Published September 5, 2019 by John G.
As part of a series of '909 Day' new product announcements, Roland has updated their flagship Fantom series of workstations, endowing them with a host of modern features that clearly show there's still room for the venerable workstation keyboard in today's modern studios and stage rigs.
First and foremost, these Fantoms (along with most of the other new products announced alongside them) are built around a brand new sound engine that combines Roland's high-end PCM synthesis with their more recent analog circuit modeling experience, so that alongside the types of sounds you'd traditionally expect in a Fantom you also get ultra-realistic emulations of Roland vintage classics.
Also included is Roland's impressive V-Piano technology, the most recent and robust implementation of which will be familiar to RD-2000 users. Speaking of which, the 88-key Fantom-8 sports Roland's widely-praised PHA-50 keybed, also found on RD-2000, while the Fantom-6 and Fantom-7 feature a brand new semi-weighted key action.
Roland's also brought some new paradigms to Fantom's sound and sequencing engines. Encompassing both are Scenes, an assemblage of sound, pattern and performance parameters that you might use for anything from your default stage or studio 'init template' to song-specific sets of settings for your setlist. Scenes are well supported by the new engine, which ensures that all sounds and effects from your current scene will continue even after you switch to a new one. Roland somewhat modestly describes this as being 'like having the power of two complete Fantoms in one,' which arguably undersells the technology as you get full patch-remain even switching among several scenes one after another.
New to the sequencing engine are Clips, a composition paradigm that will be instantly familiar to users of modern digital audio workstations. Clips themselves can contain drums, basslines, pads, etc. as sounds and/or MIDI, and as handy and familiar they might be just as a container or sequencer 'unit,' they really come into their own in aid of arrangement, where you can stack up collections of clips to trigger together and visually build out various sections of a song.
It wouldn't be a Roland product announcement without a visit from our pal Scott Tibbs. You can see the aforementioned Scenes and Clips in action in Part I our exclusive Advanced Tutorial with Scott.
Of course these new Fantoms don't exist in a vacuum, and along with their native capabilities another strong selling point is that they play well with others, two examples of which are their deep DAW integrations and dual CV/gate outputs.
While the utility of Fantom's extensive integration with Apple Logic and GarageBand will be self-evident on a studio situation, also worth noting is a similar integration with Logic's performance companion Mainstage. Even with the incredible power and seemingly limitless sound selection in modern keyboards, the laptop has become a common sight in gigging keyboardists' stage setups, and more often than not it's running Mainstage. Fantom integrates with Mainstage so that even as you avail yourself of its supplemental sounds you can avoid the dreaded 'checking your email' profile of interacting with a laptop on stage by controlling Mainstage from Fantom's touch screen.
Given the current modular synth renaissance there are plenty of traditional Fantom workstation users who have started experimenting with eurorack modular setups. Similarly, it's easy to imagine someone who builds their studio around a new Fantom wanting to extend its sound by adding some of Roland's System-500 modules, other analog synths or even vintage drum machines. Alongside the MIDI and USB outputs you'd expect, Fantom also sports two sets of 1/8" CV/gate outputs to integrate with analog instruments.
These capabilities are ably demonstrated in Part II of our Scott Tibbs Advanced Tutorial, with Scott integrating his favorite Boutique SE-02 via CV/gate before going in depth on Logic and Mainstage.
Roland's Jupiter line of performance synthesizers got a couple of new models in the new Jupiter-X and its portable sibling Jupiter-Xm, both built around the same new sound engine found in the Fantoms. Both models are five-part multi-timbral with four synth parts and one for drums and both feature Roland's new I-Arpeggio next-generation arpeggiator, which can address all five of those parts as it detects what you're playing and generates complementary patterns on the fly. These new Jupiters also boast onboard speakers and extensive Bluetooth capabilities. The 61-key Jupiter-X has a sturdy metal case and a new aftertouch-enabled keyboard, while the diminutive Jupiter-Xm focuses on portability with its new 37-key slim keybed and battery power.
While some time has gone by since Roland last introduced new Fantom or Jupiter keyboards, it's been much longer since we saw any new additions to their MC line of grooveboxes. And yet here with the other new 909 Day products are the ultra-modern MC-101 and MC-707, which borrow their sound engine from the Fantom and their physical design from recent Aira products like TR-8S and VT-4. Both feature an array of vintage Roland emulations like TR-808, TR-909, TB-303, Juno-106, SH-101, etc. alongside modern PCM synthesis and both also bring along Fantom's clip-based sequencer, allowing you to sketch out new patterns and arrangements on hardware that can be exported as individual tracks – four on MC-101 or eight on MC-707 – to your DAW over USB.
909 Day also brings an exciting new addition to Roland's popular Boutique series of desktop modules. Arguably the most popular of the original trio of Boutiques was the JU-06, an Analog Circuit Behavior-based emulation of the classic Juno-106; after its limited edition run sold out, used JU-06s have held a high resale value. Fortunately for those of us who missed out on JU-06, Roland has announced the new Boutique JU-06A, which manages to combine Juno-106 and Juno-60 into a single unit! You get the arpeggiator from Juno-60 and the high-pass filter from Juno-106, which a front-panel switch lets you choose which filter you'd like to use. Scott Tibbs brought a fresh-from-the-factory JU-06A for this exclusive 'first look' video.