA's smaller companion the "JD Xi" would suit you best, which is essentially the same synth, except it only features one analog part (w/ sub oscillator), 2 digital parts, along with a four part pattern sequencer as opposed to 16, but with one very cool feature not found on the JD XA: Drums! That's right folks, this little guy can not only serve up very powerful Analog and Digital synth sounds, but also acts as a powerful drum machine, all sequenced within the machine if desired for full-on song creation. Also at the much more affordable price of around $499US instead of $2199US, and carrying the same look as its counterpart; even offering up a nice gooseneck microphone like on the MicroKorg for some serious vocal capabilities. Get one now, and get to it, music making has never been so much fun!
Written by: Santino Fernandez