Hands-On Review:Roland Fantom-X
The keyboard with the big brain and rich voiceBy Willie Stearn
The Fantom has been one of the top workstations since its introduction. I grabbed one of the early ones and have never regretted my choice. I chose the Fantom over its few rivals because it seemed the easiest to use and the most versatile. It was a powerful music creation tool as a workstation, and it wasn't so stiff that it couldn't jump up on the stage and jam. Plus, this versatility was coupled with incredibly lush sound quality and hammer-action keys that felt great to play.
What I found in the new Fantom-X8 was a board that was both familiar and vastly expanded in its capabilities. It hadn't lost the characteristics that made me choose the Fantom in the first place, but some significant changes were apparent the minute I got it set up. And when I turned on the power, I uttered an under-the-breath "wow."
The Fantom-X display has always been large, but now Roland has added color. The Fantom-X is the first workstation to have it, and it's way more than a gimmick. It makes the display easier and faster to read. Looking at it, you immediately can break down the information and see what you are looking for. While the Fantom has always been easy to read and navigate, the addition of color makes it all the easier.
The big brain
Probably the biggest fundamental improvement became apparent as I went to play and perform various functions. The Fantom-X has a new, more powerful synth engine. The new chip allows you to play rich four-tone patches with full 128-voice polyphony. It makes incredibly rich, thick sounds possible. When fully expanded, waveform capacity is around a gigabyte-the largest capacity of any board yet-and the new chip can fully utilize it.
The new engine also allowed an expansion of internal wave ROM. It is double the size of the original and quality hasn't been sacrificed for quantity in any way. What has always been true of the Fantom is even more true now. The sounds it offers are consistently of unrivaled quality. There's not a throw-away in the bunch. Incredibly, its piano patch is made up of over 700 separate samples-multisamples for every key and every velocity. Through all the patches there is a wonderful level of musicality. I found all the sounds-from string sections to drum kits-to be fat, rich, and wonderfully expressive.
Enter the X factor
The massive power of its new synth engine has other consequences. It allows the Fantom-X to blur the line between sampler and digital recorder by functioning as both. As a sampler it is easy to use and powerful, offering such amenities as timestretch, so you can make samples fit a song's tempo. Simply set the master BPM and everything follows. It also has enough RAM to record long tracks as if it were a full-blown digital recorder. The sequencer is high resolution and has a 400,000-note capacity. Samples or tracks can be edited on the Fantom-X with such tools as Wave Edit and Chop. There is also the option of importing samples in WAV and AIFF formats.
A function called "skip back sampling" is especially cool. Basically, the Fantom-X is constantly recording everything you play on both the keys and the pads, so if you want to capture something you've just played, a button push will retrieve it.
God bless the USB!
An onboard USB port greatly enhances the Fantom-X functionality as a workstation. It can be used for MIDI, eliminating the need for a costly MIDI interface. It also simplifies all kinds of exchanges between Fantom-X and a computer. You can use it to import or export sample files using a simple drag-and-drop method. You can also download songs for mixing into the computer, resample them in stereo on the Fantom-X, then process through the Fantom's dedicated mastering processor with its multiband compression and return the finished master to computer for CD burning. In essence, the Fantom-X, allied with your computer, is a full- tilt studio.
Another cool feature on the Fantom-X8 is the dedicated piano button. It's there to make life easier for those who use a straight piano frequently, especially in performance. Push the button and a superb grand is immediately at your disposal. In addition, the piano button can be programmed for any patch you want, so if you most frequently use organ strings, or whatever in your music, you can set it up for that too.
My pad or yours
One feature that makes the Fantom-X easy to use is its Dynamic Pad Bank. It can be programmed for all kinds of functions from sample triggering to programming of drum tracks. The pads are aftertouch-sensitive, have double the polyphony of those on the Fantom-S, and have been redesigned for an improved dynamic feel.
The primary issue with any keyboard is the quality of the sounds it provides. Great sounds make great music, and everything else is secondary. The wonderful quality of the Fantom-X sounds make it the board of choice for many serious musicians and distinguish it as the premier workstation keyboard. It's a fantastic instrument that will more than cover any live performance or music creation project.
|Fantom-X8 88-Key Sampling Workstation|