The future looks bright

After reading the owner’s manual and watching the first demonstrations, it’s clear that the Yamaha Genos™ is a beautiful face-lift over the Tyros series, but where is the sonic breakthrough?

As usual, the answer was right in front of my face all along. First, a few facts and figures:

    Feature                        Tyros 5    Genos
    ---------------------------    -------    -----
    Mega Voices                       54        82
    Super Articulation voices        288       390
    Super Articulation 2 voices       44        75
    Live voices                      138       160
    Articulation buttons               2         3

Back before the specifications were officially announced, I saw a leaked version of these specs. Given the big leap in Mega Voice (MV), Super Articulation (SA) and Super Articulation 2 (SA2) voices, I didn’t think the leaked specifications were credible. Now, I believe.

In short, the new tone generation hardware in Genos enables a very large SSD-sized waveform memory capable of holding all of the waveforms needs for the boost in MV, SA and SA2 voices. The end result is greater musical expression, detail and realism for both the Genos player and audiences.

This blog takes a focused look at Mega Voice, Super Articulation (1 and 2), and why the “great leap forward” is possible in Genos. For PSR/Tyros purists, I hope that you don’t mind my shortened abbreviations for Mega Voice, etc. The short abbreviations are much easier to type without extra punctuation marks.

Background information

MV, SA and SA2 are the trinity of highly detailed, expressive Yamaha voices. All three kinds of voices are based on Yamaha’s sample playback technology AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory). Super Articulation 2 is based on Articulation Element Modeling (AEM). Both AWM2 and AEM are covered by many Yamaha patents.

Yamaha did not introduce these voices in one fell swoop. Mega Voices were the first to appear. A Mega Voice divides a voice into two or more velocity ranges and assigns a different waveform to each range. A trumpet voice, for example, is divided into:

    Velocity range    Waveform
    --------------    ----------------------
         1 - 20       mf trumpet
        21 - 40       f trumpet
        41 - 60       ff trumpet
        61 - 90       Legato
        81 - 100      Straight
       101 - 110      Shake
       111 - 120      Falls
       121 - 127      Glissando up

MIDI notes above C6 and above C8 are mapped to valve noise and breath noise, respectively. For other examples of Mega Voices, see the Mega Voice mapping table in the Tyros 5 Data List file for details. (Also, learn how to create a Mega Voice using Yamaha Expansion Manager.)

The first three ranges and waveforms correspond to velocity switching as we know it. The second five ranges correspond to articulations as we know and love them in software instruments. The articulations and noises are the sonic sweeteners that make sequenced music sound more human and natural.

Mega Voices are intended for sequencing. They are used in arranger keyboard styles to make them sound less MIDI-ish. Unless you have the finger control of a god, you cannot reasonably play a Mega Voice through the keyboard.

But, wait a minute! What if you put some smart software between the keyboard and the tone generator? The smart software watches and analyzes your gestures (i.e., key presses, releases, button pushes, etc.), and plays either a regular note or an articulated note. This is the basic idea behind Super Articulation.

In the case of the trumpet, for example, the SA software watches the notes that you play and if you push the right articulation button while playing a note, the software selects and plays a shake instead of a regular trumpet sound. The SA software also analyzes note timing and plays a legato waveform when you strike a second key while holding the first key. SA software even responds to note intervals such as playing a glissando when the interval between two notes is big enough.

In the end, Super Articulation makes Mega Voice articulations intuitively playable. I thoroughly enjoy playing the SA voices on my PSR-S950. I don’t have too think to hard at all — just let it rip as I hear it in my head.

Montage and late model Motif- and MOX-series synthesizers implement Expanded Articulation (XA). Take a look at my deconstruction of the Tenor To The Max voice.

Super Articulation 2 takes SA up another notch. Real musical tones are not discrete sonic events. Tones tend to blend together due to the characteristics of the musical instrument itself and/or playing technique (e.g., legato). SA2 performs a digital blending between notes by analyzing gestures and selecting the appropriate waveform from a very large database of waveform segments. Broadly speaking, these segments belong to three categories:

  1. Head: Attack portion of the sound
  2. Body: Main body of the sound
  3. Tail: Release portion of the sound

Consider two notes where the first note is detached and the second note is legato. SA2 plays the head segment for the first note, sounding the attack. This is followed by the body of the first note. SA2 does not play a head for the second note. It blends the body of the first note into the body of the second note. When the second note is released, SA2 selects and plays a tail for the second note.

All of this blending is computation heavy and is very sensitive to timing and latency. The technology behind SA2 is Articulation Element Modeling (AEM). AEM is actually a deep subject and is patented. (See my related post about Real Acoustic Sound.)

Technical breakthrough, sonic breakthrough

Folks who are familiar with software instruments and sound libraries know that all of this comes with a cost. Sample libraries for orchestral instruments are enormous because there are so many different ways to bow, pluck, strike and generally mess with acoustic instruments. Tens and even hundreds of gigabytes are needed to store the highest quality sample libraries. Then, one needs to have a fast streaming device like an SSD and a computationally husky CPU to play the samples without a glitch or hiccup.

Before Montage and Genos, Yamaha’s mainstay tone generator (TG) integrated circuit (IC) was the SWP51L. This venerable chip carried the load in Motif, MOX, CP, Clavinova, and other mid- to high-end Yamaha products.

Like all things electronic, the SWP51L’s time eventually came and went. The SWP51L communicates to waveform memory over a CPU-like bus with a fixed width address. The SWP51L is limited in three ways. First, the fixed width address is not big enough to address the very large sample library needed to support today’s articulation-heavy voices. Second, the address bus cannot be (easily) made wider. Third, the bus protocol is not directly compatible with relatively inexpensive commodity NAND flash memory. Conclusion, the SWP51L does not scale to a big waveform memory.

The Montage and the Genos deploy the new generation SWP70 tone generator. Unlike the SWP51L, the SWP70 is compatible with commodity NAND flash memory — the same kind of memory used in solid state drives (SSD). The Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) bus protocol — and the Genos — is scalable.

Thus, Yamaha is finally free to expand waveform memory to sample library scale.

People make much of “SSD, SSD, SSD!” SSDs use a SATA bus for communication, a bus that can become a bottleneck in itself. Yamaha have found a way to integrate SSD functionality into the SWP70 without the need for a SATA bus. The integration promises greater speed (i.e., memory bandwidth) without the cost and latency of a SATA bus. This design approach is patented. Please read one of my earlier posts about the SWP70 for the gory technical details. Hope you know a bit about computer architecture before diving in!

I’ve also speculated about the role of the SWP70 in the implementation of the Genos file system. This post is highly speculative and has not been verified by reading the Genos service manual.

What does this mean for the player?

The bottom line for the player and audiences is rich sound filled with detail and realism, thanks to big waveform memory, AWM2/AEM synthesis and Yamaha’s sound development expertise. Big waveform capacity and the new mono/stereo tone generation channels in the SWP70 also mean greater use of stereo samples (“Live voices” in PSR/Tyros-speak.)

Please look at the chart at the beginning of this article. No previous generation-to-generation Tyros upgrade has had such a big jump in the number of Mega Voice, Super Articulation and Super Articulation 2 voices. It can only get better from here as the SWP70 is the Yamaha platform for the next 8 to 10 years.

The Genos promises to be an expressive instrument which will be fun to play. The knobs, sliders and articulation buttons afford a great deal of real time control. I can’t wait to play one of these!

Longer term, what do the technical breakthroughs hold for the Montage series? You ain’t seen or heard nothin’ yet.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Creating a Mega Voice in YEM

With all of the Genos™ hoopla, let’s not forget about technique and skills! A few interesting questions popped up on the PSR Tutorial Forum and I’m reposting my answers here.

Today’s blog describes how to create a Mega Voice for PSR/Tyros using Yamaha Expansion Manager (YEM). With this background information in mind, I go on to discuss maximum polyphony in AWM2 and how to count voices against maximum polyphony.

The discussion has a PSR/Tyros focus, but a lot of the information applies to Motif, MOX and Montage, too. If you want to learn more about the Yamaha AWM2 voice architecture, I recommend reading the first chapter of a Motif- or Montage-series reference manual and the corresponding synthesizer parameter manual. (Download these manuals from the Yamaha manual library.)

Creating a Mega Voice in YEM

Regular voices are the usual MIDI voice: 128 velocity levels and only one basic sound. For example, nylon guitar is just the pitched, melodic sound of the notes either louder or softer depending on note velocity.

Mega Voice guitars (and other Mega Voices) are different. Please look at the Mega Voice Map starting on page 16 of the Tyros Data List PDF.

Let’s take a look at the Mega NylonGuitar voice. For MIDI notes B5 and below, the MIDI velocity is broken into eight (8) ranges:

    1- 20 Open soft
   21- 40 Open med
   41- 60 Open hard
   61- 75 Dead
   76- 90 Mute
   91-105 Hammer
  106-120 Slide
  121-127 Harmonics

Each range plays a different kind of sound. So, the MIDI velocity determines which guitar sound. Then, the velocity within that limited range determines how loud it will be.

Example 1: MIDI note A4, velocity 38 makes an Open Med guitar sound which is loud.

Example 2: MIDI note A4, velocity 2 makes an Open Med guitar sound which is quiet.

Example 3: MIDI note A4, velocity 110, makes a Slide guitar sound.

Now, let’s look at the last two columns in the Mega Voice map, again, for the Mega NylonGuitar voice. For MIDI notes between C6 and B7, the Tyros plays a Strum noise. The velocity in this case determines the Strum noise loudness over the full range 1-127.

For MIDI notes above C8, the Tyros plays a Fret noise. The velocity determines the fret noise volume and is full range 1-127.

Example 4: MIDI note D8, velocity 127 plays a very loud fret noise.

Put this knowledge into action with YEM

Now you need to figure out how to do this using the voice editor in Yamaha Expansion Manager (YEM). Each voice has up to eight elements. Think of each element as a mini, controllable synthesizer.

You will need one element for each of the velocity ranges that form the main body of your Mega Voice. In the case of the Mega NylonGuitar voice, that’s eight elements!

In YEM, build one element at a time. Layout the samples for one velocity range of the many body. You may have one waveform or you may have several waveforms. Each waveform occupies a key range. Do not map any waveforms onto the keys C6 and above (yet). These keys are reserved for the noise notes.

When you select a waveform belonging to an element, YEM highlights the color and displays eight resizing dots on the edges of the waveform. Use these dots to resize the waveform. Moving left or right changes the key assignment for the waveform. Moving an edge up or down changes the lower or upper limit of the velocity range to be assigned to the waveform.

If you have a lot of samples, be prepared to do a lot of work! Now you’re learning how much work Yamaha puts into voice development!

Once you have assigned the waveforms (samples) for the main body of your new voice, you can work on the noise notes, that is, any keys C6 and above.

Select the first element. Assign the waveforms for the noise notes to the keys C6 and above. The actual layout is up to you, but you must use only the keys C6 and above.

If your noise notes have only one velocity range, 1 to 127, then you must set the velocity range for only those waveforms (1 to 127). If your noise notes have two or more velocity ranges (not recommended), then you must use more than one element.

So, you can see that YEM has enough editing power to create a Mega Voice. Be prepared to study carefully how Yamaha voices are constructed. Please don’t expect to just jump in, clap your hands, and be finished. I regard Mega Voice development as a fairly advanced, expert job. If you haven’t created a voice before using YEM, then I suggest trying something simple until you understand elements, waveform layout across keys, and velocity ranges.

Counting voices against maximum polyphony

Now that you’re schooled in voice structure, it’s a good time to discuss maximum polyphony and counting voice elements against maximum polyphony.

This has always been a somewhat confusing topic because of the way polyphonic voices are counted.

As I mentioned above, a Tyros or Motif or Montage (AWM2) voice consists of up to 8 elements. Assume that only the RIGHT1 part is enabled and thus, only one Tyros voice is enabled. When a key is struck, the AWM2 engine determines the active elements and assigns each active element to a physical-level, hardware tone generation channel. One or more elements may be active simultaneously for a given note under the assumption.

Assignment and channel use is additive. If RIGHT1 and RIGHT2 are enabled (i.e., two layered voices), then there are one or more active elements from the RIGHT1 voice and one or more active elements from the RIGHT2 voice. This is why layers chew up polyphony.

The number of tone generation channels determines the maximum number of active tones playing at any time — the maximum polyphony.

Be prepared to be confused!

Even if all eight elements are defined in a Mega Voice, not all eight elements may be active at a time. One to eight elements may be active depending upon the incoming MIDI note and the element programming (i.e., the velocity range and note range for each element.) When the synthesis engine gets a MIDI note (consisting of a MIDI note number and velocity), it decides which elements to play. If only one element matches, then only one polyphony voice is used up. If two elements match, then two polyphony voices are used up, and so on.

Thus, depending upon the combination of note ranges and velocity levels, a voice may use anywhere from one to eight voices of polyphony. It all comes down to the particular design (programming) of a user voice.

If you’re not confused yet, hold on, there’s more. In the past, a stereo voice would use two tone generation channels while mono uses one channel. The left waveform is assigned to an element and the right waveform is assigned to its own element. Montage and Genos have the new tone generator, the SWP70. The new tone generation hardware supports 128 mono/stereo voices (channels) of polyphony. That is, stereo elements get mapped to a stereo channel. This is a big deal because it allows greater use of stereo waveforms without cutting too deeply into the available polyphony.

Think like a coder

By now, if you’re a programmer, you’re thinking of pseudo-code somthing like:

    if ((MIDI note number >= lowest key in key range) &&
        (MIDI note number <= highest key in key range) &&
        (MIDI note velocity >= lowest velocity in velocity range) &&
        (MIDI note velcotiy <= highest velocity in velocity range))
    {
        Generate the tone for the MIDI note
    }

This conditional statement summarizes what I discussed earlier.

As usual, there's more.

The AWM2 synthesis engine defines and evaluates other conditions:

  • Detached (non-legato) or legato
  • Articulation button ON or OFF
  • Jump in note interval less than one octave

Motif and Montage people will recognize the first two conditions as Expanded Articulation (XA). PSR and Tyros people will recognize all three conditions as part of Super Articulation (SA). These additional conditions also control element triggering. Think about extending the pseudo-code's condition with other conjunctive terms.

The Motif and Montage voice editors expose the XA conditions. Yamaha Expansion Manager does not expose these conditions. Thus, it's not possible to create Super Articulation voices using YEM.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos news from Germany

Heidrun Dolde is a musician, performer, composer and music educator in Stuttgart, Germany. Heidrun has a wonderful Web site dedicated to technique and workshops with an arranger keyboard focus.

The epicenter for the Genos™ roll-out is Rellingen, Germany, So, it makes sense that Heidrun would be right in the middle of the action. She collected questions concerning Genos from members of the European Yamaha forum and sent the questions to the Yamaha team in Rellingen. She has summarized the answers in a PDF available here: http://heidruns-musikerseiten.de/keyboard/vergleiche.

I am in Heidrun’s debt for all of the information in this post. I cranked her PDF through Google Translate and used a little bit of my “viewgraph German” to learn more about Genos. Here are a few items that I have not seen prominently in English language sources. I wrote a few editorial comments, which appear between square brackets “[]”. I’ll take the heat for any errors.

New voices and drum kits

There are 14 “Revo” drum kits including: Rock Drums, Pop Drums, Vintage Open, Vintage Muted, Jazz Sticks, Jazz Brushes, Vocal Beatbox. The drums are recorded with room ambience. [I’ve been freezing MIDI songs to WAV audio on PSR-S950. I desperately need the wave-cycling in Revo drums.]

New voices include:

  • Revo! Drums
  • Resonator guitars (Dobro)
  • Flugelhorn and other brass sounds
  • Pedal Steel (authentically playable because only the lower part of a chord responds to pitch bend)
  • CP-80 (e.g., for classic Freddy Mercury and Foreigner songs)
  • Many strings of a large orchestra to cello, viola, violin in a small ensemble
  • New piano sounds (from Montage)
  • Many synth sounds (from Montage)

[Country and folk players appear to be big winners with Genos. Dobro, pedal steel, new acoustic steel guitars. Wow!]

There are new OTS for all 550 styles. [Yamaha usually updates styles to use the latest voices. They outdid themselves this time.]

Layers, splits and editing

Up to three voices can be layered. You can not control voices [in a layer] by velocity level as with a synth.

You can create up to 3 voice areas next to each other on the keyboard by splitting split points (Left Voice, Right Voice 1 + 2, Right 3).

Onboard sound editing is through “Voice Set”, which influences the overall sound of a voice (filter, envelope, effects, etc.) In addition, there is sound modification in live mode (“Live Control”) which are made by knobs and sliders. The OLED sub-display shows the parameter value changes in real time.

If you want to get into detailed voice editing, the new Yamaha Expansion Manager (YEM) will provide advanced ways to change the individual components of Voices. YEM 2.5 will be released in November 2017. Information about voice editing will be available then.

DSP effects

There are three system-level effects automatically called by MIDI files or styles: Reverb, Chorus, and DSP 1.

Of the 28 insertion effects, eight DSPs are reserved for styles. Each part has its own separate DSP.

The remainder of the insertion effects have a fixed assignment. Voice parts LEFT, RIGHT1, RIGHT2, RIGHT3 can each have an insert DSP (+ Part EQ) and are routed to the system reverb and chorus effects. Song parts 1 to 16 each have a separate insertion effect. Song parts 1 to 16 and Style parts 1 to 8 can be routed to a single variation effect (effectively forming a 2 DSP insert chain).

Multipads do not have their own DSP effect.

Operating system and user interface

A maximum of 2500 files can be in a folder. MIDI files can be a maximum of 300 KB. [Several people on the European forum made note of the 300KB limitation. EDM, in particular, makes heavy use of MIDI continuous control (CC) and the 300KB limit may be a deal breaker. Yamaha, please take note.]

Playlists work best with Songbook+. An entry can be linked directly without having to know the MSB / LSB of the Voice. [Sounds like there will be tight(er) integration between Songbook+ and Genos. Songbook+ is free through the US Apple app store, but there is a 15 song limit. Unlimited Songbook+ is an in-app purchase. I’ve already downloaded Songbook+, but haven’t had the time to try it.]

Genos takes about 20 seconds to power up the operating system (as of October 2017).

[I anticipate faster expansion pack loading time. Blake Angelos (Yamaha) reported that Montage load times were measured at 6 to 7 times faster than Motif XF. For example, a 500MB load took 5 minutes on a prototype model. Like Montage, Genos incorporates the new tone generator hardware and flash interface.]

Controllers

The Yamaha MFC10 foot pedal is supported by Genos. The settings are made via Menu> MIDI> External Controller.

The front panel gateway buttons are:

  • Home: Main Display
  • Menu: Basic
  • Style: Styles
  • Voice: Instruments
  • Songs: MIDI and audio files
  • Playlist: Repertoire list

[I love that name, “Gateway.”]

MP3 format

Genos supports MP3 audio playback with lyrics. Given an MP3 file with the appropriate embedded information, the Genos provides a karaoke function with song text and chord display. The MP3 formats are Midiland Lyrioke (DKE format, fits all Midiland players) and MP3 + G. Heidrun and folks tested CDG format.

Both Genos song players can display MP3 with song lyrics.

Internal file storage

Geno has no internal hard drive and no SSD drive. Hard drives are vulnerable to fairure due to their mechanics. The moving parts in a hard drive also affect the lifetime of a hard drive. There is a solid-state user memory (= Flash ROM) with 58 GB of memory.

[People are having a hard time getting their minds around this one. Wot? No hard drive, no SSD? What is it? Yamaha have cleverly used the flash memory attached to one of the tone generators as explained in my post. Yes, it’s flash, but it will be a heck of lot faster than USB flash. Trust me.]

Appreciation

I just want to thank Heidrun, again, for collecting questions and answers, and summarizing the responses. She did a superb job!

Vielen Dank!

Genos: After the fireworks

So, how do I feel about Genos now that the Genos manuals are rolling out and emotions have cooled down?

The Yamaha Genos™ is a significant update on the Tyros 5. The brand new user interface (UI) should be easy to navigate through the brand-spanking new touch screen. The assignable knobs and sliders are very welcome, and probably give some Montage owners FOMO (fear of missing out). The sound set has gotten the usual and expected boost: CFX piano, C7 piano, electric pianos on par with Montage, new acoustic guitars, and so on.

Scratch the surface of the new UI, however, one finds few feature enhancements. The new Playlist capability replaces the Music Finder Database (MFD). Yamaha are in competition with Korg’s Songbook and only real hands-on experience will determine who has the edge.

The lighter weight is definitely appreciated as well as the modern stage styling. Yamaha have chosen to offer Genos in a single 76-key model. The 76-er weighs less than the previous 61-key Tyros 5 and that’s all to the good.

Before I discuss a few specific points, I want to describe how I feel: methodically enthusiastic. Huh?

When I buy a new keyboard, I think carefully about need — what would improve my experience and skills as a musician and what would improve the experience of those for whom I play. I do not currently perform with my Yamaha PSR-S950 arranger. Gig-wise, I can cover what I need to cover with a sample-playback synthesizer. I need section/solo orchestra strings, woodwinds and horns. I need B-3 organ and pipe organ. The Yamaha MOX6 — my main gig instrument — is sufficient in this regard.

I do play the S950 as a practice instrument. I also have aspirations of performing as a one man band (OMB). I would be very happy to have a single instrument that fulfills gigging, practice and OMB situations.

In terms of sound, I’m ready for a major update. The MOX6 and the S950 sounds are roughly the same vintage as the Motif XS, first released in 2007. That’s ten years. As a car owner, I tend to hold and drive the same car for ten years. Then I realize how far the technology has progressed and update. My attitude is the same for instruments. I prefer to hold and play an instrument for five years or longer, learning it in depth. I make an exception if the front panel buttons are worn and broken. 🙂

At this point, I know for sure that I want a better keyboard action such as the FSX action in Montage and Genos. This is similar to moving from a “student model” sax to a “pro” sax. I think the better action will help me as a player.

If you stuck with me this far, you probably realizing that I’m considering either the Montage or the Genos as my next gig and home ax. Even though I respect the Kronos, its orchestra instruments are not as expressive as Yamaha’s. Roland seems to have given up on orchestral instruments. After a quality/reliability issue with Kurweil, I’m off of them for life.

So, I am methodically enthusiastic about the Genos. It’s Genos vs. Montage; Godzilla vs. Mothra. Is the Genos value proposition sufficiently atractive that I will pay its premium price? That comes down to the playing experience and workflow. To be decided over the coming months.

I’m reluctant to give anyone advice. Every musician must carefully weigh their needs, the Genos value proposition and the Genos price. I will say that the Montage, Kronos, Tyros 5 and PA4x remain very fine, capable instruments. The PSR-S970 is no slouch, either. I tend to skip a generation before updating. Should you? Can’t say.

Drawbar organ

The Genos drawbar organ engine is substantially the same as Tyros 5, and S950, for that matter. The drawbar organ page is a skeuomorphic representation of the drawbars, rotary speed switch, etc. When Yamaha adopted a touch screen, thank heavens they added real sliders for drawbar control. This is doing it right.

I play the bars constantly. When I test drove a CVP-709 touch screen piano, the virtual, on-screen drawbars were impossible to play. Kudos for adding real physical controls to the Genos.

Also, thank you for porting the new Montage rotary speaker effect to the Genos.

Speaking of DSP and control, I have another suggestion for Genos 1.1. Many DSP effect algorithms have a parameter which can be controlled from an assignable controller (e.g., AC1). The Genos is too limited in this regard. Any physical controller — including a foot pedal — should be able to tweak a controllable DSP parameter in real time. Currently, for example, a foot pedal can only control the WAH effect. One should be able to control any DSP algorithm with a controllable parameter.

Ready for the studio?

Quite a few pros immediately noted the lack of balanced outputs and asked “Is Yamaha serious about attracting pros to the Genos?” Another question often raised is, “What happened to PAC?” The S/PDIF digital output is good enough to connect to home audio equipment, but the professional studio (and stage) expects balanced outputs.

Another missing feature is audio over USB and/or DAW integration. Fortunately, these features can be added through a software update; balanced outputs cannot.

Really ready for EDM?

Now, I’m not really an EDM person. I like down-tempo and I’m hoping to compose down-tempo tracks once the snow flies and the weather keeps me in. A few common themes recur in on-line forums.

The Genos adopts arpeggios and arpeggio control features from the PSR-S970. True EDM people are expecting more, however. At the very least, Yamaha need to add user-defined arpeggios, maybe in release 1.1. User-defined arps were a much-requested item for the Montage punch-list; Genos is no different.

Yamaha, if you’re listening, there is an active thread about arpeggios in the Genos section of the PSR Tutorial Forum. Please read through it.

If you want to attract younger composers and players to Genos, Yamaha need to be bolder and faster.

Built-in expansion memory

Yamaha are committed to built-in flash expansion memory which cannot be expanded by the end user. Not to put too fine a point on it, the flash memory expansion modules are dead. If you’re getting rid of your Tyros, Motif, or MOXF, get rid of the modules, too. If you’re looking for a bargain Tyros 5, Motif XF or MOXF, be sure to get flash expansion modules thrown into the deal. (If you’re buying a MOXF, keep an eye on the Yamaha promotions web page.)

As I explained in another post, I believe that the Genos internal file system resides in the same physical memory unit as the user expansion waveform memory. The total capacity of this memory is 64GB and is partitioned into the 58GB internal file system and the 1.8GB voice expansion memory. If 1.8GB is too small, I wonder if Yamaha could be persuaded to repartition the memory and make the voice expansion memory bigger (at the expense of file system size)? This is all speculative, of course.

Audio styles

Audio styles have not disappeared — just deemphasized. Audio styles were not universally popular. So, audio styles have been dropped from initial factory content and will be provided at a later date. Users will be able to load audio styles, if they so desire.

I still believe that Yamaha will introduce full audio styles, that is, styles with melodic parts that follow the current chord type and root. When Yamaha re-launch audio styles, they will be “audio styles done right.” I think they learned a lot from the S950, S770, S970 and Tyros 5 in this regard. Release date? Who knows?

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos internal memory: A speculation

First, you have to get the mule’s attention.

Yamaha Genos™ hasn’t hit the streets yet and here is a speculative article about its hardware design…

I’d like to thank Kari V., Mihai and Joe H. on the PSR Tutorial Forum for getting this mule’s attention. They deserve the credit.

Spex

Here are a few Genos specifications that drew curious looks:

  • Polyphony: 256 (max.) (128 for Preset Voice + 128 for Expansion Voice)
  • Voice expansion memory: Approximately 1.8GBytes
  • Internal memory: Approximately 58GBytes

Normally, a Tyros has a large hard disk inside for bulk storage. The hard drive contains a file system to hold style files, song files, text files and a whole lot more. The Tyros 5 shipped with a 500GB hard disk drive. Tyros 5 internal memory — some form of non-volatile flash — is spec’ed at approximately 6.7MBytes. Yes, megabytes.

Word from the demonstrations is that the Genos has neither a hard disk drive nor a solid state drive (SSD). Thus, “Internal memory” is not directly user expandable or upgradeable. Eliminating the hard disk drive, the bracket and access door makes good sense because it reduces weight and chassis complexity. SSDs are still a little pricey for a cost-sensitive manufacturer like Yamaha. If it’s not a hard drive and if it’s not an SSD, then what is it?

Next, what’s up with that polyphony spec? 128 voice polyphony when you play preset voices only and 128 voice polyphony when you play a voice from user voice expansion memory? That’s rather unorthodox.

The high-level view

This is where the Yamaha SWP70 tone generator (TG) integrated circuit (IC) comes into the story.

The SWP70 uses ONFI-compatible NAND flash as its waveform memory. “ONFI” is the industry standard Open NAND Flash Interface. ONFI-compatible chips are the same NAND flash used in SSDs. The SWP70 caches the waveform data in a fast SDRAM just like an SSD in order to have fast, random access to samples.

Yamaha have created a tone generator IC that integrates an SSD-like flash and cache controller. This design eliminates the cost and latency of the SATA bus which normally connects an SSD within a PC or Mac.

For the hardware inclined, here’s a short speculative answer. There are two tone generator ICs each having their own ONFI flash memory. One TG and flash memory (call this one “TG A”) handles factory presets. The other TG and flash memory (call this “TG B”) handles user expansion voices.

The “TG B” flash memory is 64GBytes of ONFI NAND flash. Through software, it is partitioned into a file system partition (62GB?) and a user expansion voice partition (2GB).

The file system partition contains the initial factory content (4GB). The remaining space (58GB) is the “Internal memory” quoted in the Genos specifications.

So, Yamaha engineering decided to use space in one of the ONFI flash memories for bulk storage in order to cut the weight and expense of a magnetic hard drive (heavy) or an SSD (lighter than a hard drive, but not cheap).

If this is true — if — then there are some positive implications for the future of Genos. More at another time.

Ingenious, yes. User expandable, no.

Do I know this for sure? Oh, hell no. We need a service manual. Even a visual inspection of the digital logic board (DM) might not be conclusive.

The low-level view

The notional diagram below shows some of the major interfaces to the SWP70. [Click on images to enlarge.]

  • The CPU bus connects the SWP70 to the main control CPU and other major subsystems that require CPU-based data and control.
  • The ABUS allows SWP70s to communicate with each other when more than one SWP70 is in a system.
  • The waveform memory (NAND flash) communicates with the SWP70 over a Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) bus. This open industry standard lets Yamaha use commodity flash memory for waveform ROM. Waveform memory is split into upper and lower bytes with shared control signals. This arrangement instantly doubles bus bandwidth versus a single ONFI data channel.
  • The Serial audio bus brings audio data into the SWP70 (e.g., from the ADC) and sends audio data to the DACs and other subsystems.

Then, the fun begins. The SWP70 has three parallel SDRAM memory channels for wave and DSP working memory.

  • The DSP working memory is a large, scratch-pad memory for effect computation. I believe this memory is also the working memory for Montage FM-X.
  • The Wave working memory is a fast, read/write data cache which holds samples after they are read from the waveform memory. Remember, NAND flash favors sequential block mode read access, transferring data on the nibble-serial ONFI bus. The wave working memory plays the same role as the data cache in an SSD storage unit.

Memory capacities vary across products depending upon target polyphony, effect workload and, of course, the sample set.

Here are capacities for the PSR-S770, PSR-S970 and Montage. All capacities are physical (i.e., raw physical storage space).

             AWM     Waveform    Wave     DSP
          Polyphony   Memory   Working  Working
          ---------  --------  -------  -------
PSR-S770     128      512MB      32MB     8MB
PSR-S970     128       2GB       32MB     8MB
Montage      128*      4GB       32MB    16MB
          * Stereo/mono

The Montage DSP working memory is twice as large as the PSR-S970 reflecting the larger number of supported effect units.

The ONFI standard is the same standard used in solid state drives (SSD). Thus, Yamaha can reap the benefit of lower cost commodity flash. The wave working memory caches data just like an SSD. The SWP70 design yields maximum bandwidth to and from NAND flash without the expense or latency of a SATA bus. Thanks to ONFI, Yamaha can increase waveform memory size by dropping in higher capacity ONFI-compatible devices. User waveform (voice) expansion memory resides in these same memory components, so one should expect bigger user expansion memory in the future as well as bigger factory sample sets.

The SWP70 reads and writes two flash memories in tandem effectively sending a 16-bit word on each ONFI bus cycle. (See diagram below.) One memory provides the HIGH byte and the other memory provides the LOW byte. The same ONFI control signals are sent to both. For people who like to trash Yamaha for not using SSD, please note that tandem access doubles the transfer bandwidth over a single ONFI data path solution. (Of course, an SSD could do the same thing.)

I’ll bet that using the ONFI waveform memory for file system access made the tone generation guys nervous. Would file system traffic rob memory bandwidth from the tone generators?

Yamaha know latency. They spend a lot of time, money and intellectual effort understanding latency and conquering it. That’s where the second waveform working memory comes into play. Samples heading to the tone generators could be held in one waveform working memory while file system data could be held in the second, separate working memory. This organization separates the memory traffic and prevents file access from disturbing the critical, must-be-predictible sample stream. When the two channels arbitrate for the ONFI bus, the sample stream feeding tone generation could be given priority.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

A few quick Genos links

Just wanted to offer a few quick Yamaha Genos™ links.

If you haven’t seen the Genos demo by Martin Harris, please don’t wait any longer. Martin is one of the key Genos developers. Pay close attention! His demonstrations always hit the sweet spots in a new Yamaha keyboard. There is a no talking, all playing demonstration, too.

I also would like to draw your attention to Frank Ventresca’s blog post about the Yamaha Genos. Frank attended the Genos demo in New York City.

Full disclosure: I bought my Yamaha PSR-S950 from Frank at Audioworks CT. I met Frank when I tested the Tyros 5 at his store. He is a knowledgeable, solid guy who gigs with this gear. A good dude.

Played a Montage, again, yesterday. The Genos vs. Montage battle is alive in my mind. I’m not in a big hurry to buy, so please expect this comparison to drag out — possibly until NAMM 2018 when the “Half Monty”, MOXF successor might be announced. Oh, yeah, that one is in the works. Sometime.

Genos genesis

After fits and starts due to early leaks, Yamaha have launched the Yamaha Genos™ digital workstation. You can check out Yamaha’s content through the Genos concept site or the Genos product pages. [Click images to enlarge.]

There’s no point in regurgitating Yamaha’s on-line content, so I will just summarize highlights here.

  • Size: 48-9/16″W x 5-7/16″H x 17-15/16″D
  • Weight: 28lb, 11oz (13.0kg)
  • 9″ color touch screen (TFT color WVGA 800 x 480 pixels)
  • Live Control display (OLED 589 x 48 pixels)
  • 9 sliders and 6 knobs that are fully assignable
  • 76-key FSX keyboard
  • Joystick with modulation and joystick HOLD
  • Synthesis: AWM2 and Articulation Element Modeling (AEM)
  • Polyphony: 256 (128 for preset voice + 128 for expansion voice)
  • 550 styles total (punchy drums and DSP effects)
  • 1,652 voices + 58 drum/SFX kits
  • 216 arpeggios: instrument arps, e.g., strums and control arps automate Live Control
  • 28 insert effects including VCM effects
  • Vocal Harmony and Synth Vocoder
  • Audio recording: Audio (WAV 44.1kHz, 16-bit, stereo) and MIDI SMF
  • Audio playback: WAV (44.1kHz, 16-bit, stereo) and MP3
  • MultiPads (both audio and MIDI)
  • Internal memory: 58GBytes (approximately)
  • Connectivity
    • S/PDIF digital audio output
    • Three USB TO DEVICE ports (front panel, back panel, bottom)
    • Wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) depending on regional type acceptance
  • 32-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC)
  • 1.8GBytes user voice expansion memory built-in

The Genos looks to be a nice overhaul of the now staid Tyros product line. If you’re familiar with Tyros — and I’m assuming that you are — then you are not super surprised at some of the features while being pleased (or not) to have a color touch screen, lots of assignable knobs, sliders and buttons, a secondary OLED display to show parameters, doubled polyphony, S/PDIF, wireless LAN (maybe, in your region), and a 32-bit DAC.

Yamaha have chosen to issue only a single 76-key model; no 61, no 88. This gives them interesting options for line extension. Go small and save weight, or feed the world’s almost insatiable hunger for 88-key piano-like objects?

You might also be surprised to not see audio styles. I think the original audio styles confused most users. Can I save them to USB drive? No. Did they fit many tunes other than the “reference” song? No. Handling REX format via the Yamaha Expansion Manager (YEM) should resolve these issues for advanced users. Yamaha punched up the drums to improve the live feel. (Hey, don’t Yamaha actually make drums? Just kidding.)

Featured instruments include:

  • CFX piano
  • C7 grand piano (newly sampled)
  • Kino strings
    • Newly sampled movie orchestra
    • Violins hard-panned left and right
    • Violas, cellos and contrabass center
  • Revo drums (waveform cycling)

If rumors hold true, there should be a new Strat in there somewhere as well as Gibson and Martin steel guitars and a pedal steel guitar. The electric pianos have gotten the ambient noises from the Montage EPs.

The Live Control view is nicely done. Change a knob and the display shows the new assigned parameter value. Change a slide next and the display switches to the slider settings. Good, no button needed to switch displays while playing. The knobs and sliders are integrated with drawbar settings, making the Genos could be a worthy clone competition or a close substitute for a clone. The new rotary speaker effect (from the Montage?) sounds good. But, Yamaha, you left out the chorus (vibrato only). Don’t chuck your Reface YC.

The playlist feature looks to be a very useful addition. The playlist organizes registration banks for quick access. The PSR/Tyros registration concept is a very powerful one and I wish that Montage had a similar capability. I love registrations because, bang, in one button press, I have a song ready to play. (More about this another day.)

Having a USB device port hidden under the unit is a great idea. Ever have a drunken chucklehead at a bar try to pull out your USB drive? Ever be a chucklehead yourself? 🙂 More manufacturers should do this.

A new release of Yamaha Expansion Manager (version 2.5) is planned for November 2017, roughly in sync with first deliveries. YEM will have support for WAV, AIFF, SoundFont and REX formats.

A new release of MegaEnhancer (version 1.5) will be available in November, also. MegaEnhancer changes the MIDI data in a Standard MIDI File (SMF) to use Yamaha’s MegaVoices.

The iPad app SongBook+ is also on the way. SongBook+ organizes songs with lyrics, notation, and other information. A song may also be linked to a registration — a very handy feature for performers who need to home in on the complete set-up for a song during performance. I play with charts; I like this.

The USA manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $6,799 and MAP is expected to be $5499.

From a hardware guy’s point of view, there are a few things to think about. The 32-bit DAC is a first for Yamaha. Even Montage does not sport S/PDIF. No mention of Pure Analog Circuit, so the audio back-end must be new, new, new.

The polyphony spec is très intéressant: 128 for preset voices and 128 for expansion voices. Hmmm, how did Yamaha arrange (pun intended) the SWP70 tone generators and NAND flash memory?

So, Yamaha have 1.8GBytes of flash left over for voice expansion. There simply is not enough information to infer waveform memory size, so we’ll all be waiting for the service manual.

Speaking of manuals, there aren’t any available at the time of this writing. No owner’s manual, reference manual or data list. Nada. The early leaks forced Yamaha’s hand to launch the Genos two weeks early and now we will wait. First deliveries are anticipated for November. Déjà vu all over again.

I am literally weighing the Genos (13kg) versus the Montage (15kg) as my next ax. There is still a huge amount to learn about the Genos as it is revealed. Has the sequencer gotten an overhaul? Does the Genos support deep voice editing? The user interface does look inviting and I look forward to seeing more.

Sometimes a little bit of information just leads to more questions.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski