Yamaha Reface YC on the go

Trumpet?

No, Yamaha Reface YC!

I finally had enough time ‘shedding with the Yamaha Reface YC to have the confidence to take the YC to rehearsal with me. [Click images to enlarge.]

I need to write a long review, but here’s a few quick thoughts.

The Reface YC makes a good, lightweight rehearsal rig. Usually, I need strings, horns and a few woodwinds in addition to organ to cover our repertoire of liturgical music. However, I dialed in 608400000 for most of the non-organ church tunes and covered things reasonably well. Slow rotary or clean were enough. For the gospel tunes, I threw in a little 1′ and 2′ to brighten the sound. Nothin’ major.

One advantage of the mini-keys is the ability to kick the SPEED switch while holding a bass note. It took some ‘shedding to get used to the narrow width of the mini-keys. Even though I had enough range for most tunes, three octaves ain’t enough. I really wish the YC had four octaves. Think Harry Connick Jr. rocking a Reface CP on Fallon: “There’s not a lot of room. But, I’m havin’ fun.”

The YC drew favorable comments from both the MD and our pianist. (Thanks John, Margie and Steve — bless you.) The small, light rig got a few envious looks as folks carried out their guitars. (Envy is a deadly sin.)

That’s a JBL Charge 2 portable speaker in the bag. I shut off the YC’s internal speakers and play it through the Charge 2. Its passive radiators do a pretty decent job of bass reproduction. I’ve been kicking simple bass lines with my left hand and the JBL Charge 2 is just enough for our (mostly) acoustic rehearsals. Surprisingly, no break-up with full organ chords either.

The whole deal is battery powered. If I had enough shed time before our annual outdoor service, I might have played the Reface YC instead of schlepping the MOX6.

More thoughts after the Genos™ craziness settles down. In the meantime, if you want to know what’s inside of a Reface YC and CP, check out my blog post about Reface YC and CP internal design. Shucks, find out what’s inside of a Reface DX and CS, too.

Take control of your music

With nine drawbar sliders, six knobs, three articulation buttons, and an assignable rotary speed button, I wonder if Yamaha are making a play against the Nord Stage?

Both products (will) command a premium price. However, with superior acoustic and electric pianos, drawbar organ using Reface technology, an incredibly expressive sample-based synth engine, and capacious expansion memory, the Genos could make a play. Might be some credibility to this assertion given the rumor of a 76-key only Genos offering. Perhaps Yamaha will eventually roll out a lighter 61-key model, if the demand is there and vocal.

We’ll see and hear. October 2.

Once the pictures hit Facebook…

I’m still not sure if we are seeing final units. Enjoy, anyway. [Please click images to enlarge.]

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos teaser video three

Yamaha Genos™ teaser video number three: Alex Christensen & The Berlin Orchestra – Infinity

Treat yourself to the video first before reading. There is a spoiler ahead!

Another track with orchestra and the occasional driving four on the floor. The video follows up with the visual and musical themes established in the second teaser video.

Very good production values, of course!

The first commenter was kind enough to leave bookmarks for the Genos:

Was anything missed? Be sure to go over this video frame by frame. 🙂

The first snippet is the Style Control section. If you’re a Yamaha Tyros or PSR S-series player, no surprises here. We see the now well-known sliders and “cooling tower” knobs for real-time control. Was the finger hitting the MAIN D section button an important hit point in the music? Didn’t seem that way to me. [Please click images to enlarge.]

The big pan. This will be dissected in so many ways over the next week until the fourth teaser video drops. We do see Voice and Part selection buttons, One Touch Setting (OTS) buttons, Multi Pad Control buttons, six assignable buttons (A-F), six lighted navigation buttons, data wheel, INC, DEC and EXIT buttons — all to the right of a rather nice looking wide-screen touch panel. Can’t really tell if the panel tilts. The USB port for your jump drive also makes an appearance.

The lighted navigation buttons were a bit of a surprise. Leaked images did not show the button legends. I can just make out HOME, STYLE and VOICE in the teaser video. My guess is that these buttons are an alternative, fast way into the menu structure — very important for visually impaired musicians. I’ll let younger eyes or those with CIA image enhancement software make out the other legends (MENU? PLAY LIST? SET?)

The big pan got one enormous belly laugh: “USB device is disconnected.” The display shows a style selection page and what’s that? A pop-up alert box! All this money on a video and they disconnect the jump drive?

Five tabbed pages of Dance styles. About fifty dance styles? The exact number is not really significant at this stage.

What’s up with the saxophone? I hear horns. That better be Cubase!

The third video deepens the mystery created in the second teaser video. What is the exact relationship between the sounds that we hear and the Yamaha Genos digital workstation? There are quite a few repetitious musical phrases (ostinato). Did the Genos produce those sounds or were those sounds sampled as the basis for new audio styles which combine with MIDI? The same question could be asked about the melody lines. Are we hearing the Genos or were the musicians and their instruments sampled and turned into Genos voices? Stay tuned. (No pun intended.) The answer to all of these questions may be “Yes.”

That’s it for this week except for unbridled speculation. The Genos will be shown in New York City to select Yamaha dealers on September 22nd. Martin Harris will be one of the demonstrators. The fourth teaser video will be released on September 29th. Genos will finally (finally!) be announced on October 2nd.

Oh, that unverified image? It’s probably the real deal.

Update

At 02:23, we catch a glimpse of the Yamaha Genos™ in the lower right hand corner of the frame.

My European and sleepless North American colleagues on the PSR Tutorial Forum have worked out the six assignable button legends: HOME, MENU, STYLE, VOICE, SONG, and PLAYLIST. Someone should get a free Genos from Yamaha for working this out!

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

This is the place(ment)

Alex Christensen & the Berlin Orchestra, Classical remake of “Snap! Rhythm Is a Dancer.”

Now that’s what a big production budget and product placement will buy you!

Wot? It’s not an ad for Yamaha headphones?

This is the second teaser video for the new Yamaha GENOS™ Digital Workstation.

I found three video clips showing the GENOS. If you found more, congratulations! You have less of a life than I do. 🙂 [Please click images to enlarge.]

At least we know where the “Direct Access” button is.

A nice, clean, flat user interface. Too bad recent research shows that users navigate a flat interface 22% slower than an interface with shadows, etc.

Yep, looks like the knobs adjust parameters and the display shows the current value.

The second video does not reveal much more than the first “pixie dust” teaser video. However, you can rest assured that Yamaha means and sanctions these video snippets. Yes, it has sliders, knobs, a color touch panel, and a parameter display above the knobs.

The main editorial question, however, is what role did the Yamaha GENOS™ play in the actual musical production of Mr. Christensen’s album? Or, vice versa?

Back to the crass business of marketing, Yamaha clearly want to reach a younger customer base without offending the old folks. (I am an old folk, by the way.) That’s perfectly fine by me as the Yamaha innovation engine needs fuel from many sources. If indeed the GENOS has styles combining MIDI and audio phrases, the development cost of that content alone must be staggering. (Do not think GENOS will come cheaply.)

We await more. Always more.

Related posts:

Original material Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

A hoax image?

An unverified image of the Genos™ surfaced on the Web overnight. I will not publish this image here until I’m sure of its veracity.

If this image is genuine, it confirms features seen in the teaser video. Although the image depicts familiar PSR/Tyros features (e.g., style/section control buttons, registration buttons, One Touch Setting buttons, and multi-pad buttons), it has many new features over the current Tyros:

  • Color touch panel
  • Six control knobs
  • Display above the knobs (showing parameters?)
  • Nine drawbars
  • Six assignable buttons

The Tyros voice select buttons (far right just above the keyboard) indicate RIGHT1, RIGHT2, RIGHT3 and LEFT voices — typical for Tyros. A USB host port is above and to right of the voice select section. That’s a lot of unused real estate between the six assignable buttons and the USB bay by the way.

Current PSR/Tyros models provide a matrix of style selection buttons and a matrix of voice selection buttons. The image does not show these button groups. This would imply that all voice and style selection is made through the touch panel.

The Montage user interface supports user actions through both the touch panel and physical front panel buttons. This “duality” accommodates musicians with certain perceptual disabilities; Yamaha were lauded for this accommodation. Judging from this image, the Genos would not support this kind of “duality.”

The lower left corner of the keyboard does not appear to have pitch bend or modulation wheels. It looks more like a joystick.

The keyboard has 76 keys. Given the layout of the panel buttons, the space used by the panel buttons, etc. would preclude a 61-key version. This would be a break with current Tyros and Montage product lines that always provide a 61-key model.

Well, folks, there’s the image. A well done hoax? I’d like to believe, but I strongly recommend waiting for Yamaha’s verification on this one. We’ll know for sure, soon. Three more teaser videos are due over the next few weeks.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos is coming soon

Well, it’s official. Yamaha have created a special web site for Genos™ related announcements. The first posting is the teaser video which was accidentally released over the weekend. New videos will appear on September 15, 22 and 29. Dealer previews are scheduled during the last two weeks of September. Of course, we’re all dying to see the manuals and the data list PDF!

There’s one key graphic in the Yamaha annual report with the goal: Develop Products with Distinctive Individuality: Add original value to excellent basic functions and develop products others cannot imitate.

That’s a direct quote.

So, please review my summaries of recent Yamaha patents:

This is Yamaha staking out its claim in synth and arranger technology. Patents are expensive and Yamaha do not seek patent protection frivolously.

Hey, hey, serious stuff, but exciting!

Yamaha have filed several patents on styles and style playback using both MIDI data and digital audio. Not just audio drums, but pitched, melodic instrument parts.

When you hear a cello in the demo, that may very well be a recording of a real human being playing a real cello.

The playback engine tracks left hand chords. With respect to audio parts, the engine selects the most appropriate audio phrase from its library of audio recordings according to chord type. Time-stretching (etc.) adjusts for tempo and pitch-shifting adjusts for transposition. Thus, the recorded audio phrase is pitch- and tempo-matched against the musical clock and MIDI. Sounds easy, but try to do it right and do it in real-time!

I’m making a leap from patent filings to product, but my gut feeling as an engineer is strong about this one. (Feel the force, Luke.)

Or, we’ll all have a good laugh.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Flash dance?

So, is someone having a good laugh at us or is someone in trouble for accidentally releasing the Yamaha Genos teaser video? Or, is this a planned flash dance to get the fan base stirred up?

Debate is already raging on the PSR Tutorial Forum about the authenticity of the video. If it’s a fake, then hat’s are off to someone with brilliant production skills.

If you’ve seen the video, the instrument is not shown definitely. Rather, two hands conjure pixie dust into a stylized, 3-Dish instrument. There are one or two brief flashes of the rear view. (Not meaning to be crude, here.) The hands are disconnected from any meaningful musical gestures except for one deliberate gesture at roughly 46 seconds. A hand moves a slider in sync with an sforzando sweep in the soundtrack. Shades of Montage’s “Music in Motion” theme.

Observations include: six knobs, nine sliders, ten registration buttons, (probable) touch screen. Yamaha seem to have cornered the market on red and blue LED given this video and the Montage! Special thanks to Marcus, Maarten and Vinciane on the PSR Tutorial Forum for their keen eyes and steady disposition.

Here are a few captures from the unverified teaser video for the new Yamaha Genos arranger workstation. First up, the Genos logo. [Click on images for higher resolution.]

Next, is a close view of the knobs and faders. Mid-range PSR and Tyros models have a drawbar mode. Perhaps Yamaha have now given the drawbars proper faders? If true, Genos could be a terrific stage gig machine for the non-EDM types who crave quality acoustic piano, electric piano and B-3 organ. A shame that Montage didn’t fully nail drawbar control.

Finally, not so delicately put, is the rear view, presumably with all of the usual connectors provided for.

We’ll know for sure, soon. Dealer preview dates are September 18 (Europe) and September 28 (North America).

If you’re curious about what a new Yamaha arranger might do, then please read my blog posts about recent Yamaha R&D patents:

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Inside Reface YC and CP

Like the Yamaha Reface DX and CS, the Reface YC and CP are brother and sister.

The Reface DX and CS use the Yamaha proprietary SSP2 integrated circuit (IC) for sound synthesis. A few minor hardware differences and the front panel aside, the main difference between DX and CS is software. The YC and CP designs are analogous although the tone generation method and hardware are different.

Sample playback and memory bandwidth

Many people focus on the computational aspects of tone generation and wave memory size, not realizing that memory bandwidth is just as important, if not critical, for sample playback. Waveform samples need to flow from wave memory to the tone generation apparatus whether tone generation is performed on a CPU or a proprietary tone generator IC like Yamaha’s previous generation SWP51L and the now current SWP70.

Sustainable polyphony depends on memory bandwidth. If available bandwidth is low, then polyphony is low. Raise bandwidth and you can raise polyphony, too, provided adequate computational resources (e.g., tone generation channels or CPU cycles) are available.

Several factors affect memory bandwidth.

  • The most obvious factor is the raw speed of the memory technology. Fast memory means high bandwidth.
  • Next is the kind of memory communication channel: shared or dedicated. If waveform samples and CPU code reside in the same physical memory component, then bandwidth must be shared between the CPU and the tone generator, lowering tone generation bandwidth and polyphony. Bandwidth is higher when the CPU and tone generator each have their own memory channel and component. Concurrency wins!
  • Bandwidth sometimes depends on the read access mode or pattern of the memory component. Concerns here include random vs. sequential access, word vs. paged, etc. This subject is a little too deep for this short note.
  • Finally, bandwidth depends on the bus organization: serial or parallel. Parallel buses move each bit in a word on a dedicated wire. Serial buses move moves sequentially on one or a few wires. Parallel is fast; serial is slower.

Of course, there are further factors and choices like the necessity for read-write access, non-volatile data storage, and so forth.

The instrument designer faces the challenge of supplying sufficient memory bandwidth, tone generation channels and polyphony at a particular price point. Polyphony and price point are market-driven requirements. Memory bandwidth and tone generation resources are technological. The designer must work within both kinds of requirements and constraints.

Internet discussions tend to dwell on memory speed and component cost alone, neglecting system-level design costs like board complexity, wiring and testing. A simple rule of thumb is, “More IC pins and wires means higher system cost.” Serial communication decreases pins and wires, but it compromises bandwidth. Shared buses also decrease the number of pins and wires, again, penalizing bandwidth. One expects to find serial communication and/or shared buses in low price products, while higher price products can reap the benefits of dedicated, parallel communication.

I must note that commodity bulk flash memory uses a serialized memory bus, but it does so by sequential paged reads and data caching. The SWP70 is compatible with commodity flash and uses a dedicated RAM cache to achieve high sample bandwidth. This scheme is cheaper than the SWP51L with its parallel dedicated wave bus.

Processor primer

Yamaha have several different processors at their disposal for main CPU, tone generation and effect processing (DSP) chores:

  • SWLxx: SWL processors, like the SWL01U, have integrated CPU, tone generation and DSP resources in the same IC. CPU instructions, data and waveform samples travel on the same shared bus. SWL processors are typically designed into value (i.e., entry-level) products. SWLs are also low power and ready for battery operation.
  • SWXxx: SWX processors have integrated CPU, tone generation and DSP resources on the same IC. CPU, tone generation and DSP each have a dedicated memory channel. SWX processors often appear in mid-range products.
  • SWPxx: SWP processors have a large number of tone generation and DSP elements, and no main CPU. The SWPs must be controlled by a separate main CPU.
  • SSP2: The SSP2 has an integrated CPU and DSP elements. The SSP2 is not used in AWM2 applications, appearing instead in computationally intensive synthesis engines (Reface CS and DX), vocal harmony processors, and digital mixers.

The SWL, SWX and SSP2 series processors are true “system on a chip (SOC)” designs with analog-to-digital conversion, bit-serial data (UART), USB, SPI and other interfaces. The CPU core is usually a variant of the Renesas SH architecture family. Architectural commonality facilitates code reuse across products. Yamaha have damned good engineers.

There are two different types of SWX processor: SWX02/SWX03 and the SWX08. The 02/03 variants appear in lower priced mid-range products. Examples include the MOX6 (SWX02), PSR-S650 (SWX02) and Piaggero NP-32 (SWX03). The SWX08 appear in the upper mid-range: PSR-S770, Reface YC and Reface CP.

Sometimes an SWX processor is used as the main computer controlling an SWP. For example, the SWX02 is the main computer in the MOX6/MOX8, controlling an SWP51L. Similarly, the SWX08 is the main computer in the PSR-S750, controlling an SWP51L. In both cases, the SWP51L handles all tone generation duties. Yamaha increases fabrication volume when it uses an SWX in this way.

At this point, semiconductor folks might ask if Yamaha fuses off TG or DSP deficient SWX08s and assigns them to main computer duty only. This strategy cuts waste as it deploys SWX08s with perfectly good CPUs and faulty, fused off TG and/or DSP circuitry. This is standard practice throughout the industry, so please don’t freak out.

Reface YC and Reface CP

The Yamaha Reface YC and the CP share the same digital logic board design. The main large-scale integrated (LSI) components are:

IC CPU (SWX08)   Yamaha R8A02042BG         SH-2A CPU core
Work SDRAM       Winbond W9812G6JH-6       8M x 16-bit word, 166MHz
DSP SDRAM        Winbond W9864G6KH-6       4M x 16-bit word, 166MHz
Program/Wave YC  Cypress S29GL256S90TFI020 16M x 16-bit word NOR flash
DAC              Asaki Kasei AK4396VF-E2   192kHz, 24-bit stereo DAC
Panel scan CPU   MB9AF141LAPMC1            ARM Cortex-M3 (32-bit core)
ADC              TI PCM1803ADBR            96kHz, 24-bit stereo ADC

The same ARM Cortex-M3 (32-bit core) processor is used in the Reface CS and Reface DX for panel and keyboard scan. Potentiometers and so forth are sensed by the ARM’s 12-bit analog to digital converter (ADC). Key scanning is performed through GPIO lines. (I don’t see any way to expand beyond 37 keys, unfortunately.)

The SWX08 is the main control computer. It handles the 5-pin MIDI interface and the USB interface. The ARM communicates with the SWX08 over a serial link (UART). Integral tone generation and DSP elements synthesize digital audio and effects.

The AK4396VF-E2 digital to analog converter (DAC) is also used in the PSR-S770 and PSR-S970 arranger workstations (among other Yamaha products.) The Montage employs the AK4393VM-E2 DAC by way of comparison. Digital audio for the internal speakers is converted by the Yamaha YDA176 digital amplifier.

The PCM1803ADBR ADC sends serial digital audio (24-bit I2S format) to the SWX08 where it is mixed with the synthesized tones.

DSP processors on the SWX08 have their own dedicated 16-bit data channel to DSP SDRAM (i.e., working memory for effects). The wave memory (NOR flash ROM) has a dedicated 16-bit parallel channel for samples. Wave memory is labelled “E:64MB / O:32MB”. Presumably, this means that the CP needs 64MBytes for electric piano waveforms and the YC needs 32MBytes for organ waveforms. I wonder if Yamaha substitute a larger, pin-compatible flash ROM in the Reface CP? I don’t have the Reface CP service manual in order to resolve this conjecture.

Summary

So, there you have it. Yamaha wisely designed the CS and DX as a pair and designed the CP and YC as a pair. I’m sure that shared board designs reduced their manufacturing costs.

Reface sales seem to be coming to an end. Nearly all Reface models have sold through in North America. Yamaha has either decided to cancel the Reface after the first production run or they will launch Reface 2.0, perhaps with full-size keyboards. They could easily design the guts of the YC and/or CP into the Piaggero NP-12 chassis. That would make for one killer, battery-powered stage machine!

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Vocaloid keyboard announced

At long last, Yamaha have announced their Vocaloid™ keyboard, the VKB-100. The VKB-100 is a keytar design similar to the prototype shown at the “Two Yamahas, One Passion” exhibition at Roppongi Hills, Tokyo, July 3-5, 2015.

More details will be released in December 2017. However, this much is known:

  • Lyrics are entered using a dedicated application for smart phones and tablets via Bluetooth.
  • VY1 is the built-in default singing voice.
  • Up to 4 Vocaloid singers can be added using the application.
  • Four Vocaloid voices will be available: Hatsune Miku, Megpoid (GUMI), Aria on the Planets (IA), and Yuzuki Yukari.
  • Melody is played by the right hand while the left hand adds expression and navigates through the lyrics.
  • A speaker is built-in making the VKB-100 a self-contained instrument.

The VKB-100 was demonstrated at the Yamaha exhibition booth at the “Magical Mirai” conference held at the Makuhari Messe, September 1-3, 2017. Price is TBD.

VY1 is a female Japanese voice developed by Yamaha for its own products. VY1 does not have an avatar or character like other Vocaloid singers. This makes sense for Yamaha as they can freely incorporate VY1 in products without playing royalties or other intellectual property (IP) concerns.

The Vocaloid keyboard has had a long evolution, going through five iterations. The first three models did not use preloaded lyrics. Instead, the musician entered katakana with the left hand while playing the melody with the right hand. This proved to be too awkward and Yamaha moved to preloaded lyrics. The left hand controls on the neck add expression using pitch and mod wheels. The left hand also navigates through the lyrics as the musician “sings” via the instrument. The current lyrics are shown in a display just to the left of the keyboard where the musician can see them.

Yamaha will release more information on the Vocaloid keyboard site.

If you want to get started with Vocaloid and don’t want to spend a lot of Yen (or dollars), check out the Gakken NSX-39 Pocket Miku. Pocket Miku is a stylophone that plays preloaded Japanese lyrics. The NSX-39 also functions as a USB MIDI module with a General MIDI sound set within a Yamaha XG voice and effects architecture.

Be sure to read my Pocket Miku review and browse the resource links available at the bottom of the review page.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Vox VX50KB keyboard amplifier

With all of the new Korg keyboards, I missed the announcement of the Vox VX50KB keyboard amplifier. The VX50KB is part of the new Vox VX50 series of amplifiers. All the amps in the series have a street price of $229.99 and are currently shipping.

The VX50KB is a three channel keyboard amplifier that drives 50 Watts into an 8 inch, two-way coaxial speaker. Like the new Continental, the VX50KB warms up the sound with Nutube. Weight is an easy to wrangle 9 pounds (4.1 kg).

In the keyboard realm especially, sound quality depends upon the speaker and cabinet as a system. The VX50KB design is a bass reflex structure.

I’ll defer any judgement about sound quality until I hear one in action. Fat, deep organ tones quickly reveal any bass flatulence as well as the speaker’s ability to move air in the low frequency range. Oddly enough, mid-rangy French horns reveal flatulence, too. Strings are good for testing “boxiness” or “graniness.” If you want to hear grain, just listen to any amplifier in Roland’s KC series. The KC tweeters are inadequate.