In the same way guitarists are mesmerised by the word ‘valve’ when talking about amplifiers, there’s no single word that seems to stir more excitement in the minds of synthesizer users than ‘analogue’.
In recent years, analogue synthesizers have had a bit of a resurgence and are now more widely available and affordable than ever before; putting the technology in the hands of players who previously may have only been able to buy new digital synthesizers, as opposed to the good, old-fashioned analogue variety.
What’s the difference between an analogue and a digital synthesizer?
All synths have basically the same idea behind them, which is that is you filter and manipulate some very basic sounds so you can create more complex or interesting sounds, unlike ‘traditional’ musical instruments, such as the piano.
The main difference between analogue and digital synths is the way in which they go about filtering and manipulating sounds. An analogue synth circuit uses electrical voltages to create a continuously variable signal to make sounds, whereas a digital synth uses digital signal processing chips to create sounds and they are stepped in fixed values of ones and zeros.
Can you explain that in English please?
Imagine two glasses of water being poured out: one is liquid water (analogue) and one is full of hundreds of tiny ice cubes (digital). When you pour the liquid water it is a continuous flow and you can pour any exact amount you want, but when you pour the ice cubes you can only do it is as whole units: one ice cube, two ice cubes, etc. Does that make sense?
Sort of. So why are there two types of synth anyway?
Well, the first synthesizers created were analogue synths. They were always made from analogue circuits and were probably all over some of your favourite music from the late 60s, 70s and early 80s.
Analogue circuits had a great warm and detailed sound that wasn’t found in early digital synths. However, digital synths offered a lot of advantages over analogue synths in that they always stayed in tune, were reliable, had greater polyphony and were more affordable.
Nowadays, there is a bigger selection of digital synths and analogue synths for you to buy than ever before.
What type of synth is better, Analogue or Digital?
If you want the warmth and punch of an analogue synth and don’t mind playing less notes at once, get an analogue synth.
If you want the flexibility of a digital synth with more oscillators, more controls and polyphony, then get a digital synth.
Can I not have Analogue and Digital in one synthesizer though?
Yes, now you can! The Roland JD-XA is an Analogue/ Digital crossover synthesizer, meaning that it has both an Analogue AND a digital section, each of which you can use independently or combine to create sounds that you simply couldn’t make in any other single keyboard.
For instance, you could use the analogue section to create a really warm pad sound, then use the digital section to layer some more subtle arpeggios and different wave forms to thicken it out.
What’s even better is that you can route the digital sounds through the analogue filter section to help warm them up. Plus, the JD-XA has 29 great sounding on-board digital effects such as chorus, phaser, delay and reverb that can be added to certain parts to enhance them further.
Roland JD-XA tech specs for the synth-heads!
The analogue section has 4 parts each with 2x oscillators, Filter, Amp, 4x Envelopes (2x pitch, filter, amp) and 2x LFO per part. That’s an incredibly powerful signal chain for any analogue synth. What’s more, you can stack those parts together to give you 4 note true analogue polyphony if you want (you can play chords!).
The digital section is 64 note polyphony powered by Roland’s acclaimed SuperNatural Digital Synth engine. This is again made up of 4 parts, each with 3 partials. The versatility here is that as well as digital versions of analogue waveforms, you can also use over 400 PCM samples as oscillators in themselves to create some truly unique sounds.
If your sounds ambitions are wide and you need a synth that cope with them all, then you should pop down to your local PMT store and ask one our product experts to demo the Roland JD-XA. You may be surprised at what you can achieve!
Get even more patches free via Roland AXIAL
Roland also have a fantastic service called AXIAL, which allows you to download many more fantastic patches for your JD-XA (and other Roland synths) completely free of charge. So far there are nine JD-XA free patch libraries to install which include patches inspired by classic Roland synths such as the Jupiter-8 and Juno-60, plus signature sound collections by artists like Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran and great collections of bass, lead, pad and arpeggiated sounds.
Have a listen to some of the great patches from the Jupiter-8/Juno-60 Crossover impressions collection:
To hear more libraries you can visit the Axial website: axial.roland.com.