Roland recently debuted a whole new line of keyboard workstations called the FANTOM-0 series. This new line of keyboards stems from Roland’s flagship FANTOM line of keyboards from previous generations.
Check Out Our Full Review Of The FANTOM-0 Series Launch
The new iterations seen by the FANTOM-0 series offer new features, more powerful functionality, and an intuitive workflow that makes this keyboard ideal for gigging musicians and studio-working producers.
We had a chance to get our hands on the smaller of the FANTOM models, the FANTOM-06, in order to dive deep into everything this powerhouse keyboard has to offer.
If you are on the fence about whether or not this unit is right for you and your studio, this guide will answer every questions you might have (…and likely a few more you haven’t thought to ask yet).
Unboxing The Roland FANTOM-06 61-Key Synth Workstation
Right out of the box, the FANTOM-06 is a lot to take in. The bells, whistles, parameters, knobs, and faders are all inspiring to look at but how practical are they when you want to dive right into actually making music?
Well, answering that question would have to wait because before I could effectively hook up the Roland keyboard to my computer, an update had to be applied. The update, which had to be loaded onto a USB and then installed onto the keyboard and applied using the onboard touchscreen, was a bit of a hassle but I guess mostly only because I was so excited to dive into the sounds and features of the FANTOM-06.
The build quality of the keyboard is second to none and it is obvious that Roland designed this synth workstation with the actively-gigging musician in mind. Every pot, dial, and fader feels heavy-duty to the touch and even the most aggressive actions on the pitch and mod wheel felt smooth and natural.
The FANTOM fits snuggly on my small-to-medium sized studio workspace and despite its lengthy 61-key design, it fits comfortably into my space, routine, and workflow. Within only a few hours of experimenting with the unit, I could tell that this thing does its job right and it does its job well.
If I had to name one gripe with this music workstation keyboard, it would be the lack of weighted keys. If the entire line of the Roland Fantom-0 series had weight keys that responded well to the touch and expression then this thing would undeniably set itself apart from thousands of electronic and acoustic keyboards.
What Is The Roland Fantom-0 Series?
When you boil it down, the Roland keyboard offers everything that a touring artist would need at a touch of a few, or perhaps many, buttons. Between its thousands of onboard sounds, standalone workstations, sequencers, color touchscreen, and other features it allows the user to create music on the go without the essential need for a music studio. Since testing this model out, it has been my go-to recommendation for the gigging keyboardists I know that want to produce on the road but lack the studio acumen of producing in a fully set up studio space.
But that’s far from saying that only touring artists will find a use for this. On the contrary, this keyboard slotted itself in quickly to the studio I have worked out of for the better part of five years…
That is because Roland’s integration between the keyboard and all of the most common digital audio workstations (DAWs) is seamless. Once you can get the proper updates onto the keyboard, it fired up instantly in Ableton and I was off to the races.
One of the most powerful and time-efficient things about this model is that all of its outputting audio is sent to Ableton directly along the MIDI cable along with MIDI data but does not transfer over a conventional 5-pin MIDI cable.
There was no complicated audio routing through my interface or anything that typically slows me down when I am in the throws of producing. It was easy to scroll through the 15 wave expansions and sound packs that come native on the keyboard and find the exact sounds like I wanted for the project. From there, all I had to do was set the input in Ableton to receive the audio from the FANTOM-06’s MIDI cable and I could start producing.
What Comes With The Music Workstation Keyboard?
With the number of knobs and dials just on the front interface of the keyboard, one can tell that a lot is going on in this unit. So let’s break down some of the best and more practical features that caught my attention right off the bat.
Most synths and workstations offer some form of arpeggiation but where the Roland Fantom shines is its laundry list of presets that come baked into the unit. Because nothing is better to me than having a cascading arpeggiator line that fills in the space, but simple up and back note runs get stale after you’ve used them more than once or twice.
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But with the amount of presets that the Roland arpeggiator comes with, you will be set for life. I would argue that it rivals that of Xfer Record’s Cthulhu plugin. I had the most fun playing with the arpeggiators in tandem with the other features included in this list (like the sampler!)
Not only that but the ability to affect the variations within each different preset is powerful. Different accents, velocity adjustments, and more help simple arpeggiators feel not so simple.
I will preface this by saying that my current audio interface is quite rubbish. I’ve had the same one since my early days of production work and, being a starving artist, I’ve only recently come to a place where I can justify an upgrade (not that I’ve made it quite yet). But the reality is that it’s turned my instinct away from the hardware I’ve purchased because of poor audio quality, latency issues, and everything else that comes with having a sub-par interface.
So I was equally as skeptical when I fired up the Fantom, as I worried that I would have to route it through my interface to produce with the thousands of electronic and acoustic sounds that come with the keyboard.
But the Fantom has its own 4×32 USB audio interface onboard, which plugins directly into your computer allowing me to record audio from the keyboard into Ableton with lightning quickness; all in high-resolution and with zero latency.
They seamlessly integrated Mainstage, Logic Pro, and/or Ableton, which is pretty slick. Granted, I am a producer first so I never found myself relying too heavily on this feature but I respect the fact that they have it. Because for pianists and keyboard players who may not have the producer-first mentality that I do, being able to control the features of a DAW without having to dive super far into the nuances of the DAWs is great.
It would also help keep you focused on the music itself. Being in front of a screen and working entirely in the DAW brings the constant temptation to add a new layer, insert a new plugin, or do anything besides connect with the music that you are trying to write. But being able to access all the most important features within a small, high-resolution screen is amazing.
Electronic and Acoustic Sounds
By tapping into all of the benefits afforded by Roland’s zen-core technology, you have access to tens of thousands of sounds ranging from electronic and acoustic sounds by the company’s signature technology. You can access this powerful technology through Roland Cloud, which offers hundreds of free and premium expansions. Lush pads, bright pianos, white noise FX, and more can all be called upon, recorded, and manipulated through the workstation’s ADSR envelopes and modulation section. They even included drums for almost every style and genre under the sun, including 90s drum kits, standard 808 dance kits, and classic acoustic kits.
Not only that, but the advanced zen-core and supernatural technologies allow you to download new sounds whenever you want through Roland’s library of free secondary sounds.
The host of onboard effects was mind-blowing on this keyboard. Not only did its suite of tools include all of the standard bits and bobs, but they sounded incredible. Will the Fantom’s chorus, EQs, and reverbs replace my VSTs and plugins? Likely not. But they are distinct and unique-enough sounding to be a contender in my toolbox and are certainly not something to cast aside.
Not only does the Fantom come with its onboard sampler, but this sampler is a workhorse. Boasting some of the most impressive sample-manipulating features I have seen in a workstation like this, this was something that completely floored me.
Because on similar devices, the sampler is more included as an afterthought and only allows you to throw stock samplers into the player at different pitches. But this sampler allows for in-depth features for a single sample, multisample, and even sample pads. Samples can be up to 60 minutes and can be stored on the onboard hard drive for later use.
Is The Roland FANTOM-06 Right For Me?
This certainly can be a bit of a tricky question to ask, as every producer and artist is looking for something a bit different from a keyboard like this.
If you haven’t gotten the point already, let me be very clear that this keyboard, and the whole line of Fantom-0 keyboards, are not for the faint of heart. They all come with complex sound engines, model expansions, an intricate user interface, thousands of multitimbral soft synths to manipulate, and more. And all of these features of tucked away behind sophisticated routing, menus, modulation matrixes, and more.
TL;DR – There is a bit of a learning curve to this tool…
But once you can get comfortable, or even master, the workflow of the power in the fantom workstation you will have everything in your hands to create and even perform professional music all in one place.
The Roland FANTOM-0 synthesizer keyboard series are available in the U.S. as of April April for the following prices: