ROLAND JD-XA Crossover Synthesizer – The Gear Gods Review

Roland recently released its newest flagship synthesizer, the Roland JD-XA. For anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, it’s Roland’s take on what a modern synth looks like. The biggest distinguishing factor between the JD-XA and other modern synths is that it’s a crossover synth. It has an analog sound engine, (not unlike what you see in traditional synths Roland was known for in its past) and it has a digital sound engine powered by Roland’s newest technologies, like “SuperNATURAL.”

For quite a few years now Roland has been focusing more on synthesizers over keyboard music workstations, and the JD-XA seems to be a culmination of years of research and products. “SuperNATURAL” first showed up in 2009 on the Fantom G workstation keyboards, and it uses un-looped samples to create sounds. This isn’t anything new, but what SuperNATURAL does with those samples is to add modeling to the equation – each instrument sampled has its own model created specifically for that instrument. Anything that samples can’t reproduce well in a keyboard, SuperNATURAL models with much higher accuracy. In the JD-XA this applies to modeling aspects of certain analog characteristics that sampling alone can’t achieve.

So lets get into it, shall we?

Here are the specs from Roland’s website:

Keyboard
49 keys (with velocity and channel aftertouch)
SOUND GENERATOR SECTION
Maximum Polyphony
– Analog Part: 4 voices
– Digital Part: 64 voices (varies according to the sound generator load)
Structure
Analog/Digital Crossover Synthesizer
– Analog Part: 4 parts (2 OSCs + AUX, 1 Filter, 1 AMP, 2 Pitch ENV, 1 Filter ENV, 1 AMP ENV, 2 LFOs and 1 MOD LFO)
– Digital Part: 4 parts (3 Partial (3 OSCs, 3 Filters, 3 AMPs, Envelops for each section and LFOs)) (Digital Part uses SuperNATURAL Synth tones that is compatible with the Integra-7.)
User Program Memory
– Internal: 256
– USB Flash memory: 256
The patterns of Arpeggio and Sequence are saved as programs.
Analog-OSC Section
– Oscillator waveforms: Saw, Square, Pulse/PWM, Triangle, Sine
– Knobs/Sliders: Pitch, Fine, Cross Mod, Pulse Width, Pulse Width Modulation
– Pitch Envelopes: Attack, Decay, Envelope Depth
– Modulation: Cross Modulation, Ring Modulation, Oscillator Sync
(A-OSC2 is applied as modulation to A-OSC1.)
Analog-FILTER Section
– Filter Type: LPF1, LPF2, LPF3, HPF, BPF, Bypass
– Knobs: Cutoff, Resonance, Key Follow, Envelope Depth, HPF, Drive
– Envelope: Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release
Analog-AMP Section
– Knobs: Level
– Envelope: Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release
Digital-OSC Section
– Oscillator waveforms: Saw, Square, Pulse/PWM, Triangle, Sine, Variation
– Knobs/Sliders: Pitch, Fine, Pulse Width, Pulse Width Modulation
– Pitch Envelopes: Attack, Decay, Envelope Depth
– Modulation: Ring Modulation
(Partial2-OSC is applied as modulation to Partial1-OSC.)
Digital-FILTER Section
– Filter Type: LPF1, LPF2, LPF3, HPF, BPF, Variation, Bypass
– Knobs: Cutoff, Resonance, Key Follow, Envelope Depth, HPF
– Envelope: Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release
Digital-AMP Section
– Knobs: Level
– Envelope: Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release
LFO Section
– LFO Waveform: Triangle, Sine, Saw, Square, Sample&Hold, Random
– Knobs/Sliders: Rate, Fade Time, Pitch Depth, Filter Depth, Amp Depth
– Tempo Sync
Mixer Section (For Analog Part)
– Level: A-OSC 1, A-OSC 2, AUX
Mic
– Vocoder
– MIC Modulation
Effects
– MFX: 8 systems, 67 types (each part has a MFX)
– Part EQ: 8 systems (each part has a Part EQ)
– TFX: 2 systems, 29 types
– DELAY
– REVERB: 6 types
– Master EQ
– Mic Input Reverb: 8 types

Pattern Sequencer
-Tracks: 16
-Patterns are saved as a program.
-SMF import supported.

Arpeggio
-Preset pattern: 64
-Patterns are saved as a program.

Controllers
-Pitch bend and modulation lever, Pitch and modulation wheels

Display
-16 characters 2 line LCD

External Storage
-USB Flash memory

Connectors
-PHONES jack: Stereo 1/4-inch phone type
-MAIN OUTPUT jacks (L/MONO, R): 1/4-inch TRS phone type
-ANALOG DRY OUTPUT jack: 1/4-inch phone type
-CLICK OUTPUT jack: Stereo 1/4-inch phone type
-MIC jack: Combo type (XLR, 1/4-inch TRS phone), balanced
-FOOT PEDAL jacks (CTRL 1, CTRL 2, HOLD)
-CV/GATE OUTPUT jacks (2 systems): Miniature phone type
(CV: These jacks support OCT/V (Hz/V is not supported). GATE: They output +5 V.)
-MIDI connectors (IN, OUT)
-USB COMPUTER port (USB Hi-Speed AUDIO/MIDI): USB B type
(Use a USB cable and a computer with a USB port that support USB 2.0 Hi-Speed.)
-USB MEMORY port: USB A type
-DC IN jack

Power Supply
-AC Adaptor

Current draw
-3,000 mA

Accessories
-Owner’s Manual
-AC Adaptor
-Power Cord

SIZE AND WEIGHT
-Width
899 mm
35-7/16 inches
-Depth
388 mm
15-5/16 inches
-Height
111 mm
4-3/8 inches
-Weight
6.5 kg
14 lbs. 6 oz.

For a synth, I feel like 49 keys is great, I don’t usually need to use more than that range. The analog polyphony might seem a little low, but paired with the digital side’s 64 voices, I didn’t find myself wishing I had more analog polyphony. Especially with Roland’s SuperNATURAL at work, I actually ended up using the digital side of the JD-XA a lot more then I expected.

Roland was pretty bold to make a crossover like this. If there was ever a chance for people to really see how Roland’s SuperNATURAL actually stacks up to a real analog sound engine, this would be it. They would have to have a lot of faith in their digital technology to pull it off. And in my time with it, I think they mostly pulled it off – but maybe not in the way you might think. The oscillators Roland used in the analog section sounded different than what I’m used to hearing from Roland’s old famous synths like the Jupiter 8. Ironically, I found the digital side to have a closer representation of what I am used to the oscillators sounding like. So, is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. I mean, if you were hoping the analog part’s oscillators to sound like a Jupiter 8’s or a Juno 106’s then you will be disappointed, but you’ll be happy to know that you can achieve it from the JD-XA’s digital side.

Both the analog and digital parts each have 4 parts, pretty standard for Roland keyboards.
One thing I did like is the analog section’s filters a little more then the digital sides. It’s not much of a difference, they are both great but I liked how the analog side responds.

The effects section is a pretty standard multi-effects section with a big selection of various effects that you would expect. The JD-XA also has its own dedicated Reverb and Delay effects sections and volume knobs on the board to control the amount.

The JD-XA also has Vocoder capability, which is always a blast to use and sounded great.

As you might expect from a flagship synthesizer, it has pretty much every parameter available at your finger tips for real time control.

The keyboard itself does look really nice. The red on black theme suits a keyboard like this very well. It is also pretty thin and light, especially when you think about how heavy synthesizers used to be, only weighting about 14 lbs. The build quality feels pretty good considering how light and thin it is. It could be better but probably at the cost of it being bigger and heavier.

So here are my final thoughts on the JD-XA – I think people might mistakenly look at it in the wrong way. Just looking around at comments on the internet, people seem to expect it to be an analog keyboard with a digital side. A more accurate view would be that it is a digital synth with an analog side. It lets you augment digital synthesis with analog in a way that just sounds and feels analog. Could you use just the analog side? Yes, but you would kind of be missing the point. The keyboard is meant to offer the best of both worlds, in a light and relatively cheap package. There are some areas where there could be improvement, like the analog oscillators, and the price is a little bit on the steeper side, but its not bad enough to where it should detract you from checking this synth out. If you are in the market for a modern synthesizer that is powerful, versatile, thin and light then you should put the JD-XA on your list of synths to check out.

Written by

Alex Nasla is a keyboardist, producer and mixing engineer. He keeps busy making audio plugins for Rosen Digital, is audio director at multimedia company Toxic Creativity and is involved in 3 different musical endeavors.