For years and years now, Roland has been a monolithic name in workstation synthesizers, putting out product line after product line full of incredible keyboards, gaining itself a reputation among studio and live players alike.
The longstanding Fantom series is probably one of the most iconic and recognizable analog synth keyboards ever put out by the company, and today, these powerhouse synths power the sounds behind countless live and studio acts.
The FA series represents the latest evolution of this line, even if it’s a departure from the usual design of the workstation. And therefore, in this review, we’re going to dive deep into the Roland FA-08 to help you better determine whether this is a machine that can meet all of your expectations, or if you need to look elsewhere on the market to satisfy your needs.
And below, please take a moment to use our interactive table to directly compare the Roland FA-08 to other notable keyboards available on the market:
|Roland JUNO DS61||8-Track Pattern Sequencer w/Non-Stop Recording|
|Roland JUNO DS88||128 Note Polyphony|
|Korg Kross 2||Pro-quality EDS-i sound engine|
|Korg Minilogue||16-Step Polyphonic Step & Motion Sequencer|
|Roland JD-XI||Gooseneck mic w/built-in Vocoder & AutoPitch|
|Yamaha MX88||1,106 voices, 61 drum kits|
|Behringer Monopoly||VCF, 2 LFOs, 2 envelopes, sync and cross modulation|
|Novation Impulse 61||Semi-Weighted w/Aftertouch|
Build Quality & Overview
The first thing that struck me about this new design from Roland is the more minimalistic, no-frills design, especially compared to previous entries in the Fantom series. Everything is laid out in a very simplistic, functional way, and honestly, the layout leaves little to be desired.
The FA-08 has a weighted 88-key key bed, and I found that it felt great to use and play. In fact, I felt that the keys were quite fast, especially for a weighted keyboard, and I certainly can envision long sets being played on this thing without causing too much fatigue.
Playing pianistically feels natural and even, and there’s still plenty of give when playing in a more keyboard or organ-based style.
As for the interface itself, everything is centered on a large, full color LCD panel that houses the main settings for the workstation. In this main center module, there are quick navigation buttons broken down by category, a scroll wheel for selection, and a host of other navigational buttons and controls.
One feature I found to be very cool was a preview button on the left side of the LCD panel; clicking this button launched the keyboard into a prerecorded demo using the bank you have currently selected. I found this to be an easy way to audition sounds, because I was able to focus on the tonal qualities of the sound instead of focusing on what I was playing. It’s also a neat way to listen to the sound as the designer intended it to be used, giving you valuable creative insights in the process.
The LCD panel itself is very high quality, with lots of informative design layouts that never look too cluttered. I will say, as you get deeper into the menu system and start doing some editing, it can get a bit confusing navigating around, and at times I felt myself wishing for a touchscreen on the device to simplify the workflow a bit. That’s a minor gripe, however, and most of the time, the interface gets the job done just fine.
Moving over to the left-hand module, you have the sound modification area. Here, six customizable knobs are laid out in a row, each controlling a different parameter. Some of these are preset and labeled, while others are assignable. There is a DAW control button, allowing you to use the FA-08 as a controller for your software environment. The setup for this was virtually non-existent using Logic Pro; I was able to get up and running within seconds.
Finally, on the right side of the workstation lies the arpeggiator and chord control, allowing you to toggle on and off these features, as well as dive into the customizations available for them.
Here, you can set the tempo via a knob, as well as via a tap tempo button, which is a welcome addition that you don’t find too often nowadays. The rest of the area is devoted to a sample pad section, sequencer settings, and additional parameters for controlling playback. This section is essentially a Roland SP-404SX phrase sampler built right into the workstation. It features 16 sounds loaded into four banks that load instantly, making it ideal for live situations. You can upload your own samples easily enough, and the pads feel good to the touch.
My one major gripe? These bad boys aren’t velocity sensitive. As a drummer at heart, that costs this instrument some serious points in my personal book, but if you’re only looking for triggering capabilities, you should be set here.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling synthesizers currently available online:
|1) Yamaha MX88|
|2) Korg Minilogue XD|
|3) Roland JUNO-DS61|
|4) Roland JUNO-DS88|
|5) Behringer Poly D|
There’s a wealth of connectivity options onboard the FA-08, including just about everything you’d ever need as far as hookups go. The rear panel has a pair of balanced 1/4” outputs, a SDHC card slot for expansion (which actually comes pre-loaded with a 4 GB card—a nice touch), a sub out, an 1/8” input, and an unbalanced ¼” input. There’s a jack for a sustain pedal of course, and well as two others for extended pedal support.
Finally, there’s a pair UBS port’s included, one for connecting to a computer and the other for integration with a flash drive or wireless dongle. All told, the options are plentiful, allowing you to use the FA-08 more or less like the central processing unit for a studio or live rack setup, if you should wish to do so.
The sounds that have come out of the Fantom series workstations over the years are legendary, and the quality of creative scope all comes from the ever-impressive synthesis engines powering the workstations.
This time around, it’s no less impressive; there’s a 128-note polyphonic synth engine with full 16-channel multitimbral capabilities. Roland’s latest sound generation technology, the SuperNatural sound banks, are included with the product, in the form of both a SuperNatural Synth sounds bank and a bank of acoustic instruments, including drums, pianos, organs, guitars and more.
These sounds come straight from Roland’s top-end Integra-7 sound module, totaling out around 2,000 different tones. All of these different tones allow for up to three oscillators per voice and come with a wide array of different filters, envelopes, amps and LFO’s that round out the individual sounds.
The tones themselves are arranged into 20 categories spread across the ten buttons at the bottom of the LCD panel, allowing you to easily get to exactly what you’re looking for in a matter of moments. Each button has two categories that are similar to each other, such as bass and synth bass, synth and pads, and piano/E piano sounds. The tones can be further broken down into what Roland calls Studio Sets, allowing them to be organized into up to 16 parts that can be layered and spread out across the keyboard in whatever fashion you see fit.
You can also set them to whatever MIDI channel you’d like, meaning you can play however many at once as you desire. There’s some real power going on here, and I found that within a few minutes, you can have a truly massive “wall of synth” style sound to play around with using this mode.
Effects and Modifiers
The effects onboard the Roland FA-08 are extremely impressive and allow for a high degree of control over all of the various tones and Studio Sets that you create. The six knobs on the left-hand side of the workstation control all of the various effects, and clicking a select button cycles through the functions listed out below the knobs.
One really cool aspect about this section is that a Studio Set can have a multi-effect dedicated to it, using any combination of the 67 effects that are onboard. There’s a dedicated reverb effect, an array of tape simulation and slicing effects, and global chorus setting for good measure. All of these different effects and their deep customization options combine to form a truly adaptable and creatively inspired workstation environment, allowing you to spend hours toiling away on sound design, provided that’s your thing.
Upon first glance, I thought the sequencer would be a bit of an afterthought on the FA-08. The controls on the interface seem minimalistic and surface-deep at first glance, but when you delve into the options available within the menu system, you begin to unearth a much, much deeper functionality to this feature than first anticipated.
It supports full, non-stop 16-track sequencing, allowing you to edit sequences in real time, select tracks via the sample pads, and have access to a mixer that allows pan, volume, reverb and chorus controls for all the different sequences individually or as a whole.
One incredible feature that I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to try out is the ability to render your sequences onto an SD card as a full quality wav file, allowing you to pop it into a DAW without needing to re-record anything at all. I can imagine this feature being a producers best friend when used correctly.
The workstation market has had years to develop and mature, allowing for some truly standout products to be produced, and it’s no secret that Roland has been behind many of them.
That being said, there are plenty of other names in the arena, and many of them have developed products that compete directly with the FA-08.
Let’s take a look at a few of these products to truly get a taste for how well they stack up to the FA-08.
Roland FA-08 vs Korg Kronos
The Korg Kronos really isn’t a true competitor for the FA-08, in terms of features or price point. At close to $4,000, this absolute beast of a workstation packs what is essentially a full-scale DAW into the heart of the keyboard.
It has 9 different sound engines within it, and it can recreate just about any sound in existence. All of this to say, it’s safe to assume that these two products will be used for different purposes, often by different people.
I would say that if you’re looking for a product that allows you to produce music effectively, and you’re within a reasonable budget, the FA-08 is the better deal. However, if you are looking for an incredibly inspiring, complex behemoth of sound design, you’d be hard-pressed to find something more fully-formed than the Kronos.
- Click here to read our full review of the Korg Kronos.
Roland FA-08 vs Yamaha MOX F8
The Yamaha MOX F8 represents a much closer competitor in terms of both price and feature set to the FA series than the Kronos does.
There are a number of differences between the two products, but at their core, both provide excellent sound quality, a wide array of features, and lots of added customization.
For these two, it’ll really comes down to the sounds. Personally, I tend to lean towards Roland’s synth sounds, and their SuperNatural sound engine. I find that the sound banks, features and overall “feel” of the FA-08 simply fit me better, so I’d recommend trying both of these products before making your decision.
- Click here to read our full review of the Yamaha MOX F8.
Roland FA-08 vs Korg Krome
The Korg Krome is another 88-key synthesizer that includes the same basic features and sound design capabilities as the FA series, with a few notable exceptions. Many reviewers have complained about the keybed on the Krome, saying that for the price, the quality of the bed leaves much to be desired.
I have to agree with this; during a brief playtest, I found that the Krome severely lacked in terms of overall “feel,” which is quite important to me as a performer.
- Click here to read our full review of the Korg Krome.
Roland FA-08 vs Roland FA-06
At 12.6 pounds, the FA-06 is maybe the lightest full-function workstation I’ve come across. Its keyboard is an unweighted 61-key synth action with velocity sensitivity, but (like many other more affordable keyboards these days) has no aftertouch.
The action is surprisingly solid and responsive, but may not be the best choice if you’re planning on playing a lot of piano. If you’re in that category, Roland does make a weighted 88-key version, the FA-08 (which we, of course, are reviewing today).
Even as the industry starts shifting towards DAW’s, mobile devices and soft synths, player still find immense value in the workstation solution.
The FA series has taken years and years of feedback into account for it’s latest iteration, and Roland has emerged with an all-in-one product that seems built to last. The combination of incredible sound libraries, a wide array of customization options and depth, and a fantastic keybed and playing experience make this workstation a treat to compose, play and perform on. The interface is intuitive, easy to use, and just plain fun to master.
The Bottom Line
The FA-08 is one of Roland’s best synthesizer workstations to date, and the price, feature set and quality of all aspects of the product exceeded my expectations.
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- Are Yamaha or Roland Digital Pianos Better?
In this bonus section, please take a quick look at a summary of what we feel are the biggest pros and cons when it comes to the Roland FA-08:
- Excellent sounds in every category.
- Informative, easy-to-read display with bright, crisp graphics.
- User interface is not intimidating for novices.
- Compatible with Roland Axial library.
- Included 4GB SD card.
- Deep onboard sequencer can render multitrack audio stems for further work in your DAW.
- Display is not a touchscreen.
- Sampler pads aren’t velocity sensitive.
- Keys don’t sense aftertouch.
- External power supply.