The new Motif XS range is top of the pile when it comes to Yamaha synth workstation technology, and thus will be going head-to-head with flagship contenders from other big-name manufacturers. Does the XS have what it takes?
The evolution of synthesizers could be compared to characters in a soap opera: like soap characters, they often undergo dramatic personality transplants and extreme plastic surgery (remember Fallon in Dynasty?). In true soap tradition, the original Motif workstation disappeared upstairs in 2001 as a spotty teenager, only to reappear three years later as the village hunk with perfect teeth and a winning personality — the Motif ES. Three years on, our hero has re-emerged once more as the Motif XS, having acquired a PhD, a Porsche and a touch of sparkly bling. The XS series comes in three varieties, the XS6, XS7 and XS8, having 61-note, 76-note and weighted 88-note keyboards respectively. Apart from the XS8, which offers mLAN connectivity as standard, all three models are otherwise identical in function and operation. This review primarily examines the essential differences between the XS and ES models, so those wishing to learn more about the general history of the Motif series may like to refer back to the following articles: Motif 6/7/8 (SOS September 2001) and Motif ES6/7/8 (SOS January 2004). The version on review here is the 76-note XS7.
Aside from the new pale duck-egg-blue livery, there are two immediately visible differences that distinguish the XS from the ES. Firstly, there's a new, large 320 x 240-pixel colour LCD display which, although not touch sensitive, is a very welcome improvement over the 240 x 60 monochrome displays of previous models. Secondly, the assignable knob and fader section has doubled in size, from four columns to eight, offering even more real-time control possibilities, and greater mixing and editing flexibility. Further physical changes comprise the inclusion of an S/PDIF digital output as standard, and a new Ethernet connection that allows the XS to be directly integrated with a computer network. Connectivity otherwise remains as plentiful as on the ES, with a stereo output plus two more assignable outputs, headphone output, MIDI In/Out/Thru, USB-to-host and USB-to-device connectors, stereo analogue inputs, two assignable footpedal jacks, sustain pedal jack and an assignable footswitch jack. A couple of things have gone missing, however: the XS has lost the input jack for a breath controller (what a shame!) and there is no Smart Media card slot. This latter exclusion is of little concern, as the USB-to-device connector allows the use of practically any type of inexpensive flash RAM device for data storage. Also excluded is any means of waveform/synthesis engine expansion using Yamaha's excellent range of PLG expansion boards, which offered virtual analogue, virtual acoustic and FM synthesis, amongst others.
The XS also benefits from some invisible yet important differences, namely a brand-new tone generator (the SWP51) that has more DSP power, a more powerful compression algorithm and faster envelopes. The new core CPU processor is faster, running a completely rewritten core operating system, apparently a Linux variant. Much of the wave ROM is also newly developed.
The XS has four modes of operation: Master, Performance, Voice and Sequencer. Master mode is essentially a collection of 128 user-definable programs, rather like a 'Favourites' compilation. Each program can be either a single Voice, a Performance, a Master keyboard setup or even a Sequencer Song or Pattern, making it easy to assemble the necessary content for a live gig. Performances themselves comprise up to four Parts that can be key-split, velocity-split or layered, all responding to the keyboard on one MIDI channel. Each Part can optionally be assigned its own Arpeggio (four different Arpeggios can be running together) and associated Voice insert effects. Multitimbral setups are contained as part of a Sequencer Song and can be stored as 'Mixer' setups. A total of 32 Mixer setups can be stored for recall and use with Songs and Patterns, and additionally each Song's unique Mixer setup is stored along with the Song. If you want to use the XS as a multitimbral sound source for an external sequencer, the XS must therefore be in Sequencer mode. As with the ES models, sampling can be integrated directly into Sequencer tracks, which we will examine in due course.
The AWM2 synth engine, while essentially working on the same principle as earlier models, has been given a significant makeover: each Motif XS Voice now comprises up to eight tonal elements instead of the traditional four on previous Motifs. That in itself would be a significant enhancement, but if that potential for complexity and detail of sound wasn't enough, Yamaha have implemented what they call XA, or Expanded Articulation. XA aims to add a greater sense of realism, by allowing the player real-time access to alternative instrument articulations, using methods not unlike those found in software samplers. Typical examples would be the fret slides and harmonics of a guitar, the 'overblown' sound of a wind instrument or the alternating up-and-down bowing movements of a stringed instrument. The means for producing these multiple-articulation Voices is provided by eight different element-triggering 'conditions':
2. Legato: Element plays when set to mono mode and played legato.
3. Key Off: Element sounds when key is released.
4. Wave Cycle: Two or more elements set to this mode alternate in rotational sequence.
5. Wave Random: Two or more elements set to this mode alternate randomly.
6. All AF Off: Element sounds only when both Assignable Function (AF) panel buttons are off.
7. AF1 on: Element sounds only when AF1 button is held down.
8. AF2 on: Element sounds only when AF2 button is held down.
The two AF buttons' behaviour can also be specified as either momentary or latching. Not only are the AF buttons particularly handy for accessing different articulations — for example, pizzicato instead of arco strings, or guitar harmonics as opposed to normally fretted notes — but they can also be assigned to make temporary changes to many other Voice parameters, or even used to temporarily apply an insert effect to specified elements. Of course, you needn't be restricted to the pursuit of realism; you could just as easily use XA to create outlandish concoctions whereby a number of elements cycle through completely unrelated waveforms, for example. Unfortunately, neither of the AF buttons can be designated as a control destination for the assignable footswitch jack, which would have enabled two-handed playing at the same time as you applied an AF button's allotted functions.
The XS sequencer's note capacity is 130,000 notes, which is 96,000 fewer than the ES. This should still be more than enough for most songs, although the extra headroom would have been welcome. Songs are now storable to the XS' internal flash RAM, obviating the need to save them externally before powering down. New features of note (sorry!) include the ability to record your playing of any of the XS' four-part 'arpeggiator-and-drum-driven' Performances, live, to a Pattern or Song as a multi-part sequence — very useful for quick song construction, given that those Performances can be very inspirational. The Loop Remix facility from the ES, which jumbles up your recorded Pattern data to produce interesting variations, has also been improved, so that you can now choose the frequency at which the variations occur across an 8-bar range. Don't forget that it works with sample data too — just pop a 'sliced' drum loop into a Pattern and marvel as the XS comes up with countless new variations on the rhythm.
Four Quick Setup options are provided that configure the sequencer according to how you intend to use it. These preset configurations ensure that Local on/off, MIDI sync, arpeggio and track switches are set appropriately for either recording to the internal sequencer; recording the internal sequencer data to an external computer sequencer; recording your keyboard performance to a computer, using the XS as a multitimbral tone generator; or recording arpeggio data to an external computer.
|Feature||Motif ES||Motif XS7|
|Polyphony||128 + PLG voices||128|
|Sampling memory||Optional, up to 512Mb||Optional, up to 1Gb|
|Internal Wave ROM||175Mb equivalent||355Mb equivalent|
|Number of waveforms||1859||2670|
|Elements per Synth Voice||4||8|
|Breath Control Jack||Yes||No|
|Foot Control Jacks||2||2|
|SmartMedia Card Slot||Yes||No|
|External USB Storage||Yes||Yes|
|Audio Outputs||Stereo + 2 assignable||Stereo + 2 assignable|
|S/PDIF digital out||Optional||Yes|
|PLG Expansion Slots||3||None|
|mLAN Connectivity||Optional||XS6/7 optional; standard on XS8|
|Insert FX per Mixer/Multi||8||8|
|Filters||18 types||18 types|
|System Effects||20 reverb, 49 chorus||9 reverb, 22 chorus**|
|Insert Effects||116 types||53 types**|
|Master Effects||8 types||9 types|
|User Voices||256||128 x 3|
|User Performances||128||128 x 3|
|User Multis/Mixes||128 Mixes||32 Mixes for all Songs/Patterns|
|DAW Remote Control||Yes||Yes|
|Display||240 x 64 monochrome LCD||320 x 240 colour LCD|
|Sequencer||226,000 notes||130,000 notes|
|** Effects now consolidated into a smaller number of 'types': see effects section in main body of article for more.|