Multitracking with the Fantom-G
Roland''s Fantom-G workstation sports a new multitrack audio/MIDI sequencer with 128 tracks, including 24 tracks of audio, and a decent array of basic features. The audio tracks are recorded to internal memory, not to a hard drive, so you''ll be limited to the amount of memory in your unit. The Fantom ships with 32 MB, which is enough for about 3 minutes of stereo audio. You can expand this by purchasing and installing a 512 MB DIMM module—a good idea if you plan to do much recording. Your songs will need to be stored on an external USB device.
After reading the manual, I had no trouble recording a vocal track from my favorite mic. The Fantom is equipped with stereo analog and digital line inputs and a Neutrik combo connector that can accept an XLR plug or a high-impedance guitar input. The XLR jack even provides phantom power.
Assigning sounds to MIDI tracks and laying down a groove went smoothly. Each recording is displayed in a track as a separate phrase, and you can overdub MIDI into an existing phrase. Phrases can be given descriptive names, copied, and so on. Phrase editing can be done using macro commands (cut, copy, paste, erase, and so forth) or in Microscope mode, which is an event list. Unfortunately, you can''t audition your edits in the context of a full arrangement because in Phrase Edit mode, the Play button plays only the current phrase.
The Fantom allows MIDI data on any channel to be recorded to any track. This can be handy, but it also opens the door to confusion. The drums on channel 10, for instance, can be recorded to track 3, while the bass on channel 3 can just as easily be recorded to track 10. According to Roland, in OS version 1.2, which should be available by the time you read this, the Fantom autoassigns parts 1 through 16 to tracks 1 through 16, making things easier to use. (I was not able to test version 1.2.)
Automation of MIDI tracks is handled the traditional way, by recording either CC 7 (Main Volume) or CC 11 (Expression) data. These data types and others can be assigned to any of the eight sliders on the panel, but the sliders'' output can''t be channelized; it will always be sent to the currently recording track on the MIDI channel of the currently selected part. Fortunately, version 1.2 will allow you to automate multiple MIDI channels simultaneously from the Studio Play (mixer) screen, and all of the automation data can be recorded separately, to an independent track, for any combination of sliders.
Audio-level automation is not implemented in OS 1.10. The levels of audio tracks can be adjusted in the mixer only for the entire length of the song. The work-around is to apply a volume envelope to the audio data. This is a data-altering (destructive) edit—and it''s not undoable, though if you save the sample before performing the edit, you can always restore the saved version.
The Fantom''s 1.10 operating system adds an Undo command for recording and MIDI phrase editing. MIDI edits also have a Redo command, but if you Undo an audio recording, the data is discarded and cannot be retrieved.
You can use the pads to mute and unmute any mixer channel or any of the sequencer''s first 16 tracks. Higher-numbered tracks are muted and unmuted by moving the cursor up or down to the mute button. The manual says the dec (decrement) button mutes the track or channel, when in fact the inc (increment) button does so. There is no track or channel solo function.
I was able to get the Fantom''s internal memory to show up in Windows Explorer as a storage device, but then it vanished again, for no reason that I could see. When a USB flash drive was plugged into the Fantom, its contents showed up in Windows Explorer (sometimes). Roland was unable to reproduce these problems, which may well have been caused by my aging PC rather than by the Fantom-G; I just can''t be sure.
The Fantom-G is a project-based hardware device, so it saves all content to the current project. With that understood, a synth with 24 tracks of audio is in many respects a DAW, and as such, I would prefer to be able to choose where I want to save my files.