Roland seems hell bent on ‘making keytars cool again’ and to this I ask - ‘when were keytars NOT cool?’ (Note: I am not cool) When Roland released the AX-Synth, it represented the first shoulder synthesizer with onboard sounds that had actively been produced in quite a while. WIth the AX-Edge, Roland refined their formula, expanded on what works, and really ‘dialed in’ what a modern keytar should be.
Check out the video review below to find out what Matt made of the AX-Edge...
First, What’s New
Although the AX-Edge sports a really slick new look, I was more interested in what modern conveniences Roland brought to the table this time around. Bluetooth MIDI is absolutely at the top of the feature list, and it darn well should be. When you want to utilize the AX-Edge with your favorite soft synths or other MIDI gear, you can now do so completely untethered. I quickly set it up with Korg Module on the iPad and was able to wander around the studio and trigger the sounds directly from the AX-Edge with ease. You can even edit and manage the sounds via wireless connection with an Android/iOS app!
USB connection is present, of course, but you can also plug in a standard memory stick and use it to back up the entire synth. Audio playback is available as well, so you can jam along with some backing tracks from the AX-Edge if you’d like. There is also a dual-display system at work here - the patch number is displayed prominently in the corner in a quite large fashion. This makes it easy to see which sound you’ve got dialed up in a pinch without having to look too deeply at the smaller main screen.
Finally, in a feature Roland is dubbing ‘Tone Remain’, you can switch patches on the AX-Edge without a weird cutoff or release sound. This is great for quick patch changes, and is especially appreciated for those blistering lead tones with lots of delay!
How It Feels
The AX-Edge definitely feels a lot more ‘tightly designed’ than any predecessors. It’s an incredibly light keyboard, and yet at the same time it’s very sturdy. It’s a little more angular, so it has a bit more of an ‘edgy’ look (hey, now I see where the name comes from). The face plate is removable and swappable for different color options, and the AX-Edge even comes with a second edge blade right out of the box. Finally, there is a vocoder input included that allows you to plug in a headset mic and do some really creative things. They’ve even curated a whole category dedicated to vocoder/vocal sounds.
This keytar really feels good in your hands. Paired up with rechargeable batteries, you can really be quite free to ‘roam the stage’. I hooked up my wireless 1/4” audio unit to the AX-Edge and was free to run around the stage as much as my guitar player. It was a really great feeling, and to be honest, I feel that I got more than the 4-hours of battery life that Roland said I would (I do use Eneloop Pro AA batteries, they have a little more ‘juice’ in them than most).
How it Sounds
The included sounds on the AX-Edge are really well thought out. Whoever did the sound design really thought a lot about what’s most important to keytar players. There are 2 separate categories of lead synths, one a little more ‘edge-y’ than the next (their words, not mine!). Honestly, these sounds were pretty great right out of the box and need very little tweaking. I know that the Bluetooth MIDI function can make it tempting to trigger your MainStage rig, but honestly, the sounds were good enough to stand on their own. One of the things I love most about the AX-Edge is how much it will allow me to ‘sit in’ with various groups and bands. I may have turned down the opportunity before because bringing my whole keyboard rig out with me can be a bit of a burden - but the AX-Edge is easy enough to toss in the car and show up at a gig with no muss or fuss.
I had an immense amount of fun with the AX-Edge. There really isn’t anything else out there like it. The full sized keys, the well-designed sounds, and the keyboardist-friendly feature set come together to make a truly fantastic experience.
Pros: Lightweight, sturdy build, amazing feature set, Bluetooth MIDI, great app, vocoder input, well curated presets, awesome lead sounds, excellent minimalist design.
Cons: No customized case available just yet, but I have to imagine that’s coming. In the meantime, a generic gig bag will have to do!
Learn more about keyboard performance: https://ask.audio/academy?nleloc=category/audio/topic/keyboardtechniques