Yamaha M06

Workstation Synth

Published in SOS June 2006
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Reviews : Keyboard workstation

Looking to create a more affordable keyboard version of their Motif range of workstations, Yamaha have pared back the spec of the Motif ES a little — though not much — to create the M06 and M08.

Nick Magnus

Yamaha M06.s
Photos: Mike Cameron, Nick Magnus

Yamaha's range of Motif instruments, which was launched in 2001 with the Motif 6, 7 and 8 keyboards, now enters its third generation. The most recent models, the Motif ES Keyboard workstation and ES Rack, saw a number of enhancements and additions, not least of which was the resolution of an internal latency issue that dogged the earlier rack model. The first of this new generation, the M06 on review here, is still a true Motif, despite the absence of that name in its title.

Two models are available — the 61-note synth-action M06 and the 88-note 'balanced hammer' weighted-action M08, firmly based upon the previous models — but this time, Yamaha have aimed them more towards the semi-professional and home/project studio markets. What this means in practice is that certain economies have been made compared to the ES keyboard version. Nevertheless, these economies have not compromised the actual Motif synthesis engine, which is still the same AWM2 four-element per voice, 16-part multitimbral engine found in the ES version. Indeed, the M0 could best be compared to a Motif ES rack in a keyboard with a sequencer bolted on — although some variations in the spec prevent this from being an entirely accurate description.

Since the Motif synthesis engine has been covered in detail in earlier SOS reviews, this review will highlight the crucial differences between the M0 and its recent and closest relatives, the ES and ES Rack. Those wishing to learn more about the background details may wish to swot up with the following articles: Motif 6/7/8 (SOS September 2001), Motif Rack (June 2003), Motif ES6/7/8 (January 2004), and Motif Rack ES (May 2005).

The M06 is very similar in appearance to the ES range, sporting the familiar Motif livery and most of the same controls, although their layout differs slightly in places. Apart from the metal plate covering the underside, the keyboard casing of the M06 is of silver/grey plastic, housing a 61-note synth-type keyboard. This has a fairly long key travel, and whilst not feeling quite as 'firm' as some synth keyboards, has a pleasant enough feel that manages to be very light without feeling trashy. Both the M06 and M08 keyboards offer initial touch (velocity) only — no aftertouch, I'm afraid — although both synths will respond to aftertouch from an external source.

One physical difference to the ES is immediately apparent; there is no ribbon controller accompanying the pitch and modulation wheels. If you've not been used to having one, you won't miss it, but if you're a fan of alternative controller input devices in general, you'll also be disappointed to learn that there is no breath controller input jack either, which is somewhat unusual for a Yamaha instrument. If you're fortunate enough to own a Yamaha KX1 or KX5 remote keyboard (both of which have a ribbon controller, breath-control input and aftertouch) don't even think about putting it on eBay — plug it into the M06's MIDI input instead and use it as an external control device!

Also missing in the control department is the jack for a second foot controller; the M06 has only one of these. Continuing with the rear panel, analogue audio outs are presented as a stereo pair, and there are no additional assignable outputs. However, the M0 has been provided with a digital output (S/PDIF), a facility not found as standard on the ES keyboards, although it can be fitted as an optional extra.

Yamaha M06 2 Reader.s
There's no built-in memory storage on the M06, so I attached this USB card reader and stored all my sequencer data to it each time I wanted to power the M06 down.
There's no built-in memory storage on the M06, so I attached this USB card reader and stored all my sequencer data to it each time I wanted to power the M06 down.
There's no built-in memory storage on the M06, so I attached this USB card reader and stored all my sequencer data to it each time I wanted to power the M06 down.

Whereas the ES keyboards provide a Smart Media card slot for backing up program and sequencer data, the M0 has none. Fortunately this is no great loss, as the two USB sockets from the ES have found their way onto the M0, and it is the second USB socket (USB to Device) that is of interest here. It enables any standard USB 1.1 or USB 2.0 storage device to be connected and used for data backup. Flash card readers, Memory Sticks, CD-R drives, and even USB floppy drives are all viable options. This is a commendably sensible thing, because virtually any type of flash memory card of even modest capacity (made redundant by your posh new 20-megapixel digital camera) can become useful once again, using a standard USB card reader. Note that although you can load data from a USB CD-RW drive, you cannot write to it directly from the M06, as it has no CD-burning application of its own. Bear in mind also that some form of USB storage is an essential accessory for the M0, as all sequencer data is lost on power-off, so you'll need to store it somewhere!

Unlike the ES keyboards and Rack, the M0 is not expandable with PLG expansion boards, nor is the fitting of an mLAN interface board possible. This lack of expandability may seem restrictive, but the former point is unlikely to bother anyone who simply wants an M0 for the sounds that Motifs specifically have to offer. In fact, the PLG boards could be viewed as slightly redundant, as the M06's internal sounds are of such variety and quality. The pianos are better than the average workstation fare and are very playable, the drum sounds are more than serviceable, and the M0 can do more than passable impersonations of analogue and FM synths. The latter point — the lack of an mLAN option — may be a source of frustration to anyone with suitably equipped mLAN hardware (an 01X for example) hoping to 'up' the number of discrete audio outputs from the M0.

One final omission from the M0 spec is onboard sampling, as is the case with the ES Rack. A broad overview of the main differences between the ES models and the M0 can be seen in the ES/ES Rack/M06/8 comparison chart on the right. Elsewhere, the spec of the M06/08 remains faithful to that of the ES6/7/8, the only other notable difference being in the number of Presets: the M0 has 512 Preset Voices as opposed to the ES's 768, but it doubles the number of available User Performances to 256.

The M0's sequencer is also identical to that of the ES, featuring the same highly flexible linear/pattern-based song construction. Song and Pattern data can be converted into user arpeggios, user phrases can be created, Patterns chained and so on. Each Song can have up to five Mixer Scenes, a form of 'snapshot' automation that enables sound and mix changes to occur during the course of the Song. Particularly useful are the 32 user programmable Mixer Templates — these allow you to store all the Parts, Effects, Mix and other settings associated with a particular song or musical style as a separate file, independent of any Song data. Just call up one of these saved Templates and you're ready to start sequencing without having to set everything up.

One dissimilarity with the ES's sequencer is that there is no integrated sample sequencing, since the M0 has no sampling option. One other 'downmarket' aspect of using the M0 multitimbrally is a drop in the number of simultaneous Insert Effects — on the ES keyboard and Rack, eight Inserts could be deployed amongst the 16 Parts, whilst on the M0 there are only three Insert Effects available. This, and the reduced 64-voice polyphony, will inevitably restrict what can be achieved when using the M0 as a one-stop production tool. That said, careful placement of program changes within the three tracks (Parts) that have Insert Effects assigned to them can give the illusion of a lot more going on, as each Part's Insert Effect will change to that associated with its particular Voice Patch.

Conclusion

Listening to the demo songs, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the M06 was designed purely for hip-hop, R&B, Trance and Acid Goth Handbag. But don't let them fool you — the M0's sound palette is much broader than that. Not that anyone into more, er, 'contemporary' styles will go unsatisfied. The economies mentioned, though seemingly many, don't significantly detract from the instrument as a whole, and I'd happily recommend the M0 not only as a creative tool in the studio, but as an excellent live instrument that can be integrated very comfortably as the heart of a larger MIDI rig. If you were marooned on a desert island with an M06, with plenty of time to become totally familiar with every nook and cranny of the instrument (not to mention a spookily convenient electrical supply) you'd be turning out tracks that could compete favourably with a modest software-based virtual studio. Oh, and in case you were wondering, it plays perfectly in time! 

DAW Remote Control
I was surprised to see that the DAW Remote Control facility from the Motif and Motif ES had made it over to the M0, despite economies in other areas — but as it's a feature governed by software (the hardware would still have been as it is) it clearly wouldn't have affected the manufacturing costs in any significant way to leave it out. When connected to a computer, the M06 can act as a hardware control surface for a number of sequencers, including Cubase SX3, Yamaha SQ01 (v2), Sonar 4, Logic Pro 7 and Digital Performer v4.52. Aside from remote operation of the sequencer transport controls, you can select tracks, change volume, pan, mute and solo settings and arm tracks for recording. Yamaha claim you can even edit and control VST plug-ins from the M0. Naturally I had to try this out with Sonar, but no software came with the review M0 (and hence there was no remote control template for Sonar — this should be included in the bundle), so I used the Mackie Control template instead as the manual suggested. Amazingly, it worked fine, in both Sonar versions 4 and 5 — but personally I found the whole affair to be rather like painting the Forth Bridge with a mascara brush in the driving rain whilst wearing boxing gloves. Call me a Luddite, but I'm not sure why anyone would want to abandon their lovely 17-inch TFT colour screen in favour of a 240 x 60 monochrome display, cryptical menus and a limited selection of knobs — but I'm sure there must be someone for whom this is a useful facility. I had less success trying to control VST plug-ins from the M06 — in fact no success at all, possibly because the Mackie Control template is not configured to accommodate this. Frustratingly though, numerous intensive Internet searches failed to come up with the elusive Sonar template, so I was unable to put it to the test.
ES/ES Rack/M06/8 Comparison
MOTIF ESES RACK M06/8
Polyphony128 + PLG voices128 + PLG voices64
Sampling/audio InYes/StereoNo No
Ribbon controllerYes No
AftertouchYesReceived Received
Breath control jackYes No
Foot controller 2 jackYes No
Smart Media card slotYesNo No
External USB storageYesNo Yes
Audio outputsStereo, 2x assignableStereo, 4x assignable Stereo
S/PDIF digital outputOptional extraYes Yes
Optical digital outputNoYes No
PLG expansion slots32 None
mLAN connectivityOptional extraNo No
Preset arpeggios17871787 1787
User arpeggios256None 256
Insert effects per Mixer/Multi88 3
Preset voices768768 512
User voices256384 256
User Performances128128 256
User Multis/Mixes128 Mixes128 Multis 128 Mixes
Master Setups128 128
DAW Remote ControlYes Yes
Studio Connections
The Studio Connections Initiative was first discussed in the review of the Motif Rack ES. To recap, its aim is to integrate hardware-specific editing applications within software DAWs using Yamaha's Open Plug-in Technology (OPT) software format. This allows compatible hardware devices to appear within the DAW, and be edited or automated as if they were software plug-ins. All their settings (or simply those for a single device) can be stored along with the sequencer song data and recalled instantly — a concept referred to as Total Recall. To fully 'buy into' this concept, you will need an OPT-compatible DAW, and four (free) pieces of software: Yamaha's Studio Manager , the M06/8 Voice Editor, the M06/8 Multi-Part Editor, and the latest Yamaha USB driver. I'm assuming (and the manual suggests as much) that the Studio Manager software, Editors and driver are bundled with the M06, despite the fact that they weren't included with the review model. However, this was no problem, as the latest PC and Mac versions of these are available for download at www.yamahasynth.com.
Studio Manager is invoked from within an OPT-compatible DAW, providing access to the M0 editors without having to run them as separate, external applications. Compatible devices' editing applications can also be operated remotely, meaning that a Yamaha 01X, for example, could be configured as a hardware control surface for the M06. The list of products that can make use of this system has grown slightly since the ES Rack was reviewed — DAWs currently compatible with Total Recall are Steinberg's Cubase SX3 and Nuendo, and Yamaha's own SQ01 (v2) sequencer, while the hardware devices supported are Yamaha's DM2000, DM1000, 02R96, 01V96, SPX2000, S90ES, M06/08, the 01X and the original Motif and Motif ES keyboard and rack synths.
Even if your DAW is not OPT-compatible, you can still run Studio Manager as a separate application, which provides access to the M0 Editor programs. In this case, Studio Manager's settings have to be saved as a separate file and reloaded manually when the song they refer to is required again. So one-click Total Recall and plug-in-synth style integration are not possible without an OPT-compatible DAW — but nevertheless, Studio Manager still offers an easy and convenient means of editing the M06 and organising its voicing data on a per-project basis. Further information can be found at www.studioconnections.org.
Yamaha M06 £949
pros
An extremely versatile, great-sounding synth.
Full range of excellent Motif effects.
Studio Manager and editing software allow full integration with compatible DAWs.
Easy data backup with USB storage devices.
Highly capable linear/pattern-based sequencer.
That arpeggiator is still so much fun!
cons
No ribbon controller, breath controller input or keyboard aftertouch.
Not expandable with PLG voice boards.
Stereo outputs only, and no mLAN expansion.
Only three insert effects available in Performance/Mixer modes.
64-note polyphony is conservative by modern sample-based standards.
summary
The M06 offers all those great Motif sounds, and is helped along by comprehensive master keyboard facilities, a powerful sequencer, a superb arpeggiator and loads of excellent effects. Despite certain economies compared to the ES models, the M06 carves its own niche as an excellent choice for live performance, as a songwriting tool and also as a fully integrated 'software-hardware' synth when combined with an OPT-compatible DAW.
information
M06, £949; M08 £1349. Prices include VAT.
Yamaha-Kemble Brochure Line +44 (0)1908 369269.
+44 (0)1908 368872.


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