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Review: Roland's $399 Keyboard Hides A Dark Secret

Updated: 5 days ago

Review:

Roland E-X50

$399.00 USD

Roland is synonymous with high-end expensive pro-level keyboards such as the Fantom and Juno. To cater to the budget-conscious keyboardist, Roland added this new flagship E-X50 to their entry-level lineup in addition to the E-X20 and E-X30 I reviewed a few years ago. This Roland keyboard is more expensive than equivalent entry-level flagships from Yamaha and Casio, but does it sound better and have more comprehensive music-making tools?


How does it perform onstage and should you get this over other similarly priced keyboards? I also dived into the firmware of this Roland E-X50 following a suspicion I had. I will review the key-action, sound quality, various features, and functionalities of this keyboard to help you make a better buying decision.


Key Actions

Just like its similarly priced competitors, the Roland E-X50 comes with 61 touch-sensitive synth-action keys.

The surface on both the black and white keys are glossy which I am not a fan of.

I prefer the matte and textured keys from Casio instead. The key action is not as quiet as Casio keyboards but is less noisy than Yamaha keys. While these keys are touch sensitive, I had trouble extracting good dynamic range no matter how I tweak the velocity curves. The key action also felt stiffer than Yamaha keys but has less resistance than Casio’s action.


if you prefer 88-weighted keys, check out my recommended keyboards here.

If you are thinking about learning to play the piano, You can check out my beginner piano app. As well as some beginner video courses and course materials available for you. Also, you check out this free 25 Piano lesson as well.


Sound Engine

The attention-grabbing headline for this keyboard is the 256-note polyphony which is the number of tones that can sound at the same time. 256 is a staggering 300% more polyphony than similarly priced keyboards from the competition. Whether this is a true number, I do not know but I have not encountered notes dropping off even when playing lush sustained dual-layered voices while running a busy accompaniment.


There are 707 tones in the E-X50, which can be layered and split across the keyboard but this number is a marketing illusion.

There are essentially only about 430 unique tones with the rest being 2 decades old general MIDI voices, single shot drum samples, and cheesy general MIDI sound effects pitched across the keyboard. These single-shot drum samples and sound effects should have been more efficiently combined in a drum or sound effects kit which is what the competition does.


If you are expecting to find sound samples trickled down from the last generation Roland flagship workstations, you will be disappointed. Most of the patches are not multi-samples and only a couple of instruments contain velocity-switched articulations. This came as a surprise to me as velocity-switched stereo multi samples are now a de facto feature on similarly priced keyboards from the competition. These shortcomings limit the expressiveness of this keyboard.


The Roland E-X50 has the usual bunch of reverb and chorus effects that are pretty standard even on keyboards that cost half as much. However, the biggest disappointment of this sound engine is the Digital Sound Processor. DSP effects are baked into the tones with no way to select different effects or to vary the parameters. Worst of all, you cannot even turn it off. Cheaper keyboards from the competition offer multiple knobs, switches, and controllers to shape and transform the sound in real-time. On this keyboard, you get a grand total of just one pitch bend wheel for real-time sound shaping.

You can find here my preferred keyboard which is cheaper, has better sounds, a more powerful effects processor, and more sound shaping options.


Rhythm Accompaniment

Thankfully, the rhythm accompaniment feature of this keyboard has a few redeeming qualities. Most of the 300 styles, covering a wide range of music genres, are well programmed.

This is currently the only keyboard at this price that has 4 rhythm variations and 4 rhythmic fills for each style. You get 2 rhythm intros and endings when the competition has just one. Rhythm accompaniments are well programmed with many modern styles suitable for playing recent hits.


The accompaniment engine detects chord changes well and handles the transition between rhythm fills and variations much better than Casio keyboards. Individual accompaniment track volume can be independently adjusted just like similarly priced Yamaha keyboards. However, the interface to adjust track volume is clunky, hampering quick on-the-fly track volume changes. I was surprised to find a dedicated fade-in and out button which is usually only available on more expensive arranger keyboards.


If you want good rhythms and the ability to manipulate and morph individual accompaniment tracks easily, check it out here.


Features

A glaring omission from a keyboard at this price point is a sampler. What Roland has given us instead are 12 audio pads which you can use to trigger up to 12 audio samples on a USB stick.

This is a rudimentary method of triggering audio files and there is no way to change the tempo or pitch of the samples, limiting its real-world use. Another severe limitation is, that only one sample can be triggered at a time. The sound engine just is not powerful enough to play 2 or more samples simultaneously.


While I applaud Roland for including a microphone input on the E-X50, it was disappointing that the microphone cannot be used to sample sounds.

While there is a good selection of microphone effects useful for singers such as reverb, chorus, delay, pan, phasers, and gain there is no way for a live performer to quickly switch between using the microphone for talking and singing. The competition has this feature which I often use when interacting with my audience. The lack of a talk button is a critical omission for cell group worship leaders who lead worship with a keyboard as they often need to switch between speaking to the congregation and singing.


There are 32 memory slots for storing user registrations and these registration buttons are also used to activate the One-Touch-Settings on this keyboard.

One-Touch-Settings contain sounds and effects specially programmed from the factory to suit your selected rhythm and I find it a very useful tool for sketching musical ideas or playing song requests when I am busking. Roland deserves a pat on the back for providing 4 OTS settings for each rhythm, a feature only found on pro-level Korg and Yamaha arranger keyboards.


While Roland markets this keyboard as having an onboard sequencer, it is nothing more than a single-track linear recorder.

So if you are expecting this to be a full-fledged workstation, you will be disappointed. Thankfully, with the USB MIDI port, you can connect the keyboard to any DAW on your laptop or iPad for complex multi-track recording.

I was expecting the USB port to contain an audio interface that can transmit and receive digital audio as Roland’s basic entry-level digital piano has an audio interface on its USB port. However, the USB port only supports MIDI and not audio. I was also hoping that the Bluetooth function supports wireless MIDI.

However, I am again disappointed that you can only stream audio wirelessly via Bluetooth from your mobile device to the keyboard’s speakers.


If you are thinking about learning to play the piano, You can check out my beginner piano app. As well as some beginner video courses and course materials available for you. Also, you check out this free 25 Piano lesson as well.


There is no Bluetooth MIDI, unlike the Casio keyboards. The onboard monitor speakers are powerful, driven by a pair of 10 watts amplifiers giving a total of 20 watts output.

While the output from the speakers is loud, the sound is not as good as the less powerful speakers from the competition. Thankfully, there is a pair of stereo ¼” audio outputs for connecting to more powerful and better quality speaker systems.

There’s another keyboard that costs less with much better features and you will find a link here. Also have recommendations for speakers, headphones, microphones, and other connectivity devices which you might be looking for.


Design and Build Quality

The combination of red on the black chassis of the Roland E-X50 bears great resemblance to Casio CT-X keyboards. However, the shade of red Roland used on the lettering gives poor contrast making it hard to read. I wish Roland had given the smooth hard plastic chassis some textured surface. While there is no doubt this keyboard is well built, it just does not feel premium.


This is further exacerbated by an LCD screen that has a comically low refresh rate.

Thankfully, it is clear, bright, and evenly backlit.

I do not think Roland expects their customers to busk with this keyboard or bring it out on road trips and to campsites. There is no option for battery-powered operation. This keyboard can only be operated off a power point with the included adaptor.


Is Roland E-X50 a Medeli Keyboard?

It is no secret that the lower-end Roland E-X20 and E-X30, which I reviewed a few years ago, are actually Chinese Medeli keyboards but using Roland’s brand for a halo effect. Is this flagship E-X50 yet another Medeli keyboard in disguise? I opened up the E-X50 firmware version 1.07 on my computer and did a search for Medeli in the code. Medeli popped up more than 20 times in the firmware providing an irrefutable fact that this is not a real Roland keyboard containing Roland DNA.


I hope that this review has helped you in making an informed purchase of the Roland E-X50 Do check out the links provided in this article to get the latest prices and updates on the Roland E-X50. To find out more about the world of keyboards and pianos, do read more articles on this blog to find the most suitable and perfect instrument for your needs.


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