As its name implies, the Montage combines multiple technologies within a single, powerful instrument. But does it have what it takes to be the market leader Yamaha want it to be?
Yamaha were once the unassailable titans of polyphonic synthesis. In the 1970s, the GX-1 and then the CS-80 defined the forefront of analogue synth development before, in 1983, the company almost single-handedly destroyed the market for large analogue polysynths when the DX7 swept aside the likes of Prophet 5, the OB8, and the Memorymoog. But in the late ’80s and ’90s the company seemed to lose their edge. Further releases suffered at the hands of the Roland D-50 and the Korg M1, followed by the Kurzweil K2000 and the Korg Trinity. More recently, the Motif and its many spin-offs have been hugely successful, but even the most powerful of these were eclipsed by the Korg OASYS and Kronos.
There had to be a time when Yamaha would attempt to reassert their authority and, when launching the Montage, the company were clear that this had been designed to be ‘the’ flagship synthesizer of the current era. Almost inevitably there were a few niggles with early units and, with some patches, some players reported a small latency between pressing a key and the onset of the sound, But any initial problems appear now to have been eliminated. With new firmware that includes sounds, additional effects, more flexible modulation routing, and additional programming screens and facilities, Montage v1.5 now seems ripe for review.
Perhaps the most important thing you need to understand about the Montage is that it’s a synthesizer rather than a workstation. It offers two sound engines (AWM2 and FM-X) that you can use separately or combine freely in composite sounds and multitimbral setups, plus highly evolved arpeggiation, multitimbral effects and a basic MIDI recorder, but no sampling capabilities and no audio/MIDI sequencing. I have often wondered whether the world needs another synth with an on-board sequencer that will be ignored in favour of the likes of Digital Performer, Logic or Sonar (it doesn’t), so I am delighted that Yamaha’s programmers have invested their time and expertise on its sound.
Although it is 16-part multitimbral, there’s no ‘patch’ level for programming sounds: everything is done at the Performance level, which combines sound selection, editing, mixing, multitimbral assignments, and much more. I applaud this. In the past, when memory was neither plentiful nor cheap, the common architecture was to create individual sounds in a Patch or Program mode, and then combine these into more complex Multis/Combis/Performances that comprised numerous sounds split or layered across the keyboard, or arranged multitimbrally, as required....
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