Roland has updated the OS on their flagship FANTOM 6, 7, and 8 synths. It’s a major update, with everything from a shimmer reverb to Analog Circuit Behavior sounds, stage pianos to some classic synths. If you wanted just one keyboard to play everything Roland, the FANTOM is now that instrument.
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Now, there is a catch in that this is a US$199 upgrade to the synth. (The FANTOM runs $3499 / $3899 / $4199 for the FANTOM 6, 7, and 8, respectively.) On the other hand, the upside here is that they’re not trying to sell you a new instrument to replace the 2019 FANTOM. And you get a whole lot of included model expansion instruments and sounds in that bundle, meaning this winds up being cheaper than if they offered these separately.
And I agree with one commenter that this is now what we always wanted from the SYSTEM-8.
Roland comes hot on the heels of Yamaha’s own update to the MONTAGE, which was an all-new architecture. I don’t want to compare too directly, as they’re distinct architectures – the Montage leans heavily on Yamaha’s legacy of FM, for one. But they do both feature modeled analog circuit capabilities, and they’re in roughly the same price class. The Montage is slightly more expensive, though gives you polyphonic aftertouch, a ribbon controller, and a really modern engine. It’s a different beast.
Accidental dig in the press pack for the FANTOM, cough:
What Roland has done with the FANTOM is pack in more of their greatest hits. That includes the latest ACB reproductions of the JUPITER-8 and SH-101 – including the Circuit Mod and Condition functions, which I can’t live without in the plug-in versions. And that’s where you pile on the extras:
JD-800 (with fully polyphony, and yes, digital waveforms but also modeling of some of the rest of that instrument – this being built on the ZEN-Core engine)
n/zyme is the new engine built for FANTOM, with wavetable oscillator layers, phase and shape modulation, plus step LFOS.
So, look, deep as some other workstations are, it’s hard to argue with that combination. You also get piano expansions:
German Concert V-Piano Expansion
SuperNATURAL Acoustic Piano 3 (with 15 variations)
That brings this in line with the RD-2000 stage piano, continuing a Roland tradition of aligning its top-of-range digital pianos and digital synths, going back several decades now. And there’s more:
- Shimmer Reverb
- Modulation Reverb
- DAW control adds Steinberg Cubase and PreSonus Studio One (that’s on top of Logic Pro and in a throwback to the days of the Roland-Cakewalk deal, Sonar)
- Master FX templates
- New UIs for Mastering Comp and Mastering EQ sections
DAW Control is missing some Ableton Live support, among others, but note that you get both Logic and MainStage compatibility – MainStage plus a FANTOM would be pretty ridiculously powerful for live sets.
So wait – you may be getting a sense of deja vu here. Weren’t there Model Expansions available for the FANTOM before? Answer: yes, there were, but these (JX-8P, SH-101, JUNO-106, and JUPITER-8) were relatively primitive models built on ZEN-Core, without the accurate sound of ACB. And anyone using Roland gear lately may have quickly gotten disappointed with just this problem across the range: you get something that has the cute vintage Roland logo but sounds disappointing because it’s based on a different architecture.
The ACB models of the vintage analog instruments, by contrast, sound fantastic and are by far the better choices. The two ZEN-Core options on offer here are also more complex, advanced models – the JD-800 being basically indistinguishable from the original hardware with all the same capabilities, and n/zyme an interesting new model. Ignore the previous updates; this is the way to go. Roland has also done a much nicer job of the UIs, as you can see in the images. And that’s in line with a lot of improved UIs and sound on the desktop side, too. The budget solution is still very much to go with a laptop and Roland Cloud, which is what I’ve been doing when I want to play these live.
Look, Roland really is Nintendo. (Let’s see… Mario is the SH-101, Link is the TR, and I think Samus is the JD-800 but… let me stop before I get sucked into this.) But yeah, this is a really compelling combination of old and new, and it’s way more playable and fun than a lot of high-end workstations used to be, for all their depth.
This is now the monster keyboard for Roland lovers, with the power to transform into a JUPITER-8 and a JD-800 and it’s a stand in for their grands.
Of course, you can still save the money and run this stuff on a computer – that remains my route. But it’s good to see the keyboard available to those who want that solution.
Fantom 6 starts at US$2999 street.
Roland FANTOM EX System Upgrade [Roland]
At Perfect Circuit:
At Guitar Center:
And uh… yeah, about the name. Oops.
I just figured I’d know someone has a FANTOM EX if I heard some distinctive 90s pads coming from their basement.