(Re)take the stage

A good show starts in the dressing room
And work its way to the stage
— “Get Dressed” by George Clinton

With Winter NAMM 2016 just a few weeks away, I started thinking about how Yamaha might position a new synthesizer workstation (rumored to have the name “Montage”).

Motif has had a long run as a stage instrument favored by many professional touring musicians. It makes a good master controller for a backstage rig and has a wealth of great native sounds. The synth- and piano-key actions are extremely playable with good key-to-sound response.

Over the last few years, Nord and more recently Korg have been taking the stage away from Yamaha. The Nord Stage and Electro series are firmly established as gig boards and the Korg Kronos is coming on strong. Korg products seem to be sprouting everywhere on The Late Night with Stephen Colbert thanks to John Batiste — who can really rock ’em.

I doubt if Yamaha is willing to surrender the stage. This news may disappoint those players who are hoping for a mind-blowing (virtual) analog synthesizer. As a business-person, I would say, “Hmm, we made good money on the stage and in the studio with Motif. Let’s build on that success. Besides, there are plenty of ’boutique’ vendors who make great instruments, like Dave Smith.” Yamaha even granted the name “Sequential” back to Dave Smith.

Yamaha may see the Nord Stage and Korg Kronos as their primary competition for the stage in the synth workstation space. Both instruments combine multiple synthesis techniques into a single integrated package:

  • Wavetable synthesis including sample playback
  • Analog synthesis
  • Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis
  • Acoustic and electric piano emulation
  • B3 and combo organ emulation

So, which pieces are missing in the current Motif XF? Are you thinking “Reface” yet?

Let’s look at these aspects in turn.

Wavetable synthesis and sample playback

More than a few Internet posters slag AWM (Advanced Wave Memory). I suspect that many of these people would like real analog or modeled analog instead. That’s OK by me because they probably need those sounds for their music. However, there is a wide customer base who need “traditional” instruments (brass, strings, woodwinds, etc.) where sample-playback still rules. AWM is a very successful sample-playback engine and I don’t see Yamaha abandoning AWM.

Yamaha have a new tone generation engine, the SWP70 . The SWP70 is already at work in the PSR-S970 and PSR-S770 arranger workstations . The SWP70 is more than a sample-playback engine as it also performs programmable digital signal processing for effects and more. The S970 implements Motif-quality sounds and effects including Virtual Circuit Modeling (VCM) and the Real Distortion effects that were added to Motif XF in the v1.5 update.

Other posters feel that an SSD is essential for sample streaming. SSD is only one approach, however, and that approach requires a SATA interface for sample I/O. SSD is not necessarily the cheapest design nor does it minimize latency. Yamaha deconstructed the SSD functionality, threw away the SATA interface cost and latency, implemented an Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI), and embedded sample data caching into the SWP70. The SWP70 has all of the extensibility of NAND flash without the cost of the SATA controller and without SATA bus latency.

As demonstrated by the S970 and S770, the SWP70 is ready to roll for sample-playback and effects processing.

Analog synthesis and FM synthesis

I contend that the Reface products are a field test for SWP70-based synthesis methods that are not tested by the S970 and S770. I have not yet seen absolute evidence that Reface keyboards use the SWP70, but my suspicion is strong.

The Reface CS and Reface DX demonstrate analog physical modeling and 4-operator FM sound synthesis, probably using the SWP70. Please remember that the SWP70 is not just sample-playback; there are digital signal processors in there. These DSP units can be programmed for effects (reverb, etc.) or sound generation. A computer is a computer whether it is an x86 architecture machine or an embedded DSP. Both the Reface CS and Reface DX implement VCM effects, too.

Two more general points about the Reface line. First, the Reface keyboards use an ARM architecture (FM3) processor for control and user interface. This is a major departure from past Yamaha practice. Next, all four keyboards operate on battery power (six “AA” batteries). Low power operation is a significant engineering accomplishment and means that the SWP70 could be deployed in a wide range of portable products — not true of the previous generation SWP51L tone generator.

Acoustic and electric piano emulation

Yamaha demonstrated its commitment to the stage when it introduced the CP1 stage piano and its siblings. The CP1 was well-received.

The CP1 is a bit of a breakthrough product technically. The acoustic piano is implemented mainly through sample-playback. The CP1 physical wave memory is only 128 MBytes. Yamaha eventually released the CP1 acoustic piano samples for Motif XF as part of the Motif XF Premium Collection. We should expect a CP1-level piano or better in the new workstation.

Yamaha “got away” with so few samples overall because the CP1 electric pianos are implemented using Spectral Component Modeling (SCM). “SCM” covers a family of technologies including spectral modeling synthesis (SMS). SMS replaces gobs of samples with computation (AKA “modeling”). SMS eliminates the nasty sonic artifacts due to velocity switched sample-playback because, well, there aren’t any samples, just lots of computations to be performed very quickly.

The Reface CP uses SCM to implement its electric pianos. The Reface CP sounds great. (See my Reface CP snap review.) The Reface CP re-introduces Formulated Digital Sound Processing (FDSP) to model the electric piano pickup. I expect to see SCM electric pianos and a subset of FDSP in the new workstation.

B3 and combo organ emulation

B3 emulation has never been Motif’s strong suit. Nord, in particular, excel at B3 and rotary speaker emulation. Hopefully, Yamaha have addressed this defficiency by incorporating the Reface YC technology into their new workstation.

The Reface YC provides a live front panel that lets a player control the B3 drawbars, percussion, vibrato and rotary speaker on the fly. The ability to play the bars, etc. is essential to B3 technique. A few important improvements include a rotary speaker brake (STOP) position as well as SLOW and FAST, a vibrato/chorus section, and a full percussion section. Hopefully, the vibrato/chorus section emulates the Hammond vibrato/chorus scanner — an effect that is lacking in the Motif (and Tyros/PSR, for that matter).

The Reface YC implements B3 tonewheels through AWM. Is sample-playback better than Nord’s modeling? Of course, a lot rides on rotary speaker simulation, too. I can’t wait to find out. So far, I haven’t been able to find a Reface YC to try one out! If Yamaha wants to take the stage, again, it needs to nail this one.

The bottom line

Yamaha surely have the basic technology to make a machine for stage performers. Hopefully, they have implemented a user interface that is easy to learn, responsive and fun to play — kind of like the live front panels in the Reface series.

The Tyros and the new S770/S970 arrangers sport large displays. The S770 and S970 wide-screens are really nice. Lately, Yamaha have placed greater emphasis on skeuomorphic user interfaces with virtual knobs, sliders, etc. Whether Yamaha goes for a touch panel, only Yamaha knows at this point. It would be kind of cool to have virtual Reface front panels with finger-tweaking controls. But, would it be playable?

Sixteen days to go to Winter NAMM 2016 …

If you liked this article, you might enjoy:

New Yamaha workstation at NAMM 2016?
Reface YC and DX teardowns
The SWP70 tone generator
PSR-S770 and S970 internal architecture
Reface CP: Yes, I played one!

Copyright (c) 2016 Paul J. Drongowski

New Yamaha workstation at NAMM 2016?

True gearheads are already making predictions and plans for 2016 Winter NAMM, January 21-24, 2016. Winter NAMM rumors abound including “Montage,” the rumored name for the rumored new Yamaha synthesizer workstation.

See the list of new waveforms in the Montage and read my initial review of the Montage8. Update: May 10, 2016.

Find the latest links, pictures, rumors and facts here . Update: January 21, 2016.

Check out some new thoughts about the rumored workstation and preliminary comments . Update: January 18, 2016.

Many folks — myself included — anticipate the release of a new Yamaha synthesizer workstation at the next NAMM. Much has been made of the registered trademark “Montage.” I don’t really care too much about what they call it, as I care about what it will do.

Last month, I posted two articles about the new Yamaha tone generation chip called “SWP70”:

This chip made its first appearance in the new PSR-S770 and PSR-S970 arranger workstations. Lest anyone scoff, the S770 and S970 produce Motif-caliber sounds including the REAL DISTORTION effects added to the Motif XF by the v1.5 update. The previous tone generator (SWP51L) is used throughout the mid- and upper-range Yamaha keyboard products including Clavinova, MOX/MOXF, Motif XS/XF, and Tyros 4/5. The number of tone generator chips varies by product specification and, most notably, sets the maximum available polyphony. A new tone generator chip is a pretty big deal since it will have an impact on all mid- and high-grade electronic instruments across product lines.

My earlier article about the SWP70 is written from the perspective of a computer architect and is way too nerdy for normal people. 🙂 Let me break it down.

Musicians using VST plug-ins within a PC-based DAW are familiar with the concept of sample streaming. In the quest for greater realism and articulation, sample libraries have become huge. These libraries simply cannot fit into fast random access memory (RAM) for playback. As a work-around, a software instrument reads samples from a drive-based library on demand and only a small part of the entire library is resident in RAM at any given time. The process is often called “sample streaming” because the software instrument streams in the samples on demand from a large fast secondary memory like a Solid-State Drive (SSD). The Korg Kronos workstation caught everyone’s attention because it incorporates an x86-based software system that streams samples from an SSD. (For Kronos-related articles, look here and here.)

The SWP70 combines streaming with tone generation. It does not, however, use an SSD for storage. Rather, it subsumes the functionality of the SSD. A moment to explain…

An SSD consists of three major subsystems: SATA controller, temporary storage cache (RAM) and one or more NAND flash memory chips. The NAND flash memory chips typically adhere to the Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) standard. This allows expansion and standardized configurability. The SATA controller exchanges commands and data with a computer using the SATA bus protocol. The temporary storage cache holds data which is pre-read (cached) from the NAND flash chips. Caching is required because random access read to NAND flash is too slow; sequential paged access is much faster. Data must be prefetched in order to achieve anything like SATA 1 (2 or 3) transfer speed.

The SWP70 subsumes the SSD functionality. It has its own memory controller and has a side memory port to its own RAM for caching samples. The SWP70 reads samples from its ONFI-compatible NAND flash memory bus and stores the samples in its cache. The tone generation circuitry reads the samples from the cache when it needs them. The SWP70 solution is, effectively, sample streaming without the added cost and latency of SATA bus transfers. The samples coming into the SWP70 from flash are compressed, by the way, and the SWP70 decompresses them.

The SWP70 will very likely make an appearance in the new Yamaha synthesizer workstation. The S770 and S970 do not make full use of the SWP70, so we have yet to see what this chip is fully capable of. We can definitely expect:

  • Much larger wave memory (4GBytes minimum)
  • Greater polyphony (256 voices or more)
  • More simultaneous DSP effects (32 units or more)
  • The demise of the expensive expansion flash DIMMs

I would simply love it if the new workstation implemented some form of Super Articulation 2 voices (now supported by Tyros 5). The raw resources are there.

User-installed expansion memory may be a thing of the past. The current DIMMs plug into a two channel, full parallel memory interface. That interface is gone and the SWP70 communicates with flash NAND through an ONFI-compatible interface. The Motif and Tyros follow-ons will likely reserve space for user samples and expansion packs in built-in flash memory just like the new mid-range PSRs.

What does Yamaha intend to do with all of this polyphony? Current high-end models like the Tyros 5 use two tone generation chips. Yamaha could replace both chips with a single SWP70 and pocket the savings.

Another possibility is to provide advanced features for musical composition that combine MIDI and audio phrases. Here is a list of technologies covered by recent Yamaha patents and patent applications:

  • Beat detection and tracking
  • Chord detection
  • Synchronized playback of MIDI and audio
  • Combined audio/MIDI accompaniment (time-stretch and pitch-shift)
  • Object-oriented phrase-based composition on a time-line
  • Accompaniment generation from chord chart
  • Display musical score synchronized with audio accompaniment
  • Phrase analysis and selection (via similarity index)
  • Near ultra-sonic communication of control information
  • Search for rhythm pattern similar to reference pattern

A few of these technologies are covered by more than one patent — recurring themes, if you will. I could imagine a screen-based composition system that combines audio and MIDI phrases which are automatically selected from a database. The phrases are transparently time-stretched and pitch-shifted. Some of the compositional aids may be implemented in the workstation while others are tablet-based. The tablet communicates with the workstation over near ultra-sonic sound (no wires, no Bluetooth, no wi-fi, no time lag).

Sample-based tone generators already perform pitch-shifting. That’s how a single sample is stretched across multiple keys. A musical phrase can be pitch-shifted in the same way. As to time-stretching, stay tuned.

Some of these features, like accompaniment generation from a textual chord chart, are more likely to appear in a future arranger workstation product. Making product-specific predictions is a risky business, especially if you want to get it right!

Yamaha — the business — is keenly interested in growth and expanding markets. Management sees opportunity in growth markets like China. The need to combine audio phrases with MIDI is driven by non-Western music: time signatures other than 3/4 or 4/4, different scales, different playing techniques and articulations. These concerns are perhaps more relevant to the arranger product lines. However, phrase-based composition that manipulates and warps audio and MIDI transparently is a basic feature of many DAWs. (Think “Ableton Live.”)

One final theme seems to recur. Yamaha appear to be interested in analyzing and accompanying non-keyboard instruments. The market for guitar-driven accompaniment is much wider and deeper than today’s arranger workstations and is a lucrative target.

Here are links to a few earlier articles, including speculation about the new Yamaha synthesizer workstation:

These articles link to further background information. Of course, we’ll know a lot more once Winter NAMM 2016 is underway!

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

PSR effects for electric piano (Part 1)

A common complaint about the electric pianos on the Yamaha PSR arranger workstations is their lack of “guts” or “grit.” The voice samples are reasonably good, but the effects programming is vanilla and way too polite, especially for rock and soul styles. Here is a table showing the default DSP effect for some of the electric piano voices in the PSR-S950:

    PSR-S950 voice  Category     Effect
    --------------  ----------   -----------------------
    SparkleStack    CHORUS       CHORUS3
    SweetDX         CHORUS       CHORUS3
    BalladDX        CHORUS       ENS DETUNE1
    DX Dynamics     CHORUS       CHORUS2
    BalladBells     CHORUS       CHORUS3
    SuitcaseEP      CHORUS       CELESTE2
    VintageEP       TREMOLO      EP TREMOLO    [DSP off]
    CP80            CHORUS       CHORUS3
    StageEP         CHORUS       CELESTE2
    SmoothTine      SPATIAL      EP AUTO PAN
    ElectricPiano   SPATIAL      EP AUTO PAN   [DSP off]
    Clavi           DISTORTION   DIST SOFT1
    WahClavi        WAH TCH/PDL  CLAVI TC.WAH
    PhaseClavi      PHASER       EP PHASER2

You can see that most of the voices use a chorus effect. In two cases, the DSP effect is turned off by default. (You need to turn it on using the [DSP] front panel button.) The Clavinet voices are a little more fun and use distortion, wah and phaser.

Chorus does not add much “heft” to a voice and it doesn’t add grit. Compression, mid-range boost (EQ) and overdrive are better choices when you need a punchy and/or grungy electric piano sound.

Let’s take a look at the effects programming for a few electric piano voices on the Yamaha MOX synthesizer workstation. The basic voices drive two insert effects connected in series:

    MOX voice             Insert A     Insert B
    --------------------  -----------  -----------
    Crunchy Comp          MltBndComp   CompDistDly
    Vintage Case          AmpSim 2     Auto Pan
    Chorus Hard           ClassicComp  SPX Chorus
    Drive EP AS1          AmpSim 2     Auto Pan
    Natural Wurli         AmpSim 1     Tremolo
    Wurli Distortion AS1  Tremolo      CompDistDly

On the MOX, every voice uses compression, amp simulation or distortion, even the voices employing the evergreen tremolo, pan and chorus effects.

At this point, PSR users tend to throw up their hands and say, “Well, that’s the Motif series!” and back away. Yamaha — bless them — share technology between workstation products. Quite often, you can find the equivalent PSR effect algorithm for an MOX (MOXF) or Motif algorithm.

Consider the MOX “AmpSim2” algorithm. This algorithm shares the same parameters as the PSR “DISTORTION AMP SIM2” algorithm. Here is a table showing the corresponence between MOX and PSR.

    MOX parameter  PSR parameter  MOX value
    -------------  -------------  ---------
    Preset         n/a            Stack1
    AmpType        AMP Type       Tube
    OverDr         Drive          16
    OutLvl         Output Level   70
    LPF            LPF Cutoff     6.3KHz
    Dry/Wet        Dry/Wet        D<W30

The parameter values given here are taken from the MOX “Drive EP AS1” voice. Bring up a PSR voice like “VintageEP,” edit its DSP effect and replace the tremolo effect with “AMP SIM2.” Plug in these values, listen and tweak!

My second example is taken from the MOX “Natural Wurli” voice. The MOX effect algorithm name is “Amp Sim1”. The equivalent PSR effect algorithm is “DISTORTION V_DIST WARM” and its siblings. Here is the equivalency table:

    MOX parameter  PSR parameter  MOX value
    -------------  -------------  ---------
    Preset         n/a            Stack2
    OverDr         Overdrive      2%
    Device         Device         Vintage tube
    Speaker        Speaker        Stack
    Presence       Presence       +10
    OutLvl         Output Level   53%
    Dry/Wet        Dry/Wet        D<W1

Again, change the PSR DSP effect to “V_DIST WARM” and plug in the values. Then, tweak away.

The final example is a multi-effect taken from the MOX “Wurli Distortion AS1” voice. The MOX effect algorithm is “CompDistDly” that is a compressor, distortion and delay effect chain. The equivalency table is:

    MOX parameter  PSR parameter         MOX value
    -------------  --------------------  ---------
    Preset         n/a                   Hard1
    OverDr         Overdrive             15%
    Device         Vin_tube              Vintage tube
    Speaker        Stack                 Stack
    Presence       Presence              +10
    DelayL         Delay Time L          307.3ms
    DelayR         Delay Time R          271.7ms
    FBTime         Delay Feedback Time   306.6ms
    FBLevel        Delay Feedback Level  +31
    FBHiDmp        Feedback High Dump    0.8
    OutLvl         Output Level          22%
    DlyMix         Delay Mix             0
    Compress       n/a                   -29dB
    Dry/Wet        Dry/Wet               D<W12

The almost equivalent PSR effect algorithm is “DISTORTION+ V_DST H+DLY”. The PSR algorithm is missing the compression component (parameter). If you want compression, then consider one of the other PSR distortion algorithms with mono delay.

Keep thinking “multi FX.” I’m going to visit the REAl DISTORTION multi FX algorithm in a future post.

Some of the MOX voices use VCM effects. I didn’t deconstruct the voices with VCM effects because my S950 doesn’t have them. However, if you have VCM effects, for heaven’s sake, use them!

Learn how to save your new creation in Editing and Saving PSR Effects (Part 2).

PSR effects for electric piano (Part 1)
Editing and saving PSR effects (Part 2)
Multi-effects for electric piano (Part 3)
Copy PSR DSP effects (part 4)

The SWP70 tone generator

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Yamaha PSR-S770 and PSR-S970 arranger workstations have a new tone generator (TG) integrated circuit (IC) — the SWP70. (“SWP” stands for “Standard Wave Processor.”) The SWP70 is a new TG family in a long line of Yamaha tone generators. The SWP70 replaces the SWP51L, which has been the mainstay in recent generations of Tyros, upper range PSR, Motif, and MOX series workstations.

The SWP70 has much in common with the SWP51L, but also some very significant differences. The SWP70’s external clock crystal frequency is 22.5792 MHz versus 11.2896 MHz for the SWP51L. This funky looking clock rate is a multiple of 44,100 Hz:

    22.5792MHz = 44,100Hz * 512

Samples are transferred to the DAC, etc. at a multiple of 44,100 Hz (Fs). Thus, it makes sense to derive Fs and its multiples from the chip-level master clock. The higher crystal frequency and faster memory read clocks lead me to believe that the SWP70 is clocked twice as fast as the SWP51L.

I am comparing SWP characteristics as deployed in the S970 (SWP70) and the S950 (SWP51L) workstations. This keeps the basis of comparison even although many characteristics (clock rates, DSP RAM size) are the same in higher end models like Tyros 5 or Motif. Higher end models employ two SWPs in master/slave relationship and both SWPs share the same wave memory. For more information about the PSR-S970 internal design, look here.

Five interfaces are essentially the same as the SWP51L:

  1. CPU interface: Communicate with the Main CPU (e.g., Renesas SH7731) via the parallel CPU bus.
  2. Serial audio: Send/receive audio data to/from the DAC, audio ADCs, and main CPU.
  3. Clock interface: Synchronize serial audio data transfers (generate multiples of Fs).
  4. DSP SDRAM interface: Store working data for effect processing.
  5. EBUS interface: Receive controller data messages (e.g., pedal input, keyboard input, pitch bend, modulation, live knobs, etc.) from front panel processors.

The DSP SDRAM is the same size: 4Mx16bits (8MBytes). The SWP70 read clock is 95.9616 MHz, while the SWP51L read clock is 45.1584 MHz. This is more evidence for a higher internal clock frequency.

The Tyros 4, Tyros 5 and S950 have an auxiliary DSP processor for vocal harmony. The microphone analog-to-digital (ADC) converter is routed directly to the auxiliary processor. Prior to these models, the microphone ADC is connected to the tone generator. With the SWP70, the S970’s microphone ADC is once again routed to the SWP70 and the auxiliary processor disappears from the design. Thus, vocal harmony processing (fully or partially) is located in the SWP70. See my post about SSP1 and SSP2 for further details.

The biggest change is the wave memory interface.

A little history is in order. The SWP51L (and its ancestors) were designed in the era of mask programmable ROM. I contend that tone generation is memory bandwidth limited and the earlier interface design is driven by the need for speed. The SWP51L (due to its evolved history) has two independent wave memory channels (HIGH and LOW). Each channel has a parallel address bus (32 bits) and a parallel data bus (16 bits). The two channels account for over 100 pins. (System cost is proportional to pin count.) The user-installed, 512/1024MB flash DIMMs plug directly onto the two channels.

The SWP70 wave memory interface takes advantage of new NAND flash memory technology. The interface is described in US patent application 2014/0123835 and is covered by Japanese patent 2012-244002. I analyzed the US patent application in an earlier post.

The SWP70 retains the HIGH port and LOW port structure. Each port communicates with an 8Gbit Spansion S34ML08G101TFI000 NAND flash device. Address and data are both communicated over an 8-bit serialized bus. This technique substantially decreases pin count and the resulting board-/system-level costs. Smart work.

I did not anticipate, however, the introduction of a new parallel memory interface called “wave-work”. The wave work interface communicates with a 16Mx16bit (32MBytes) Winbond W9825G6JH-6 SDRAM. The read clock is 95.9616 MHz.

The purpose of the wave work SDRAM is revealed by US Patent 9,040,800. This patent discloses a compression algorithm that is compatible with serialized access to the wave memory. The wave work SDRAM is a cache for compressed samples. The characteristics of the Spansion memory device give us a clue as to why a cache is required:

    Block erase time               3.5ms    Horrible (relative to SDRAM)
    Write time                     200us    Terrible
    Random access read time         30us    Bad
    Sequential access read time     25ns    Very good

As the patent explains, two (or more) samples are required to perform the interpolation while pitch-shifting. If there is only one tone generation channel, access is paged sequential. However, random access is required when there are multiple tone generation channels. (The patent mentions 256 channels.) Each channel may be playing a different voice or a different multi-sample within the same voice. One simply cannot sustain high polyphony through random access alone. The cache speeds up access to recently used pages of uncompressed samples.

The wave work interface takes additional pins, thus adding to board- and system-level costs. The overall pin count is still lower when compared to SWP51L. The penalty must be paid in order to use contemporary NAND flash devices with a serialized bus. This is the price for catching the current (and future) memory technology curve.

A few SWP70-related printed circuit board (PCB) positions are unpopulated (i.e., IC not installed) in the PSR-S970. There is an unpopulated position for a second Winbond W9825G6JH-6 wave work SDRAM which would expand the wave work memory to 32Mx16bit (64MBytes). A larger cache would be needed to support additional tone generation channels. Perhaps only half of the tone generation channels are enabled in the mid-grade PSR-S970 workstation.

There is what appears to a second separate wave work interface that is completely unpopulated. The intended memory device is a Winbond W9825G6JH-6, which is consistent with the existing wave work interface.

The PSR-S970 also has a stubbed out interface that is similar to the DSP SDRAM interface. The existing DSP SDRAM signals are labeled “H” for HIGH while the unused interface is labeled “L” for LOW. Perhaps only half of the hardware DSP processors are enabled for the mid-grade S970, waiting to be activated in future high-end Tyros and Motif products.

I refer to future high end products by the names of the current product lines. Yamaha may choose to rebrand future products (e.g., the much-rumored “Montage” trademark).

The Spansion S34ML08G2 8-Gb NAND device is Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) 1.0 compliant. The S34ML08G2 device is a dual-die stack of two S34ML04G2 die. The 8-bit I/O bus is tri-state allowing expansion e.g., multiple memory devices sharing the same I/O bus and control signals with at most device enabled at any time. The SWP70 has additional chip select pins that would support this kind of expansion. The current expansion flash DIMMs will no longer be needed or used.

In this note, I concentrated on observations and fact, not speculation about future products. I’ll leave that fun for another day!

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

Clear the decks?

Yamaha have announced a truly stellar promotion to move Motif XF workstations. The Motif XF Fully Loaded expansion pack includes a FireWire expansion board, two FL1024M memory modules and an USB drive filled with content including Chick Corea’s Mark V electric piano. (See the promotions page at the Yamaha web site for additional details.)

Wow! This promotion really caught my attention and if ever there was a time to upgrade to an XF, it’s now.

Of course, this aggressive promotion could also mean that a new synthesizer workstation will be announced in the not-too-distant future. Winter NAMM 2016, perhaps? Old inventory has got to go!

After the Reface surprise, I’ve given up predicting specific product features, especially based upon a (rumored) product name. The word “Reface,” for example, means something completely different to a saxophone player and, yes, Yamaha manufacture saxophones and mouthpieces. 🙂 So, “Montage”, harumph. I am willing to predict, however, that the next high-end workstation will have a new member of the Standard Wave Processor (SWP) family — the hardware chip that underlies the tone generation infrastructure. (See Serial Memory and Tone Generation.) This is big step for Yamaha because the current SWP51L, for example, is used in everything from mid-range arrangers, to MOX/MOXF, to Motif, to Clavinova.

Just taking in the gestalt of Yamaha’s recent patent filings, they have been actively building their portfolio in at least three areas: human vocal processing and synthesis (VOCALOID), music analysis and combined MIDI/audio accompaniment.

VOCALOID has been a commercially successful software product. The tech has, by the way, some similarities to the “connective” capabilities of Articulated Element Modeling (AEM), known more broadly as “Super Articulation 2” on Tyros. VOCALOID requires frequency domain signal processing, so unless Yamaha have knocked down some real computational barriers, VOCALOID will probably remain a non-real time synthesis technique.

“Music analysis” is a broad area and a rather vague term. At a fundamental level, this area includes beat (tempo) detection and scale and harmony (chord) detection. I think we already see some of these results at work in the Yamaha Chord Tracker app. Chord Tracker analyzes an audio song. It detects the tempo and beats, and partitions the song into measures. Chord Tracker identifies the chord on each beat and displays a simplified “fake sheet” for the song. Chord Tracker can send the “fake sheet” to a compatible arranger keyboard for playback.

Music analysis also includes high-level analysis such as extracting the high level characteristics of a piece of music. This kind of analysis could allow a rough categorization and comparison between snippets of music (similarity index). We haven’t seen the fruits of this technology (yet), but one could imagine a tool that suggests an accompaniment based on what the musician plays or based upon an existing musical work. BTW, the word “musician” here includes guitarists, woodwind players, etc. and not just keyboardists. The world-wide market for non-keyboard instruments is bigger than the market for keyboard-based instruments. (Guitars alone outsell keyboards nearly 2 to 1 in the United States.)

The third main area of exploration and filings is combined MIDI/audio accompaniment. Up to this point, Motif arpeggios are MIDI-like phrases, not audio. Arranger workstation styles are MIDI (SMF in a Halloween costume). Neither product works with MIDI and audio phrases in a transparent way like the very successful Ableton Live. Yamaha’s patent filings disclose arpeggio- and/or style-like accompaniment using a mix of MIDI and audio phrases. Audio phrases are warped in time and pitch to match the current tempo and key scale.

Now, let’s throw these technologies into a bag and shake them around. Imagine a compositional assistant that analyzes a piece of music (recorded or played live), determines tempo, beats, chord changes and more, and automatically whips up an accompaniment or track. MIDI and audio phrases are selected from a library based upon a similarity index between the reference track and phrases in the library. If this is Yamaha’s vision, then double wow! The combination of these technologies would raise the level of music composition substantially from it’s tedious, point-and-click existence. It finesses the problem of listening to the phrases in the Motif/MOX arpeggio library, selecting the most applicable phrases and combining them. DigiTech TRIO is already sniffing around this territory.

Naturally, patents do not imply product. Therein lies the danger of making predictions.

Which brings me, finally, to US Patent 8,779,267 (July 15, 2014). If someone can explain this patent to me, thanks. The invention seems to analyze an incoming musical signal (using some heavy DSP), generate almost ultra-sonic (>18KHz) “control tones,” and produce a multi-timbral accompaniment or track. Amazing stuff.

The near ultra-sonic technique is already in use. The AliveCor Mobile ECG monitor uses ultrasonic tones to communicate with iPhone/iPad. The AliveCor doesn’t require power-sucking Bluetooth (and its emissions certification.) The monitor runs on a CR2016 battery. The downside, in the case of AliveCor, is that its monitor pad must be near the mobile device for reliable communication.

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

Serial memory and tone generation

Ah, September. Soon it will be time to speculate about new products at the Winter 2016 NAMM!

Every now and again, I take a pass through recent patent filings from Yamaha to get an idea about future product developments. Of course, the tech in a filing may never make it to product. However, a few common threads begin to appear over time.

This post starts with a patent application having the inauspicious title, “Sound Generation Apparatus.” This US application 2014/0123835 was filed on November 5, 2013 and is based on Japanese patent -244002, which was filed November 5, 2012.

First, a little background about the Yamaha tone generation architecture. Yamaha has used the same overall architecture for mid- and high-end workstations and tone modules since the mid-1990s. (TG-500, anyone?) These products employ one or more large scale integrated circuits for tone generation. Current versions of the tone generator IC, the SWP51L, has two dedicated memory channels for waveform data. Each channel has a 16-bit parallel data bus and a parallel address bus (24 or more bits wide). The parallel interface takes at least 40 pins per channel.

That’s a lot of incoming and outgoing connections (80 plus pins for both channels). IC packaging costs are in the range of $2.50 USD to $4.50 per pin. So, there is a direct relationship between the number of IC pins and manufacturing cost. Ultimately, this cost has a real effect on profit and the final price of the product.

The Yamaha patent application describes a serial interface for waveform memory in place of a parallel interface. The serial interface requires six pins per channel. Instead of 80 pins, the serial interface approach uses only 12, providing an 8 to 1 savings in packaging costs alone.

The application cites the Winbond 25Q series as the kind of flash memory to be supported by the serial interface. The largest 25Q device has a 64MByte capacity and can sustain a 40MByte/second transfer rate (quad SPI mode). This is nearly sufficient bandwidth to drive 128 44,100Hz stereo polyphonic voices (about 45MBytes/sec).

If you do the math that’s 128 times 44,100Hz times eight bytes. Two successive samples are required in order to perform interpolation although the oldest sample could be cached.

The product implications are interesting. At the low end of the scale (one or two channels), the device footprint is much smaller. The small size allows a corresponding decrease in the size of the product. Maybe a guitar pedal stomp box?

The high end of the scale is more intriguing. It becomes possible to build a tone generator IC with four or even eight independent channels of tone generation where each channel is driven by its own memory stream. We’re talking 1,024 polyphonic voices in the same LSI footprint as today’s SWP51L.

There are design implications for entry-level keyboard products, too. The SWL01 system on a chip (SOC) integrates both CPU and tone generator onto the same IC. Waveform data (samples) travel on the same bus as CPU instructions and data. A serial SPI interface requires only six pins and might let designers shift waveform storage from ROM on the system bus to a dedicated memory bus and channel. Software might be able to perform new tasks such as variation effects with more bandwidth available to the CPU on the system bus.

I feel confident to predict that the next generation of Standard Wave Processor (SWP) is in development. The SWP51L has been around for a while (including Tyros5). Here are a few key products and members of the SWP50 family:

    Product   Year  TG chip
    --------  ----  -------
    Tyros     2002  SWP50
    Motif XS  2007  SWP51
    Tyros 3   2008  SWP51B
    Tyros 5   2013  SWP51L

It is definitely time for a new design, not an incremental refresh.

Yamaha sees its internal integrated circuit capability as a strategic advantage. Up to this point, Yamaha have both designed and fabricated its own ICs. Last year, Yamaha transferred its fabrication line to Phenitec Semiconductor. Yep, Yamaha has gone fabless. This gets a huge capital expense off its balance sheet. It also means that Yamaha is under less pressure to reuse the same parts across product lines in order to get its IC manufacturing volume up. This is one reason why the SWP51 has had such long legs and why the SWL01 is used across all of the E-series arrangers. Volume, volume, volume! The pressure to (re)use Yamaha’s own IC solutions has been reduced.

We’ll see if Johnny can read (defenses) against Dick LeBeau. Go Browns!

Crunchin’ da drums

In my last post, I discussed Motif/MOX eight zone (8Z) drum kits. The eight zone concept lets you assemble eight different percussion sounds into a custom kit. The waveforms are assigned to voice elements and are stretched/limited to eight different keyboard (MIDI note) zones. The Motif/MOX have matching arpeggios that work with the 8Z kits.

By the way, the 8Z drum kits were first introduced with the Motif XS. My notes on the 8Z kits and this note on effects apply to all later models including the Motif XF and MOXF.

If you have ever tried the percussion sounds alone without effects, the drum sounds are kind of “plain Jane” without a lot of impact. This post deconstructs a couple of effects which can be applied to break beats and other styles that require crunch and animation.

The first effect chain is taken from the Voice PRE8:060 “8Z Romps.” The voice has two insert effects connected in series. INSERT A is a Lo-Fi algorithm with the following parameters (effect preset “Max Lo-Fi”):

    #  Parameter              Value    Numeric
   --  ---------------------  -------  -------
    1  Sampling Freq Control  4.01KHz  (10)
    2  Word Length            93       (93)
    3  Output Gain            +7 dB    (14)
    4  LPF Cutoff             20.0KHz  (60)
    5  Filter Type            Radio    (2) 
    6  LPF Resonance          10.0     (100)
    7  Bit Assign             2        (2)
    8  Emphasis               On       (1)
   10  Dry/Wet                D<W63    (127)
   15  Input Mode             Stereo   (1)

The parameter number, name, values, etc. are taken from the MOX Data List. (See the section titled “Effect Parameter List” in the PDF file). The numeric values — given here in decimal — are what you need to program the effect through System Exclusive MIDI messages. More about this in a minute.

The Lo-Fi effect adds a lot of crunch and crush. But, wait! There’s more. The INSERT B effect is the AmpSim 1 amp simulator. Its parameters are:

    #  Parameter              Value    Numeric
   --  ---------------------  -------  -------
    1  Over Drive             54%      (54)
    2  Device                 dst1     (2)
    3  Speaker                Combo    (2)
    4  Presence               +10      (10)
    5  Output Level           34%      (34)
   10  Dry/Wet                D<W63    (127)

This is the “Beat Crunch” effect preset.

Please remember that my goal is to use the 8Z break beats in a PSR/Tyros style. In order to do accomplish this, I found the equivalent effects algorithms for the Yamaha PSR-S950 arranger workstation. Here are the equivalent algorithms:

    MOX            PSR-S950
    --------       -----------------------------
    Lo-Fi    --->  Lo-Fi DRUM1 (MSB:94 LSB:18)
    AmpSim 1 --->  V_DIST CRUNC (MSB:98 LSB:18 )

Unfortunately, the XG effects architecture supports at most one system-wide variation effect or one per-part insert effect. So, I decided to use the Lo-Fi algorithm because it seemed to provide most of the grit and nastiness that I was seeking.

It took a little detective work to find and match up the corresponding effect algorithms between the Motif/MOX and the PSR/Tyros. The effect type is enough to get into the same neighborhood. The rest of the sleuthing involves comparing the parameter lists in order to find the exact (or best) match. The MOX has Virtual Circuit Modeling (VCM) effects and the S950 does not. Therefore, you may not always be able to find an exact match.

With the S950 Data List in hand, I translated the effect parameters into the hexadecimal System Exclusive (SysEx) messages to configure the Lo-Fi effect on the PSR:

    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 40 5E 12 F7   Variation Type
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 5A 01 F7      Variation Connection (SYSTEM)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 42 00 0A F7   PARAMETER 1 Sampling Freq Control (10)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 44 00 5D F7   PARAMETER 2 Word Length (93)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 46 00 0E F7   PARAMETER 3 Output Gain (14)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 48 00 3C F7   PARAMETER 4 LPF Cutoff (60)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 4A 00 02 F7   PARAMETER 5 Filter Type (2)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 4C 00 64 F7   PARAMETER 6 LPF Resonance (100)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 4E 00 02 F7   PARAMETER 7 Bit Assign (2)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 50 00 01 F7   PARAMETER 8 Emphasis (1)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 54 00 7F F7   PARAMETER 10 Dry/Wet (127)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 74 01 F7      PARAMETER 15 Stereo  (1)

I configured the effect as a system-wide variation effect such that multiple percussion parts may be sent to the effect. I inserted the SysEx messages into the set-up measure of the PSR style file using SONAR (my usual DAW/sequencer). Yow, the difference between the percussion sounds without and with this effect is like night and day!

The MOX insert effects are followed by a system-wide Tempo Cross Delay effect (effect preset “4beat Echo”). This effect adds a nice bit of animation to the overall sound. The MOX effect parameters are:

    #  Parameter              Value    Numeric
   --  ---------------------  -------  -------
    1  Delay Time L>R         4th      (11)
    2  Delay Time R>L         8th.     (10)
    3  Feedback Level         16       (80)
    4  Input Select           L        (0)
    5  Feedback High Dump     0.5      (5)
    6  Lag                    0ms      (64)
   10  Dry/Wet                D<W63    (127)
   13  EQ Low Frequency       250Hz    (22)
   14  EQ Low Gain            0dB      (64)
   15  EQ High Frequency      4.0KHz   (46)
   16  EQ High Gain           0dB      (64)

The equivalent S950 effect is TEMPO CROSS1 (MSB:22 LSB:0). I assigned this effect to the system-wide CHORUS block.

Here are the S950 (XG) SysEx messages to configure the delay effect in the CHORUS block:

    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 20 16 00 F7  Chorus Type TEMPO CROSS1
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 22 0B F7     PARAMETER 1 Delay Time L<R     (11)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 23 0A F7     PARAMETER 2 Delay Time R<L     (10)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 24 50 F7     PARAMETER 3 Feedback Level     (80)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 25 00 F7     PARAMETER 4 Input Selection    (0)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 26 05 F7     PARAMETER 5 Feedback High Dump (5)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 27 40 F7     PARAMETER 6 Lag                (64)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 2B 7F F7     PARAMETER 10 Dry/Wet           (127)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 32 16 F7     PARAMETER 13 EQ Low Frequency  (22)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 33 40 F7     PARAMETER 14 EQ Low Gain       (64)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 34 2E F7     PARAMETER 15 EQ High Frequency (46)
    F0 43 10 4C 02 01 35 40 F7     PARAMETER 16 EQ High Gain      (64)

A little bit of delay on a busy drum part goes a long way. The send level (not shown here) is relatively low — just enough to add a little animation to the sound without creating a lot of clutter. It sounds OK, but I might adjust the send level dynamically and add more delay to exposed parts like the break while keeping the MAIN sections clean.

I hope this short effects clinic helps you out!

Groovin’ in eight zones

I heard a great interpretation of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” by Groovy Waters. Their work inspired me to create a down-tempo PSR/Tyros style with break beats that would let me jam over the changes (Bm-A-E-E).

And that led me into a whole new exploration in Motif/MOX and PSR/Tyros styles!

While goofing around with the Yamaha MOX6 workstation, I stumbled into some break beats with “8Z” in the name. I noticed that the “8Z” arpeggios are targeted for voices with “8Z” in their names. So, what is this “8Z” business?

The Motif XS (and MOX) added 8-zone drum kits and arpeggios, hence, the “8Z” in the names. A conventional drum kit has dozens of individual percussion sounds laid out across the MIDI note range (AKA “the keyboard”). An 8-zone kit is an extension of a regular synth voice where each voice element is assigned a percussion sound. The usual upper and lower note limits determine the key range for each sound. Here is the element information for the PRE8:060 “8Z Romps” voice:

                            Name        Note#
                         ----------   ---------
    Waveform             Low   High   Low  High
    ----------------     ----  ----   ---- ----
    BD T9-4               C0    C1     24   36  
    SD Elec7              C#1   F1     37   41  
    China St              F#1   C2     42   48  
    SD Rim SE             C#2   C3     49   60  
    Bd Jungle 2           C#3   F#3    61   66  
    Bd Distortion4        G3    C4     67   72  
    Bd Distortion RM      C#4   C5     73   84  
    Bd D&B2               C#5   C6     85   96  

Each waveform is stretched across a multi-key zone. Thus, each of the notes within a zone have a slightly pitch-shifted tone, allowing for tonal variation in patterns where repeated notes are played in sequence. Since these are basically regular synth voices, you are also free to mess about with the filter, amplitude envelope and all the usual sound design goodies.

The arpeggios designed for the “8Z Romps” voice do just that. (See “MA_8Z Romps” and so forth.) The pitch shift, etc. breaks up the monotony of repeated notes.

The “8 zone” idea makes it easy to cobble new drum kits together from the diaspora of waveforms in the regular drum kits. You probably don’t need more than eight different percussion sounds for a set of basic beats. A quick survey of other “8Z” kits shows this to be true:

    8Z HeavyHearts      8Z Chilly Breakz    8Z Gated Beatz
    --------------      ----------------    --------------
    Bd T9-1             Bd HipHop6          Bd Gate
    Bd Hard Long        Sd HipHop9          Bd HipHop9
    SD Elec12           Sd T8-1             Sd HipHop6
    Sd HipHop6          HH Closed T8-2      Sd Hip Gate
    HH Closed D&B       HH Open T8-2        HH Closed T8-1
    HH Open T9          Electric Perc1      HH Open T8-1
    Clap AnSm           Sleigh Bell         Noise Burst
    Shaker Hip 2        Shaker Hip 1        Shaker Hip 1

These kits have a different key layout than “8Z Romps”. In fact, these 8Z kits have a few zones that resemble the conventional kit layout — the bass drums (Bd) cover the notes where bass drum is usually found, the snare drums (Sd) cover the usual notes for snare drum, etc. Thus, you can play “regular” drum arpeggios through these 8Z voices and they sound just fine. The upper range elements cover a wide range of notes and are the “catch all” for the usual percussion spice such as conga, shakers, guiro, triangle and the like. With the pitch shifting, the “catch all” approach can produce some hip patterns.

There is far more fun to be had. I came across the “8Z” kits and arpeggios while playing the Performance USR2:102(G06) Ibiza Growl Sax. This Performance had the feel that I was looking for, although I wasn’t too pleased with the sax voice. (A problem that is easily fixed.) The Performance assigns “8Z Romps” to the first voice, but, wait! It plays break beats through “8Z Romps” that were not designed for “8Z Romps”, having different zones, etc. Cool. Yamaha sound designers are not only good at following the rules, they are equally adept at breaking the rules, too.

I decided to go ahead with the break beats from Ibiza Growl Sax even though the PSR/Tyros do not have “8Z” drum kits. I had to unwind all of the 8Z-ness and map the percussion voices to standard PSR-S950 drum kits. Unfortunately, the repetitive patterns are a little bit plain even though the musical feel is still good.

Next up, crushing the drums and bouncing them around.

Performance styles for PSR-E443

The PSR-E443 folks don’t get enough love, so here is a collection of performance styles for the E443 and the E433.

So, what is a “performance style?”

The Yamaha Motif/MOX series of synthesizer workstations have hundreds of factory “Performances” to to help a composer get started with a new song. A Performance has up to four independent voices (drum, bass, guitar, etc.) and up to six sets of related musical phrases — “arpeggios” in Motif-speak. The arpeggios are drawn from a built-in library of several thousand musical phrases in a slew of contemporary genres. Each set of phrases has a role (main section, fill, break) and the composer switches between sets while playing in order to lay down a basic arrangement or backing track. Even if you’re not a songwriter, the Motif Performances are just plain fun for jamming or practice.

I recorded and translated 22 of my favorite Motif/MOX Performances to PSR/Tyros styles — Performance styles. They play just like regular styles (follow chords in the left hand, play fill-ins when changing main sections, etc.) The styles are stripped down and are meant to be played. A few of the styles have only bass and drum, so there isn’t a lot of elaborate orchestration to get in the way. The introductions and endings are very simple.

This first collection targets the PSR-E443 and E433. The styles are SFF1 and should work on other arrangers supporting SFF1 although you may need to substitute different drum kits. The styles in this collection do not use Mega Voices. A more advanced collection with SFF GE and Mega Voices is being developed.

Since these are my favorite performances, the styles come from a funky, jazzy, fusion kind of place.

For more information, check out the README page. Then, download the ZIP file and have fun!

MOX interview: Follow up

Here’s a quick follow up after my interview with Yamaha marketing.

First, the word “conversation” is a better description than “interview.” I had a really enjoyable, high-bandwidth conversation with fellow gear-heads. What could be better than that? The Yamaha team members are friendly, extremely knowledgeable and open. They are also good listeners and had read my pre-interview MOX retrospective.

So, thanks to Yamaha for listening!

I also learned some things that I intend to put into practice going forward. We discussed how I created the voices that I use on my church gig and the issue of sound dropping across voice changes in MOX Voice Mode. One way to avoid sound cut-off is to use Song Mode instead of Voice Mode. Assign a voice to each part in Song Mode and then select parts on the fly. I’ll have to give this a try. I also want to experiment with the assignable knobs for drawbar control and Song Mode may be part of this solution, too.

Since the conversation was relatively short — about 25 minutes with my MacBook Air crashing due to a thermal overload part way through (Yikes!) — I went blank on some of the reasons and history for my work style. For example, I created the voices for the church gig through the front panel and didn’t use either the PC- or iPad-based editors. I since reconstructed my mind-set from way-back-when. I’m sure that I was sooooo anxious to use the MOX at the gig that I just dove into the front panel. I had programmed a TG-500 back in the day and the Yamaha voice architecture was still familiar to me. (The Motif/MOX effects structure is way easier to understand than the old TG, thankfully.) The last thing I needed was a software editor to get between me and the gig!

I didn’t have an iPad when I bought the MOX6 and wasn’t aware of the Yamaha apps for Motif/MOX. The apps — once I learned about them — motivated me to budget for and to buy the iPad. Aside from Web-browsing and e-mail, my iPad is almost entirely devoted to music-making tools (no cat videos). I have both Cubasis and Mobile Music Sequencer (MMS) installed. MMS gets used; Cubasis not so much. Cubase is one of those tools that I want to learn — kind of like my current explorations in Ableton Live.

Starting today, I would use the iPad apps. Heck, I should (would) check out the Yamaha PC-based editor and the fine Motif/MOX tools by John Melas.

Well, there you have it. A positive experience all the way around!

If you’re curious about how I use the MOX for content creation, please check out the following posts and pages: