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Roland JD-Xi (The best for Bitwig Studio?)

The Roland JD-Xi is an analogue and digital cross over synthesizer from the minds of those at Roland music technology. The guys there produced this piece of kit which incorporates a number of different technologies for today’s home music producer, singer songwriter, on the road travel musician and much more.

I have picked this as my personal synthesizer of choice to use alongside with Bitwig Studio for numerous reasons. After shopping about for a while I settled on this synth so let me tell you why this was my weapon of choice.

What is the Roland JD-Xi?

In this day and age with electronic music covering so many variants of genre it is important to be able to keep up with the technology and times. The JD-Xi manages to offer a variety of technology which encapsulates features used in differing genres. Let me give you a couple of examples:

80’s electro pop

Big synths, strings and pads all feature in this style of music and with a variety of settings and patches available on the JD-Xi just in the strings alone, it hits the mark.

Not to mention, if you are going for a sound from the eighties then you will be needing a Jupiter synth style pad. No problem with the JD-Xi, there is a settings right out of the box for that one.

Acid House

How about stepping forward a few years to the rave era of the Hacienda and Acid House style riffs. A Guy Called Gerald and all that. What is called for here is a TB-303 acid sound.

The TB 303 was a staple bassline generator of these times with its distinct unique filters and envelopes producing that ripping high tweak sound.

It’s a firm favourite of Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers too. Once again, this can be emulated with the Roland JD-Xi. They know how to get it right too because after all, they made the TB-303 also.

This brings me nicely on to one of the fabulous features of this synth and that is the 16 step sequencer. Much like the Aria which Roland have recently release, there is a 16 button sequencer which can be dialled in to any of the 4 channels for the JD-Xi :

  • Digital Synth 1
  • Digital Synth 2
  • Analogue Synth
  • Drum Machine

So for a TB-303 effect you would dial in one of the Bassline settings into the Digital synth and then hit play on the sequencer and either live record or step record.

For a drum machine you can load up the 808 or 909 sound bank and use these kits to  record drum patterns. Again, the offering of the classic kits is astounding for anyone who is a fan of the old gear (like me).

While all these riffs are playing, you can have yourself a nice loop playing and add tweaks using the cut off and resonance features with the filters, along with adjusting the LFO’s and Envelopes. All these little tweaks offer so much functionality for one device.

All this talk and I’ve not even integrated it in to Bitwig Studio yet, all the above can be done stand alone.

Choosing a synth for Bitwig Studio.

So my main concern as a home studio producer was that I wanted to have a midi keyboard input, audio interface, microphone input and analogue synthesizer as part of my setup. These were my basic requirements and would normally mean buying all these devices separately.

However I did think that there may be something on the market which would give me the option to be able to role everything in to one piece of kit. Or at maybe two minimum. I began to do my homework and started shopping around to find some ideas.

I ended up with a couple of choices which were the Arturia Mini Brite and Novation BassStation. Both now on their second generation versions. The other option I had was the Roland JD-Xi and started to look at what they all offered me.

I dismissed the Arturia MiniBrute product almost straight away because it was a purely analogue synthesizer and so decided it did not fit my specification.

However both the JD-Xi and the Novation Bass Station did fit in to the requirements and it was a basic toss-up between the two.

Neither of the two devices had native support within Bitwig Studio with the included scripts from the control scripts library however both would be supported as Generic Midi input devices so no issue there.

The deciding factor for me was the Analogue Digital devices in the JD-Xi. It allowed me to have in one piece of kit:

  • Analogue Synthesizer
  • Digital Synthesizer
  • Midi input with USB
  • Audio interface
  • Microphone input

I loved the look of it. It was a portable synthesizer if I required to take it with me anywhere when travelling and with my past experience of Novation products (especially my Novation Launchpad USB port going faulty) I decided to give Roland a go. I’m very impressed so far with the build quality.

The Phantom Strikes Again

One thing which was not clear to me was the Roland JD-Xi does not have 48V phantom power for condenser microphones. This was something I found out when upgrading my microphone to a newer version. I needed to buy an in line power supply in order to power the microphone.

Luckily these are relatively low cost and quite easily available. I’d recommend this one from Amazon as it is the one I’ve bought and works very well with the JD-Xi.

Integration into Bitwig Studio

As for integration in to Bitwig Studio there was a bit of setting up which was required to get full midi functionality. However this is all quite well documented in the manual.

I would encourage you to upgrade the Firmware of the JD-Xi to the latest version (1.51 at the time of writing). This update adds a number of additional features such as:

  • Interactive Chord
  • Transpose function
  • Shuffle function
  • Side Chain Compressor
  • Startup Program function
  • Microphone input enhancements

These options are all extra features and open up a world of opportunity for bringing sound design into your tracks.

To open up the features in Bitwig Studio you need to make sure your USB driver is installed as per the documentation from Roland.

There is some excellent documentation on the website and so I suggest you read that well and take it in (as much fun as it might not be – it really does help I promise!). Once that’s all in place then open up Bitwig Studio and add a Generic Midi Controller from the controllers section of the Settings panel.

Bitwig Settings midi Controller

From here you can either implement the Bitwig Midi device as a Hardware Instrument using the assigned channels shown in the JD-Xi manual (channels 1,2,3 & 10) to record midi & audio information from the device.

It is also possible to set up as an audio source and record as audio capture for the microphone. This is particularly useful and of low overhead when recording voice or acoustic guitar in Bitwig.

I’m not sure if it’s a bug or just bad practise to do so anyway, but I’d really recommend against switching off the JD-Xi while the audio engine is running in Bitwig. The software does not handle losing the audio interface well and can cause unsaved projects to crash and potentially lose work.

I’m sure most of you would not be doing such a thing, but if you do for whatever reason need to reboot the JD-Xi, right click in Bitwig Studio in the tempo area and choose “Deactivate for this project) and the Audio Engine will close gracefully and not crash.

Overall, I’m really pleased with the decision to go with the Roland JD-Xi. I’m a few years down the line with the product and haven’t uncovered half of the sound it can do.

I’m loving the effects which are on offer. I good one to use with the microphone is the noise gate/noise switch option in the JD-Xi system menu.

It allows background noise to be cancelled out when doing a record. Get the balance right and the audio is recorded beautifully. Get it wrong however and then it sounds glitch (however good for some styles of music!).

Ready to go for it? Take a look at the offers from suppliers on Amazon and see what deals you can find out there.

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