Roland Performance Keyboards – Which One is Right for Me?

Roland Synth and Performance Keyboard

Whether you’re looking to buy a keyboard for songwriting, studio production or performing live, our range has something that will suit your needs.

The range can be broadly divided into Stage Pianos and Performance/Workstation Synthesizers. Generally speaking, the major difference between the two is that the latter come with built-in sequencers for composing.

In practice, there’s a lot more to it than that! In this article, we’re going to run through the main features of the RD, JUNO-DS, FA and FANTOM keyboards to help you figure out which one suits your needs best.

Contributed by Mark Watson for Roland Corporation Australia

Stage Pianos

stage pianos

Stage pianos are favoured by gigging professionals who need the playability, action, and sound of a grand piano but in a more stage-friendly format.

Over the years though, stage pianos have had more sounds and capabilities added to them. Collections of synthesizer sounds and acoustic sounds like orchestral instruments, drums and guitars have been added to give you a wider palette of instruments. They can be layered with your piano sound to give you a huge choice to play with and be inspired by.

Our stage piano range consists of the RD-88 and RD-2000 – let’s go through how these two compare.

RD-88

The RD-88 gives you a wide range of piano sounds and gives you a truly authentic playing experience with its PHA-4 ivory feel action, delivering true escapement response that mimic playing on an acoustic piano.

Although it has an 88 note weighted keyboard, its compact design allows it to fit into smaller spaces like a back seat of a car or a desktop. It also boasts a built-in microphone connection and loudspeakers, making it ideal for small gigs or intimate performances. This also makes it easy for home practise, or even self-monitoring if you’re playing in a band.

With three layers or splits for extra sounds, as well as the ability to play external sounds through Apple’s Main Stage app on a laptop using only one USB cable, your creativity can run wild! If that wasn’t enough already, if you become member of Roland Cloud you get access to more sound expansions and sound packs which are added regularly.

RD-2000

The RD-2000 is the best stage piano available. Like the RD-88, it has SuperNATURAL acoustic and electric pianos but also has the acclaimed V-Piano engine, which gives you the ability to design your own unique piano sound. With V-Piano, each individual note can be adjusted for pitch, tone, attack & sustain. When playing the V-Piano engine, you also have unlimited polyphony which gives you an unmatched number of notes played when performing extremely busy pieces or multiple glissandos with the sustain pedal pressed. You will never run out of notes!
The action of the RD-2000 is the flagship of synth/stage piano actions, the PHA-50 which is easily the best keyboard action you will find in any stage piano or synth. The superb PHA-50 key mechanism features a hybrid structure including wooden inserts and stabilising pins for reduced sideways motion of the keys. Coupled with the excellent non-slip ivory key surfaces, this action lets you get the most out of the RD-2000’s incredible sounds.

The versatile RD-2000 also includes over 1,100 additional sounds for covering any style of music and at Roland’s Axial Sound Website you’ll find even more sounds to load into the RD-2000’s two wave expansion slots.

Performance/Workstation Synthesizers

performance workstation synth

The next three keyboards give you the ability to create music without the need for an external device. These have sequencers built into them, giving you the ability to play and record multiple layers of instruments.

Let’s start with the first in this range, the JUNO-DS 88.

JUNO-DS88

Due to its intuitive, straightforward design, the JUNO-DS is a favourite for young singer/songwriters and bands looking for a great sounding keyboard that’s also easy to get up and running. The instruments that are built into the JUNO-DS are categorised by type, making it easy to find what you’re after.

The range of sounds here is enormous but there is also a virtual “expansion slot” where you can add more sounds from the Roland Axial website. You can choose from orchestral sounds, world sounds, or even dance loops. There are 17 free expansions to choose from giving you a wide selection of instruments, rhythms, sound effects and more.

The built-in pattern sequencer has 8 tracks for recording, whether you want drums, bass, synth, or even orchestral sounds. This is an effortless way to write up to 8 bar parts of a song (a chorus for example) and play around with ideas by muting different tracks or soloing them to hear them on their own.

The pattern sequencer makes it super easy to write and capture ideas, but if you want to develop this even further, you can connect your JUNO-DS to a laptop via USB and have access to 16 different parts and play each part into an audio program like Garageband for example.

a band rehearsal

You can also import audio files like sound effects, drum patterns or vocal phrases, and then assign these sounds to each pad or key on the keyboard, ready to be triggered at the touch of a button. Plus, by connecting a mic to the dedicated input, you can sing through your JUNO-DS and use vocal effects like vocoder and auto-tune to add creative flair to your compositions or performances.

Whether you’re working on a song at home, recording a track in the studio, or playing a gig, the portable JUNO-DS88 will inspire you and make it easy to take your music wherever you want to go.

FA-08

The FA-08 takes things to the next level with more sounds, expandability, song-making ability, and control.

The first major difference is the sequencer. With the FA-08 sequencer, not only do you have loop sequencing, you also have “linear” sequencing. This means you have an almost unlimited timeline to sequence 16 tracks of sounds. Your music doesn’t have to be loop based, it can evolve and change as you see fit.

As an example, with linear sequencing you can sit and play a 5-minute piano piece from start to finish with all the arrangement’s variations. Then, select a second track and play a string sound along with your piano performance. Of course, you can go back and edit and fix any mistakes you’ve made, change the key or even the instrument half way through the performance.

It has over 2000 tones from Roland’s flagship pro sound module, INTEGRA-7, giving you a massive palette of high-quality sounds for any musical style. All of the INTEGRA-7’s SuperNATURAL synth and XV-5080 PCM tones are built in, plus an essential collection of SuperNATURAL acoustic tones that include pianos, organs, bass, strings, and others.

The FA-08 also features “Tone Remain” which means you can switch sounds seamlessly with no notes or effect tails being unnaturally cut off.

FA-08 with Axial

The FA has two expansion slots – one more than the JUNO-DS. You can load two of the twelve famous SRX-series expansions and change them whenever you want. Its sound engine is also fully compatible with the large collection of INTEGRA-7 free synth patches available from Roland’s Axial sound library site. It’s also possible to expand the onboard sound set with free wave sound expansion collections from the Axial site.

This extra palette of sounds and effects gives the more serious song writer or composer more choices to help those creative juices to flow or a much better ability to cover different genres of music because you have so much to choose from.

The FA-08 has more hands on control than the JUNO-DS, with a full complement of knobs and sliders for tweaking your synth sounds, changing your mix and manipulating your effects live to add some real-time expression to your performance and productions.

FANTOM 8

The FANTOM is Roland’s flagship keyboard that gives you everything you could possibly need. Since its release in late 2019, it has been consistently developed and expanded offering new sound engines and ways of making your music.

Like the RD-2000, FANTOM has the best available weighted keyboard, the PHA-50 with one very important addition, it has aftertouch so you can also apply pressure to activate parameters like the swelling of a synth filter or the vibrato of a SuperNATURAL violin.

FANTOM runs multiple synthesis technologies simultaneously, for authentic acoustic and electronic sounds, both modern and vintage. It nails our classic synths but pushes into new territory as well with the ZEN-Core engine. And, FANTOM has plenty of room for expansion with new sounds and new possibilities coming regularly. For example, one of the updates added the highly requested Virtual Tone Wheel organ giving you the sound and parameters of a classic organ.

The FANTOM’s sequencer is a modern type of clip based sequencing which is a great way to build up a track by arranging clips that contain musical patterns. Drums, basslines, pads, and other patterns can be recorded into clips that you can trigger individually, or in groups. It’s a lightning-fast way to compose and is also ideal for triggering backing tracks during live performance.

You can create patterns on FANTOM in a variety of ways including real and step-time polyphonic sequencing, or the TR- REC pattern sequencer—perfect for rhythmic parts—as used on our iconic drum machines.

As a master controller keyboard, it’s second to none with many options available. For example, FANTOM can control software synthesizers within Apple’s MainStage software directly from the touchscreen, giving you unmatched power and control not available in any other synthesizer. You can also drive modular and analogue hardware synthesizers from its dual CV/Gate outputs as well as midi from either 5 pin or USB cables.

You can also expand your creative horizons with Roland Cloud. There are so many Sound Packs and Wave Expansions for FANTOM to keep your music sounding fresh. The FANTOM actually has 16 virtual expansion slots available for the EXZ wave expansion catalogue.

FANTOM doesn’t just work with computers—it fully integrates. It contains a high-quality 16×3 stereo audio interface and can control DAWs and plugins from its touchscreen. It can integrate soft synths into Scenes, and send parts composed on FANTOM directly to your DAW.

When Roland released the next-generation FANTOM in September 2019, it was just the beginning of a program of continuous development to ensure we keep fulfilling the ever-changing needs and expectations of our customers. With over 60 significant new features added so far, FANTOM continues to define the music composition platform arena.

Conclusion.

If you’re a piano player who plays in a duo or small band, maybe the RD-88 is the one for you. Or if you need the very best in Roland stage pianos as an MD for a theatre production, touring artist, or worship band, then RD-2000 is the clear choice.

Are you a song-writer in an original band who wants to put down ideas quickly and then seamlessly take them to the studio or stage? JUNO-DS sounds like the perfect fit!

The FA series will hit the mark if you need a more advanced sequencer than the JUNO-DS, as well as more sounds and more expansions.

And of course, the flagship FANTOM is the synthesizer for the player who wants the very best of everything.

Whatever your need is as a keyboard player and composer, Roland’s incredible range of keyboards has something that’s perfect for your needs.

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THIS TD-50 CUSTOM PATCHES

Created by Roland V-Drums specialist Simon Ayton, these patches were designed using the internal factory sounds and many of the techniques covered in the TD-50 guide. Enjoy exploring the possibilities!