Roland Fantom G vs Yamaha Motif XF
The Roland Fantom G and Yamaha Motif XF are both high-class keyboard workstations offering a vast array of sounds and facilities. Similar in price, at around £2000 for the 61-key versions, and sharing many of the same features, choosing between the two can present a real problem.
This isn’t so much an in-depth review as an overview of the two instruments, using information gleaned from magazines, the Internet, the manufacturers themselves, and most importantly, several hours at my local music store actually trying them out.
From the outset I must confess to having a preference for Roland equipment. This is probably more to do with familiarity than brand loyalty though. As a general rule, learning to use a keyboard or sound module from a manufacturer whose equipment you are already familiar with is easier than learning to use a piece of equipment from another manufacturer. However, for the purpose of this article I tried to keep an open mind.
There are some extremely impressive promotional videos on YouTube showing exactly what these two instruments are capable of. I would certainly recommend watching these while bearing in mind that if you are listening through regular (cheap) PC speakers, you are not going to be able to make an accurate evaluation of the sounds. Also, the sound demonstrations are usually very short, just a few bars in length, designed specifically to impress – which they do. What the YouTube videos can’t show is the ‘workflow experience’, how easy it is for you to work with the instrument to produce the music you want.
And one more word on YouTube videos: ignore all reviews where the reviewer states their preferred choice without giving a concrete reason.
Both keyboards have well over 1000 sounds (the Roland 1,664 ‘factory patches’, the Yamaha 1,353 ‘high quality voices’), covering all the main categories – keyboards, strings, brass, woodwind, guitars, percussion, and more. Also, both instruments have a sound list, making selecting the type of sound you want quick and easy.
Of particular note are the acoustic piano sounds on the Motif. The Fantom’s acoustic piano sounds are good but, if I’m honest, a little uninspiring. The difference is subtle, and hard to pin down at first, but I’m guessing it has something to do with a longer sample, and piano action noises (such as the sound made when the sustain pedal is released), that make the piano sounds on the Motif so much more realistic. Both keyboard’s acoustic piano sounds would be fine in a mix, but for more exposed piano parts I would have to choose the Motif.
The piano solo in Making My Way To You (below) uses the Motif’s ‘Full Concert Grand’ acoustic piano sound.
My overall impression is that the Roland sounds tend to be more digital-sounding, whereas the Yamaha tends to have a slightly warmer analogue feel. We usually associate ‘warm analogue’ as a positive attribute, and ‘digital-sounding’, in many cases, as somewhat negative. However, this is not my intention here. I have a clear preference for the ‘digital-sounding’ Roland Electric Pianos, but prefer the warmer string sounds of the Yamaha. It all boils down to the type of sound and personal preference. And there lies one of the fundamental problems: some sounds sound better on the Roland, whereas others sound better on the Yamaha!
Compared to older keyboards, and many new ones, the Motif XF display is quite big, and colourful, but without a shadow of a doubt the display on the Fantom G wins hands down. Not only is it much bigger, it is crystal clear.
Both keyboards have a sequencer capable of recording audio as well as midi. The Fantom’s sequencer has 128 midi tracks and 24 audio, whereas the motif only has 16 midi tracks, and 16 pattern tracks. Audio recorded on the Motif is stored as a Sample Voice and then triggered from the midi sequencer, effectively giving audio tracks. The Fantom’s sequencer certainly appears to be more versatile, plus the larger screen will make editing much easier.
Both keyboards will connect easily to a computer, and both come with software packages. The Roland has 16 dynamic pads, useful for tapping in rhythms, but which can also be assigned to do other things, such as trigger samples. Both keyboards have an arpeggiator function but the Yamaha, by popular consensus, wins in this department.
A commendable feature of the Roland is its ability to sustain a sound while a new sound is selected. After selecting the new sound the initial sound remains until you either take your fingers off the keys or release the sustain pedal. This could be very useful for live work where, for example, at the end of a song, new sounds could be selected for the next song while sustaining the final chord of the current song.
Both the Roland and the Yamaha offer 61-note, 76-note, or weighted 88-note keyboards. For some, price constrains may count against the larger sized keyboards, but if price is no object then there are other considerations.
As a pianist I would always prefer a full 88-note weighted keyboard – if I didn’t have to carry it around myself. For a gigging musician, who doesn’t have the luxury of a road crew, or a large vehicle, the 61-note or 76-note keyboards are a better option. For playing in a band, where the bass player would take care of the bass notes, a 61-note keyboard could be fine. For a keyboard player who sometimes plays solo, or accompanies instrumentalists or vocalists, the 76-note keyboard is more attractive, if you can live with the extra size and weight.
After many hours of research, listening, and playing, trying to decide which keyboard is the better of the two, I am no closer to a verdict. Both instruments are excellent keyboard workstations, with each scoring points against the other in different areas. According to the majority of opinions I have read, the Fantom seems to be the farourite for Hip Hop music, but really, at this level, the only limiting factor between the two instruments is the musician operating them.
For more information see the related article Choosing a Keyboard.
Listen to all of Making My Way to You.