I wanted to document why I have decided to buy the Roland Fantom 8 for my current needs in learning to play the piano and having fun making goofy music for myself, so here it is. Keep in mind that I have not received it yet and don’t expect to have it until late July.
The main reason is the keybed, the “88 Key (PHA-50 Wood and Plastic Hybrid Structure, with Escapement and Ebony/Ivory Feel, channel aftertouch)” feels amazing to me. When I compare it to the other keyboards, I have had access to the downward force required is medium heavy, the bottoming out is a good thunk without being mushy or hard, and the return is fast enough to almost stick to my finger.
The sounds are great, with thousands of presets to choose from and an amazing amount of customizability and sound design options, it blows my mind. There are a lot of people who do not like the “Roland Sound” but I am not one of them. While I had the Fantom 08 I found hundreds of sounds that I really liked. With the Fantom the V-Piano sounds are fantastic with customizability options that will let me get piano sounds I am after.
Next is the construction, the Fantom line is built like a tank with lots of metal. The faders and knobs feel premium. The screen is large and bright enough to easily read while being responsive to touch. The solution for fader and knob position when changing presets, there are LEDs around or beside the control to show the controller’s saved position versus its physical position, is great.
Ableton integration is the next important functionality for me. I have invested a lot into Ableton, the software license, the training, and the time. With the beautiful screen on the Fantom and the way Roland is showing clips and tracks, it’s great.
Inputs and Outputs are important. The Fantom uses a standard power cord with no brick so it’s easy to get a longer or right-hand cable for it. MIDI in, out, and thru to control multiple instruments. 4, count them, 4 pedal inputs for hands free manipulation. 2 balanced XLR/TRS inputs, multiple USB ports, 2 CV/GATE outputs, 2 Sub outputs, and more. I doubt that I will ever use them all, but it is nice to know they are available.
What other keyboards did I think about?
The first was the Yamaha P-125 which is a relatively inexpensive digital piano with a really nice Graded Hammer keybed that I still like a lot. I may still get a one used at some point, but the lack of inputs and outputs would make this an instrument that would be in some other room and only used for piano lessons and noodling around.
When I visited Check Levin’s I had a chance to play with a lot of different keyboards I can’t afford. The employees were very helpful and glad to let me plink around on everything in the store. I worked my way from the Nord Stage to the Piano and finally the Nord Grand. The Nord Grand is something else, it is amazing! As a digital piano it is a dream, the keybed felt absolutely perfect to me. If money were no object I would have one set up in my living room where I would gush over it every day.
The Arturia KeyLab 88 MkII was also on my radar, but I have yet to put hands on one. As a controller it does not make its own sounds and is reliant on a computer or another piece of hardware. Also, the word on the street is that the keys are very heavy. Those 2 concerns kept me from ordering one.