NAMM 2018: Half Monty, Full Monty

Winter NAMM 2018 is January 25 to 28 in Anaheim, California. Get your ear protectors ready!

Even though I’ve been concentrating on the Yamaha Genos™, two Yamaha promotions have not escaped my attention.

Back in October, Yamaha began offering a MOXF promotion: Buy a MOXF and get an FL512M flash memory expansion board and the MOXF Premium Content Pack. Not bad. The MOX6 is my gig workhorse and I still enjoy playing it even though I have often pined for flash expansion memory. If you like the Motif XF sound or miss built-in sequencing, then now is a good time to find a good deal on the MOXF and buy one.

This is one of those rare times when a promotion is a harbinger of a future product release. The MOXF uses the previous generation AWM2 tone generation chip, SWP51L. The SWP51L has been superceded by the SWP70 family now deployed in the Montage, PSR-S770/S970 and Genos. The MOXF is the only current product in the synth and arranger product lines based on the SWP51L. Once Yamaha uses up its internal supply of SWP51Ls, that’s it.

So, the MOXF is due to be refreshed (like the MX line) or updated. If you’re OK with the MOXF as it is — and it is a fine machine — then make your move now or wait a little longer for close-out.

Be sure to take advantage of the free flash offer or get you dealer to kick in an expansion board. Yamaha have moved to built-in flash expansion memory and this is definitely the end of the line for the Yamaha flash expansion boards. The boards do not “speak” with the new tone generator and you won’t need them for future Yamaha products.

What would the MOXF replacement look and sound like? Would the MOXF be a “half-Monty?” Tough question.

I’ve spent a lot of time researching both the Montage and Genos as my next instrument for the long-term. Due to the widespread availability of Montage, I’ve had more seat time with Montage (several hours over several days) than the Genos (a two hour go at Audioworks CT). I play an MOX6 and/or PSR-S950 on a daily basis.

Given this experience, Yamaha’s top-of-the-line (TOTL) instruments are more than an incremental cut above middle-of-the-line instruments. In terms of control (knobs, sliders and such) and sound, the TOTL is way above the mid-range.

Hope springs eternal. People are hoping that the next mid-range arranger workstation will be a “mini-Genos.” Similarly, synth people may be hoping for a “half-Monty.”

I think these people will be disappointed. Montage and Genos command a premium price and they both need the feature set and sound to justify the TOTL value proposition. I think the big gap between TOTL and mid-range will persist. In the case of the MOXF replacement, Yamaha aren’t under much pressure to make and sell a half-Monty (e.g., a synth with the Montage’s AWM2 sound set, no FM). The recently refreshed MX, at the low end, has the Motif XS sound set, now ten years old. The MOXF has the very respectable seven year old Motif XF sound set and the sequencing capability that so many people miss in Montage. Thus, Yamaha could give the MOXF a minor spiff and still have a very marketable product in the mid-range.

The same reasoning applies to the next mid-range arranger workstations.

Hey, so I mentioned two promotions. The second promotion is “Buy a Montage and get a pair of HS5 studio monitors for free.” Until the Yamaha promotion came along, Sweetwater was giving away a free Yamaha Reface CS with the purchase of a Montage. The Montage (AKA “the full Monty”) is just turning two years old. I’m a little surprised that the Montage needs a promotion at this point to spur sales.

Might we expect a Montage 2.0 at NAMM? Yamaha have issued a series of successful, substantive updates for the Montage and a major software update might give the full Monty a bit of a shove and a boost.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

First glimpse: Yamaha MX88BK

Thanks to Michael at the PSR Tutorial forum, we have the first glimpse of the newest member of Yamaha’s MX synthesizer family — the MX88 in black (MX88BK). The MX88BK is an 88-key version of the popular MX49 and MX61 keyboards. The MX88BK has a GHS graded hammer action. It has the same 128 voice polyphony as its brother and sister, and has the same software update for class-compliant USB audio/MIDI.

The MX88BK is 6.6 x 52 x 16 inches and weighs 30.6 pounds. The MX88BK will have a street price around $1,000 USD.

The MX88BK is the replacement for the MM8. The Yamaha USA site still shows the MM8 as a current product and it’s still possible to order the MM8 from on-line retailers. The MM8 has a GHS keyboard and has a street price around $900 USD. Yamaha is offering a $200 rebate on the MM8. The offer is valid from April 1, 2017 through June 30, 2017.

The MM8’s price hits the sweet spot of a GHS piano/synthesizer keyboard around $1,000 (new). The MX88BK will hit the same spot. This is Yamaha’s strategy of offering products across a spectrum of prices and buyers — something for everybody.

The long view

Here’s some information attributed to Martin Harris from Yamaha. Martin is one of the key sound developers at Yamaha:

  • Better Pianos
  • New Strings – 70 piece Seattle Symphony Orchestra Mega
  • New Orchestral Brass – highly dynamic
  • New Tuned Percussion – Glock, Xylo, Marimba and Vibes (with motor on)
  • New Mega guitars – Telecaster with Finger and Plectrum
  • SA2 Celtic Violin
  • New Synth Voices
  • New Classical Choir – Cathedral ambience
  • New Gospel Choir – Various articulations and Ad libs
  • New Pop Vocals – 4 session singers, 2 male and 2 female
  • Singing many dynamics and many articulations (wave cycling)

Montage? No, Tyros 4. The “SA2” should be a clue as the Montage does not provide Super Articulation 2 (SA2) voices.

My purpose here is not to be tricky, but to make the case that sample-based workstations or synthesizers draw from the sound pool that is available at development time, much the same way that hardware designers draw on the pool of available components. Products cannot be composed of imaginary circuits (“sand”), software, and sounds, after all.

To better illustrate this point, here is a rough timeline for the Tyros and Motif product lines with a few mid-range products (S9xx and MOX) thrown in:

             Tyros                        Motif/Montage
----   ------------------  ------------------------------------------
Year   Model     Physical  Model     Physical  Uncompressed waveforms
----   ------------------  ------------------------------------------
2001                       Motif      48MB     84MB 1,309 waveforms
2002   Tyros      96MB
2003                       Motif ES   96MB     175MB 1,859 waveforms
2004
2005   Tyros 2   192MB
2006
2007                       Motif XS  128MB     355MB 2,670 waveforms
2008   Tyros 3   256MB
2009
2010   Tyros 4   512MB     Motif XF  256MB     741MB 3,977 waveforms
2011                       MOX       128MB     355MB 2,670 waveforms
2012   PSR-S950  256MB
2013   Tyros 5   768MB     MOXF      256MB     741MB 3,977 waveforms
2014
2015   PSR-S970    2GB
2016                       Montage     4GB     5.67GB 6,347 waveforms

I included physical wave memory size for each product. I also included the uncompressed total sample size and number of waveforms for each member of the Motif/Montage line.

Clearly, Yamaha know how to ride the memory technology curve. Memory technology has progressed to the point where it is no longer a significant hardware design factor. Rather, the amount of wave memory in a product depends more upon the ability of the sound designers to fill it with quality content and mid- versus premium-product grading (i.e., the target market segment and price point for the model). For example, note that the mid-range S970 has more than twice the physical wave memory than the Tyros 5. Although the “expansion memory” is reserved in the S970’s physical wave memory, the S970 waveform content is substantially smaller than the Tyros 5.

The other characteristic to note is how the Tyros and Motif lines tend to leapfrog each other. Generally, the Tyros line leads the Motif line in physical wave memory and content. This is partly due to the higher memory requirements of SA2 voices, which require many additional articulation samples.

Both the Tyros 4 and Motif XF were released in 2010. Both machines use two SWP51L tone generators. (Newer products like the Montage use the SWP70 tone generator.) The Tyros 4 has twice the physical wave memory capacity with respect to the Motif XF. Yet, the Tyros 4 has sample content which did not make it to a deliverable product in the Motif line until the Montage in 2016: Seattle strings, orchestral brass, Celtic violin, vocals (choir and scat), Telecaster guitar and suitcase electric piano.

Tyros 5 expanded this content in 2013. The Motif XF, on the other hand, received a significant update in January 2014. The V.150 update added the “Real Distortion” effects implemented by the Tyros 5. (A few Real Distortion effects actually premiered in the mid-range S950.) The V1.50 update and the “White Motif” color job were life-extenders for the Motif line. I’ve conjectured before that Montage development was late and this is further evidence.

So, what can we expect in the Tyros successor which I’m calling the “Tyros++”. (Yamaha have trademarked the name “GENOS” which may be the name of the follow-on. Only Yamaha really knows.) Personally, I’m hoping for the new orchestral woodwinds from Montage. These are superbly expressive voices. I’m also expecting improved electric pianos, again, of comparable quality to the Montage.

SA2 voices will probably remain exclusive to the Tyros line. Many folks hoped that Montage would have SA2 and it didn’t. SA2 is an important product differentiator — kind of like the premium “Natural” piano voices are to the Clavinova line. I suspect that FM voices will be a differentiator for the premium Montage line in years to come as well. Yamaha tends to think of these three product lines as distinct, so cross-over is carefully controlled and limited.

All of this talk about samples and wave memory size is overly reductionist. The three main (DMI) product lines — Tyros, Motif/Montage, Clavinova — have distinct personalities and features. Motif/Montage is a synthesizer for stage and production studio. Clavinova is primarily a home or church piano. Tyros serves double duty as a home keyboard and as a workstation for performing professionals. (Oddly, many USA customers scoff at this latter role.)

Although these are all fine instruments, the personalities have quirks. Upper-range Clavinovas are Tyros-in-disguise except for multi-pads, third RIGHT voice (i.e., only two voice layers in the right hand), and no expansion memory. Tyros does not have the deep editing or modulation features of the Motif/Montage. The Motif and Montage — strangely! — do not have a tonewheeel organ mode. This latter omission is hard to understand since the Montage competes against other “stage” products like the Korg Kronos and Nord Stage.

Having compared voice programming between PSR-S950 (Tyros 3 without SA2 voices) and MOX (Motif XS sound set), the product lines are voiced (programmed) differently. Motif/Montage effect programming has a harder edge than the Tyros, which is oriented toward oldies, pop and jazz standards. (Yes, Virginia, the Tyros does have latent EDM potential to be tapped.) If the Tyros++ includes the orchestral woodwinds, for example, they will probably be programmed rather differently than Montage. Tyros++ four-part divisi ensembles with the new orchestral woodwinds would be simply brilliant. Can’t wait to see and hear what happens!

One finally editorial comment. The world is filled with product reviews. Publications like Keyboard magazine, Electronic Musician, etc. focus on individual products and rarely present a deep, long-term perspective on products. Sound On Sound reviews occasionally give historical background — usually for esoteric, retro studio pieces. As consumers, we need the long view in order to make the most informed choice.

Motif styles for your arranger!

I’m pleased to announce my collection of Motif performance styles for the Yamaha PSR-S950 arranger and its close cousins: Tyros 5, PSR-S770 and PSR-S970.

Motif and MOX are great song-writing machines with thousands of built-in musical phrases. In Motif-speak, these phrases are called “arpeggios.” Motif/MOX also have built-in “Performances” which combine these musical phrases into jam-along song starters. Although Motif-series workstations are not arranger keyboards, the Performances are fun for live jams, covering many modern genres (contemporary jazz, funk and R&B) which are underserved by arranger workstations.

To fill this gap, I translated 23 Motif performances to PSR/Tyros styles. In keeping with the original source material, these styles are stripped down and lean. No orchestration to get in the way! Some styles use only bass and drum. INTROs and ENDINGs are short and basic. Depending upon the source performance, a translated style may have only three MAIN sections. However, all styles bring the groove.

Many of the styles use Megavoice bass and guitar. Plus, I’ve added appropriate OTS voices. Of course, you’re welcome to ditch the OTS voices and replace them with your own.

Here is the link to the ZIP file: perf_for_s950.zip. The file unzips into a directory named “PERF_for_S950”. The ZIP file includes a short READ ME file with more information.

If you would like to know how I translate a Motif/MOX performance to a PSR/Tyros style, please read the following articles:

Tenor to the max!

A few posts ago, I deconstructed the Yamaha MOX (Motif XS) tenor saxophone patches. The article summarizes the waveform assignment and Expanded Articulation (XA) control for each element within a preset voice. I’m not going to dive into the basics here, so I recommend reviewing the article for background information on XA and its behavior.

The blog entry covered the MOX (Motif XS) tenor sax presets, but not the newer Motif XF (MOXF) presets. The XF series workstations have two additional waveforms:

  1. Tenor Sax2 Growl
  2. Tenor Sax2 Falls

bringing the XF up to the level of Tyros/PSR Super Articulation tenor sax voices. This article deconstructs the “Tenor MAX” preset which makes use of these additional waveforms. The analysis is relevant even in the Montage era because the Montage tenor sax is based upon the XF waveforms (no update in the new model).

Pushing the main topic aside for a moment, Super Articulation 2 (SArt2) voices are a whole different technology and even to this day, the Motif and Montage do not implement SArt2 voices. SArt2 seems to be a premium feature that is reserved for Tyros. SArt2 requires realtime analysis of playing gestures and computation which is beyond basic AWM2 synthesis.

The table below gives the waveform, key range, and velocity range for each element in the “Tenor MAX” patch.

    Elem#  Waveform            XA        Notes   Velocity
    -----  ------------------  --------  ------  --------
      1    Tenor Sax2 Soft     AllAFOff  C-2 G8    1   79
      2    Tenor Sax2 Med      AllAFOff  C-2 G8   80  110
      3    Tenor Sax2 Growl    AllAFOff  C-2 G8  126  127
      4    Tenor Sax2 Hard     AllAFOff  C-2 G8  111  125
      5    Tenor Sax2 Hard     AF2 On    C-2 G8    1  127
      6    Tenor Sax2 Falls    AF1 On    C-2 G8    1  127

When the AF1 and AF2 buttons are OFF, one of the first four waveforms are triggered based upon the key velocity. The four elements cover the dynamic range from soft, through medium, through hard, all the way up to growl. The AF1 and AF2 buttons select particular waveforms depending upon the player’s intention. When AF2 is ON, all key velocities trigger the hard waveform. When AF1 is ON, all key velocities trigger sax falls.

So, bottom line, the “Tenor MAX” programming is just about what I expected.

I hope the analysis of tenor sax programming has helped you to understand XA and Motif/MOX voice programming. If you’re a Tyros/PSR player, then I hope that this analysis has helped you to understand a little bit of the technology beneath the Super Articulation voices.

Montage review: Yes, I’ve played one!

The Yamaha Montage synthesizer is now hitting stores in North America. One of the local retailers (GC in Natick) have a Montage set up for demo. Let’s go!

The demo unit is a Montage8 with the 88-key balanced hammer effect keyboard. I have always liked Yamaha’s upper-end “piano” actions and the Montage8 is no exception. I primarily play lighter “synth” action keyboards like the MOX and the PSR-S950. Fortunately, I spent the previous week working out on the Nord Elecro 2 waterfall keyboard, which requires a slightly heavier touch. I played the Montage8 for a little bit more than an hour without my hands wilting — a good sign.

First off, the demo unit was plugged into two Yamaha HS7 monitors and a Yamaha HS8S subwoofer. GC usually patches keyboards through grotty keyboard amplifiers, so I suspect that Yamaha provided the monitors in order to create the best impression of the Montage. I was dismayed when I started off with a few B-3 organ patches and could not contain the low end. The front panel EQ simply didn’t do the job. Time to check the monitor settings. The HS7s were flat, but the HS8S subwoofer level was cranked. After backing off the sub, all was right with the world.

Yes, some people like to simulate small earthquakes with subsonic frequencies. This, however, is not conducive for acoustic music. It’s not conducive for peaceful co-existence with your bass player either. If you encounter a Montage in the wild, check the EQ before proceeding!

So, as you may have gathered already, this is not a review of Montage for EDM. I took along my church audition folder (covering gospel to contemporary Christian to traditional and semi-classical music) and a small binder of rock, jazz, soul and everything in between. I’d like to think that this is the first time anyone has played “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on the Montage, however poorly.

The electric pianos are terrific. I had a fine old time playing soul jazz and what not. Great connection between keys and sound. Comparing against Nord Stage, I would say that the Montage is top notch in this department and definitely a cut above the old Nord Electro 2. Yamaha did not put the Reface CP (Spectral Component Modeling) technology into Montage; they didn’t need to.

Tonewheel organ is still Yamaha’s Achilles’ heel. There is some modest improvement, but the Montage is not in clone territory. In this area, I would say, “Advantage Nord.” If I can cover B-3 with the MOX on Sunday, I’m sure that the Montage is up for medium duty. However, the tonewheel organs lack the visceral thrill of the EPs. I will say that the 88-key action did not inhibit my playing style too much. (If I was going to buy a Montage, tho’, it would be a 6.)

The pipe organs got some tweaks, mainly by enhancing the Motif pipe organ sounds via FM. There are a few lovely patches, but I will still look to the Tyros (and the PSR expansion pack) for true realism. The Nord Electro 5d has modeled principal organ pipes where the drawbars change the registration. Ummm, here, I would give the edge to Nord. Plus, the pipe organs in the Nord sample library are more on par with the Tyros and PSR expansion pack. Hate to say it: Montage pipe organs are good “synthesizer pipe organs,” and that ain’t entirely a compliment.

The new strings are wonderfully realistic, especially for solo/melody lines. I really enjoyed bringing sections in and out dynamically. (The expression pedal was sync’ed to the SuperKnob.) With the changes in our music ministry group, I’ve been playing more melodic and exposed parts. I could really dig playing a reflective improvisation for meditation using the strings and woodwinds under Motion Control.

The classical woodwinds got a boost in Montage, too. The woodwinds are all excellent although the sonic delta above Motif XF (MOXF and MOX, too) was not as “Wow” as the strings. Most likely, my ears were getting tired at that point…

Since I was losing objectivity, I just briefly touched on brass. I need good French horns and Montage did not disappoint. I wish that I had spent time with the solo trumpets and trombones, but my ears were telling me to knock it off.

The new Telecaster (TC) is quite a treat. The “Real Distortion” effects (Motif XF update 1.50) are now standard and the programmers made good use of them. I wish that the Montage had the voice INFO screen from the PSR/Tyros series. The INFO screen displays playing tips and articulations for each voice. This makes it a lot easier to find and exploit the sonic “Easter eggs” in the patches. (“Play AF1 to get a slide. Play AF2 to get a hammer on.”)

Fortunately, it was a rainy Saturday afternoon and the store was empty — disturbed only by the occasional uncontrolled rugrat pounding on some poor defenseless keyboard. Overall, I felt like I really heard the Montage and could make a fair evaluation.

I did not dive into editing, arpeggios, motion sequencing, recording, etc., so this is surely not a comprehensive review. Anyone spending less than one month with this ax cannot claim “comprehensive.” It just ain’t possible, so I would call my initial opinion, “first impressions.” That said, I can see why the Live Sets are important. I mainly dove in through Category Search where some of the touch buttons are a wee too small. Punching up a sound in full combat requires BIG buttons.

Montage looks, feels and sounds like a luxury good. Montage is also priced like a luxury good. The Montage8 MAP is $4000 USD. It is quite a beast physically and I would most likely go for the Montage6 at a “mere” 33 pounds and $3000 USD. None of the Montage line would be an easy schlep, especially when I have to buzz in and out of my church gig fast.

Would I buy one? Tough call. On the same field trip, I got to sit in a Tesla Model S ($71,000 USD) — a luxury car built around a computer monitor or two. I just recently bought a Scion iM (AKA Toyota Auris, Levin, Blade, whatever) for about $20,000 USD. Both cars could get me to the gym and back. I like my iM. What does that say about me as a customer? Do you think I would buy a Montage? Enigmatic.

See the list of new waveforms in the Montage. Also, check out the latest blog posts! Update: May 10, 2016.

Explicit Sax

Hope you got your Motif XF. The current stock is gone, gone, gone.

Comparing waveforms (Montage vs. XF) got me interested in the tenor sax samples and voices. The Yamaha MOX has the basic tenor sax samples (Med, Hard, Growl) while the Motif XF rounds out the set with Soft dynamic samples and falls. The XF (and MOXF) showcase the tenor sax in the “Tenor Max” preset voice.

Since I was curious to discover “what I’m missing,” I deconstructed four tenor sax patches on the MOX. Also, I compared the MOX voices against the Super Articulation tenor sax voices on the PSR-S950 arranger workstation in a listening test. The A/B test was enlightening as the MOX and S950 use the same waveforms — at least to my aging ears! The S950 triggers the samples using Super Articulation (SA) rules while the MOX triggers the samples using Expanded Articulation (XA) rules. Rules aside, you get to the same sonic place.

With XA, there are three main ways that samples are selected and triggered:

  1. Normal: Triggered when keys are played in the regular way.
  2. Legato: Triggered when Mono/Poly mode is Mono and keys are played in a legato manner, i.e. one or more keys are held while a new key is struck.
  3. AF1 and AF2: Triggered when either AF1 is ON, AF2 is ON or AF1/AF2 are both OFF and a key is struck. (The switch states are exclusive.)

See the Yamaha Synthesizer Paramater Manual for all the gory details. XA and SA differ in the amount of automated decision making made by the control software. SA is more automated and XA is more manual, giving the player more explicit control over articulations.

First up is the PRE5:008(A08)Tenor Dynamic AF1 voice. The AF1 and AF2 buttons are assigned in the following way:

    AF1: Mono/Poly mode
    AF2: FEG-D1

The AF1 and AF2 buttons do not affect sample selection in this voice other than putting the keyboard into Mono mode or Poly mode. Thanks to this simplification, it’s a good place to start ‘splaining.

The table below gives the waveform, key range, velocity range and volume level for each element in the patch.

    Elem#  Waveform            XA      Notes   Veloc  Level
    -----  ------------------  ------  ------  ------ -----
      1    Tenor Sax2 Med      Normal  C-2 G8  1   60   110
      2    Tenor Sax2 Med      Normal  C-2 G8  61  90   110
      3    Tenor Sax2 Med Of   Legato  C-2 G8  1   90    86
      4    Tenor Sax2 Hard     Normal  C-2 G8  91 127   120
      5    Tenor Sax2 Hard Of  Legato  C-2 G8  91 127    95
      6    Small Tabla Dom     Legato  C4  G8  1  127    52
      7    Small Tabla Dom     Legato  C-2 B3  1  127    78
      8    Sine                Legato  C-2 G8  1  127    78

The element levels are programmed to even out the perceived loudness across waveforms. Of course, there are many parameters for each element beyond what is shown in the table. For example, each dynamic level (velocity range) has its own filter and amplitude characteristics. There may even by a little velocity-sensitive pitch scoop at the beginning of a note!

The tenor sax waveforms (elements 1 to 5) cover the entire key range: C-2 to G8. The waveforms are assigned to different velocity ranges and are selected (and triggered) depending upon Normal or Legato playing gestures. The first element is triggered when a Normal (detached) gesture is detected and the key velocity (i.e., how hard the key is struck) is between 1 and 60 inclusive. The second element is triggered under the same conditions except the key velocity is between 61 and 90 inclusive. The AF1 button toggles between Mono and Poly mode — whether a legato gesture triggers a Legato element or Normal element.

You can see that only one of the first 5 elements is triggered at a time depending upon the combination of gesture, note range and velocity range. The Tenor Sax2 Med waveforms are played for quieter dynamic levels and the Tenor Sax2 Hard waveforms are played for the louder dynamic levels.

The Tenor Sax2 Med Of and Tenor Sax2 Hard Of waveforms are triggered by a Legato playing gesture. The “Of” in the waveform name means “Offset” and sample playback starts later in the waveform data, that is, skipping the attack part of the waveform. This eliminates the initial attack which is characteric of a sax playing detached notes.

Elements 6 to 8 are triggered only for Legato notes. These elements add a low-level “pop” at the beginning of each note. Think of this sound as a “connective tone” between notes. Tyros’s Super Articulation 2 technology (also known as “Articulated Element Modeling”) blends actual connective tones between notes, producing realistic articulations. The blending requires considerably more samples and processing power than the MOX or the S950.

The PRE5:009(A09) Tenor Soft Legato voice is a simplified version of the first patch. AF1 selects Mono and Poly modes. (AF2 is unassigned.) The patches use only the “Med” waveforms to achieve an overall softer timbre.

    Elem#  Waveform            XA      Notes   Veloc  Level
    -----  ------------------  ------  ------  ------ -----
      1    Tenor Sax2 Med      Normal  C-2 G8  1   70   110
      2    Tenor Sax2 Med Of   Legato  C-2 G8  1   80    99
      3    Tenor Sax2 Med      Normal  C-2 G8  71 127   110
      4    Tenor Sax2 Med Of   Legato  C-2 G8  81 127    99
      6    Small Tabla Dom     Legato  C4  G8  1  127    46
      7    Small Tabla Dom     Legato  C-2 B3  1  127    75
      8    Sine                Legato  C-2 G8  1  127    59

There are two dynamic levels (lower and higher velocity ranges) and two playing gestures (Normal and Legato) forming four combinations of dynamic level and gesture. Elements 6 to 8 implement a connective tone as previously described.

Life gets more interesting in the PRE5:0010(A10) Velo Growl Legato patch. AF1, again, selects Mono and Poly modes. (AF2 is unassigned.)

    Elem#  Waveform            XA      Notes   Veloc   Level
    -----  ------------------  ------  ------  ------- -----
      1    Tenor Sax2 Hard     Normal  C-2 G8  1    60   119
      2    Tenor Sax2 Med Of   Legato  C-2 G8  1    60    86
      3    Tenor Sax2 Growl    Normal  C-2 G8  61  127   125
      4    Tenor Sax2 Hard Of  Legato  C-2 G8  61  100   102
      5    Tenor Sax2 Growl Of Legato  C-2 G8  101 127    94
      6    Small Tabla Dom     Legato  C4  G8  1   127    52
      7    Small Tabla Dom     Legato  C-2 B3  1   127    78
      8    Sine                Legato  C-2 G8  1   127    78

There are roughly three dynamic levels:

  • Velocity 1 to 60: A hard attack is triggered for Normal notes and a soft attack, medium sax is triggered for Legato notes.
  • Velocity 61 to 100: A growl sax is triggered for Normal notes (up to velocity 127) and a soft attack, hard sax is triggered for Legato notes.
  • Velocity 101 to 127: A soft attack, growl sax is triggered for Legato notes.

This programming allows interesting one-hand control. Play soft to get a pure sax tone and play hard to get a growl. Play detached to get a harder attack and play legato to get a softer note attack (when Mono mode is selected via AF1).

The fourth and final patch is PRE5:011(A11) Tenor Growl AF1. The buttons are assigned in the following way:

    AF1: Mono/Poly mode and growl waveform
    AF2: Tenor Sax1 waveform

As you’ll see in the table below, the AF2 button selects the original Motif Tenor Sax1 waveform.

We again have two dynamic levels triggered by velocity ranges 1 to 100 and 101 to 127. Here, the assignable function buttons really come into play.

    Elem#  Waveform            XA        Notes   Veloc   Level
    -----  ------------------  --------  ------  ------- -----
      1    Tenor Sax2 Med      AllAFOff  C-2 G8  1   100   120
      2    Tenor Sax2 Hard     AllAFOff  C-2 G8  101 127   125
      3    Tenor Sax2 Growl    AF1 On    C-2 G8  1   127   127
      4    Tenor Sax2 Hard Of  Legato    C-2 G8  101 127   102
      5    Tenor Sax2 Hard Of  Legato    C-2 G8  1   100   102
      6    Tenor Sax1          AF2 On    C-2 G8  1   127   119

AF1 brings in a growl waveform (element 3) when it is turned ON. AF2 brings in an entirely different tenor sax waveform and tone (element 6) when it is turned ON. The first two elements play a pure tenor sax tone when all AF buttons are OFF. Elements 4 and 5 play a hard sax tone with a softer attack for legato playing gestures. You would be hard pressed to think about these combinations when actually playing — you just have to “go for it” intuitively, knowing that AF1 kicks in the growl.

Turning OFF AF1 while holding the key cuts off the note. Whether this is a bug or a feature is your’s to decide!

The effect programming in these four presets is not very adventurous. The effects are appropriate for a laid-back, mellow sound. Here’s a quick breakdown:

    Preset voice        Insert A   FX preset    Insert B    Dry/Wet
    -----------------  ----------  ---------  ------------  -------
    Tenor Dynamic AF1  VCM EQ 501    Flat     TempoCrosDly   D63>W
    Tenor Soft Legato  VCM EQ 501    Flat     TempoCrosDly   D59>W
    Velo Growl Legato  VCM EQ 501    Flat     TempoCrosDly   D54>W
    Tenor Growl AF1    VCM EQ 501    Flat     TempoCrosDly   D63>W

The Insert A effect is the VCM multi-band EQ. The EQ curve is flat, so the EQ is not coloring the sound at all. The Insert B effect is a tempo cross delay. The dry/wet mix is set conservatively (D54>W) or just plain off (D63>W). The system CHORUS effect is not applied and the system REVERB is a nice REV-X reverb.

The effect programming on the PSR-S950 is a little more exciting and adds a grittier sound for rock and R&B. The RockSax voice employs a distortion plus delay effect algorithm:

    PSR effect: DISTORTION+ > DST+DELAY1

    Parameter       Value
    --------------  --------
    LCH Delay       250.0 ms
    RCH Delay       300.0 ms
    Delay FB Time   375.0 ms
    Delay FB Level  +16
    Delay Mix       50
    Dist Drive      10
    Dist Output     110
    Dist EQ Low     +3 dB
    Dist EQ Mid     +1 dB
    Dry/Wet         D40>W

Transporting this effect to the MOX, you could assign AMP SIMULATOR 2 to insert A. For insert B, you could stick with the tempo cross delay or you could program a fixed delay instead (e.g., DELAY L,R (STEREO)) using the parameters above. A third possibility is to use the MOX’s COMP DISTORTION DELAY algorithm which combines the distortion and delay into a single effect block.

The S950 GrowlSax voice uses a different distortion plus delay algorithm:

    PSR effect: DISTORTION+ > V_DST S+DLY

    Parameter       Value
    --------------  --------
    Overdrive       14%
    Device          Dist2
    Speaker         Combo
    Presence        6
    Output Level    98%
    Delay Time L    250.0 ms
    Delay Time R    250.0 ms
    Delay FB Time   500.0 ms
    Delay FB Level  +12
    Dry/Wet         D32>W
    Delay Mix       44
    FB High Dump    1.0

Programming options are similar. Set MOX insert A to AMP SIMULATOR 1 and either stay with the tempo cross delay for insert B, or set insert B to a fixed delay algorithm. Or, run everything through the MOX’s COMP DISTORTION DELAY algorithm. Tune the Dry/Wet mix to taste.

Hey, here’s a bonus — the effects for the S950 slapback guitar. This might sound good with a sax, too.

    PSR effect: DISTORTION > V_DIST ROCA

    Parameter       Value
    --------------  --------
    Overdrive       20%
    Device          Vintage
    Speaker         Twin
    Presence        14
    Output Level    66%
    Delay Time      16th/3
    Delay FB Level  +3
    L/R Diffusion   +10ms
    Lag             +0ms
    Dry/Wet         D<W63
    Delay Mix       127
    FB High Dump    1.0

In this case, go with AMP SIMULATOR 1 for MOX insert A. Use either the tempo cross delay for insert B or change insert B to the TEMPO DELAY STEREO algorithm.

Even though I’ve discussed voice and effects programming in the context of the MOX, these techniques all apply to the Motif XS, XF and MOXF, too.

If you would like to know more about Super Articulation voices, then please check out: SA and SA2: Is Motif up to the task? I also saved two informative posts from the Motifator forum about Super Articulation and Expanded Articulation.

Read about Motif XF (MOXF) “Tenor MAX” voice programming. Update: 18 May 2016.

Montage: New waveforms

Well, well. Interesting times, again. Yamaha have now released the Montage Reference Manual and the Data List Manual. Download them from your local support site.

At the same time, the Motif XF is being blown out. Not only have retailers dropped prices, Yamaha itself is saying “Sayonara” with a promotional rebate of its own. If you want a Motif XF, now is a terrific time to buy!

I started the decision making process last weekend by comparing the MOX waveforms against the Motif XF waveforms. To me, new waveforms represent true value — true sonic potential — over a keyboard’s predecessor. Unless MOXF owners want all of the bells and whistles of the Motif XF (e.g., big color display, on-borad sampling, sliders, version 1.5 Real Distortion effects, etc.), they already have the XF waveforms. MOX owners have the older Motif XS factory set, so they might be interested in upgrading to Motif XF. Here is a list of Motif XF waveforms that are not in the MOX:

    CF3 4 layer (vs. MOX 3 layer)
    S6
    Clav4
    Harpsichord2
    Farfisa (Fr)
    Vox (Vx)
    Accordion2
    Accordion3
    Tango Accordian2
    Mussete Accordion
    Steirisch Accordion
    1Coil
    Jazz Guitar
    Pick Rndwound2
    Pick FlatWound
    Finger Rndwound
    Sect Strngs
    Tremolo Strings
    Live Pizzct
    Soft Trumpet
    Trumpet Vib
    Trumpet Shake
    Flugelhorn2
    French Horn Sft
    French Horn Med
    Soprano Sax3
    Alto Sax3
    Tenor Sax2 Soft
    Tenor Sax2 Falls
    Sax Breath
    Piccolo2

After looking over the list, frankly, I’m not motivated (bad pun) to buy an XF. My PSR-S950 does a great job covering these sounds. Plus, at 33.3 pounds (XF) vs. 15.4 pounds (MOX), a Motif XF is likely to remain in the studio, not at the gig.

The Yamaha Montage offers a bigger upgrade thanks to the large built-in waveform memory. Here is my first pass list of new Montage waveforms. I’ll leave it to you to comb through synth and percussion waveforms.

    CFX 9 layer
    S700 3 layer
    EP4 5 layer
    Rd Soft 5 layer
    Rd Hard 4 layer
    Rd73 5 layer
    Rd78 5 layer
    Rd KeyNoise
    Wr1 3 layer
    Wr2 4 layer
    Wr3 5 layer
    Wr KeyNoise
    Clav5 3 layer
    Clav KeyNoise
    CP80 5 layer
    CP80 KeyOff
    Vibraphone3
    Motor Vibes
    Tonewheel1 Fast/Slow
    Tonewheel2 Fast/Slow
    Tonewheel3 Fast/Slow St
    Tonewheel4 Fast
    Tonewheel5 Fast
    Tonewheel6 Fast
    SctAcc Mussete
    SctAcc
    Acc Key On/Off
    Nylon2
    Flamenco
    Steel2
    Steel3
    TC Cln Pick
    TC Cln Fing
    Acoustic2 (bass)
    Violin2 1st St
    Violin2 2nd St
    Viola2 St
    Cello2 St
    Celtic Violin
    US Strings
    Violins 1st
    Violins 2nd
    Violas
    Cellos
    ContBasses
    CelticHarp
    Trumpet 3
    Piccolo Tp
    Trombone 3
    Bass Trombone
    French Horn2
    Euphonium
    BrassSect3
    BrassSect3 Acc/Doits/Shake/Falls
    Trumpets1
    Trumpets2
    Trombones1
    Trombones2
    FrHorns2
    FrHorns3
    Clarinet2
    Clarinet3
    Oboe3
    Oboe4 NV/Stac
    Bassoon2
    Bassoon3
    Flute3
    Flute4 NV/Stac/Flutter
    Piccolo3
    Piccolo4 NV/Stac
    Low Whistle
    High Whistle
    Boys Choir
    Gospel Choir
    Syllables
    ScatCycle
    LatinCycle

Yamaha really upped the ante with new acoustic and electric piano samples. Yamaha have been promoting these improvements and rightfully so. I can’t wait to try these out. Jazzers will be glad to see the new vibraphone samples, too.

Tonewheel organ got a modest upgrade. I’ll reserve judgement until I can hear and play the Montage. The tonewheel samples have fast and slow variants, so the Leslie is probably sampled in. Not always a good sign, but, hey, I’m listening. A couple of more accordions round out the keyboard additions.

Guitars also got a modest upgrade. There are a few more acoustic guitars and two Telecaster variants (pick and finger). At this point, I must mention that all of the new waveforms have 3, 4, 5 or more layers and many articulations. So, even if the list looks short, the new voices should be quite rich and appealing.

Orchestral instruments got a major, major upgrade. As a liturgical musician who relies on these voices heavily, I’m excited. I called out only a few of the available articulations. Musicians who mock up orchestral scores or cover orchestral parts live should definitely take note of the Montage! Surprisingly, there aren’t new pipe organ waveforms. (Is an expansion pack in the works?)

Finally, there are a slew of choir and vocal samples from the Tyros 5. “Syllables” in the list above are all of the zillion duhs, doos, etc. ScatCycle includes the (infamous) scat syllables, but cycles through the syllables for variety. This is already a feature of the Tyros 5.

Given the boost in the orchestra department, I’m interested. I just wish that the Montage weighed about 20 pounds or less. Perhaps I need to wait for the MOXF follow-on in the light weight, mid-price category.

That’s it for now. I might have missed something during the first pass and will correct the list as I learn more about the Montage. At some point, I’ll take a look at Montage effects, too.

Read my initial review of the Montage8. Update: May 10, 2016.

All site content is Copyright © Paul J. Drongowski unless indicated otherwise.

Dessert topping? Floor wax?

Ah, we’re starting to hit the silly phase of keyboard micro-analysis and Web discussion vis a vis the not yet, not quite announced Yamaha Montage.

So, is it a floor wax or a dessert topping? Should we follow the holy sandal or the holy gourd?

Any other comedy bits I can rip off? 🙂

Frankly, I will probably never touch the bits which are touted to be for “EDM.” I’m not angry or even mildly perturbed that Yamaha would put such “useless” features on my keyboard. It’s a big world. Thank heaven for those features because more people will buy the Montage making it easier for Yamaha to offer this product at a lower street price. And gasp, I may even come to learn, use and love some of those “EDM” features. At the same time, I want to thank all those guys doing covers at the Holiday Inn…

I’ve been drawing up a shopping list of sounds and features which I would like to see in the Montage or whatever keyboard that replaces/upgrades my MOX6. What are those sounds and features? They’re personal. Not secret — personal. Even the Motif XF6 is a candidate, because heck, the discount is only going to get sweeter after the Montage drops. So, I also drew up a list comparing the MOX6 against the XF based on the desired feature set.

After a day of God (gig) and football (play-offs), I took a fresh glance at the high rez screen shots. Some these pictures are making more sense to me now. (Click on any of these images to get full resolution.)

montage_motion

The Motion Control Synthesis Engine concept is a more concise and powerful way to think about all of those control assignments and parameters in the current Motif/MOX UI. The Super Knob, Motion SEQ and Envelope Follower sections twitch and tweeze parameters in the AWM2 and FM-X tone generators. The Motion SEQ and Envelope Follower add a dynamic aspect to the twitching and tweezing. The Motion SEQ can sync these changes to tempo — something that you don’t always get in Motif/MOX.

This afternoon, I was busy deconstructing the programming behind a few of the drawbar organ patches on the MOX. On the current products, you can tweak individual parameters using the mod wheel, assignable function buttons or assignable knobs. Conceivably, one could control a group of parameters from the mod wheeel, for example, but setting this up through the current UI is an exercise in tedious menu diving. If Yamaha got the Montage UI right, then it should be easier to assign multiple parameters to the Super Knob (or Motion SEQ or Envelope Follower).

montage_superknob

Further, the Super Knob appears to support morphing between two scenes where a scene is a particular configuration of one or more parameters, kind of like the old AN200/DX200. Let’s say you want to be able to morph from one organ drawbar setting to another. (Thanks, Bad Mister, for this idea.) If my interpetation is correct, then it should be possible to set up the first drawbar setting as scene 1, set up the second drawbar setting as scene 2, and then morph the drawbars between the two scenes. Cool. Maybe not as flexible as moving individual bars, but workable and low stress during the gig.

Ew, did I just use one of those “EDM” features? 🙂

BTW, parts of the screenshot to the right of the Super Knob should look familiar to Motif/MOX users. The Motif/MOX UI separates Voice and Performance editing into COMMON and per-PART (or per-ELEMENT) tabbed pages. This screenshot shows the COMMON page. The first vertical column of six touch buttons on the left-hand side of the screen replace the physical function buttons that selected tabs. The second vertical column of six touch buttons replace the old physical sub-function buttons. The sub-functions in the second column depend on the what’s selected in the first column. It’s all contextual. If you know how to navigate the Motif/MOX, this should be a breeze. It looks like this page edits the knob control assignment for an FM-X voice.

montage_best_of

The Performance selection screenshot started to make more sense, too. The touch button in the upper left corner let’s us select the Performance bank. The touch button in the lower left does category search. No surprises. Each voice is tagged with up to four icons: AWM2, FM-X, MC, and SSS. The icons indicate the kind of Performance, that is, the tone generation method, Motion Control and SSS (Seamless Sound Switching).

On Saturday, I was trying to figure out the meaning of “All 9 Bars!” and how individual drawbars might be controlled. Given what I’ve inferred about the Motion Control Synthesis Engine, this Performance most likely morphs from one drawbar setting to another via the Super Knob. SSS comes into play when switching from one drawbar setting to the next such that the sound is not interrupted. Of course, this means that the number of parts is limited to eight maximum. Current Motif/MOX voices make use of waveforms like “Draw 1+3” and “Draw 2+4” to cover more than one tonewheel footage per tone generation element. It may be necessary to exploit such waveforms on the Montage, too. We’ll see.

The Seattle Sections Performance might be fun, too. Maybe it morphs from quiet strings to fortissimo? The crescendo could be gradual and tempo sync’ed — a musical effect that is difficult to play live through velocity (key dynamics).

montage_sequence

I’m rather surprised that folks are debating whether the Montage has a sequencer or not. Or whether the Montage has arpeggios or not. These features appear quite clearly in the screenshoots. There is even a physical “ARP ON/OFF” button on the front panel. Good thing it’s physical because you wouldn’t want to dig for that switch in a menu somewhere! The “lane” notion is just a way of dealing with limited vertical screen space. The UI probably uses lanes that fold up and hide rather than displaying all horizontal lanes and endlessly scrolling up and down. I’ll bet that the UI designers drew from Steinberg’s experience with Cubasis on iPad.

If one assumes that the screen captures are one-to-one, then the Montage native screen resolution is 800H by 480V pixels.

In closing, I must say that the graphic design is clean, modern and inviting. Yamaha have definitely been applying their experience with Cubasis and Mobile Music Sequencer.

Well, that’s it, folks! Like you, I’m waiting for the demo videos, manuals and a test drive. In the meantime, put on whatever moves you and chill. Maybe “Wicked Game” by Groovy Waters. Or “Lean On Me” from 20 Feet From Stardom and listen to Darlene Love testify. Peace.

Extra! Extra!

Here’s a blast from the past — quotes from the old AN200 manual about its Scene and FreeEG features.


AN200 Scene

While playing back a Pattern, turn the [SCENE] knob slowly, back and forth. Notice how the sound gradually “morphs” between 1 and 2 — in real time as you work the knob! Do this in sync with the rhythm and create your own shifting textures!

an200_scene

The exciting and powerful Scene feature lets you create and use two different Voices within a single Pattern. Most importantly, it lets you instantly switch between them or gradually “morph” from one to the other — all in real time. Now, it’s time for you to create a Scene or two of your own.


  1. Press SCENE button [1]. This is the Scene you’ll be working on first.

  2. Work the controls and get the sound you want for Scene 1. Any and all of the Synth knobs can be used.

  3. While holding down [STORE], press SCENE button [1].

  4. Do the same operation for Scene 2 — repeating Steps 1 – 3 above with SCENE button [2] this time.

AN200 FreeEG

The AN200 has so many real-time control features, it’s hard to get a grip on them all. Feel you need an extra pair of hands? Or maybe an extra two? No problem. Just use the amazing Free EG feature. The AN200 is packed with a lot of powerful recording functions — but none are quite as impressive as this. Free EG gives you up to four tracks for recording your knob moves — letting you incorporate real-time sound changes and knob moves as a part of the Pattern. So every time you play the Pattern, your knob changes play right along with it — just as you recorded them. We call this “Free EG” because it allows you to create unique, complex, continuous parameter changes that would be impossible to achieve with conventional EGs.


  1. Call up the desired Pattern, and press the red Record button.

  2. Select the Free EG track you want to record.

  3. Start the Pattern, and make your moves.

  4. To stop recording, press the Start/Stop button.

  5. To hear your Free EG recording, make sure that the appropriate track buttons are on, then press the Start/Stop button to play the Pattern.


Yamaha Montage: First (leaked) glimpse

Looks like the first credible leak about the Yamaha Montage has appeared on the gearslutz.com web site. There is a post taken from the February 2016 issue of the Music Trades NAMM Show special edition, including a small amount of text paraphrased from a Yamaha press release. Here is a short list of product features taken from the leaked text:

  • 61-, 76- and 88-key models
  • New user interface with color touch screen
  • Two sound engines: AWM2 and FM-X
  • Ten times more wave memory
  • Two times the effects as Motif XF
  • Two times the polyphony
  • Motion Control Synthesizer Engine
  • Super Knob: A single knob to control multiple parameters at once
  • Integrated flash

The blurb has the link http://4wrd.it/Montage which leads to a page that is not yet enabled.

YamahaMontage

This information is consistent with my earlier analysis. The Montage uses integrated NAND flash (no more DIMMs!). Ten times the wave memory puts total wave memory around 8GBytes (compressed? uncompressed?). This memory will be shared between the factory sound set, libraries and user samples. Polyphony is 256 voices. The XF supports 16 effect units, so the Montage should have 32 effect units (reverb, chorus and insert) total.

The picture shows a clean front panel where the touch screen has subsumed many of the front panel buttons on the XF. There are eight assignable part sliders and a master slider, along with (presumably assignable) eight knobs and buttons. The knobs and buttons are back-lit.

The Super Knob is also back-lit. It will be interesting to find out how this will be used in performance.

Of course, there are a zillion unknown details. Will the UI really be easy to use and navigate? Are there improved pianos and Spectral Component Modeling (SCM) electric pianos? Does the Montage continue phrase-oriented composition? How much internal flash memory is set aside for user samples? How much weight do we need to lug to the gig? What is the street price?

In case you missed them, here are links to two of my earlier posts speculating about the Montage:

New Yamaha workstation at NAMM 2016?
(Re)take the stage