Synth enthusiasts all over the world rejoiced when Roland announced it’s first synthesizer with true analog synthesis in decades. Not a virtual analog emulation (as in the Aira series products), but the real thing, albeit in the form of a single voice Oscillator. The JD-Xi is presented as a crossover digital/analog synth with 128 digital voices and one analog voice with an analog filter. The usage of these voices is based around a 4 channel pattern step sequencer and arpeggiator in combination with a 4 part effects section. The first two channels are for digital supernatural sounds, the third channel is for drums/percussion and the fourth for the analog voice. This setup reminded me a lot of the old school 4-channel modtrackers. It also has a vocoder with an included gooseneck microphone.
The layout of the JD-Xi is very straightforward and spartan considering the display it only has a 2×16 character LED display. The various buttons and dials to edit the voices and patterns are pretty much self explanatory. Not having a traditional ASDR, but rather a single ADSR envelope dial is strange though. If you want to edit the ADSR parameters you have to enter the synthesis menu on the LED display. The same goes for many other parameters, like the effects, filter settings etc., however the big dial for voice selection seems quite unnecessary to me. The JD-Xi has a 3-octave mini keyboard, which has quite a springy feel to it, so you’ll have to get used playing it. The vocoder section with ‘Auto tune’ option to me seems nothing more than a gimmick that you’d hardly use, because it doesn’t sound like a real vocoder to me. The backside shows the outputs, mono input, USB2 and power connections.
The digital synthesis sounds really good because, due to the technology being perfected over several years in various other Roland products. You’ll still hear it is a Roland synth, but that is fine. As for the drum sounds, you can edit them in the user definable drum kits and they are very good indeed. Beefy kicks, dynamic snares and lots of variations in the drum samples you can choose from. It can sonically compete with the TR-8. The analog synth is a one OSC affair and offers Saw, Triangle and PWM Square waves with a 1 or 2 octave sub oscillator. The analogue filter is a 12-24dB low pass device and is very usable for anything from warm basses to screaming lead sounds. Compared to an SH-101, it sounds a bit too sweet, though the attack still can sound snappy for bass sounds. The filter and resonance sound very good and you even can get a sine from the filter oscillation. Usage of the LFO for pitch, level and filter are also pretty straightforward and sound fine.
The effects section has 4 voices and several types that you can choose from. Chorus, flanger, delay, reverb, ring mod and bitcrush. You even can assign these effects to separate sounds on your drum kit.
The JD-Xi comes with 4 banks of patterns that show off the sonic qualities of the synthesizer very well as you check them out. Styles range from R&B, EDM and Trap to D&B and Dubstep. In this regard, it’s a very versatile beast. It’s obvious that many people have spent quite some time creating these patterns and trying to recreate one of these took me quite some time. The JD-Xi is very intuitive if you get the hang of it. But not being able to copy patterns (or parts of patterns) is a bit tedious, because you have to re-create everything by hand. One thing is for sure – this unit has way more depth to it than it looks – because, to be honest, it looks almost like a toy synth but it most certainly is not. The manual of this synthesizer became available to me at the time of writing this review. So checking out if I’d missed any features was possible, but most of them were clear enough to figure out without use of the manual. Roland has very good manuals in general and this is no exception.
Using these patterns is quite nice but there’s no way to chain them to create a song (a feature also missing for their TR8). You can however record the patterns into a DAW, like Ableton Live and create loops or sequence them. The JD-Xi also functions as an audio interface, so you can use it to playback the clips as well or you can use program changes to trigger the patterns and create a song that way, like you may have done with old drum machines back in the day.
+Real time recording
-Editing voices and patterns is complicated because of menu diving
-No pattern chaining
-No copy functions for patterns
The JD-Xi is a very good sounding little synthesizer that is missing only a few essential features to have been of far greater use to a larger audience. If you combine the JD-Xi with a DAW, you can let your creativity run wild and have a lot of fun. As just a drum machine, the JD-Xi performs very well and is suited for live performances or in the studio. For entry-level users, it’s a great way to get into synthesis and producing in general. The analog synth is nice but compared to its competition, it’s not remarkable.