REVIEW 1 (as posted on the Sonic State website on Tuesday-Oct-04-05 at 04:12)
I’ve owned and loved the Roland XP80 for 5 years, and the Fantom X7 for about two months now. Here are a few of my observations: * If you are a keyboardist and you play live a lot, leave the Fantom off your shopping list. It doesn’t have a numeric keypad, so you have to scroll through humongous sound lists to find the patch/performance you need.

But…they have the “favorite” function? Yeah, that works okay for patches, but in performance mode you still have to scroll (with the dial or inc/dec keys) to get to your favorite! Why Roland forgot to address this simply beggars belief.

But…they have the “livesettings” function? Yeah, great. Unfortunately, switching between settings happens with nearly 1 second delay, which is unacceptable when you have to switch within the same song. The XP80 did a much better job, was a more thought-through design. You can switch between performances seamlessly, it has faders for volume and assignable controls, rather than the rotary knob-design of the X7.

My take on the X7 is this: some of the sounds are really excellent, the MFX are definitely two steps up from the XP80. Its samples and DAC’s are a lot cleaner and tighter than the XP’s. But why on earth did Roland abandon its time-honored JV/XV policy of including all the previous soundbanks in this keyboard?

Moving from a JV1080 to a XV5080 was ideal, because you had all your old patches plus a lot of very cool new ones. I miss a lot of the XP80 sounds, and the FantomX7 does not always provide better alternatives. And then the acoustic pianos… I don’t care what they say about multi-megabyte piano-samples, the samples might be better than the XP80’s but the resulting patches are less engaging and inspiring to play. The ep’s, however, are a lot better.
In spite of all my grudges, as a workstation it plain rocks. The sequencer, audio-integration and big colour-screen put it ahead of anything else out there. If that’s what you’re looking for then you’ll find this one a very satisfying buy. Let’s hope that Roland will address the live-issues in a future OS-update. So far, I’d rather have my XP80 back for gigs, but I’ll give this a few more months before I make a final decision. Roland, updates please!

REVIEW 2 (as posted on the Sonic State website on Thursday-Oct-06-05 at 02:40)
In addition to my previous comments, I’d like to say this: The X7 sounds very good in the studio. But I have noticed that it depends on high-end sound reinforcement a lot more than the XP80 did. The XP80 would sound roughly the same on almost any type of speaker/PA. It didn’t have a lot of presence in the midrange, but this actually helped in most situations as that part of the spectrum is always already very cramped (vocals, drums guitars etc.) The Fantom has a lot more presence but that can be a blessing as well as a curse.

I did an outdoor event last weekend on a fairly huge PA and it sounded divine. However, the night before I did a club gig and although the speakers (Mackies 450) are considered good, I couldn’t get the Fantom to sound like anything but a herd of elephants with the flu. The XP80 was a lot more consistent in this respect. To be fair, I have experienced similar problems with a Motif and Triton, so I guess the XP80 is an exception rather than the norm.

A good thing is the ease of use in the programming department. I don’t really do programming, but editing existing patches is now a lot easier than boiling eggs for breakfast. Downside: to get a more consistent livesound: you NEED to edit the existing patches. And another gripe: Why does it take 90 seconds to boot up? That is not cool during a gig…. All in all, I feel that this keyboard was made for DJ’s/producers, and not for keyboardists. Right up to the presets, which cover a disproportional large amount of techno/dance sounds but fail to satisfy in the acoustic instrument emulations.

Playability is generally okay, but aftertouch response is nowhere near as good as the XP80’s (but then, no keyboard’s aftertouch is as good as the XP80’s). The $64,000 question is: Is the Fantom X7 a worthy successor to my XP80? For live: Nooooooo! And I suspect that this aspect of the keyboard can not be improved by OS updates, as it is the very windows-driven nature of the OS that makes it unsuitable. Workstation: Sure. I mean, GUI, 8-track audio-recording, sampling, up to 512MB of RAM…you do the math.


REVIEW 3 (as posted on the Sonic State website on Sunday-Jun-17-07 at 06:40)
In addition to the reviews I posted in 2005, I’d like to inform you more about what I have found out about this instrument in the last two years. As stated before, the piano sounds are tiny, which makes for an unsatisfying playing experience, but lets the sounds sit extremely well in a mix. You will hardly need any EQ or compression to make it fit, so to speak.

As a stand-alone workstation it really is awesome, but although it was nice of Roland to include USB, its implementation is clumsy at best. You have to switch between MIDI and data-transfer mode, which is manageable (although it does mean that you have to close and restart your DAW everytime you switch back to MIDI), but you also have to unplug and reconnect the bloody cable everytime you do.

Also, other manufacturers have added far more comprehensive interfacing with computer-based DAW’s, Roland’s USB port does midi and…well, you can transfer audio and data to and fro, but this temporarily turns off all other functionality of the Fantom. So far, to my knowledge Roland has not improved any of the live-functionality or addressed any of the issues I pointed out in my previous reviews.

So it’s still cumbersome to use live, but in spite of all these complaints, I have sort of learned to live with them, and now I really do appreciate the versatility and quality of the sounds on offer. I still prefer them over Yamaha’s Motif or Korg’s Triton, although the former wins on points for features and functionality and the latter scores on playability. But the Fantom’s rich and detailed sound characteristics give it an edge all of its own.


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