Yamaha Reface (No, I haven’t played it)

It’s Internet de rigueur to comment on the new Yamaha Reface keyboards — whether you’ve played them or not! So, here goes…

I’m in fat city with an original AN-200 (Prophet-5 plus beat machine in a box), a P-50m (pianos in a box), a CS-01 (monophonic analog synthesizer) and a Nord Electro 2. Although a few of these pieces are gathering dust, they pretty much cover the sonic territory of Reface. DX-wise, I had more than enough FM in the 80’s, thank you, and could always get my old CE-20 repaired, if the urge to frequency modulate should ever overcome me again. Overall, I’m unlikely to take the plunge and buy a Reface keyboard just out of necessity.

First off, I genuinely wish Yamaha all the success in the world with these products. This is the first time that Yamaha have strayed from the AWM2 mainstream in some years. I would hate to see this innovative product line tank and make Yamaha risk-averse. The Reface product line started out as an after-hours skunk works engineering project. The fact that Yamaha committed to manufacturing and marketing Reface is significant and shows real effort to shift their corporate culture. Further, if Reface makes scads of money for Yamaha, then its profits will lift other boats within Yamaha.

Sonically, Reface sounds pretty darned good. The CP and YC are my favorites because they fit with the musical genres that I work in. I hope that some of this technology will migrate into future synthesizer and arranger workstation products. Spectral Component Modeling (which includes Virtual Circuit Modeling) grew from VL technology. The VCM effects in the MOX/Motif are quite good, so please give me more of that! I am pleased to see Yamaha work on organ emulation and would like to see the drawbar control, vibrato/chorus and rotary speaker effects in a new workstation. Both the Motif/MOX and higher-end arrangers are missing the Hammond “vibrato scanner” effect — a significant omission.

So, why am I not buying? Apparently, “mini” keyboard sales are making money for Novation and others, and Yamaha wants a piece of this market. The decision to use mini-keys strongly bifurcates the marketplace — you either like (accept, tolerate) mini-keys or you don’t. I’m a “don’t.” I have tried mini-keys in the past and, well, no thanks. This is not an “anti-Yamaha” position — I lost all interest in the Korg Odyssey, for example, when I learned that it had mini-keys.

The Reface is touted as a portable, take-it-anywhere keyboard. If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that I’ve put together a portable rig based on the Korg Triton Taktile (TT.) The TT has 49 full-size keys and is not much bigger or heavier than a Reface. The TT key bed is excellent and four octaves is enough room to roam. Although the TT is missing the up-to-date tone generation and effects technology in Reface, it’s a very playable alternative to Reface.

Finally, there is the issue of the $500 street price. I suspect that Yamaha is looking to make a few extra bucks from the early adopters. Korg may have pursued the same strategy with the TT. They brought the TT out at a higher street price and then eventually reduced the price to the current $350 USD. The TT comes with a superb bundle of software plug-ins and offers, making it a terrific bargain. Unfortunately, for Yamaha, this is the competition facing Reface (pun intended) and a $500 street price looks mighty steep for an ax with mini-keys and no free software incentives.

Internet reaction from Reface detractors has been vehement — far over the top, in my opinion. It seems like some people have taken Reface as a personal affront! Please, settle down. Yamaha is a big company and they will surely roll out new products for the rest of us. The Motif refresh is overdue, for example, and must be in the works. It’s good to see Yamaha releasing new products that are out of its mainstream offerings. All the best!