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Yamaha MODX

Published January 2019
By Robin Bigwood

Yamaha MODX

Yamaha's seriously capable MODX is a Montage for the masses.

As we roll towards the end of the decade, it's fair to say that synth players have never had it so good. Great-sounding, reliable, knobby analogues (and virtual analogues) are everywhere. The modular landscape grows ever more diverse and colourful. And lots of this stuff is surprisingly affordable (at least compared to the 'good old days').

It's notable, though, that Yamaha have been largely absent from the self-consciously retro, hip, analogue renaissance. Leaving aside the mini-key Reface series, their big thing of late has been the Montage: the flagship, phenomenally capable and flexible not-quite-workstation that has replaced the long-lived Motif range.

Now, just as the Motif spawned the more affordable MOXF, we have a trickle-down of Montage tech in the shape of the MODX. In typical Yamaha fashion it's another range of three models: the 61-note MODX6, 76-note MODX7, and 88-note hammer-action MODX8. Specifically it's the MODX7 that's on test here: for many players, me included, 76-note keyboards represent a sweet‑spot combo of flexibility without undue heft (MIDI controller keyboard manufacturers, are you listening?), and that's why I specifically opted to try it. But in fact all the models have exactly the same synthesis capabilities, identical front‑panel controls and rear‑panel I/O.

Names & Faces

A lot has already been made, on various synth forums, of the 'DX' part of the MODX model name. It's especially resonant with the MODX7, which, with the right application of black insulation tape on the rear‑panel graphics, could cause some real back-to-the-future moments. I'm referring of course to Yamaha's seminal 1983 FM synth, the DX7, which more or less killed off the big-money analogues of that era. You had to be there, really: I was, and I do distinctly remember my first time playing a DX7. It was thrilling, refreshing, almost transformative. More recent experiences with original DXs have been distinctly disappointing (nostalgia definitely not being what it was...) but that's not the point: Yamaha's resurrection of 'DX' is without doubt there to affirm their stature in synth history, as well as to call out the MODX's extensive FM capabilities, now that the Elektron Digitone and various Eurorack modules have made it cool again.

As to whether it's pronounced Mo' (ie. 'more') DX or Mod-Ex... Well, I suspect that could run and run, like a Japanese version of Moog and Mogue. I don't suppose the synth will...

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Published January 2019