Yamaha MODX

Mon­tage now has a trio of new sib­lings us­ing the same FM-X and AWM2 tech­nol­ogy. Dan ‘JD73’ Gold­man gets Mod-X-ing!

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Much like Korg with their Kross and Krome, Yamaha’s flag­ship Mon­tage en­gine (which fea­tures their AWM2 and FM-X tech) has now trick­led down to their brand new MODX range, re­plac­ing the MOX range in the process. There are three mod­els in the MODX range in­clud­ing 61 and 76-note synth-ac­tion mod­els and an 88-note weighted model. For this re­view, I’m go­ing to be tak­ing a look at the MODX7 and 8 (the 76-note synth-ac­tion and 88-note weighted mod­els).

Firstly let’s take a quick look at the form fac­tors. The 88-note weighted ac­tion GHS (Graded Ham­mer Stan­dard) MODX8 weighs 13.8 KG (a notch over 30lbs) and is aimed at those want­ing to get the most from pi­ano and elec­tric pi­ano sounds, or to use as a weighted con­troller. Yamaha de­scribes this ac­tion as “great for the as­pir­ing pi­anist, be­cause it can help you build proper finger tech­nique.” This de­scrip­tion is spot-on as it does test out your fin­gers, arms and wrists (even for some­one like me, who has 35 years of pi­ano tech­nique) and also the bounce-back is quite slug­gish for fast note re­peats. I’d have liked a more au­then­tic and bet­ter-bal­anced weighted ac­tion, es­pe­cially as the slow re­sponse im­pacts on play­ing fast pi­ano lines and synth stuff too. In con­trast, the 76-note ac­tion feels light and very fast to play, though some will find it too light for ac­cu­rate pi­ano play­ing (iron­i­cally, I pre­ferred play­ing pi­ano via this ac­tion to the GHS keybed). One other down­side to all the MODX ac­tions is no af­ter­touch – as I’ve said many times to man­u­fac­tur­ers, I don’t think af­ter­touch should ever be lost, es­pe­cially for a board as deep in the synth depart­ment as the MODX!

Build and looks-wise there’s no mis­tak­ing the Mon­tage her­itage and the MODX7 is a ridicu­lously light, gig­ging mu­si­cians’ dream ma­chine, at just 7.4kg. Im­por­tantly, the switchgear and knobs feel tough and the case (though light­weight tex­tured plas­tic) feels like it could with­stand some fairly heavy use. The over­all look is clean and util­i­tar­ian, yet with many of the Mon­tage’s

but­tons, knobs and slid­ers dis­ap­pear­ing (to hit the low price point), there’s a lot more un­used front panel space for plac­ing a lap­top, drum ma­chine, smaller key­board or iPad, which is

handy! Talk­ing of lost con­trols, the MODX has lost the Mon­tage’s eight rub­berised knobs with LED ring di­als and now has four multi-func­tion knobs, two as­sign­a­ble but­tons and four plas­tic-capped multi-func­tion faders in­stead of eight (this time with no LED me­ters) which can be as­signed to var­i­ous du­ties in­clud­ing (among oth­ers) part/el­e­ment vol­ume lev­els, or­gan draw­bars and scenes (which are snap­shots of per­for­mance con­trol data for quickly chang­ing up your sounds).The soft feel pitch/mod wheels from the Mon­tage have also made way for the harder plas­tic type found on the MOX and older Yamaha boards; for com­pact­ness, they are now placed above the key­board, in­stead of to the side.

Like the Mon­tage, the heart of the MODX pro­gram­ming sys­tem is the same full-colour, 7” touch-screen and data wheel/cur­sors, though you still can’t use the real-time con­trols dur­ing the edit­ing process which would speed things up con­sid­er­ably. Also, as the MODX has lost many of the Mon­tage’s di­rect pa­ram­e­ter ac­cess but­tons, there is a greater re­liance on the screen for deeper pro­gram­ming. Re­gard­less, the screen feels largely re­spon­sive and the OS feels al­most iden­ti­cal to the much more ex­pen­sive Mon­tage, show­ing just how much power has been packed in. Fur­ther­more (com­pared to the Mon­tage), the flash ROM is slightly smaller for sam­ples (and sam­ple rate is down from 192kHz to max 44.1kHz), FM-X polyphony has been halved (from 128 to 64 notes), the Pure Ana­logue Cir­cuit (post DAC cir­cuitry) has gone (and I’d say a lit­tle clar­ity/air and rich­ness has been lost as a re­sult), the out­puts are un­bal­anced ver­sus bal­anced and there’s no rib­bon con­troller. It’s ac­tu­ally bril­liant that Yamaha have man­aged to re­tained so much for the price though.

The Mon­tage’s ‘superknob’ is also in­cluded here and serves as a cen­tral ‘macro’ knob which can be as­signed to con­trol a stag­ger­ing ar­ray of si­mul­ta­ne­ous pa­ram­e­ters man­u­ally, or via the ‘mo­tion con­trol’ func­tion, which al­lows au­to­ma­tion of the knob via mo­tion se­quences (or over MIDI). The knob it­self glows dif­fer­ent user-de­fin­able colours, flash­ing with the over­all tempo (op­tional). It can also be con­trolled via foot pedal for hands-off con­trol over many pa­ram­e­ters si­mul­ta­ne­ously; you could morph from one sound into another, fade in an FM-X layer over an AWM2 layer, con­trol sev­eral lay­ers’ vol­umes or fil­ters or ef­fect lev­els/pa­ram­e­ters, and just like the Mon­tage, the MODX’s con­trol/sound-de­sign pos­si­bil­i­ties are in­cred­i­bly deep – it re­ally does feel quite un­can­nily like the Mon­tage!

Talk­ing of which, this al­most bound­less pos­si­bil­ity and pro­gram­ming depth still brings

in­evitable head-scratch­ing at times and it some­times feel over­whelm­ing, even for well-sea­soned pro­gram­ming nerds! I also wish the con­troller as­sign­ment sys­tem was faster and more in­tu­itive and even though the Mon­tage’s quick con­trol as­sign fea­ture (added in OS v2.0) is in­cluded, it’s odd that you can’t sim­ply press the con­trol as­sign but­ton (at any time), turn any con­troller, then choose a pa­ram­e­ter – this is how it should work! Also, note that con­troller as­sign­ments are made on a com­mon/ over­all level and at part level where the real-time con­trols are avail­able for each of the 16 parts and more be­sides; it’s es­sen­tially a su­per­com­plex dig­i­tal mod­u­lar and thus, you will need to spend time learn­ing the OS and set­ting up patches and con­troller as­sign­ments be­fore gigs. Once again, be sure to read the well-writ­ten man­u­als thor­oughly!

Again like the Mon­tage, there are three main lev­els for sounds; Per­for­mance, Part and El­e­ment. A Per­for­mance con­tains up to 16 MIDI parts that can be mixed/panned/ lay­ered/split (and more). A part con­tains up to eight el­e­ments (ie wave­forms/os­cil­la­tors) in AWM2 mode, (or eight op­er­a­tors in FM-X mode) and both types of en­gine can be mixed/lay­ered/split, (though un­like my SY77 there’s no RCM syn­the­sis, so no way to use AWM2 or user­cre­ated wave­forms as mod­u­la­tors within FM sounds). Thank­fully, mak­ing Per­for­mances is sim­ple and ad­ding a layer(s) to a Per­for­mance on the fly is as sim­ple as click­ing the ‘+’ but­ton on a blank chan­nel strip(s), category search­ing your sound on screen and us­ing the part faders for lev­el­ling. You can also im­port your own 44/48kHz WAV sam­ples from a USB stick into the on­board Flash ROM (re­tained at power down) and use these as you would any other el­e­ment (note: the MODX is back­wards com­pat­i­ble with Mo­tif XF AWM2 voices and DX/TX patches too). You can also drop per­for­mances into ‘live sets’ for easy/di­rect se­lec­tion and the ‘category search’ func­tion makes it easy to put per­for­mances and live sets to­gether quickly.

Once you’ve set up your live sets/ tweaked your per­for­mances how does the MODX per­form? Well, it im­presses son­i­cally (and is a huge step up from the MOX) but there are caveats. Firstly, there’s still no ded­i­cated ‘clonewheel’ en­gine. Although there’s a tweak­able ro­tary-ef­fect and some good B3 em­u­la­tions on­board, if you want the faders to op­er­ate as draw­bars you have to set them up man­u­ally. Se­condly, while AWM2 still de­liv­ers, the ana­logue sounds could be more au­then­tic and there’s still no ded­i­cated vir­tual ana­logue en­gine (as found in the Re­face CS). Thirdly, I’d still love the ‘spec­tral com­po­nent mod­el­ling’ sounds/en­gine from the Re­face CP and CP4/5 to be in­cluded, as they have some killer EPs, clavs and Wurlis on­board that of­ten sur­pass the ones on­board here. And fi­nally – there’s still no di­rect sam­pling or de­tailed multi-track se­quenc­ing, just a bare-bones 16-track ‘recorder’ with ba­sic edit­ing.

Re­gard­less, it’s hard not to gas for the MODX, given the price, fea­tures and sound. The over­all sound is clean and bright with de­cent def­i­ni­tion. Yamaha’s acous­tic sounds are great and the CFX/Bösendor­fer Grands sound great; the breadth of sonic ter­ri­tory cov­ered is vast. The EP ‘gallery’ per­for­mances/scenes are au­then­tic, while the acous­tic guitars, strings, brass and wood­winds are qual­ity too. The FM-X en­gine (with eight op­er­a­tors, 88 al­go­rithms, feed­back, ‘spec­tral skirt’ and ac­cess to the 18 fil­ter types on­board) is scar­ily com­pre­hen­sive and ver­sa­tile. Add in Mo­tion Con­trol for evolv­ing sounds, the ex­cel­lent ef­fects en­gines, A/D in­put and en­ve­lope fol­lower (with sidechain), a 5 stereo out/2 stereo in au­dio/MIDI USB in­ter­face, the porta­bil­ity and low price and re­ally, the MODX is a very at­trac­tive pur­chase for a lot of mu­si­cians.

CON­TACT KEY FEA­TURESWHO: Yamaha UK WEB: uk.yamaha.com Colour touch-screen. AWM2/FM-X en­gines (with 128/64-note polyphony re­spec­tively). 16 parts. Superknob, four faders. 5.67GB pre­set wave mem­ory. 1GB user mem­ory. USB au­dio/MIDI in­ter­face. 12-part dual in­sert ef­fects. Weight: (MODX7/8): 7.4 kg / 13.8 kg. PRIC­ING: MODX6: £1,242 MODX7: £1,420 MODX8: £1,642

SCREEN With fewer con­trols than the Mon­tage, the cen­tral touch­screen han­dles most deep edit­ing tasksKeybeds There are three dif­fer­ent keybeds avail­able in the MODX range. The MODX6 and 7 fea­ture ve­loc­ity sen­si­tive synth ac­tion and the MODX8 fea­tures a weighted 88-note keybedA/D in­put Plug in ex­ter­nal sound sources or a mi­cro­phone here. Sources can be routed through the in­put ef­fects and can also be used to shape/con­trol the in­ter­nal soundsSUPERKNOB Use this macro con­troller for edit­ing mul­ti­ple ef­fect/ mod pa­ram­e­ters si­mul­ta­ne­ously (ei­ther from the knob it­self or via a pedal)

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