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Roland Returns to Analogue With JD-XA Hybrid Polysynth

Published: Fri January 23, 2015  News Feed

Roland Returns to Analogue With the JD-XA, SYSTEM-500 & Boutique Series

To put it simply - ROLAND were awesome in 2015. The new release from Roland, the JDXA Hybrid Polysynth, was the biggest surprise at NAMM 2015. For instance, everyone new the Korg ARP Odyssey was coming out and were exited by it, but no-one could quite believe it when Roland unveiled what seems to be their return to analogue synthesizers, with the new JD-XA! Other releases such as Syetem-500 and the Boutique Series, besides new AIRA releases, made sure to confirm Roland as the biggest synthesizer brand once again.

Roland JDXA Analogue & Digital Crossover Synthesizer

Roland did what few brands can ever do: their new JD-XA Hybrid Polysynth became the talking point of the "blogosphere" and got everyone in the industry excited, without even making a sound! How's that possible?

Well, the answer is very simple - Roland went back to analogue synths! Unlike the new Roland JD-Xi (which is monophonic and routes the analogue part via digital filter on the output) the new JD-XA has analogue filters, too!

To understand why people got so excited, we need to go back and look at Roland's role in the history of analogue synthesizers

Roland SH1000 Analogue Synth

Roland is responsible for the first affordable, mass-produced analogue synth, which was made in Japan in 1973 - the SH1000 (see pic above). The SH-1000 was a monophonic analog synth with a single oscillator feeding a lowpass filter, an ADSR envelope, and two LFOs. It would eventually be used by Vangelis, Human League, The Band, Jethro Tull and Blondie, on one of their most famous songs, Heart Of Glass:

A few years later, Roland released the SH3 analog synth, which went on to become their first truly "classic" synthesizer, though, at the time, it posed no competition to the more popular Minimoog and ARP Odyssey synths. The SH3  sported two conventional LFOs (the PWM had its own, dedicated rate control) with a neat routing system for pitch modulation, filter modulation, and tremolo. What's more, there was a sample-and-hold section, portamento, a self-oscillating filter, a full ADSR contour generator, and two preset envelope shapes — one brassy, one percussive — for the VCF and VCA.

Other analogue synths followed, such as the SH-2000, SH-5 and the System-100 (pictured below) which are now very desirable, and have been used by many recording artists. Human League is said to have used mostly just a System-100, multitracked, on the arrangements of two classic albums, Reproduction and Travelogue.

Roland System-100

And so it went... years going by, in the seventies, and Roland delivering a succession of analog synths that would end up being used by some legendary bands, such as the SH-1, which was used by Erasure and Depeche Mode, and the more stripped-down SH-09, which despite its limitations went on to be used by top acts such as Orbital, Vince Clarke, BT, Conemelt, Josh Wink, Banco De Gaia, Mr. Oizo, Ladytron, Jimmy Edgar, Dave Holmes, Freddy Fresh, OMD, and 808 State.

As the seventies came to a close, Roland released a new milestone: the Jupiter-4, their first ever 4-voice analogue polysynth, used by many acts including Duran Duran - you can listen to its arpeggiator on 'Rio'. But, even better was to come, when in 1981 Roland released the classic Jupiter-8, which became one of the most revered synthesizers ever, and the one everyone compares other subsequent Roland polysynths against:

Roland Jupiter 8

The Jupiter-8 (or JP-8) has been used by a massive who's who of popular artists from the 80's onwards, including A-Ha, ABBA, Enya, Dire Straits, Paul Simon, Thomas Dolby, Duran Duran, MIchael Jackson, Jean Michel Jarre, Human League, Giorgio Moroder, Queen, Devo, Simple Minds, No Doubt and Lady Gaga. Oh, and it was also used by Harold Faltermeyer to play the lead part on the Beverly Hills Cop main theme!

After the Jupiter-8, nothing Roland made came close in terms of being so revered. And that doesn't mean the synths that followed were not good! From the cheap to the sophisticated, Roland made many other classic synths after the Jupiter 8: the SH-101 was used by Adrian Utley in the intro for Portishead's 'Mysterons' (which people usually think was a theremin!) and the Alpha Juno was used by The Prodigy, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.

Roland's most recent (digital) synthesizers such as the new Jupiter models are simply fantastic, and thanks to their quality, Roland has remained one of the leading manufacturers of keyboards, digital pianos and synthesizers. But the time is right for a new analogue revolution from Roland...

Roland JD-XA

Everyone was hoping that the Roland JDXA would be a new classic, maybe the "new Jupiter 8", even! As the success of the AIRA series has shown, retro is now cool, but Roland, up until now, had not delivered an analogue synth, like other brands have done so successfully in recent times.

It seems that the time is right for Roland to claim back their important place in the field of analog synthesis, and so far, all the indications are good! Roland described the JD-XA as an "Analogue + Digital Crossover" synthesizer, which puzzled some people, who worried that it would mean the new JD-XA wouldn't be "truly" analogue, but that's not it - the JD-XA is a fully analogue synthesizer which also have, like the cheaper JD-Xi, a digital section as well, with drums and FX!

Basically, Roland doesn't want to just replicate the past and be retro for the sake of it - but carry on innovating, just like they've always done since the 70s. In other words - Roland is going analogue full time, but keeps looking ahead. The JD-XA is not meant to just be a "retro" synth: it's analogue and capable of retro sounds, yes, but is very much a modern instrument, as made evident by how it looks!

For those yearning for the return of the good old analogue modular synths, later in 2015 Roland also released the System-500, a more compact, modern version of the modular synths of the past:

New Roland System-500 analog synth modules

The System-500 recreates the vintage sounds of the legendary System-700 and System-100M, and, just like the JD-XA, helped to put Roland at the forefront of synthesis in 2015. As if those releases were not enough, Roland also announced the Boutique Series Mini-Synths, which managed to excite synth enthusiasts even more, once again mixing vintage sounds with modern features:

Roland Boutique Synths

As we've seen, Roland has put their mark in the history of pop and rock thanks to their legendary analogue synths - and it seems that they'll do it once again with the JD-XA Hybrid Polysynth, System-500 and Boutique Series. Yes... it's time to get excited by Roland synths once again!

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