The Fantom‑0 squeezes the soul of its flagship big brother into a compact and affordable package.
As intrepid TV ghost hunters terrify their viewers with dimly lit scenes of bogus spooky happenings, there nevertheless exists genuine evidence that revenants walk among us. These lonely creatures seemingly never die, but return to haunt us again and again in a variety of shape‑shifting forms. As ghosts go, they’re surprisingly amenable and house‑trained — in fact, you can buy one on credit from your local music shop and take it home to entertain your friends and family. I refer to the Roland Fantom, a popular and enduring keyboard which has restlessly roamed the Earth for the last 20 years.
The latest manifestation of this deathless apparition is the Fantom‑0, available in Fantom‑06 (61‑note), Fantom‑07 (76‑note) and Fantom‑08 (88‑note) models. The instrument is a direct descendant of Roland’s 2019 flagship Fantom keyboard (aka the ‘big Fantom’), a pro‑level workstation‑cum‑synthesizer which I reviewed in SOS November 2019.
Though impressive beasts, the big Fantoms are expensive, large and heavy: the 88‑note version weighs 28kg and is over 43cm deep, which would overshadow anything placed beneath it in a multi‑keyboard stage rig. No doubt conscious that this costly and back‑breaking unit might not be the first choice for someone playing a Tuesday night pub gig, Roland have created a more affordable slimmed‑down version. The new Fantom‑0 series combines the original’s sound technologies and open performance architecture in a light, streamlined and competitively priced instrument with potential appeal for professional, semi‑pro and hobbyist users.
This combination of musical versatility and great value for money seems bound to ensure that the new slimmed‑down Fantom‑0 will never die.
For this review I examined the 61‑note Fantom‑06, which is identical to its 76‑note and 88‑note siblings in all respects bar the number of keys and keybed style. Since its design and functions largely replicate those of the big Fantom, you might care to read my review of that instrument at www.soundonsound.com/reviews/roland-fantom. Rather than repeat its details, I’ll concentrate here on explaining how the new Fantom‑0 instruments differ from their big brothers.
The main reason for the new Fantom‑0 keyboards’ dramatic weight loss is the substitution of a plastic chassis for their predecessors’ tough metal body. The Fantom‑06 and Fantom‑07 models also shed extra ounces by utilising a standard unweighted synth‑action keybed. While this light action is perfectly serviceable, responds well to rapid note reiterations and is relatively noise‑free, I found it easier to articulate fast runs on my old Fantom‑G6, rattly keys and all — by comparison, the new keybed feels a tad spongy and resistant. Maybe it’s just me? In any case, strong‑fingered keyboardists may prefer the Fantom‑08’s PHA‑4 Standard weighted keyboard, which simulates the ‘escapement’ bump and ivory feel of a grand piano. The keys are full size and standard width, but keyboard aftertouch is not implemented in any of the models.
In the interests of affordability certain features have been scaled down: the Fantom‑0’s colour touchscreen display is 5.5 inches from corner to corner (down from the big Fantom’s 7 inches), the 16 patch‑select/step‑sequencer buttons are smaller and there are no front‑panel ADSR envelope controls. The USB audio slider has also been removed. Other than that, the panel layout is essentially unchanged.
Back‑panel audio connections consist of a stereo headphone jack, main output L/R balanced jacks, auxiliary sub output L/R jacks, a sub out stereo headphone mini‑jack, a mono mic input jack and line input L/R jacks. There are no XLR connections (though the online documentation claims otherwise) and no CV/gate connections. For the fashion‑conscious, the big Fantom’s somewhat incongruous bright red rear panel has given way to a tasteful black, though small flashes of red here and there will help audiences identify the make of keyboard.
Standard MIDI connections consist of a single in and out (the latter doubling as MIDI Thru, selectable in a front‑panel menu). You can send and receive MIDI and audio to and from your computer and other devices via USB external device and computer ports. An additional USB memory port is available for transferring sample and patch data. Back in the pre‑computer world, there’s a jack socket for your sustain/hold pedal (which supports half‑pedalling) and two further jacks for pedal controllers, which can control MIDI volume, expression, patch change, sequencer start/stop and a host of other functions.
Lurking inside the product box you’ll find a wall‑wart mains adaptor (cue massed booing) and a printed owner’s manual, which reiterates its 35 pages of text in eight languages, hopefully all saying the same thing. This simple guide is supplemented by several enormously detailed PDF documents (including sound lists), which you can download from Roland’s website. Gigging keyboardists will be pleased to know the Fantom‑0 boots up in 20 seconds, a welcome improvement on its predecessor’s 40 seconds (though less time to enjoy the psychedelic flashing‑lights display).
In musical terms, the most striking difference between the Fantom‑0 and the previous Fantom is the absence of the V‑Piano engine, a modern recreation of the 2009 Roland digital piano, which weighed 38kg and cost an arm and a leg (happy days!). In its place are two new SuperNatural pianos originally released as expansions for the earlier instrument. (The ‘SuperNatural’ tag refers to Roland’s proprietary behaviour‑modelling technology developed for emulating acoustic instruments).
Though neither of the SuperNatural pianos quite reaches the heights of the V‑Piano, both sound fine and play beautifully smoothly and consistently across their full register and dynamic range, an advantage of modelled instruments over their conventionally multisampled counterparts. I felt piano number one’s big sound and strong attack would suit loud pop/rock tracks and dramatic orchestral settings, while the softer, warmer tone of the second piano works better for quiet ballads and improvisatory playing.
A welcome addition to the Fantom‑0 is the VTW (Virtual Tone Wheel) organ. Introduced as an update in big Fantom v2.50, this mimics the classic Hammond drawbar layout with an interactive picture of nine ‘harmonic bars’. You can use the top‑panel sliders to control bars 1‑8, and adjust number 9 (the all‑important highest harmonic) on the Tone Edit’s Wheel page, or by using the touchscreen to drag it up and down.
The organ (which works in Zone 2 only) uses four similar‑sounding tonewheel types: Vintage 1 and 2 are modelled respectively on 1970s and 1960s tonewheel organs, ‘Solid’ emphasises Vintage 1’s low end and ‘Clean’ removes the high‑pitched ‘leakage’ noise which affects old organs, considered by some to be a desirable characteristic. The VTW has all the usual Hammond bits and bobs (second and third percussion, vibrato and chorus) and three overdrive types, one inherited from Roland’s discontinued VK‑7 combo organ. It also has a rotary effect which can be set to the ‘sweet spot’ speed between fast and slow, a nice touch. Verdict: a decent and highly customisable Hammond clone.
Speaking of vintage, I was pleased to see a vocoder included. My old Roland SVC‑350 vocoder is a wonderful machine, and this modern‑day emulation (originally included in the big Fantom update 1.5) nails its tone and functions. The idea is you select an onboard ‘carrier’ wave (a bright, full string pad works well) and trigger it by speaking into a microphone (not provided), thereby producing the classic Daft Punk/Sparky’s Magic Piano (depending on your age) robotic pitched vocals. You can shape the tone with a set of 13, 20 or 30 band‑pass filters (13 sounds best) and get great effects by vocoding the carrier with a drum machine, a unique percussive racket.
At the time of the big Fantom’s release Roland were unable or unwilling to publish a sound list, so your overworked scribe had to add up the number of scenes (combis/multis), tones (patches) and waves (instrument multisamples or drum hits) on his fingers. Seven updates of the original instrument later, it can now be revealed that both big and small Fantoms currently contain 2108 waves, 3667 Zen‑Core tones, 70 SuperNatural tones (not originally included in the big Fantom) and 91 drum‑kit tones. The big guy has 272 scenes, the diminutive upstart 283.
I must confess I haven’t listened to all these sounds, but I did check out the Fantom‑0’s new material, including 30 or so scenes which take the place of the former V‑Piano‑based setups. ‘Sure It Is’ and ‘Jazz Café’ serve as a reminder that this keyboard has one of the best workstation Rhodes samples out there. You can add effects and EQ to taste, but the basic starting sound is playable and authentic. The second scene features a keyboard split with bass guitar at the low end and a subtle octave vibraphone layer at the top, both of which can be adjusted to your requirements. Upholding Roland’s reputation for strong bass sounds, the Fantom‑0 contains some excellent fretless and slap‑bass variants.
Moving swiftly from jazz to hip‑hop, ‘Hop On Over’ contains a great, booming sub‑bass‑cum‑kick boosted by the built‑in Lo Fi Compressor effect, while ‘Remember When’ brings back the ’80s with a stonking Minimoog‑inspired synth bass. The chaotic, frankly mad ‘Wobble HYP’ confirms the Fantom‑0’s virtual‑analogue credentials, combining a screaming rave lead and distorted dubstep bass with a tear‑arse overdriven single‑note synth pulse and Doctor Who sci‑fi effects. On a calmer note, there’s ‘Synth Utopia’, an addictive, driving, tempo‑sync’ed vintage synth pulse, which can be improved by turning off the daft novelty bass sound in Zone 1. Composers of TV nature documentary soundtracks will enjoy overusing the mysteriously beautiful ‘Glacial Period’ soundscape. The magic happens in Zone 3’s ‘Horror Pad’ tone, which skilfully weaves three waves into a soft, haunting, utterly non‑horrific minor‑chord texture.
All this reaffirms the fact that the big Fantom and new Fantom‑0 are immensely programmable instruments. Though you can’t alter the basic waveforms, you can edit any of the tones (which contain up to four waves) and scenes (which contain up to 16 zones, each of which holds a single tone) and save your edits, for which purpose a large number of empty slots are provided. If you’re unused to synth programming, I recommend you watch the tutorial videos on Roland’s Fantom‑0 YouTube channel, in which the avuncular Ed Diaz patiently explains the basics.
A key selling point of the rejuvenated Fantom is its potential for growth (you listening, Liz Truss?). Roland’s Axial sound library site offers 15 EXZ mini‑libraries as free downloads which can be added to the Fantom‑0 as expansions. The contents range from drum kits, acoustic and electric pianos, brass, strings and orchestral sounds to dance loops and world instruments.
A more recent development is a set of optional Model Tones instruments, which recreate the sound of iconic Roland analogue synths, each with its own unique set of parameters. The models are Jupiter‑8, Juno‑106, JX‑8P and SH‑101, all available as downloads from the Roland Cloud (the n/zyme wavetable synth model currently doesn’t work with the Fantom‑0). These vintage timbres are a great way of expanding the Fantom‑0’s tonal range, with the Jupiter‑8 model leading the way in lush string pads.
Certain under‑the‑bonnet technical changes are worth noting: the Fantom‑0 has less processing power than its older relative (two BMC chips instead of four), less internal memory (see the ‘User Sampling’ box) and a different D‑A converter (type unknown). The big Fantom’s analogue filter has gone AWOL, but that’s no cause for alarm: it was only featured in a few original presets, and the Fantom‑0’s regular filter is as powerful as ever. Lastly, the Fantom‑0’s seamless‑transition ‘Tone Remain’ feature (now renamed ‘Scene Remain’) only works with zones 1‑8; when activated, zones 9‑16 fall silent. On the plus side, polyphony remains at 256 voices, the sequencer (which can play MIDI files) has new piano‑roll editing and automation features, and the DAW integration now includes Ableton Live.
If any of the economy measures affecting the Fantom‑0 cause you concern, let’s consider what you get for your money: a compact, contemporary workstation‑cum‑synthesizer equipped with a colour touchscreen, sample pads, active front‑panel synth controls with variable filter types, a TR‑808‑style step sequencer with illuminated switches, an Ableton‑style clip‑based sequencer enabling on‑the‑fly changes, an arpeggiator, a chord memory feature and integration with DAWs and soft synths over USB. Then there’s the large library of acoustic and electronic sounds including a good Hammond clone, two modelled pianos, a vocoder, a collection of iconic Roland drum machines, user keyboard sampling, an expandable sound engine with access to classic Roland analogue synth recreations, 90 built‑in effects and thousands of presets, all harnessed to deep programming facilities. And have you seen the prices? Come on.
It was clear from the outset that the Fantom‑0 would be a popular keyboard (a fact borne out by the inordinate amount of time it took this writer to get his hands on one). Some may be tempted by the slightly superior specs of the flagship Fantom, but for most buyers the £$2k price increment for each model will be the clincher. This combination of musical versatility and great value for money seems bound to ensure that the new slimmed‑down Fantom‑0 will never die.
Roland implemented keyboard sample-mapping for the flagship Fantom series in September 2020, a year after its initial release. Since the Fantom‑G already supported the feature in 2008 the 12‑month delay seemed strange, so I was glad to see that the Fantom‑0 incorporates user keyboard sampling straight out of the box.
The Fantom‑0 matches its big brother’s maximum sampling time of 2 minutes 44 seconds and supports a total of 128 multisamples. Both keyboards have 2GB of storage for samples played from the pads, an area of memory that’s also used for loaded but inactive samples you’re saving for later use. The maximum number of Fantom‑0 user samples is 2048 against the big Fantom’s 8000, but the really bad news is that only 256MB of sample memory is allotted for all multisampled instruments, Roland model expansions and EXZ expansions active in the Fantom‑0. On the big Fantom this area is 2GB, so you can fit in many more expansions and user multisamples.
This miserly allocation seems incomprehensible. Roland forum members share my disappointment: while not everyone needs to use a keyboard workstation to play their mapped samples, those that do regard 256MB as laughably restrictive and backward‑looking. Some users reiterate the longstanding complaint that while today’s lush‑sounding orchestral libraries often stream hundreds of GB of sample data, workstation manufacturers eke out their sample space in relatively tiny amounts that are not conducive to top‑quality musical results.
The unspoken message seems to be that players who rely on creating their own multisamples for live performance will need to stump up for a flagship Fantom model, but this coercive approach may have the effect of driving buyers into the arms of a rival manufacturer.
Leading paranormal investigation magazine Sound On Sound has tracked the Fantom’s progress since Paul Nagle reviewed the Fantom‑FA76 back in February 2002. The product line developed quickly: Nick Magnus’ positive October 2003 appraisal of the Fantom‑S/S88 was followed by the release of the Fantom‑X (see SOS September 2004), which set the template for 61‑, 76‑ or 88‑note models and also boasted a rack version (I miss those things). Progress then slowed, and after Gordon Reid dissected the scaled‑down Fantom‑Xa in SOS May 2005 there were no further confirmed sightings ’til the release of the Fantom‑G, reviewed by your humble scribe in January 2009.
Fast‑forward five years, and Gordon Reid’s back in action explaining the ins and outs of Roland’s affordable FA series keyboards, while debunking the accompanying hyperbolic publicity blurb. The Fantom trail then went mysteriously cold, leading one to assume the brand had ceased to be, popped its clogs, kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, expired and gone to meet its maker (etc). But no — it turns out the instrument was merely resting. With little advance warning, Roland announced a new flagship professional keyboard in Autumn 2019. Titled simply Fantom, this workstation‑cum‑synthesizer built on its predecessors’ legacy with a brand‑new design developed from the ground up, as described in my SOS November 2019 review.
- Offers all the advantages of the flagship Fantom range at a greatly reduced price.
- Contains a huge range of infinitely customisable sounds and effects.
- Supports user keyboard multisamples.
- Optional Model Tones recreate the sound of classic Roland synths.
- The light and compact design takes the strain out of transport.
- User keyboard multisamples are limited to 256MB.
- Too bad the V‑Piano engine isn’t included.
- Wall‑wart power supply.
Now incorporating a modelled tonewheel organ, two new SuperNatural pianos and an onboard vocoder, the Fantom‑0 keyboards incorporate the sounds and features of the flagship Fantom range in a slimmed‑down package that won’t break your back, at a price that won’t break the bank.
Fantom‑06 £1249, Fantom‑07 £1499, Fantom‑08 £1599. Prices include VAT.
Fantom‑06 $1599, Fantom‑07 $1899, Fantom‑08 $2149.