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
2005   Tyros 2   192MB
2007                       Motif XS  128MB     355MB 2,670 waveforms
2008   Tyros 3   256MB
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
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.

Montage: The hardware platform

The Yamaha Montage is one heck of a fine keyboard! Let’s take a quick look inside.

The Montage hardware is a new platform. Sure, there are a few things borrowed from older products, but that’s like blaming Apple for reusing a USB controller. The digital and analog electronics are all new.

There are several printed circuit boards and I will only cover the main PCBs.

  • PNL/PNR: Handles the front panel buttons, knobs, sliders, master volume and gain.
  • LCD: Bridge between the LCD controller in the main CPU and the 7inch TFT WVGA LCD touch panel.
  • DJK: Digital jacks (foot controllers, foot switch, sustain, MIDI)
  • AJK: Analog electronics and jacks (DACs, ADC, balanced/unbalanced outputs, analog input, phones).
  • DM: Digital electronics (main CPU, tone generators, external USB and Ethernet interfaces).

A few ports and connections are “Debug only” and are not populated or used in normal operation. The Ethernet port to the main CPU is debug only, for example.

The separation of the digital and analog electronics and jacks is significant. When the Montage was first introduced, I mentioned that “Pure Analog Circuit (PAC)” appeared to be an exercise in old school engineering that pays careful attention to board layout, component selection and clean power. The AJK board bears this out. The AJK board contains the stereo DAC and ADC components:

  • Audio ADC: Asahi Kasei AK5381VT-E2 24-bit ADC (96KHz max)
  • Audio DAC assignable output: Asahi Kasei AK4393VM-E2 24-bit DAC (96KHz max)
  • Audio DAC main output and phones: Asahi Kasei AK4393VM-E2 24-bit DAC

The ADC and DACs communicate with the DM board over an audio backbone. Physical separation keeps digital circuits (with fast rise/fall times) away from analog signal paths. The AJK board also has its own voltage regulators. They ain’t kiddin’ about PAC!

Yamaha adopted ARM architecture processors for the first time in the Reface series. (See my article about the Reface CS and Reface DX internals). Montage continues this trend.

  • The PNL board contains an MB9AF141NA ARM microcontroller with a 40MHz internal clock. The ARM microcontroller is assisted by a Toshiba TMP89FW24AFG microcontroller (SOC) operating at 10MHz. In Yamaha’s terminology, this ARM is a “sub CPU.”
  • The main CPU is an AM3352BZCZ80 ARM microprocessor with an 800MHz CPU clock. It is a Texas Instruments Sitara ARM Cortex-A8 single core MPU.

The ARM Cortex-A8 is a major departure from the Motif line which employed MIPS architecture microprocessors (such as the Toshiba TX4939C) as the main CPU.

We first saw the new SWP70 tone generator in the Yamaha PSR-S970 arranger workstation. The SWP70 replaces the SWP51L which has been the mainstay in mid- to upper-tier Yamaha products for several years. Top-tier products (e.g., Motif XF and Tyros 5) have two SWP51L tone generator chips which together share a common wave memory. The two SWP51Ls split AWM2 voice and DSP duties.

So, it isn’t any surprise to see two SWP70s in the Montage. What is suprising, however, is how the Montage’s two SWP70s are deployed. The two SWP70s are not connected in the “classic” structure. Instead, the microarchitecture is assymetric.

  • TG Master: The TG Master is connected to wave ROM (flash), wave RAM (SDRAM), and DSP RAM (SDRAM).
  • TG Slave: The TG Slave is connected to DSP RAM (SDRAM) and an SSP2 processor (through an ASIC gate array bridge).

I’ll have more to say about the SSP2 in a moment. The bridge connects the TG Slave’s serial audio interface to the SSP2 and the bridge carries several channels of digital audio (I2S format) to/from the TG Slave and the SSP2.

Of course, one’s first thought is to presume that the TG Master handles AWM2 voices and the TG Slave handles FM-X voices. There’s a lot of generation and DSP resources within an SWP70, so I doubt if they are left idle in the TG Slave even though the TG Slave does not have memory memory! There is a sixteen bit wide bus between the TG Master and Slave — not really sufficient to carry the sample bandwidth needed for AWM2 tone generation, however.

Each SWP70 has 16MBytes of SDRAM for DSP working memory. The TG Master has 32MB of Wave RAM. The Wave RAM is a cache for samples that are read from wave flash. (See my earlier article about the SWP70 and U.S. Patent 9,040,800.) Commodity NAND flash (as one would find in an SSD) favors sequential access; random access is horribly slow. The Wave RAM caches samples that are read from NAND flash.

Now, the big question: How much wave memory? The Montage wave memory consists of four Spansion (Cypress) S34ML08G101TFI000 8Gbit, ONFI-compliant devices with a total physical capacity of 4GBytes. In classic fashion, the memory is separated into upper and lower bytes. The Yamaha specifications state wave size as, “Preset: 5.67 GB (when converted to 16 bit linear format), User: 1.75 GB.” Assuming a 2.52 aggregate compression factor, the arithmetic works out in the following way:

    4GB physical = (5.67GB / 2.52) preset + 1.75GB user

The Motif series has an aggregate compression factor in this ballpark.

The Montage has a common multi-channel serial audio bus (I2S format) that interconnects the main CPU, TG Master, TG Slave, SSP2, ADC and audio DACs. This is the digital audio backbone. The bus conveys digital audio from the generators and effects on the DM board to (from) the converters on the AJK board.

The SSP2 is a Yamaha proprietary processor which is used in many products: Reface CS, Reface DX, PSR-S950 workstation, etc. The SSP2 integrates signal processing, USB, serial audio, and more. It is the “designated hitter” for Yamaha designs. When Yamaha needs a flexible chip with DSP and interfacing skills, it calls on the SSP2. (Roland have a similar jack of all trades called the “ESC2.”)

The Montage’s SSP2 has only 2MBytes of NOR flash memory on its CPU bus. That’s not a lot of program space! The SSP2’s USB port is connected to the external “USB TO HOST” interface. The SSP’s other interfaces convey digital audio to/from the digital audio backbone and the TG Slave. Thus, the SSP2’s main role is to route digital audio. The Montage can send 16 channels and receive 3 channels of stereo 24 bit/44.1 kHz digital audio to/from an external computer or iOS device

Commentary and opinion

I hope you find this quick overview to be informative and helpful. I try to present the system structure objectively without too much speculation.

Please discuss the Montage responsibly! Yamaha have a definite design style which exploits their expertise in very large scale integration (VLSI) as a strategic advantage. When Yamaha specify maximum polyphony as “128 AWM2 and 128 FM-X”, that’s 128 each all day long without any dependencies on the number of effects in use, etc. Some people lament this approach and wish that Yamaha would base their systems on x86 even though x86 is not always the best choice for embedded systems. Yamaha are no strangers to x86 having obtained many patents covering x86-based tone generation back in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Before anyone carries on about SSDs and SATA, please study the design of the SWP70. The SWP70 memory interface has all of the power, flexibility and Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) compatibility as an SSD without the need for SATA bus protocol.

Users may rightfully be disappointed at the lack of user-installable expansion memory. Yamaha are not evil; they simply do not have a convenient way to provide user-installable memory at the chip level. I think users should lobby for more built-in expansion memory, but they shouldn’t delve into conspiracy theories about Yamaha’s engineering or managerial practice.

Some wag will undoubtably complain about “memory parts cost only $10,” “my jump drive is 32GBytes,” “the need to stream 100s of gigabytes,” etc. Fine. But, an instrument design is a just one design. It is what it is is. One should listen to the Montage with their ears, then question whether gobs of samples would improve the playability, sound or expression of the Montage. Also, if you really believe that you can build a better instrument at the same price point, by all means, line up the VCs and engineers, go to work, and compete.

The final result is what we hear with our ears. The hardware is important, but it is simply a platform for the “soft content” — the algorithms, code, waveforms and sound design. In the long run, the soft content is the biggest development expense and is the most important element in a successful digital musical instrument product.

Perspective. Chill. Peace.

Here are links to related articles on this site:

All site content is Copyright © Paul J. Drongowski

Inside the DGX digital pianos

Thanks to SeaGtGruff in the PSR Tutorial Forum, I took a chance to deep dive a few members of the Yamaha DGX portable grand family. The DGX is a “value” line of electronic keyboards offering a digital piano experience at affordable prices.

Polyphony depends on the available processing power and memory bandwidth (i.e., the ability to transfer samples from wave memory to the processing elements).

Here is a small table for some models in the DGX product line. I took a look at the service manual for models with distinctive features, e.g., DSP effects or no DSP effects. The analysis came out rather nice, so I decided to post it here, too.

           Poly Panel XGlite Kits REV CHO DSP IntMem  Processor
           ---- ----- ------ ---- --- --- --- ------  ------------------
DGX-200     32   108   480    12    8   4   0  352KB
DGX-300     32   122   480    12    8   4  38
DGX-500     32   122   480    12    8   4  38         HG73C205AFD SWX00B
DGX-520     32   127   361    12    9   4   0  875KB
DGX-530     32   127   361    12    9   4   0  875KB  YMW767-VTZ  SWL01T
DGX-620     32   127   361    12    9   4   0  875KB
DGX-630     64   130   361    12   29  24 182 1895KB
DGX-640     64   142   381    12   35  44 238 1895KB  R8A02032BG  SWX02
DGX-650    128   147   381    15   35  44 237  1.7MB  R8A02042BG  SWX08
DGX-660    192   151   388    15   41  44 237  1.7MB

Yamaha has several proprietary processors. The least powerful are the SWLs, which are normally used in the entry-level portables. The SWL does not have DSP support for variation/insert effects. Samples are transfered on the same bus as CPU instructions — low bandwidth. SWLs make for inexpensive products, but no DSP effects and relatively low polyphony.

The PSR E-series typically uses SWL01 variants such as the SWL01U in the PSR-E443. It’s interesting that the DGX members using the same SWL01 processor do not have DSP effects. The SWX processors have integrated DSP capability; the SWLs do not.

The SWX family of processors have dedicated buses/memories and a hardware digital signal processor for effects. (I deliberately avoided the acronym “DSP” here to avoid confusion with the way “DSP” is used in arranger terminology.) The SWX08 has three dedicated buses and memories:

  • SHA2 CPU bus and memory (CPU program and data)
  • Wave ROM bus and memory (voice samples)
  • DSP RAM bus and memory (working memory for digital signal processing)

The extra memory and external connections increase cost. However, this is a lot more processing power and memory bandwidth than the lowly SWL!

The SWX00 and SWX02 are earlier members of the family and aren’t used in new designs anymore. It’s too soon to see a service manual for the DGX-660, so any further comment is an educated guess. I suspect an SWX08 operating at a higher clock rate.

The SWX08 is used in the PSR-S750 and the SWX02 is used in the MOX. In both of these cases, the SWX is the main CPU and tone generation is handled by a single SWP51L tone generator chip, not the SWX. Because Yamaha had its own internal IC fab then these products were designed, Yamaha incorporated its own proprietary processor instead of an off-the-shelf Renesas R8. This is an effort to increase Yamaha’s own fab volume. Yamaha may even be using SWX chips in which the processor is good and the DSP is faulty and fused out!

Analysis isn’t complete without looking at wave memory size:

Model   Wave memory                Size         Description
------- -------------------------- ------------ ------------------------
DGX-500 K3N7V402GB-DC10            64Mbit  8MB  Mask ROM 64Mbit (wave)
DGX-530 Lapis Semi MR27V12852L     128Mbit 16MB 8Mx16b P2ROM (prog+wave)
DGX-640 Lapis Semi MR27V12852L     128Mbit 16MB 8Mx16b P2ROM (wave)
DGX-650 Spansion S29GL256S90TFI020 256Mbit 32MB 16Mx16b NOR flash (wave)

Memory size affects the number and quality of the voices. More memory allows more voices, more samples per voice, longer samples per voice, etc. Pianos are especially memory hungry. So, improvements in piano voices usually require significantly more wave memory. SWX wave memory is 16-bits, data parallel.

Now that Yamaha have sold off their IC fabrication capability, they aren’t under the same pressure to use proprietary processors. It’ll be interesting to see if Yamaha adopt ARM for tone generation and/or effects in value product lines. In the Reface line, they have adopted ARM for user interface and control. Yamaha’s Mobile Music Sequencer on iPad has a fairly completely XG engine, so Yamaha certainly aren’t strangers to tone generation on ARM!

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like this overview of the Tyros/PSR arranger family architecture.

MOX internal architecture

Curiosity finally overcame inertia and I ordered the service manual for the Yamaha MOX6 and MOX8 workstations. (The Yamaha 24×7 part number is “S M MOX6/MOX8”.)

If you remember from my previous discussion about workstation internal architecture, the Motif XS synthesizer is Linux-based and has a 400MHz Toshiba TX4939 RISC CPU as its main processor. The TX4939 uses the MIPS instruction set and controls two SWP51L tone generator integrated circuits. Since the MOX is advertised as descendent of the Motif XS, I fully expected a MIPS architecture processor with only one SWP51L.

Check out the Yamaha MOX block diagram.

Surprise! The main processor in the MOX is the Yamaha SWX02 with an internal clock speed of 135.4725MHz. The SWX02 has an SH-2A CPU core and probably does not run Linux. The SWX02 is also used in the Yamaha PSR-S650 arranger workstation where it is clocked at the same rate. This processor seems to be Yamaha’s choice for cost-sensitive, mid-range products.

The MOX has one SWP51L tone generator IC clocked at 90.3168MHz. The SWP51L is fed by two 64MByte wave ROM ICs. The wave ROM components are Lapis Semiconductor MR26V51252R 512Mbit P2ROM devices in 32Mx16-bit configuration. One device provides a 16-bit high (H) channel and the other device provides a 16-bit low (L) channel into the SWP51L. The high and low wave ROMs communicate with the SWP51L over a 32-bit wave memory bus. The SWP51L has a separate 16MByte SDRAM on a dedicated interface to support digital signal processing (DSP). The DAC and ADC are also connected directly to the SWP51L.

The SWX02 functions primarily as a control processor. This is quite different from the PSR-S650 where the SWX02 performs tone generation as well as performing control duties. The SWX02 has its own wave memory interface and this interface is not used in the MOX. The S650 has a separate LCD controller IC. The MOX does not have a separate LCD controller and the LCD is connected to the SWX02 through its parallel general purpose I/O (GPIO) pins.

The MOX specifications describe the wave capacity as “355MB (when converted to 16-bit linear format)”. The physical wave ROM is 128MBytes total. Thus, Yamaha achieve overall wave compression of 2.78 to 1, or better.

The most interesting thing about the MOX is what it does not have. The MOX main logic board (DM) has unpopulated positions for:

  • A second SWP51L tone generator IC
  • Two additional wave ROM ICs (size unspecified) on the wave memory bus
  • An interface for a flash expansion module
  • A second WM8740 digital-to-analog converter (DAC)

Yep, Yamaha laid the ground for the MOXF. These positions are labeled “For future model” in the detailed circuit diagrams. One way to feel about that is cheated. A more rational way to view this situation is that Yamaha tries to lower cost through volume production (eventually) giving us more product for less money.

The MOX polyphony is 64 notes. The MOXF polyphony is 128 notes due, presumably, to a second SWP51L. A Motif/MOX note may use up to eight voice elements. Therefore, I infer that an SWP51L has a total tone generation capacity of 512 voice elements. Switching context to workstation arrangers for a momemnt, both the PSR-S950 and Tyros3 have 128 note polyphony. The S950 has one SWP51L and the Tyros3 has two SWP51B integrated circuits. I now believe that the S950 is a four element per voice synthesizer while the Tyros3 is known to be an eight element per voice synthesizer. (The S950 is voice compatible with the A2000, which is known to be four elements per voice.) Thus, I don’t think Super Articulation 2 (SA2) voices based on Articulation Element Modeling (AEM) technology are coming to the S950 or a new mid-range arranger workstation. Not without a second SWP51L, anyway. I’m guessing that AEM requires an eight element per voice engine.

It’s interesting to see how and where Yamaha shaved cost in order to produce a value-oriented mid-range product. It also provides geater justification for the higher cost in the upper end Motif and Tyros products.

See this article for an architectural overview of the Yamaha arranger product families.

Finally, Yamaha releases the source code for GPL’ed parts of the Motif XS, Motif XF, and S90 XS/S70 XS. See the Yamaha source code page. The MOX and MOXF are not mentioned on this page, giving further evidence that these products are not Linux-based.