In March Roland announced the Fantom 0, typically pronounced Fantom “Oh”, a lighter and less expensive version of their flagship Fantom series of synthesizer workstations. I had been very happily playing the Novation SL when I saw a video with the Fantom 0 and wow, it blew me away. Up until this point I had never heard of the Roland Fantom or Fantom 0. I didn’t know that Roland made workstation keyboards with Ableton integration.
Why the Fantom 08?
What really attracted me to the Fantom 08 is the ability to make sound without a computer or other external equipment. The sound presets of the Fantom 0 are really good for what I am doing and look forward to doing. The Supernatural Piano presets are nice, with a little tweaking and reverb I think they sound great. The Strings are solid and among the Synth sounds I found a lot of bass sounds I really like.
The next thing is the keybed. I ordered the Fantom 08 before any of the local music shops had them in stock, so I really worried about this. Up until this point my favorite keybed was the Yamaha P125 Graded Hammer Standard (GHS) keybed which is light and fast. The PHA-4 Standard Keyboard: with Escapement and Ivory Feel keybed of the Fantom 08 is heavier and slower than the Yamaha. I kind of like the heavier, it allows me to rest my hands on the keys without triggering them. But the slower speed of the return, the time it takes a key from the bottom of its travel to the top position, feels sluggish, they key does not feel like it is glued to my finger. Not a big deal, but maybe it is.
The screen! Having a nice big touchscreen where you can really see what is going on is amazing. For sound design being able to see exactly what you are editing is fantastic. The screen is responsive to touch with very little lag.
Faders and knobs, oh my. They feel great.
What I Don’t Like
Even though the Fantom 0 is a 2022 computer it is based on the Fantom which was released in 2019, a lot of the computer integration is coming from a 2015 or earlier mindset. The way the keyboard’s firmware is updated along with adding new sounds requires a USB thumb drive and juggling it between multiple ports on the back of the keyboard.
The interface is very clunky and different from anything I am familiar with. If you are not familiar with the Roland way of doing things, be ready to watch a lot of videos and to read the manual closely. But there is good news, if you learn one Roland product there is a good chance you can apply that knowledge to other Roland products, so in the long run I think it is worth spending the effort to learn it.
Software drivers are required to use the keyboard with a computer. This bugs me a lot. I am ok with advanced features requiring a driver, but basic MIDI and Audio should not require drivers. But you can avoid the drivers by using an audio interface that includes MIDI input and output.
Did I Keep It?
After almost a month I decided to return the Fantom 08. I loved the keyboard so much that I decided I wanted more! I returned it and ordered its big brother the Fantom 8 which I should arrive in a few months.
The Atlanta Guitar Center has both the Fantom 8 and Fantom 08 on display, I spent a lot of time playing them both and decided that the PHA-50 keybed, V-Piano sounds, extra memory for sound expansion, and metal construction are worth the extra money to me.
I am also keeping the Novation SL, it is a great controller and I plan on keeping it.
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