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.
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.
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.
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.
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