Roland FA-08

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Roland have condensed their considerable synthesizer workstation expertise into a single, affordable instrument.

For the past decade or more, Roland's flagship workstations have been large, heavy and imposing, and replete with big knobs, long faders and, more recently, large touch-sensitive screens. Everything about them has screamed, 'I'm the real deal'. Yet here I am, sitting in front of the new, top-of-the range FA08, and it boasts none of those attributes. It's small, it's light, and it's constructed from plastic. There are no faders (long or otherwise), its screen is small and insensitive, and it looks like nothing so much as a stage piano with some extra features thrown in. Can it really replace the mighty Fantom G8?

Physically, the FA08 foregoes the classy aluminium extrusions and space-age cheeks of the Fantoms, and it also lacks the sleek good looks of the long-defunct JV1000 and XP80. Furthermore, the plastic inlays that cover the screen and surround the controls already looked like someone had attacked them with a Brillo Pad when I received the review unit. But let's be fair, the new model doesn't cost as much as its predecessors and, at least in part, its lower price has been achieved by cutting hardware costs. Consequently, the FA08 lacks many of the controllers found on more expensive workstations. In addition to the left/right/push joystick and two buttons, it offers just six knobs (each with four possible functions, only one of which is programmable) plus 16 pads. Then there's the colour screen. Roland describe this as "large”. That's daft. To be fair, the clarity is superb, but it's only a five-inch device of unspecified resolution.

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