In a music market that’s saturated with gear of all shapes and sizes, synthesizers still remain as popular as ever. If the 2015 NAMM Show was any indication, reissues are all the rage; the hottest models of the moment are based on the analog bad boys of yesterday. Last year, Roland, a company still at the forefront of the synthesizer industry, introduced the AIRA line, equipped with a SYSTEM-1 synthesizer using analog component behavior (or ACB) modeling technology to replicate the technology of a vintage synth when the physical components behind it are no longer present. Boasting a continued dedication to drive the technology behind the latest trends, Roland continued to work behind the scenes to capture both analog and digital synth abilities in one compact model, resulting in the company’s new JD-Xi Interactive Analog/Digital Crossover Synthesizer. The Retailer tracked down the Product Manager of Roland synthesizers, Duane McDonald, to find out more about the JD-Xi.
Roland came into the market with a bang, beginning with the SH-1000—the first synthesizer to be mass produced in Japan—in 1973, followed by the System-100, the only modular synth ever made in Japan. Next came Roland’s first polyphonic analog synth, the Jupiter-4, followed by the Jupiter-6—developed with the Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 as the first instruments connected via MIDI—which, McDonald said, not only changed the world of synthesizers, but also influenced the way music itself was made. In the late ’80s, Roland transitioned to digital synths with the D-50, which is one of the bestselling synths of all time. Indeed, it was so popular that it led Roland to focus solely on digital models for quite some time. With digital technology, Roland could offer users an interface different from that of analog synths. No more knobs and sliders; instead, there were streamlined, easy-to-use presets. But, although advances in technology pushed many toward digital, analog control continued to be in demand. Therefore, Roland decided to release the JD-800, offering analog-style control, but with a modern digital synth engine. The product’s owner’s manual mentioned, “The JD-800 is designed to make it fun to create sounds.” The JD-800, more so than any other predecessor, had an influence on the current JD-Xi.
The JD-Xi contains the best of both the analog and digital worlds. It delivers an analog side with a real analog oscillator and filter, as well as a digital sound engine that uses Roland’s trademark SuperNATURAL Synth sounds and comes with 128 voices of polyphony, using the SuperNATURAL sound engine and PCM samples for the basic tone and adding a modeling process instead of sample looping. This allows the sound to react to performance dynamics and nuances in a much more realistic fashion. On the analog side, there’s a triangle wave, a sawtooth wave and a monophonic square wave. The square wave includes additional pulse width modulation control, as well as a one-to-two-octave sub oscillator for filling out your sound. Numerous LFO and envelope controls are included for sound shaping. The digital filter comes with low pass, high pass, band pass and a peaking filter. The LFO can be synchronized with the built-in sequencer and arpeggiator, and it comes equipped with two simple knobs; this makes it very well suited to live performance. The envelope control is simplified for quick manipulation of sound attack, sustain and release. For further sound customization in the moment, there are four simultaneous effects sections. There is a dedicated delay and reverb, as well as two effect sections featuring effects such as Bit Crusher, Slicer and Ring Mod. For improved control, each effect section can be turned on or off separately.
Throughout the several years involved in designing and producing the JD-Xi, Roland held true to its original inspiration of creating an easy-to-use, affordable synthesizer that did not compromise on sound quality. “The ‘i’ in JD-Xi stands for ‘interactive,’” revealed McDonald. The vocoder section, he elaborated, was one of the most interactive aspects to be included. A guitar input lets you use a guitar to drive the vocoder, instead of your voice. And the vocoder comes equipped with a gooseneck mic for better control of sound and pitch using the sounds native to the JD-Xi.
Perhaps the best part of the JD-Xi is that, for those who enjoy playing and creating music, it’s fun to use. A built-in, four-track pattern sequencer offers four separate tracks—analog synth, drums and two digital synth parts—for creating sound loops in any genre. Real-time and step recording modes are included. And, for those interested in programming in the style of Roland’s TR-Series beatboxes, there is a special TR-REC mode.
The JD-Xi comes with everything one would need to start creating music. Therefore, it’s geared to those looking to get into using synthesizers. It’s also a comprehensive option for non-keyboardists who simply want to add high-quality sounds to their music without the steep learning curve of more complex analog or digital synths that, in the absence of the right know-how, might sit untouched. As for what testers think of the keyboard, McDonald was quick with an answer. “The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “Everyone comments on how much fun they had playing it.”
Dealers were introduced to the JD-Xi this past January at the NAMM Show. Roland has taken a two-pronged approach to promoting awareness of its newest product by developing online content, including tutorials and online advertising, in order to drive consumers to Roland dealers. At the same time, the company is implementing a more grassroots-level, local marketing strategy. According to McDonald, “We are currently holding what we refer to as ‘Synth Camp’ for our keyboard team, preparing them to go out into the field and assist our dealers at the store level, promoting and demonstrating all the wonderful features of the JD-Xi.”
Happily, the JD-Xi has already arrived, and it’s starting to be shipped in the U.S. MAP is $499. And, in the future, we can look forward to even more development in the crossover synth area! It starts this summer with the next synthesizer in line: Roland’s JD-XA.