Winter NAMM 2018: Melo Audio MIDI Commander

OK, OK, I know about the Arturia MiniBrute 2 and Moog Drummer From Another Mother — and so do you. 🙂

You may not have heard about the Melo Audio MIDI Commander, which was teased last year. Melo Audio’s teaser targets guitar players, but this ten button foot controller might appeal to keyboard players who need to make fast patch changes and so forth.

In addition to ten foot switches, the MIDI Commander has two expression pedal inputs. “Fusion mode” combines program change (PC) and control change (CC) MIDI messages. (We’ll have to wait for the documentation to find out what’s really going on here.) The MIDI Commander is compact (286mm x 110mm x 60mm, 11.3″ x 4.3″ x 2.4″), can run on two AAA batteries and has an OLED display.

The “Coming soon” page for the MIDI Commander shows a preproduction mock-up. I’d love to know if good ole 5-pin MIDI is included. Could be an alternative to the Yamaha MFC-10.

Speaking of teasers, Hammond are teasing a new model in the SK series of clones, the SKX.

Also, Dexibell are teasing a new organ: tone wheel (including pedal), Farfisa, Vox and pipe organ (upper, lower, pedal). An extension to the COMBO J line?

Copyright © 2018 Paul J. Drongowski

Right on the heels of Genos

Yamaha are announcing two new models in the arranger workstation line: The PSR-S975 and the PSR-S775

The PSR-S975 is an update to the current PSR-S970. New features include:

  • Half bar fill-in
  • Mono legato operation
  • Store and recall of Live Control settings in registration memory
  • More preset styles (523, up from 450)
  • More Super Articulation voices (140, up from 131)
  • More Live voices (99, up from 89)
  • Larger expansion memory (768MB, up from 512MB)
  • Expansion audio styles (128MB maximum)

Expansion packs like Euro Dance and Salsa are pre-installed. [Click image below to enlarge.]

Quoting the Yamaha Web site:

  • 1625 Voices, including Super Articulation Voices, Organ Flutes! Voices. 55 Drum/SFX kits, and 480 XG voices
  • 523 Styles, including 40 Audio Styles, 34 Session Styles, 15 DJ Styles and 3 Free Play
  • Half bar fill-in and Mono legato function
  • 768 MB on-board memory for expansion data
  • Mic/Guitar input for use when singing or collaborating with other performers
  • Vocal Harmony 2 and Synth Vocoder functions
  • Real Distortion and Real Reverb, with an intuitive effects interface
  • USB audio playback with time stretch, pitch shift, vocal cancel and MP3 lyrics display functions
  • External display capability

The PSR-S775 also received a modest refresh versus the PSR-S770.

Observations

I honestly didn’t expect to see a mid-range refresh this January (2018). Genos™ is barely launched in North America with Winter NAMM 2018 just two weeks away. Yamaha normally announces new arranger workstation products in the Fall. From the marketing point of view, it would have been shear madness to refresh the mid-range while launching Genos during Fall 2017.

I suspect that the refresh is in response to the new Korg Pa700 and Pa1000 mid-range arranger keyboards. Korg and Yamaha are really duking it out in these lucrative segments. The S975 and Pa1000 attract “pro-sumer” musicians and the very affordable S775 and Pa700 are near the magic $1000 USD sweet spot.

Fans expecting a “mini-Genos” will just have to wait. Genos is way too hot to spoil by releasing a mid-range model with Genos-like features. Having played and experienced Genos for nearly one month, the enormous difference in street price between S975 and Genos is (and must be!) justified by a wide gap in functionality and sound quality. Value proposition, folks, value proposition.

One must wonder if a similar product strategy will play out in Yamaha’s synthesizer product line. The MOXF is due for at least a refresh. Does Yamaha have a compelling reason to issue a “Half Monty” two years after the Montage launch? A MOXF refresh might be enough to keep customers interested and sales up given the workstation features (sequencing, sampling, …) left out of the Montage. Some change is due simply because Yamaha’s inventory of the old tone generator IC (SWP51L) must be getting low.

The S975 is probably a simple re-spin of the S970 hardware. Yamaha can ride the ONFI NAND flash memory curve for years to come without breaking a sweat. The switch to ONFI compatible memory makes it easy to drop a larger capacity device into the existing printed circuit board footprint.

I’m still trying to discern where Yamaha are going with audio styles. They do have their patent portfolio covering full audio styles. The S975 allocates 128MBytes for Audio Style Expansion. (The S775 does not.) The Genos has a comparable Audio Style Expansion capability which draws from its Internal Memory. My intuition says that something is afoot, but it’s easy to extend one’s expectations beyond the current hardware/software platform.

There are rumors of another Genos update in the works. As with all things Yamaha, we must wait and see. Fortunately, we have excellent instruments to keep us busy and entertained!

Copyright © 2018 Paul J. Drongowski

NAMM 2018: Half Monty, Full Monty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski