Genos: First contact (snap review)

Before I dive into Yamaha Genos™, I need to send a big shoutout to Frank Ventresca of Audioworks CT. I tested and bought my PSR-S950 from Audioworks CT. I’m ba-ack, having had a good experience the first time — largely due to Frank’s customer service. If you’re interested in trying and buying an arranger keyboard, I recommend visiting Audioworks CT and/or giving Frank a call.

For me, it’s about 140 miles one way from home to Audioworks CT. Preparations are similar to getting ready for a long day hike — only with sheet music instead of boots. The long car trip means that testing time is limited. I try to hit the driving sweet spot between morning rush on I-495/I-290 near Boston and the afternoon rush from New Haven and Hartford, leaving me about two hours to play.

After arriving at Audioworks CT, I found a three tiered stack: Yamaha Montage, Korg Pa4x and Yamaha Genos, from top to bottom. Thanks to a tip from Stephen on the PSR Tutorial Forum, I expected to see the Pa4x. With that foreknowledge, do I A/B the Genos and the Pa4x? I chose to focus solely on the Genos given the two hour window for testing. Frank, BTW, invited me to stay longer, but I knew that I needed to avoid traffic Hell later in the day.

I warmed up while Frank finished a business meeting. No music stand, so I used the Pa4x as a very expensive music rest. Once Frank was available, he quickly installed the Genos music stand.

I decided to listen through headphones rather than use Audioworks’ house system. It’s a good system, but I decided to go with my usual, lightweight headphones (Roland RH-7A). Headphones also freed up the LINE OUT which I connected to a Roland MicroBR digital recorder. This setup let me hit record, play and forget.

At the time of this writing, I pulled a few snippets among the noodling and posted them here. I’m trying to get my first impressions down fast and don’t want audio production to get in the way of my initial thoughts.

Before recording, I set the Genos EQ to flat and turned off the master compression. Audio is recorded direct to MP3 (192 kbit/sec). Not the best quality, but I was afraid of overrunning the rather small SD card in the MicroBR. After setting initial levels, I tried to forget that the MicroBR was there and that the red light was ON.

It’s humbling to listen to my noodling. Hats off to everyone’s main man Katsunori UJIIE, who seems to rip this stuff effortlessly!

Genos is an instrument

One shouldn’t have to say this, but the Genos is an instrument in the same league as Montage or Kronos. With the limited time available, I concentrated on Genos as a performance instrument first and as an arranger keyboard second. This approach is consistent with my musical priorities: church gig first, fun and possibly one man band (OMB) second.

As a liturgical musician, I play with a pianist on acoustic piano and a 12-string guitar. That’s a lot of rhythmic content right there. Much of what I play complements piano and 12-string guitar. Subconsciously, I fill in and hear these missing parts when practicing. Hopefully, you will fill in this context, too. If and when you hear the audio snippets, I’m playing fuller than I would with the group. There is always a tendency to “be the whole band” when playing alone. Apologies in advance.

The focus is on emulation of acoustic instruments, orchestra and pop. You won’t hear any synth and given the short trial time, you won’t hear many styles (unfortunately).

The FSX keyboard is a more robust keybed than the PSR-S950. The FSX action is heavier. You do get what you pay for. The FSX affords aftertouch; the S950 does not.

The Genos has three front panel articulation buttons to trigger voice articulations. The voice display shows the available articulations for each selected voice. (Nice.) The voice display also shows a drawbar icon for organ flute voices. Touching the drawbar icon brings up the drawbar display. (Extra nice.) I made extensive use of the voice DEMO touch button in order to play and sort through voices quickly.

The user interface is responsive. I didn’t get a sense of lag as reported by other players. I discovered that the MENU front panel button is your special friend. It brings up two pages filled with touch buttons leading to all internal settings. It’s kind of a “site map” for the Genos.

Strings

The Genos is like having a compact orchestral sample library in a portable, immediately playable keyboard. Think Garritan Personal Orchestra.

There are two major options for strings in addition to legacy voices: Kino strings and Seattle strings. The Seattle strings first appeared in the Tyros 5 before they were explicitly identified and advertised in the Montage. The Kino strings have a different character and the violin sections are panned separately left and right. Both options have multiple bowing and playing techniques (legato, spiccato, pizzicato) plus articulations. The options are also broken out into sections as well as the standard ensemble voices.

The Kino strings have more power and are more in your face than the Seattle strings. Dare I say, more bow? Where is Dave Stewart when you need him? (This review would be wittier if written by Dave Stewart, too.)

The voice DEMO feature is really handy when approaching a deep keyboard like Genos for the first time. I quickly settled on the “warm” variation of the Kino strings and Seattle strings. Either choice (Kino Seattle) would work as a bread and butter ensemble patch. I give the edge to Seattle because, well, they would sit better with piano and acoustic guitar, given our repertoire. Tyros 5 people, hold up your heads with pride.

With the loss of our group’s flutist, I’m play a lot of exposed solo lines using violin, oboe and flute. The Genos offers four Super Articulation 2 solo voices: Celtic Violin, Jazz Violin, Classical Cello and Pop Cello. The Celtic Violin is a good fit with our liturgical repertoire. The Genos cellos are quite good, definitely a big cut above the MOX6 that I currently play. I wish that I had more time to check out the cellos.

Meta-comment: Exploiting the Genos, especially its articulations and ensembles — will require practice, practice, practice.

Woodwinds

In the case of woodwinds, I need both ensemble voices (or layers) and solo voices (mainly oboe and flute). The Genos does not disappoint in either category.

I quite easily built and tried a few layers. It wasn’t difficult to create a workable reed plus horn layer — another bread and butter, every Sunday patch. Less is often more. It isn’t necessary to layer up a preset woodwind ensemble with French horn; sometimes a mellow oboe or clarinet will do.

The Genos has two SArt2 oboes (classical and pop) and an SArt “MOR Oboe.” The Classic Oboe is bright and thin, able to cut through strings. For exposed lines, I would prefer the Pop Oboe or MOR Oboe voices that have a warmer, fuller sound.

The SArt2 Classical Bassoon and Pop Bassoon are quite pleasant without moving into comedic territory. (Peter and the Wolf.)

Brass

The Genos has a mess’o’horns and classical brass. Symphony horns are quite useful in liturgy as pads and mid-range filler. Fanfare brass is too much except for the obvious holidays when all sorts of sonic mayhem can be let loose. The Genos has a wide range of horns from mellow to a brighter more open tone.

The brasher instruments (trumpet and trombone) are available solo and in sections. All quite good. Trombones are especially useful due to their wider range and deeper timbre.

The demo phrases for certain brass voices are way hotter level-wise than the strings or woodwinds. I had to adjust the audio record level way down to prevent clipping. Unfortunately, this affected the level for everything else that I recorded during the day. Sorry, I just spaced out and didn’t reset the level. (Argh!) So, you may need to adjust the audio volume at your end.

Drawbar organ

Huh? That’s not classical. Our church means gospel and a little Hispanic music, too.

I enjoyed getting into the Genos drawbar organ. There’s no undiscovered clone killer here, but Yamaha’s drawbar emulation will work in a lot of churches (and stages, too). I’m already quite familiar with Yamaha’s emulation having played both the MOX and PSR-S950.

The physical drawbars are a treat. The knobs are shaped like, er, classic drawbar knobs. The bars can be changed and played in real time, something that I miss on the MOX and to a large extent, the S950. If you select a preset, the physical position of the sliders does not directly relate to the sound, of course. The sliders are not motorized. When a slider is moved, it won’t change the sound until the slider “catches” the current internal bar value. That’s why Martin Harris “warms up” the sliders before playing the bars in his demo videos.

The new rotary speaker simulation is an improvement, but won’t knock the Neo Ventilator from its perch. Here, Yamaha have some work to do immediately:

  • The Drive parameter doesn’t seem to have any effect on the sound. (Thanks to Uli from the PSR Tutorial Forum for pointing this out.) Pushing the Drive to 10 doesn’t add any overdrive.
  • As mentioned in an earlier post, the rotor slow/fast and fast/slow times cannot be adjusted; only the horn (de)acceleration times can be adjusted.

Yamaha needs to fix these divots.

The rotary speaker sim is set too fast out of the box. This gave me a chance to dive into the DSP effect editing menus. I made the changes without too much difficulty and without a manual. Good job. I just wish that I could change the rotor (de)acceleration times, too.

This seems to be a good place to mention that sound programmers universally tend to set the times too fast, especially the ramp times. Players love it when it takes a while for those old, vintage belts and pulleys to spin the rotor/horn up and down. A lot of real B-players habitually hit the half-moon switch to keep the Leslie in its intermediate, changing state. Watching Gregg Allman do this in 1971 was a revelation that stuck with me for a lifetime!

Wot? No pipe organ? Genos carries over the quite excellent handful of pipe organ voices from Tyros 5. They’re good. Move along.

Pop instruments

Now that the main job is done, it’s time for the funk and blues.

You probably noticed by now that I haven’t said anything about the CFX and C7 acoustic pianos. You’re right and you won’t hear another word about them from me. They’re covered elsewhere, everywhere.

I did try the Suitcase Rhodes (oh, why this charade about names?), the Wurlitzer and the Clav. All will do the business. The Suitcase is still waaaay too polite for my taste in fusion. Think the fuzzed out bliss of “Mahavishnu.” That’s a 70’s Rhodes.

The SArt2 Funk Alto Sax and Funk Baritone Sax are welcome additions. I look forward to exploring those. The Jazz Flute sounds good to my ears and has interesting articulations. The Classical Flute can jam, too.

I took a listen to the new Active Bass (Music Man Stingray?) Sweet. Should provide new options when sequencing.

Then there’s the mess’o’guitars. I presume that 50’s is Telecaster and 60’s is Stratocaster? With all the DSP at hand, the electric guitars are instant “tone” with all of the right pedal-board effects dialed in. The jazz guitar sounds good. I often reach for jazz guitar when playing pop. (Need more technique, though. Practice, practice, practice.)

The sax and brass demos start out with the new funk saxes. The rhythm section demo includes Suitcase Rhodes, Wurli, Clav, CP80, Active Bass, electric guitars and jazz guitar.

Styles

At this point in the day, my ears and hands were getting trashed. I was hoping to try the styles that have been getting short shrift in on-line videos. Given the time that was left, all I could hit was “Mr. Soul” and “Soul Supreme” with the old chestnut “Acoustic Jazz” thrown in. All good for a fun-time jam.

Neither style was harmed by playing over them. I did jam quite a bit and got a decent Fishbelly Black organ tone out of the drawbar organ and rotary sim. Oh, happy day!

Workflow

You should be able to sense my time urgency at this point because my comments are getting shorter and shorter.

I played along with a few MIDI and WAV audio songs in order to assess the workflow for OMB. Even without playlists and registrations, the Genos has a much smoother workflow than the Montage in this regard. Montage designers should take note because many Montage players incorporate audio and MIDI tracks into their performances, too.

I botched a chance to try Revo drums with a MIDI file. I brought the USB drive that contains my WAV audio and MIDI backing tracks. I played along with “Just My Imagination,” a track that suffers from extreme “machine gun” drum rolls. Darn, with time pressing, I forgot to re-voice the file with a Revo drums kit! Bummer.

Summary

Genos is waaaaaay too much for two hours. Two weeks, two months, maybe.

There you have it. Genos? Yes, I played one. As you can tell from this quick review, I’m more enthusiastic than ever about Genos.

Need more information about Super Articulation voices? Please look here.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

First look at new Genos effects

New Genos effect algorithms

To my way of thinking, Genos/Tyros/PSR DSP effects consist of two parts: an effect algorithm and sets of preset parameters for the algorithm. That’s my mental model. Genos adds a number of new effect algorithms and effect presets versus Tyros 5. Here is a terse summary of the additions:

  • Reverb block
    • New presets with enhanced mid-range
  • Chorus block
    • Tempo delay, tempo echo and tempo cross delay added
  • Insertion/variation blocks
    • New distortion effects (not included in Montage)
      • Tweed Guy: Vintage bass amp simulator
      • Boutique DC: Boutique made overdrive amp simulator
      • Y-Amp: Preamp & amp simulator for Guitar
      • Distomp: Preamp & parametric EQ simulator for Guitar
      • 80s Small Box: 80s distortion pedal simulator
    • New EQ & compressor effects
      • Uni Comp: Compressor using “downward” algorithm for making loud sounds quieter
    • New modulation effects
      • Real Rotary (Same as Montage minus horn acceleration parameters)
    • New miscellaneous effects
      • Damper Resonance:Simulates a damper resonance effect for grand piano (same as Montage)
      • Presence: Brings out the hidden presence of the input signal
      • Tyros 5 Loop Fx and Lo-Fi Drum effects moved to “Misc” category

BTW, it’s not clear if the Genos does half-pedal like the Montage. I’m thinking, “No.” Yamaha have reserved Virtual Resonance Modeling (VRM) for the Clavinova series. Genos and Montage get the DAMPER RESONANCE DSP algorithm instead.

I’ve been trying to decode the names of the guitar effect algorithms. Yamaha seem incredibly paranoid about stepping on someone’s trademark or copyright. Here’s my current guesses:

  • Tweed guy: Fender Bassman (’59 vintage)
  • Boutique DC: Cornell by DC Developments
  • Y-Amp: Yamaha Y-Amp
  • Distcomp: Yamaha stomp pedal
  • 80s Small Box: MXR fuzz pedal simulator

I wonder if we’ll see these algorithms ported to the Montage in an update? Just after the Tyros 5 was released, the T5’s “Real Distortion” effect algorithms were added to the Motif XF (version 1.5).

Yamaha needs to fix this divot

I did a quick compare of Montage effects vs. Genos effects. As mentioned above, Genos adds the new rotary speaker effect algorithm first released in Montage. Here is a correspondence table:

Montage           Genos             MSB LSB Genos preset name
----------------  ----------------  --- --- --------------------------
ROTARY SPEAKER 1  ROTARY SPEAKER 1  99  16  Dual Rotary Speaker Bright
                                    99  17  Dual Rotary Speaker Warm
ROTARY SPEAKER 2  REAL ROTARY       69  32

“ROTARY SPEAKER 1” is the former, go-to rotary speaker effect algorithm (WARM and BRIGHT).

At this level, all looks great. Except, the Genos Data List PDF shows 16 parameters for the REAL ROTARY algorithm while the Montage Data List shows 18 parameters. The Genos leaves out:

No. Parameter               Range                 Value      Tbl No.
--- ----------------------- --------------------- ---------- -------
17  Slow-Fast Time of Rotor x0.21 - x1.00 - x2.00 (14 - 127) 49
18  Fast-Slow Time of Rotor x0.21 - x1.00 - x2.00 (14 - 127) 49

Either the Genos cannot store more than 16 DSP parameters or it cannot display/edit more than 16 DSP parameters.

Whatever the reason, this stinks and Yamaha need to fix this divot. People need to set the (de)acceleration times for both the horn and rotor. They have sinned in the eyes of B-3 purists and must atone.

Genos Firmware V1.10

All is not bleak, however. Genos Firmware version 1.10 has been announced. Yamaha’s quick summary:

  • What’s new?
    • Audio Multi Recording function is available
    • Search function while adding the Playlist
    • Supports use with the Yamaha Expansion Manager (V2.5.0 or later)
    • Supports Expansion Audio Style
    • Wireless LAN status can be checked on the Time display
    • Improved the performance of the instrument
    • Fixed other minor problems
  • Registration Memory can additionally save following parameters
    • Arpeggio Velocity
    • Arpeggio Gate Time
    • Arpeggio Unit Multiply
    • Style Retrigger Rate
    • Style Retrigger On/Off
    • Style Retrigger On/Off & Rate

The update adds support for Yamaha Expansion Manager (YEM) voice editing and pack installation.

The update is scheduled for release on 1 November 2017. The Genos Reference Manual and Data List were pulled pending the release of the update. The fact that a quick update was in the works might explain why the V1.0 Reference Manual and Data List were delayed. Big corporations move with leviathan speed. [No real news, there.]

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

Genos and the future of Montage

A member of the Yamaha Synth forum asked me for some thoughts about the future of Montage given what we know about Yamaha Genos™. Here is my reply with a few additions.

What’s in the future?

I tend to think about the Genos and Montage as brother and sister in the same way that Tyros and Motif are brother and sister. Different, but they share the same technological DNA and a lot of the same musical DNA (waveforms and voices).

Since the two flagship products are on different development schedules, they tend to leap frog each other with respect to new waveforms and voices. This was certainly true over the 10+ year history of the Motif and Tyros product lines.

I’m now calling this my “Leapfrog hypothesis.” It’s a hypothesis because I don’t have any privileged knowledge of Yamaha’s development process. (I wish I did, but then, I’d be under NDA and couldn’t tell you. 🙂 ) I started thinking about this last year and if you’re interested, please read about it here.

The hypothesis is based on clues from Martin Harris, one of Yamaha’s key developers. The Montage, for example, adopted the much-promoted Seattle strings and Telecaster guitar from the Tyros 5. In return, the Genos has adopted the CFX acoustic piano, electric piano ambient noises and other waveforms from the Montage. Other examples of lateral DNA transfer are VCM effects and Real Distortion guitar effects.

Sound development is so expensive that Yamaha must reuse sonic DNA. It simply cannot afford to fund two independent lines of sound development. As long as the waveform quality is high — and it is — sharing is good for all of us. It spreads out the cost of sound development over a larger number of units and customers. I honestly don’t begrudge the inclusion of some musical style or instrument voice which I will likely never use. If someone else’s purchase helps me to make my kind of music, then I don’t mind paying it forward a little bit.

I don’t have any inside knowledge, but sound development at Yamaha seems to be a continual process. The next top-of-the-line (TOTL) taps into the latest results. Expect larger, detailed waveforms and more articulations in future Montage voices. Also, stereo doesn’t rob polyphony anymore and there will be wider use of stereo waveforms.

So, yes, I would expect the newest voices from Genos to eventually appear in the Montage series: C7 acoustic piano, resonator guitar, Strat, Revo drums, Mega Voices, etc. We haven’t seen the Data List for the Genos as yet, so it’s hard to do a detailed analysis of what’s new in Genos above Montage. Would Montage voices be programmed differently? Sure, Montage and Genos are different platforms serving different needs.

I think it’s safe to say that there will be a re-spin of the Montage hardware sometime. When? That’s on Yamaha’s secret road map. Like the Genos, the Montage sound engine is scalable and can grow into new shoes, so to speak. Everything else in the crystal ball is vapor.

Beyond all that, I see a revenue opportunity for Yamaha by providing new waveforms, voices and related content through Yamaha Musicsoft. If I had a TOTL synth with expansion memory, I would be willing to pay for a sonic upgrade. I currently play a “lowly” MOX6 without expansion memory, so I’m looking for a new platform — either Montage or Genos — based on my musical needs, goals and process.

A most useful paragraph

Here is the most useful paragraph that I’ve read all week. It’s taken from the October 2017 issue of Sound On Sound magazine. Hope it helps you, too.

“These days, many studio engineers create their mixes with a compressor and an EQ sitting across the master stereo bus, whether in their console or DAW software. With the compressor set up to deliver maybe 2-3 dB of low-ratio compression and the EQ adding a gentle boost to the low and high frequencies (and/or slightly scooping the mid-range), the intended result is an enhancement of a mix’s energy and excitement that approximates the effect of that part of the mastering process.”

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski
Except the excerpt from Sound On Sound magazine

Montage tidbits

Martin Harris. Now, there’s a person who loves his job!

Even though the camera work is a little shaky, I recommend the Montage demonstration by Martin Harris of Yamaha.

Martin’s demo concentrates on acoustic and electric pianos, section and solo strings, brass, Irish whistle and pads — all from a cinematic perspective. Not much EDM here.

I like Martin’s demonstrations because he adds information about sample and voice development. Even though he calls it a “whistle stop tour,” it’s more like a tour of the world. Yamaha have traveled the world to sample the best instruments and players. Here are a few examples as mentioned by Martin:

  • Section and solo strings: Seattle
  • Brass: Los Angeles (L.A. horns)
  • Classical men’s choir: Germany
  • Classical boy’s choir: Estonia
  • Flamenco guitar: Madrid
  • Brazilian percussion: Sao Paulo
  • Turkish percussion: Istanbul
  • Iranian percussion: Tehran
  • Middle Eastern percussion: Bahrain
  • Irish whistle: Ireland

Before people complain about the cost of a top-of-the-line keyboard like the Montage or Tyros, they really should take the cost and time of sampling and voice development into account!

The Montage CFX grand piano is all new sampling. Martin stated the compressed total waveform size as 300 Mbytes, approaching 1 GBytes uncompressed. At demo time (April 2016), the Montage CFX was the biggest sampled piano in the Yamaha line. The Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos are also new sampling.

Guitars also got an update. Martin and Gibson steel guitars were sampled. The sampled Telecaster is a $60,000, 1957 vintage Tele. Martin mention how, in the past, Yamaha removed the dirt from samples. Today they leave in some of the idiosynracies, charm and character.

If you enjoyed Martin’s demo, here are a few blog posts to check out. Last April, I made a list of new waveforms in the Montage vs. the Motif XF. I also wrote a thought piece about waveform memory size and sample development.

New sound development, including sampling, is a continual, on-going process at Yamaha. In an era when waveform memory is relatively big and inexpensive, sound developers need to work overtime in order to fill available memory space. I think the limiting factor now is the amount of time and human resources available to produce new samples and to program new expressive voices.

Copyright © 2017 Paul J. Drongowski

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

Montage review: Yes, I’ve played one!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montage: New waveforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nord Stage 2 ex: Test Drive

The Yamaha Montage announcement got me thinking about the kind of “all-in-one” keyboard that I would like to play. I still enjoy playing my Nord Electro 2, but the NE2 falls short as an all-in-one. My all-in-one needs to be strong in B3 organ, pipe organ, acoustic sounds, and to a lesser extent, electric pianos. Ideally, the action would be a waterfall keyboard or a good quality “synth action” keyboard. I do not need the weight or expense of a hammer action keyboard. And speaking of weight, the all-in-one should be as far under 20 pounds (about 10 kg) as possible.

The current Nord Electro 5d has gotten very favorable reviews. As one would expect of Nord, it is one of the leading clonewheels, has very good electric pianos, and plays back sampled acoustic instruments from the Nord Sample Library. The 5d has a waterfall keyboard, sliding drawbars, and a nice clear OLED display. The 5d can layer and split voices with a few limitations. Finally, musicians can create sample-based voices of their own using the Nord Sample Editor.

Looks great and the on-line demos sound good! Now, where can I find one to try? This is a dilemma faced by many musicians today and it’s not only trying to find Nord products on display in store. Brick and mortar stores cannot afford to keep a wide spectrum of keyboards on the floor just in case someone feels the urge to try out a new ax. Keyboard sales are not that hot — guitars out-sell keyboards by 5 to 1 when measured in dollar sales volume. Plus, pro-level keyboards are expensive and that’s a lot of money to tie up in inventory.

Fortunately, the nearest GC (the store whose name I dare not speak) had a Nord Stage 2 ex 88 on the floor. So, I grabbed my audition folder and took a drive. I’m glad that I did. (Wednesday night at 8PM is a good time. No shredders and head cases.)

Most NE5 reviews focus on the clonewheel and electric piano sounds. Nord Stage reviews put the synthesizer section to the test, too. My review is different because I decided to concentrate on the quality of the sampled acoustic instruments. One leap of faith is needed: the acoustic instruments on the Stage are not doctored up by the synthesizer when compared to the NE5. Still, a favorable response to the Stage has encouraged me to look for an NE5d to try, possibly by going to the downtown Boston store. (A day trip for me.)

I scrolled through the Stage’s presets and pulled an appropriate lead sheet from my audition folder whenever I found a voice that I wanted to try. I played mainly hymns and liturgical service music from our repetoire: contemporary hymns, traditional hymns, gospel hymns, etc. Yeah, some B3 got in there. I’m weak.

Without being long-winded, here’s a quick rundown.

  • The handfull of pipe organ sounds (big church and chapel) are pleasing and useful. The big cathedral sounds are not overdone, one of my biggest complaints with typical synth “church organs.”
  • Strings? You got ’em. Big, small, sections, solo. The majority of the string voices are very playable. Big strings that are rich without getting screechy in the high end.
  • The orchestra brass ensembles are generally darned good. The trombone section is too loud and brash for church. Softer French horn voices are needed, too. The few horn voices are borderline bright and loud — I need mellow. The pop brass ensembles sound terrific. (“Knock On Wood,” anyone?)
  • Woodwinds, too, are a mixed bag. The woodwind sections are good and playable. The orchestra solo winds (except the flute) are terrible. If I bought an NE5d today, I would cobble together my own solo oboe and clarinet. Although it wasn’t a focus, I played one sax patch that was pretty decent and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to play it in public.
  • B3. Nord groovy as usual. The B sounded darker compared to my memory of the NE2. The Stage has the fast/slow switch on the left where it should be. Nord needs to make the switch BIGGER as it is really difficult to find and hit. (I switch speeds via foot pedal normally, so this is a minor niggle.)
  • Electric pianos, thumbs up.

The Nord Stage 2 ex 88 has a hammer action keyboard. I was pleasantly surprised to find it easy to play organ with this action. The keys did not cut my hand when doing palm swipes and I didn’t have too much trouble playing with a legato touch. Nice work, Nord.

You might reasonable ask, “Why use sampled pipe organ when the NE5d has modeled pipe organ?” The modeled organ solely consists of principal pipes. I think I could use the modeled organ to lead congregational singing as principals are a clear, supportive voice. However, after listening to the demos, the principal pipes alone get “same-y, same-y” fast. I hope Nord continues their work on modeled pipes as the current implementation needs a more varied sound (e.g., reed voices, and so forth).

Overall, the Nord Stage 2 88 left me with a very favorable impression. Despite the shortcomings mentioned above, the acoustic instruments are pro-quality and suitable for liturgical music. I will seek and find a Nord Electro 5d for trial. It’s worth the effort. The Nord Stage 2 ex Compact (73-key waterfall) has a street price around $3,600 USD. The Yamaha Montage 7 (FSX action) has a street price around $3,500 USD. I see a shoot-out on the horizon…

What you might have missed…

Here’s a few small items that you may have missed in the deluge of Montage-related videos and forum comments.

Stephen Fortner — former editor of Keyboard Magazine — shot an interview and demo with Yamaha’s Nate Nate Tschetter back in December 2015. It’s a sneak peak. Here’s the link:

Montage sneak peak with Keyboard Magazine

Dave Polich is a sound programmer and musician who has contributed voices to many keyboards including the Motif series and now Montage. Dave made an interesting post to the Gearslutz.com site:

I’ve had one in my studio since January of 2015 (because I’m on the Yamaha sound design team).

It sounds great. It does not sound “thin”. You can make it sound thin with EQ or filters if you want. It’s very loud, about twice as loud as the Motif XF. Bottom end is warm, full, midrange is punchy and present, highs are detailed and clear. It’s the only true 8-operator FM synth on the market now. it is not the old DX7 style of FM sound, but very high-definition, the engine is similar to the FS1R but no formants, however, you do have more than just sine-waves as carriers/modulators, every operator can have resonance and its own amplitude envelope, plus you have global filter and amplitude envelopes available for an FM “part” (which is the same as a “voice”, or single sound, in the old Motif series), as well as DSP effects. There are loads of new samples. Effects are the usual superior Yamaha quality. The motion control features are insane. It has an envelope follower that works. Do I care about the lack of sequencer? Absolutely not. I just like a synth that sounds good. Montage is a true synthesizer (FM) with sample playback…great combination.

The factory sounds are a good balance between bread-and-butter and EDM. The electric pianos feature adjustable balance between the main tine sound and the mechanical noise. The organs feature adjustable overdrive, leakage, chorus/vibrato and percussion. Yes there is a 9-drawbar B3. Many of the sounds are hybrids of FM and sample playback, including string and brass sounds. There are FM bell and percussion sounds, guitars, sitars, dulcimers, basses, electric pianos, clavs, and tons of FM pads, soundscapes, and edgy EDM sounds too.

Don’t judge anything based on YouTube audio, that audio sucks. SoundCloud audio sucks. The only way you should hear it is in person.

I hope that Dave doesn’t mind that I quoted him here. He is a knowledgable, reliable guy.

In a separate comment, Dave mentioned that the sounds have not yet been finalized. I guess we won’t see the Data List any time soon! That might also explain why the Yamaha demonstrators seem to rely on the same Performances…

A Montage of quick thoughts

Video demos

Finally had a chance to watch a few of the longer video demos and interviews with Blake Angelos (Yamaha). He’s got that nice guy from the Midwest charm and is a heck of a player.

I’m beginning to get the idea of macro control and the Super Knob. One needs to understand the flow of values from the physical controllers, through the Super Knob, to the destination parameters within the synthesis engines. (That’s what the complicated looking flow diagram is all about.) From Blake’s comments, up to four parameters can be assigned per knob or slider. The eight knobs/sliders are routed through the Super Knob — the macro controller — to the synthesis engines. When Blake spun the Super Knob, the knob and slider indicators changed, too. This is going to require some study.

montage_mc_diagram

The developers simpified the user interface by removing SONG, PATTERN, VOICE and MASTER modes from the Motif. Now there is just Performance mode. (“Don’t mode me in.” Larry Tesler) You can still edit the voices within the context of a Performance. It’s possible to operate the entire instrument from either the touch screen or buttons. The latter is an important capability for vision-impaired players.

Much has been made about the sequencer. This is part of the simplification, too. The Montage sequencer is similar to Performance Record in Motif/MOX. It’s good enough to lay down a basic 16-track song. Then, transfer the song to a DAW for the real micro-editing. This is my workflow already, so I’m not complaining. I presume that arpeggios operate and record in the same manner as Motif. More to study now that the Montage Owner’s Manual is available.

Blake mentioned improved strings, organs, pianos, and choirs. He played a really nice FM-X voice — American Garage — that sounds like a natural jazz guitar. If this is the new age of FM, then count me in!

The Montage8 is physically ginormous and weighs 63 pounds. I cannot possibly move such a large instrument by myself anymore. I’m more interested in the Montage6 which tips the scale at 33 pounds. Still kinda heavy for me…

Sound-wise, I’m still forming a preliminary opinion. The acoustic piano has terrific dynamics from soft to loud. (Producers who compress the snot out of a song in search of “loudness” probably don’t care.) The motion control examples are appealing: changing between string section size, orchestral brass swells and morphing through choir, string and organ layers.

For people complaining about “thin sound” or whatever, please give it a rest until you have a chance to play a Montage in person through decent monitors. The videos, etc. all suffer from crap compression. Kind of ironic because…

Pure Analog Circuit (PAC)

PAC seems to be the least understood and appreciated feature. Essentially, Yamaha paid careful attention to the design of the post-DAC circuitry. Here is a quote from the PAC developers:

During the development of the MONTAGE hardware we focused on improving the performance of the audio output circuitry. We devoted a great deal of time and effort to its design, seeking advice from a variety of people as we built prototypes and conducted audio tests in a repeating cycle that let us establish the direction we wanted to take. The resulting circuitry delivers more natural harmonic content and a greater clarity in the mid- to high- frequencies, allowing us to realize a distinctively crisp, clear tone. Reviewing the pattern used on the printed circuit board produced enhancements that led to a better signal-to noise ratio, which, in combination with the low noise connections from the MONTAGE (made possible with a TRS balanced audio output circuit) improves the sound conveyed to the listener still more.

PAC demonstrates considerable attention to detail and analog audio quality.

The PAC engineers in the developer interviews mentioned that the “analog power supply for the DAC was the real key to the sound quality.” A clean signal begins with clean power. From the quote above, they carefully designed and analyzed the signal traces (wires) on the printed circuit board to eliminate stray signal effects like crosstalk. The engineers also specified high-grade capacitors (“condensers.”) This is old school engieering!

I’ve heard and seen a lot of schmutz at the outputs of various keyboards. Manufacturers, you know who you are. Higher-end Yamaha products are dead quiet. (PSR-E443 needs help, tho’.) I hope Yamaha keeps an eye on its suppliers, especially if they contract with China. Vendors get tempted to replace high-grade components with cheaper components of dubious quality. Apple got burned this way with the first batch of iMac G5s. Vigilance.

Platform

One simply cannot forget that there are real breathing human beings behind these products. Please be kind.

The developer video gives the impression that the engineers were given the time to make the instrument right. The engineers may disagree with this perception, of course. 🙂 Viewed through the lense (mine) of an engineering manager, the group seemed a little too “ponderous.” I doubt if an American manager would have had the patience to give the group time.

Given the relatively long time between product releases, Yamaha needs to view its flagship products as platforms which evolve via periodic updates. The Motif XF version 1.5 update, for example, was a good product extender. I recommend annual updates at the very least. These products are enormously expensive and Yamaha cannot risk good will by making customers wait for major product generations (e.g., XS to XF) to get improved functionality and by making customers buy a whole new keyboard on top of it! Many customers want Montage to step up to the Kronos, for example, and an evolving platform strategy might let Yamaha get there with modest resources.

Peace

I’m continually shocked by some of the negativity in Web forums. Debate over features is acceptable; personal, derogatory comments are not. How can we address war, poverty, hunger, homelessness and disease if we cannot even accept another person’s style of music? Or merely their age?

Please, let’s strive for peace.

Site content is Copyright © Paul J. Drongowski unless otherwise indicated.