Sonic LAB: Roland AX Edge Keytar Review

US Strap it on and get busy      27/11/18
    MP4 27:41 mins    

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The Roland AX Edge is the latest entry into the rather divisive  keytar category and with its highly distinctive styling it is sure to polarise opinion even more.  This synth has plenty of attitude from its sharp axe like lower horn to its all black keys and replaceable and customisable edge blade. The black model as featured here comes with both a silver and red edge blade whilst the slightly more conservative white one comes with silver and gold blades also replacing the all black keys with the traditional ebony and ivory.  Roland encourage users to customise these faceplates and have a video to show how.  Guitarists have had custom appearances for years so it’s nice that synth players now get a chance to add some personal flourish to this normally staid world.  Running on 8 AA batteries and using Bluetooth midi it is possible to be completely wireless too.

This is not simply a controller though as onboard is a highly capable synth with a sophisticated architecture. Those familiar with modern Roland keyboards will recognise the four partial approach with each partial being a full synthesizer voice.  Those aforementioned partials form a tone of which there are over 500 onboard which make up a single part. Up to four parts can then be layered or split across the 49 full size keys with aftertouch. The collection of parts then form a program of which there are 320 onboard. From the synth itself the parts have some rudimentary adjustments but to deeply edit the tones requires the free app available for iOS and android utilising the built in Bluetooth.  This app however is horrendous to use as it is poorly designed and feels as if the minimum amount of effort has been put in. Come on Roland you can do better than this!  

The sounds though are well laid out grouped into 10 banks of 32 with quick access buttons. Sensibly keytar focused sounds get the few first banks with some terrific searing leads and juicy basses.  More traditional keyboard fare such as pianos and organs are present but you have to go digging for them.  This makes sense as a normal two handed approach feels a bit awkward compared to the one hand riffing and the other manipulating using the neck controls which is typical of keytar performing.  The neck controls feature a pressure sensitive ribbon and modulation bar but are arranged out of reach from the filter (assignable) and volume controls as are the octave buttons plus various hold and portamento buttons. The unintuitive layout of the neck controls beggars belief.  Even though the onboard 16 character 2 line display is completely unreadable from a playing perspective, Roland have thoughtfully included a second angled display which either shows the program number or which favourite is selected.
No sequencer on board but there is an arpeggiator and a very fussy USB host for playing back audio files.  I tried out 4 USB thumb drives before I found one that worked only to discover that the AX Edge was temperamental regarding what files it would play.  Maybe a future firmware update will resolve this.

Criticisms aside, the AX Edge is great fun to play with and has a professional quality feel. The sounds have a modern fullness and the keybed has a light and responsive touch.  The included strap has a couple of ways to attach, myself preferring it being as low slung as the strap would allow. I found that certain guitar and bass playing techniques transferred quite nicely here to my surprise. Slapping the keys or pummelling the edges as if they were strings gave interesting musical approaches and allowed me to utilise a much more aggressive playing style than on a normal keyboard.  

So in summary, the Roland AX Edge offers keytar players a highly distinctive and playable instrument packed full of useable sounds hampered slightly by un-intuitive neck control layout.  As mentioned, the official app is shoddy and frustrating to use but at least allows for deeper sound creation. 

At £849 it’s not cheap but is well built and for some people will be perfect whilst others I suspect would run for the hills at the very sight of it!

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