Category Archives: Hardware

ROLAND FANTOM X7

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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ROLAND XP 80

REVIEW 1( as posted on the Sonic State website on Sunday-Dec-16-01 at 20:31)
I bought the XP 80 after years of working in studio’s where the JV’s 1080 and 2080 ruled the mix. I basically bought it to have access to all the same sounds you hear on commercial records, neatly packed into one keyboard. As such, it works fine for the keyboardists playing in Top40 orchestras, since you’re likely to find whatever sound you need to emulate most of the hit records in the last 20 years or so.

If your looking for your typical rockguitar-and-drums-defeating artillery it may not suit your style/taste, as the XP’s overall character is more one of detailed clarity rather than power-by-the-pound. But mind you, in patch mode those distorded leadguitars and wahwahs sound simply awesome.

The XP really is all the JV 1080 sounds with the 2080 display, and a lot of very handily positioned performance controllers. I love the fact that the transpose keys are defaulted to octave-shift, a well though out function when you are using the keyboard in split mode, got it? There are two assignable sliders ride above the pitch/mod stick, which I haven’t used much but might be convenient if you need that type of control.

Must say though that their position next to the volume slider is a bit of a bummer. But brilliant in its simplicity is the effects on/off buttons. There are three, multiFX, Chorus and Reverb, and they can be switched on or off individually. Try switching the delay on and off while you are soloing, sweet.

I don’t really use the sequencer that much, since I mostly work with Cubase. But it’s handy when you come in the rehearsal room with the sequence of your new song in the XP’s diskdrive, just load it and play the darn thing. I do use the drive also to store performance settings. Saves me having to sys-ex all data into Cubase for every song. Nifty features like taptempo control with a pedal really turn this one into a very smart live sequencer, though -again- I haven’t really used that.

Operating all this wonderful stuff is easy for anyone who has at least had two hours on any other digital Roland synth. Although I prefer the sound of for example Ensoniq’s late MR 61, Korg’s Trinity/Triton or the new Kurzweil PC 2, in terms of value for money I think the XP is still a great offer even now, which is like four years after its introduction?

Potential Fantom or XV 88 customers, forget those and get a XP 60 or 80 instead. Use the rest of the money to buy either expansion boards (some of those really sound much better than the ROM-sounds), or another module or so. If the XP had had the pianosounds of the Session board, with Rhodes and Wurlys from ’60s and 70’s board and some more bass and drums I would rate this a hands-down-5-outta-5. As it is, 4-outta-5 is not bad for a synth that is four years old.

P.S.: if you want an XV 88 because of the hammer action, better buy Roland’s new RD 700 with an extra expansion board. Saves you money on a shitty D- Beam controller I’ve never seen anybody use, and thei figure you want good pianosound if you are going to buy a hammer-action keyboard. compare the XV88’s pianosound with that of the RD 700, it really isn’t fair.

REVIEW 2 (as posted on the Sonic State website onThursday-Oct-06-05 at 03:00)
I recently bought a Fantom X7 and I would now like to praise the XP80 even more. It’s one of those RARE keyboards where they accidentally get almost everything right. Because of the neutral sound it will probably never attain “classic” status, but it really is the best all-round keyboard ever made (and I have compared it to your Tritons, Motifs and Kurzweils).

As a workstation, the Fantom X7 is phenomenal (lots of RAM, audio-recording, sampling etc.), but as an instrument it doesn’t even come close. Fortunately, I still own the XP80 (though it’s on another continent) and I’m gonna buy a second one just in case… Let’s hope Roland will figure it out, and release an XP90 with the XV5080 sound engine, USB2.0 connectivity (and please make the implementation better than on the Fantom), plenty of user memory etc.