The JD-XA feels very similar to the Roland JD-Xi, which means lots of plastic. The chassis is lightweight and portable, with only two strips of metal along the back and front edges of the front panel to add strength and rigidity. However, the shiny facia is a real fingerprint magnet!
The JD-XA is very imposing in the flesh, and will turn heads in the studio and on stage. The red backlighting looks great, is very practical and can be turned off or customised.
All the main controls that you would generally reach for during sound sculpting and performance are all to hand via rotaries and sliders, which is a huge improvement over previous Roland keyboards such as the Jupiter-80. And it’s nice to have the standard Roland mod/bender plus pitch/mod wheels.
The keybed is extremely playable, and it’s great to see aftertouch onboard. It has a shallow key travel and is lightly sprung - much like the keybed on our Alesis Andromeda - making it perfect for bass/lead and chord duties.
Ease of use
On the whole, the JD-XA is easy to use and navigate, with a fairly shallow learning curve. That said, when programming the deeper elements of the digital engine, the reliance on the page cursors and +/- buttons can slow things down a little - like the JD-Xi, the JD-XA would benefit from a jog/data wheel.
The analogue side is pretty much one-knob-per function, which is great.
We are really liking the inclusion of the CV/Gate output, and each track can be set to output MIDI as well as control the internal engine. The JD-XA is missing the drum part that we saw in the JD-Xi, despite this being a feature that we were originally led to believe would be implemented.
Though it’s very quick to record parts using the sequencer, deeper editing requires a little more time to get to grips with. There’s no song mode for putting together full-blown tracks, but it’s a very useful addition if you think of it as a scratchpad/looper.
The overall character is similar to the JD-Xi, but with lots more fidelity. The JD-XA excels at bold, upfront sounds and punchy leads and basses, but can do classic analogue strings and pads, too.
The 4-note analogue polyphony is slightly restricting, especially for those who like to play a bass note in the left and a 4-note chord in the right, but the digital side allows for much bigger chords. Layering a 4-note analogue poly sound with a 6- or 7-note digital chord also works surprisingly smoothly, with little evidence of abrupt note stealing.
The JD-XA is hugely versatile. It can act as a powerful analogue and hybrid mono/polysynth, and features one of the nicest vocoders we’ve used. There are plenty of modulation options onboard, the global and insert FX and new analogue filters sound great, and it’s a powerful MIDI control surface to boot.
All in all this is a great keyboard to have at the centre of any setup, either live or in the studio.
We’ll have a full review of the JD-XA on MusicRadar very soon.