Roland's Fantom-0 Series Is All You Need to Make Music

Unless you hate knobs

  • The Fantom-0 is a new series of compelling all-in-one music workstations.
  • They’re the cheaper version of the $3.5k+ Fantom series. 
  • You get a keyboard, sampler, synth, sequencer, everything, all in one box.
A musician using the Roland Fantom 0.

Roland

Roland's new Fantom-0 looks like the perfect workstation for someone serious about music, but who doesn't want to buy a zillion different boxes to make it. 

There are two ways of making and recording music: hardware and software. Hardware might be as simple as a guitar, but for electronic musicians, it usually ends in an endless rabbit hole of drum machines, samplers, synths, groove boxes, plus the midi controllers and cable that bring it all together. Roland's Fantom-0 puts all that into one box, so you get the benefits of hardware, without the headaches—or the wallet-stripping addiction. 

"The sequencer looks pretty nice with the clip launching. Mix in the pads, Audio Over USB, and [digital Audio Workstation software] control you could set up, and this is a pretty compelling package that Roland has put together," said Chicago-based musician Hold My Beer in a music forum frequented by Lifewire. 

In the Box

Modern music software is an utter marvel. You can do pretty much anything you can imagine, with a laptop or iPad, or even a phone. And yet the limitless possibilities of computer software can lead to a kind of option paralysis, or long hours just scrolling through various presets, trying to find the perfect sound. 

br/<"Personally, I feel that if the software and hardware integration is done well, it is a much better experience than an iPad with a controller.">

Hardware, on the other hand, is limited. And unlike software, which generally follows app design paradigms we're all familiar with by now, hardware usually requires learning a new way to work. But the benefits are that it's laser-focused on doing one thing well. And—most important—it has knobs. 

Let's resort to a good old car metaphor to see how people prefer hands-on controls over a mouse and keyboard. Imagine driving and steering the car by moving a little on a screen with a mouse. Braking might be available from a drop-down menu, and the gear shift is in the preferences panel. 

That's what it's like to use Ableton or Logic to create music. Many musicians will plug in a MIDI keyboard or other controller to make the experience more physical. Others will buy custom-built drum machines, sequencers, and so on, which have buttons and knobs that always do the same thing—like a steering wheel or gearshift—so you can concentrate on the music, not a screen. 

"Personally, I feel that if the software and hardware integration is done well, it is a much better experience than an iPad with a controller," said electronic musician Droussel in the Elektronauts forum. "The reason is that every button is there for a reason, the UI/UX of the software is optimized for the controller and for the job. [The Fantom-0 workstations] also have audio and midi interfaces built-in, which if using an iPad, it quickly becomes a rats nest of wires, USB Hubs, etc."

The Phantom O from Roland.

Roland

The Big 0

The Fantom-0 is a range of three budget-priced workstations—06, 07, and 08—cheaper than Roland's plain Fantom (no 0) series. The cheaper models get plain velocity-sensitive keyboards, whereas the 08 gets a full 88 weighted keys for a piano feel. 

You also get a 4x4 drum (or sample) pad, a sampler, built-in synthesizers, a whole load of knobs and sliders, plus a screen with a neat, Ableton Live-style clip-launching grid. This lets you record snippets of sound and launch them so that they play together in time. 

And that's not it. The Fantom-0 is also a USB audio interface, so you can plug it into your computer and record it, and it has a microphone input on the back for either plain recording or processing your voice (or any other sound) with onboard effects. 

So, you're starting to see how capable this is. It offers a range of software but puts it all together in a single box. And Roland's publicity materials emphasize its straightforward UI, saying that there are no "confusing modes," for example. What you see is what you get, and that's a very good feature. 

A closeup on some controls on the Fantom O by Roland.

Roland

The Fantom-0 series costs $1,500 - $2,000, which doesn't sound cheap, but that's a steal compared to the cheapest non-0 Fantom, which goes for $3,400. And remember, it can work entirely without a computer or software, neither of which are cheap. Speaking of which, the Fantom-0 can also be used as a hardware controller for Ableton, Logic Pro, and MainStage.

Unless you have specific hardware needs or are totally into the fly-by-wire experience of making music on a laptop, these workstations look very appealing. 

And no, you can't do your email on the Fantom-0, but that's a major bonus and definitely not a lacking feature.

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