Roland FA-06 61-key Music Workstation and Synthesizer
By Chris Loeffler |
Roland FA-06 61-Key Music Workstation and Synthesizer
Could this be the ultimate all-in-one workstation?
by Chris Loeffler
Roland’s Fantom series has been around in different configurations for a while, showing up in many project and professional studios as well as being a touring workhorse (several HC contributors have been seen with one on the road). The now half-decade old FA06 is still a top-tier consideration for synthesis or general workstation duties, so we’ve been asked to see how it holds up in 2018, given the Fantom’s consistent standing as a top consideration for keyboards under $1,500.
What You Need to Know
The Roland FA06 keyboard weighs in at less than 13 pounds and features velocity sensitivity, but no aftertouch. The workstation is powered by a 128-note polyphonic synth engine with 16-channel multitimbral capability. The onboard sound library pulls from Roland’s flagship Integra-7 module, and is built around the SuperNatural synth engine. PCM-based programs can use up to four partials, and SuperNatural synth sounds allow up to three oscillators per voice. Single-cycle waveforms feature a couple of different variations, and the sawtooth wave has the iconic “Super Saw” detune option on tap. Two filters—two-pole (12dB per octave) and four-pole (24dB per octave)—are available, each with multiple lowpass, highpass, and bandpass options. ADSR envelopes for the Filter and Amp sections (Pitch has a simple attack-decay envelope) and two LFOs round out the modulators.
Upon first use, the FA06’s interface seems almost too easy, especially when compared to the clunky user interfaces Roland has utlizied in the past. The user experience is refreshingly intuitive, with top level features and edits available in the first level of the setting and deeper edits available by holding down the Shift key and pushing another button, including the soft keys under the display to navigate the menus. The large color LCD screen clearly displays what’s happening within a setting without being too bright (the bane of live performance) or distractingly large. There are ten high-level categories, six of which (2–7) do double duty as soft keys in many of the editing modes. While using all the buttons to navigate the display isn’t complicated, it sometimes can take more than a few button presses to get around, and I found myself at times wishing for the modernity of a touch screen on the main display.
There are twenty “categories” of tone based on popular instrumentation, each, accessed using the row of ten buttons under the display. The FA-06’s tones are organized into Studio Sets, which can be composed of up to 16 parts of onboard Tones or external sounds. These can be further split and layered across the keys in any combination, so it’s possible to play as many as you want at one time. Ten banks of Favorite sounds each can be stored for easy recall using the Category buttons. Tones, Splits, Duals or entire Studio Sets can be saved as Favorites.
Depending on the setting of the Select button, which toggles them between four different rows, the six control knobs handle the heavy lifting of tone editing. The first row sets control Cutoff, Resonance, Attack (amp), Release (amp), Pan, and Level for each sound, and the second set cuts or boosts different EQ bands. The assignable third row allows for customization to meet individual players’ desires. The fourth row of controls dives deeply into the world of effects; each of the parts in a Studio set can have it’s own multi-effect (MFX), chosen from a list of 67 effects (44 individual and 23 combinations). If you plug a microphone into the keyboard you can access Vocoder effects.
Said plainly, there is so much happening within the FA06’s various menus that I could spend months exploring every nook and cranny of the software. That said, the purpose of any instrument is to perform, and anyone with a passing knoweldge ofg how keyboards work could be gig ready in under 15 minutes.
As a casual keyboard player, I found myself surprised how much I missed having true weighted-key feel or aftertouch. It can even be fatiguing after multi-hour sessions.
There is no reason to not recommend the Roland FA06 to a keyboardist or aspiring songwriter. The tones are crisp and realistic, the user interface is as intuitive as can be without sacrificing depth and customization for a power user. Compared to similar price-point keyboard workstations, the only reason I found to look beyond the Roland FA06 is if you’re fixated on a specific brass or orchestral tone. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for power, tone, and versatility, the Roland FA06 has you covered. Few pieces of gear, especially in the world of digital sampling and modeling, hold up this well five years later, and the FA06 sounds as fresh as it did the day it was released. - HC -
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.