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User Review

"A perfect workstation Monster!" - Reviews Roland Fantom X8

The Roland Fantom X Series is one of the best Audio/Midi Workstation series developed by Roland. With three options, i.e., X6 (61 keys), X7 (76 keys) and the X8 that I am having with 88 keys, this 29.5 Kg weighing machine is one of the best workstation monster even now. This 128 - voice polyphonic workstation has a default of 128MB ROM and a 32MB sample RAM that could be expanded up-to 544MB (option available). The preset library provides 1,152 patches with 256 GM2 sounds. The user memory and the card memory holds up-to 256 patches as well.

The Fantom X8 comes with an additional 4 * SRX Expansion bay that can be used to expand your Sample Ram up-to 1GB. (I have never used this till now or never needed this for my work platform). There are two basic splits that comes when you start working, looking at your in-built LCD screen, the keyboard and the pad option. When the keyboard option is enabled, the preset patches comes with a wide variety of sound styles such as basic acoustic piano and electric piano models. The "Arie piano" is one such amazing preset that would blow your mind away. The soundscape these presets are designed in is exceptionally brilliant. Mallets, organs, accordions, several types of guitar patches ranging from acoustic - distort - electric and bass, wind flute, brass styles, synths and FX, pads, plucks, ethnic, percussion, grooves and beats are some of the main preset patches. The Pad option comes with a

1) User variety of drum patches,
2) Preset patches like the Standard Kit 1,2 and 3, Rock Kits, Latin and Hiphop Kits and House Kits that are few among them,
3) GM sounds comes with a few basic styles such as Standard, Room, Analog, Jazz and Brush etc.

All the patches are precisely edit ready and have been recorded and sampled using multiple microphones by renowned studio engineer and sound designer Dan Blessinger.

The Pitch-bend and the Modulation lever is provided in one same joystick controller towards the left side of the keyboard. Other than this, there are a few other beautiful - well planned knobs providing users with more options to discover and manipulate every sound within. A Realtime control box is attached next to the LCD screen that provides with 4 different multi purpose functionalities. These knobs can be used to assign to every user's specific needs, ranging from controlling the resonance of a sound to the release/sustain of it etc. The "Arpeggio/Rhythm" section provides users to immediately arpeggiate any sound being played just by enabling this button. For Live performers, Roland introduces the new V-Link technology where the performers can trigger and manipulate video clips along with their sounds, creating transitions and effects with the pitch bender and knobs.

Towards the right area of this workstation is the Sampling area (16bit Linear - 44.1KHz) providing a 32MB SD - RAM to record any analog sound into the workstation, in both .AIFF and .WAV format files. Then comes the 16 bed dynamic pad bank that gives you a very sleek velocity/after touch sensitive pad bank for drum programming and triggering. This workstation offers you multi-track recording of your performance in realtime with the Roland's skip back sampling feature. Hit the record button and you are ready to record. Since there is a USB - MIDI direct connection feature provided, you can transfer the performances without the need of an external midi - interface, directly to your system in both .WAV and .AIFF format.

One thing I most love about this workstation is the new Live Piano mode, when enabled, completely transforms the workstation into an 88 - key split stereo sampled progressive hammer-actioned Grand Piano mode. This can not only be used for just playing any piano sound, but can be used for user - favourite sounds as well. This is a feature that every user has to experience themselves as each note has been sampled at multiple velocities providing you pristine touch sensitive playback experience.

There are several hard-ware external connections that can be made to the Fantom X8.
1) 1 PC card slot for backing up samples and data with up to 1GB capacity (SmartMedia and CompactFlash supported)
2) 4 Line outputs (2 stereo or 4 mono)
3) 1 Stereo line input
4) 24-bit S/PDIF I/O
5) Midi IN/OUT/THRU
6) Pedal Hold/Control
7) Headphone Jack
8) USB 2.0 Hub


There is no specific program required to use the Fantom X8, other than a Fantom X editor software that is available for download, if you need to edit or develop patches on your MAC/PC. Its been more than 5 years now with the Fantom, and I usually use this as Midi - keyboard with my DAW for programming music. In that case, sometimes you might need to install the dedicated driver for the Fantom X models in order for the MAC/PC to recognise this device.
This workstation does not have an in-built monitor playback setup. Therefore either you have to connect this device to a pair of speakers, headphones or work via a system.



UTILIZATION

The manuals are completely clear, that is provided with the Fantom X8. There is an Owner's manual, a patch/performance list and a quick start guide (these are optional downloads available on the roland website). For me, the setting up was pretty simple, though I referred the manual a few times to make sure I was in the right direction. After un-boxing the workstation, plugged in the adapter and it was ready. On the other hand, while you connect the Fantom X8 to your system, there are a variety of initial setups one can perform to make sure the workstation is completely update and ready. A Fantom X USB driver installation is available for both PC and MAC. I recommend everyone to install and download this even though this might not be needed for the late 2010 MAC's, (not sure about PC). If you are using the Fantom X Editor software, then you can also perform a system update on the Fantom X8. But, to be very honest, there is no need to do an update, unless you really need it. The Fantom X8 - default setup is completely functional and ready for user. This is one of the good things I loved when I started using this machine.

Initially when you switch on the Fantom, you would be taken through a cool demo. It might be annoying if you are going to go this through a 50 times in a day, so Fantom itself offers you an option to turn this demo off. The welcome page would usually be the "Piano mode" for the new users, (This depends on the area/region from where you are purchasing the Fantom X8), and for other users, the initial welcome page is the Patch performance window. For me, the latter welcomes me, and I can immediately start browsing all the patches and start working. The Menu button provides you with a variety of options such as "Undo/Redo" (This is very helpful, yes this is exactly the same as an Undo/Redo button you would find on your system), a "Help" button etc. Since there are a number of helpful buttons already available over the workstation, physically, this is very easy to follow as it knows what you need to do and what you don't want to see on an initial level.

Editing a patch is very easy. There is a "Patch edit" option already available over the board, and when enabled, gives you a variety of options such as modulating the cut-off frequency, resonance, the filter types, ADSR, advanced envelope and pitch editing. Along with this, for all the settings you make, Roland provides you with 4 global options Tone 1,2,3 and 4 that you could go through for every change you make. These are totally advanced cool features that a keyboard geek would find handy for intricate sound designing.

SOUNDS

I love the keys on this workstation. These are hammered - touch sensitive keys that gives you the feeling of playing a Grand Piano. As I mentioned earlier, one has to experience playing this in order to understand how your fingers would feel while touching them. The keys are extremely soft and delicate, but very strong and durable. Roland made sure that this could withstand even for rugged uses. I have taken this workstation to many places and still, even after all the physical handling, the keys are safe and unmoved by any means. Since there are 4 different knobs available for users for controlling the sustain/after-touch settings in real time, the performance takes you to a very deep level of enjoyment. There are two buttons for shifting the octaves and two assignable switches that gives option to the user to choose what they would like the knob to do.

For those who are concerned about the technical controlling of sounds and mixing processes, don't worry, Fantom X8 takes care of that too by providing you a special button "Effects". This comes with 3 MFX processors with dedicated routing map, a dedicated reverb, chorus and mastering processor. There are 78 variety of effects at your disposal. Scroll through some amazing effects such as the "telephone", "3d delay", "limiter", "gate", "overdrive", "distortion", "auto-pan", which are some of my favourites. Every effect you choose, provides you with immense amount of detailed adjustment. By default the user can play with the 4 knobs on the workstation to adjust the basic parameters of every effect.The "Chorus" processor does not provide a lot of options and sticks to only 3 basic presets. The "Reverb" is beautiful. The "SRV" series of reverbs are close to what you can listen on other DAW plugins or hardware devices. The Mastering option takes things onto a different level completely. Apply "Hard Comp" and "Soft Comp", or do specific boosts to the "Hi", "Mid" and "Low" areas.

Overall, the patches are well made and designed. The conversion quality and the reproduction of the sound is brilliant. Almost all the sampled sounds represent and deliver the original character and persona of every instrument in its original way. Though, there is a specific coloration for all the sounds coming through the Fantom X8, I cannot completely agree if the D/A conversion is transparent here. Closing your ears and playing a sound, you will immediately recognise, this is a piano sound coming from the FANTOM X8 and not a grand piano. Again, this depends on every user and every listener's perseverance. I really enjoy browsing through the Piano patches, as Fantom X8 provides you with a lot of beautiful piano presets such as the "Arie Piano", "Piano Oz", "Dark Grand", "Grand Hall", "Ambient Piano" etc. The Accordion section is exciting, especially the "Paris Romance" and the "Bandoneon". I am not a huge fan of the acoustic guitar patches, as they sound very machine and robotic. This might depend up-to each user, because the Fantom provides you a "preview" mode for each sound, and of-course every sound sounds awesome when you preview them. The Bass section is great and very useful. I love the "Basement" and the "X finger" bass. The Strings patches are also note-worthy, providing a lot of Pizzicato and Staccato patches like the "Delicate Pizzicato" and "Staccato Vs" especially. I find the Wind patch section very useless. Anyone in their right mind won't be using these sounds in a professional arrangement. Again, its personal. Synth FX and sounds are great. They provide good soundscape with nice depth and layer-detailing. Check out the "Killer-beez" under the Techno Synth patch and the "Auto Sync" under Pulsating patch. The synth percussions are good for dance/trance/dub-step kind of songs. I really enjoy using the world percussions like the "timpani", "taiko", "woodblocks" and "castanets", they are sampled very well and the quality is just perfect. Fantom X8 also provides you with 8 different combination sounds giving you some layered sounds (Though I did not like it very much), felt like Roland just wanted to add them for the sake of it.

OVERALL OPINION

Pros

1) The Keys are brilliant and softly made. Extended hours of playing will not make your fingers tired.
2) Dynamic Pad bank for quick drum programming and triggering.
3) The Roland's dedicated D-beam technology. Hover your hand over the laser projected bulb and you will start hearing your sounds played back.
4) "Piano Mode" is absolutely fantastic addition especially for performers.
5) "V-Link" technology takes performance onto the next level.
6) 4 * SRX expansion bay providing you options to improve and increase your sounds and patches.
7) Quick step recording for quick programming of songs.
8) Dedicated Mixer page just like any other mixer you would find in a DAW. Not that detailed but very smart choice.
9) Real time control knobs makes life and performance easy.
10) The outer-casing is extremely powerful and strong. No unwanted quick scratches or dirt attractions.

Cons

1) Extremely heavy-weight. Need at-least 2 people to carry this safely.
2) Need reasonable space to place this. Not a good choice for mobile set-ups.
3) Need external sound sources for playback. No In-built monitor setup (This is common for most of the workstations, but I wish if it was accommodated somehow).
4) Worthy pricing, but might be shocking for some customers.
5) D/A conversion could be a little more better for few patches.
6) No ground-pin provided along with the power cable (This might vary from where you are purchasing), but giving an option of these pins and switch holders along with the purchase would be a good idea.
7) No separate power amplifier for the device. This is very important as the device can get destroyed due to voltage fluctuations. The company has to provide an external power amplifier and convertor with every FANTOM X8. We are dealing with power hungry heavy machines, not toys.
8) No additional stand with the purchase. Really?
9) No travel - case or cover case dedicated for the FANTOM X8 available or given while purchasing. I made a custom case that was charged same as the price of this workstation. I had to, no choice.

Its been more than 5 years, and I love using the FANTOM X8 even now. I have used the KORG Triton series before this one, and though we can't compare both of them, FANTOM X8 is more of a studio friendly workstation, even though it provides lot of live features. With the cost of around $3700, anybody in their right mind would make sure to keep this safe, and believe me, you don't want to take this with you everywhere you go. The price is apt for FANTOM X8, but as I previously mentioned, FANTOM X8 will definitely go into the category of "Extremely costly workstations" in line with keyboards such as KORG OASYS (legacy) etc. The quality and sound of FANTOM X8 has its own signature sound stamped with Roland's own sound reproduction it provides for all their products.

I purchased the FANTOM X8 after doing months of research when it came out in the market. I was very much impressed by the internal logistic design and the capabilities offered for every musician. It gives you a choice for every selection you make. And thats what I love about this workstation, and I don't think I would ever want another workstation in the coming years, as long as the FANTOM X8 is alive.