Two and a half years after the launch of Yamaha's impressive Motif workstation synth, the range has been further enhanced and upgraded. How much better can it get? We find out...
Yamaha's Motif family of sampling, sequencing, synth workstations was launched in 2001 (reviewed SOS September 2001). Since then, the range has carved quite a niche for itself in a market that has just a handful of major players — the various flavours of Korg's Triton and Roland's recent Fantom S come to mind. Now that Yamaha have decided it's time to upgrade the range, it would seem that they've preferred to take advantage of public familiarity with the Motif name rather than launch a completely new range. Enter the Motif ES (or 'Expanded System').
In response to user requests, many extra features were added to the original Motif over time by way of software updates. But some of the requested facilities required hardware changes that would be impossible to retrofit to an existing instrument. Having made the decision to produce a 'next generation' of Motifs, it was a logical step to develop a new chipset that would make these enhancements easy to implement.
There wasn't a whole lot wrong with the original Motifs, and the technology is still appearing in new gear such as the S90 88-note synth I reviewed last month (albeit with the benefit of the aforementioned Motif software updates built in). But we're nearly three years down the road, and technology has moved on. Hence, ES offers 128-voice polyphony (more than double that of the original), redesigned effects and EQ, even more pattern-generation capability from the arpeggiator, and an operating system that seems generally smoother and faster. More fundamentally, perhaps, there is also a new synth engine. Subjectively, the filters seem to me to have a more 'analogue' feel — more than the average sample-based synth — and the EGs are very responsive. And there's a much larger waveform ROM on board; it's equivalent to 175MB, with 1859 waveforms. Many offer specialised, performance-based samples (for example, guitar string squeaks and harmonics) which are combined in the factory presets to provide voices that produce many of the signature effects of the instruments being simulated (more on this later). Also more numerous are the factory Voices: 768 presets in six banks, and 64 factory drum kits, plus a General MIDI sound set and 256 user Voice memories (and 32 user drum kit locations). That's a lot more Voices than on the original Motif!
Strangely, for an enhanced instrument, a number of features have gone missing, the most odd of which (on UK-bought instruments, anyway) is onboard sample RAM! Yes, in order for your new sampling synth workstation to sample, you'll first have to buy some RAM. To be fair, RAM prices are volatile in the UK at the moment, and it must have been tricky for Yamaha to work out costings that included RAM, but it still feels like an expense is being passed on to the customer so the price of the ES can be kept down. Mind you, I should point out that unlike Yamaha's last few rounds of sample-based products, the ES's onboard sampler benefits from using standard, widely available and affordable DIMM RAM modules — to a total of 512MB.
Other features — such as the option to add Yamaha's PLG synth-expansion boards and the ability to use the ES as a sophisticated master keyboard or real-time control surface — remain from the original Motif, albeit with subtle enhancements here and there.
- 128-voice polyphonic.
- 16-part multitimbral.
- 176MB of ROM sounds (1859 waveforms) with 68 preset voices, 64 drum kits, 128 GM voices, one GM drum kit, 256 user Voices, and 32 user drum kits.
- Arpeggiator with 1787 preset and 256 user patterns.
- 16-track, 226,000-note capacity linear/pattern-based sequencer, with real- or step-time recording, 480ppqn resolution, full cut/paste editing, and recordable controller movements.
- 16-bit stereo sampler offering 44.1kHz, 22.05kHz, 11.025kHZ, and 5.5125kHz sampling rates (48kHz, and 32kHz are available with the optional AIEB2 board installed). Up to 512MB of sample RAM can be accommodated, with a maximum sampling time of around 50 minutes at 44.1kHz with 512MB of RAM. WAV, AIFF, and Akai samples can be loaded.
Look quickly, and you'd be forgiven for thinking there were no physical differences between the original and the new Motif. The striking silver livery, the central LCD, and the number and layout of knobs, sliders, buttons, not to mention the front-panel screening and connector complement, is practically identical. But there are differences, some subtle, some significant. One of my favourite changes is the move to big chunky buttons for the sequencer transport controls — very satisfying. There's also more direct, front-panel control over where the real-time knobs and sliders are routed. And I was glad to see a rather Korg-like ribbon controller join the pitch-bend and modulation wheels as a source of real-time control. A few extra buttons allow access to the extra factory preset Voice banks and a couple of other functions.
Operationally, existing Motif owners will be on familiar ground — they'll just find more choices in some places and new options in others. Newcomers may have a small struggle, and won't be aided by the manual. It appears to have all the necessary bits, but like many Yamaha manuals I've experienced recently, it is not organised in the most accessible or friendly way. Nor is all information usefully indexed or referenced in what appears to be three tables of contents. If you find yourself regularly looking for a particular fact or operation, get out a yellow highlighter and some post-it notes and customise the manual to suit you — it works for me!
Luckily, the Motif is fairly logical to operate: just pay attention to what you do, particuarly paying attention to the display options that line up with the 'softkeys' laid out under the LCD. The display does get rather busy sometimes, so that it can be tricky to see where you can move a cursor, and in some cases (such as when selecting insert effects), you're not even sure if the cursor is in the right place. Quite often, though, the important information you're looking for (such as how much sampling time is left) can be found by pressing the 'Information' button! It's just under the LCD.
The back panel shows many interesting changes, reflecting perhaps the direction taken by the market for external storage devices. For example, the original Motif's SCSI port has gone; this isn't a surprising change, but not all Yamaha's supplied software is comfortable with the new non-SCSI regime, as we'll discover later (see the 'Interfacing & Software' box at the end of this article). The Motif ES retains the original's built-in Smart Media card slot and USB 'To Host' computer-bound socket, and gains an additional USB 'To Device' connector, which allows ES users to add USB-based storage devices, whether they be hard drives, ultra-compact flash RAM devices or CD-ROM drives (I even successfully tried a USB floppy drive). A CD-ROM drive would be a useful addition: a CD full of native sound libraries is supplied with UK-sold ESs, and it's possible to load samples off CD via the ES's file menu. It is not possible, however, to write data to blank CDs in a CD writer. One way or another, you'll need external storage of some kind, whether it's a Smart Media card or USB device, to store the contents of your 512MB of sample RAM.
Depending on how you work, you may need to buy yet further extra hardware to make your ES work the way you'd expect it to: I instantly noticed that the ES has also lost the original's S/PDIF stereo digital audio output. This can be restored on an ES if you buy the optional AIEB2 board (which also adds digital ins and extra analogue outs).
As with the original Motif, there are three instruments in the ES range, and all three are internally and functionally identical, with the same knob, slider and interfacing collection, as well as the same synth-expansion options. The only way the three ESs differ is in their size and their keyboards: ES6 and ES7 have a plastic velocity- and aftertouch-sensitive synth-action keyboard, of 61 and 76 notes respectively, while the sexy Balanced Hammer Action acoustic-piano simulation is saved for the 88-note Motif ES 8. Actually, there is a fourth instrument in the range, and it's a bit of an orphan: Yamaha are apparently keeping the original Motif 6 on their books as an entry-level workstation option, though obviously this instrument is rather different from the ES instruments it joins.
It's practically impossible to summarise or round up the sound of the Motif ES — there are just too many Voices and Performances! But I did develop a couple of favourites. For a chance to hear some of these, download the ZIP file of MP3 examples from the Media sidebar at the right. I liked the acoustic pianos, and they fit pop and jazz contexts nicely, as most Yamaha pianos do. The acoustic, electric and synth basses are also varied and playable, the latter particularly revealing the ES's solid bottom end.
The ES's guitars are also worthy of note, the acoustics especially offering a bright, upfront sound. The winds and brass are less varied, and the orchestral strings are OK for basses, cellos and some ensembles, but the violas and violins were not so good — they seldom are on an all-round instrument such as this. However, the drum samples are definitely worth a compliment; Yamaha's drum sounds always seem to have the right balance of useable real kit samples, processed examples, bites from drum-machine history and mangled kits aimed at more contemporary music idioms.
Purely synthetic sounds — leads, pads, textures — pour out of this instrument with presence and depth. They're also instructive as to what you, the user, will be able to create under your own steam. The rawest, squelchiest, most '80s-sounding presets work really well and are often teamed up with drums and apreggiations in fun Performances. I'm not usually one to plug one-finger music-making, but some of these are really good.
In some ways, it's good that Yamaha don't change the way that users access their synthesis technology — the basic concept of the AWM2 'Advanced Wave Memory' sample-and-synthesis system has been stable for a number of product generations. If you stick with Yamaha synths, you'll always know how to drive them, even if the waveforms, converters and synth engine change. And in some ways, this makes it easy for reviewers — after reviewing so many AWM2 products, I can summarise a Yamaha synth's hierarchy in 25 words or less!
For these reasons, existing Yamaha synth owners can skip the next few paragraphs. Those who need reminding of the typical Yamaha architecture can start by considering the Element, which would be a subtractive synth in its own right in other circumstances. An Element's oscillator is a waveform selected from the central ROM (or, on the Motif ES, from any user samples currently in RAM), and this is shaped by the Motif ES's resonant filter (choose from a possible 18 types), an LFO (which includes user-defineable modulation 'waveforms'), pitch parameters, and three EGs — one each for pitch, amplitude and filter.
There are up to four Elements in a Voice, which is the first level at which the user can play something. A Voice also allows you to mix, key-split and velocity-split the Elements, and add effects — two main effects, and two inserts that can be applied to individual Elements if desired (more detaiIs on the ES's effects engine in just a moment). An arpeggiator can be added to the brew; actually five arpeggiators can be added, and you can then instantly switch between them via five of the keys beneath the LCD.
There are a couple of buzz words floating around in the brochures and advertising for the Motif ES which don't appear in the manual. One of these is 'Mega Voice', a term that was introduced with Yamaha's Tyros home-arranger keyboard. It seemed odd that the company's top pro keyboard should inherit ideas from one of their home instruments, but there is an underlying logic. For a start, there are many automatic music creation tools built into the Motif ES — which you don't have to use, I hasten to add! — and the Mega Voice concept is basically sound. As mentioned earlier, a finished voice, typically a simulation of a 'real' instrument, is given many of the performance attributes of the real thing (for example, guitar voices will offer hammer-ons, string squeaks and body thumps). These attributes are supplied by special samples, and are accessed by changes in playing velocity or by giving them their own key range. In practice, this means that many of these sonic elements are difficult to play in real time with any sensitivity. But some of the ES's new complex arpeggiator patterns take advantage of 'Mega Voice' performance-oriented samples, so that the squeaks, bumps and so on are generated in a musically valid way (see the box on arpeggiation below for more on this).
As always, a Yamaha drum kit can have a sample assigned to each key of your keyboard, with each functioning like an independent synth. Insert effects are also available in a drum kit, along with the two main effects with sends to each from every sample in the kit.
Finally, at the top of the ES's voice architecture is the Performance: four Voices collected together with optional user-defineable key and/or velocity ranges to help create a more involving, complex sound. Arpeggiation can also be added at this level, again with five variations. If you have optional PLG synth boards installed (up to three will fit in the ES), then Voices from these boards can also be added to a Performance, so if you've spent the money, your Performance can be seven Voices strong. Unlike the Combi on Korg workstations (which is made up of up to eight parts), the four Voices in a Yamaha Performance can not be addressed on separate MIDI channels. Nor is there a way, as there was with Yamaha's own SY85 of several years back, to use Performances directly in a multitimbral Song.
Both Voices and Performances benefit from Yamaha's Category Search facility — you'll appreciate it, too, when trying to navigate the hundreds of memories on offer. The Categories are accessed via clearly labelled front-panel buttons (shown on the previous page), and the on-screen display is clear about what you're seaching. Many Categories are actually further divided into sub-categories such as 'Synth Lead' (with hard and soft types), 'Electric Piano' and 'Acoustic Piano'. The Category Search function can be accessed within sequencer Songs and Patterns for selecting Voices. In addition, the Favourites Category allows you to highlight all the sounds you use most, from within all the other Categories, and corral them into one collection. When using Category Search, the Favourites button lets you access all the Voices or Performances you know you like. Finally, your own custom Patches can be assigned to Yamaha's Categories, and this is actually a good habit to get into, even if you then further assign most of them to the Favourites macro-Category!
For me, arpeggiators remain fascinating and fun tools that I am happy to see continuing to be specified on modern music technology. Whether it's a simple straight up-and-down classic device or something much more complex, as here, an arpeggiator is a welcome tool.
The Motif ES's arpeggiator is obviously related to that on the original Motif. It can provide classic broken arpegggio patterns, and breaks the mould by heading into instant phrase-generation territory. In all, there are 256 presets and space for 128 user memories, but there is no arpeggio editor as such with which to fill the used arpeggio memories. What you do instead is convert phrases or bits of data in a Song into an arpeggio, which is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut — but at least you can create pretty much anything in a Song (or import it as MIDI File from your computer software) and turn it into an arpeggio pattern via this method.
The non-standard patterns include MIDI controller patterns and a large selection of stylistically correct instant performance styles for various real-world instrument simulations. Now, this sort of thing isn't my cup of tea (and you can ignore it if it's not yours), but there's no denying the clever programming that's gone on here. Some patterns feel like mini-multitrack sequences, which is effectively what they are. It's in this context that the rationale for those 'Mega Voices' becomes clear. Once they're allied to some of the more sophisticated arpeggiator patterns, you'll hear guitar strumming that includes including rhythmic body thumps and string squeaks, acoustic bass lines that include thumps and slides, and so on. There are also drum pattern arpeggiations that play drum kit voices in Performances, making for one-finger fun.
Arpeggiator patterns can be recorded to a Pattern or Song, or chords can be input that will be arpeggiated on Song/Pattern playback. Real-time fun can be had courtesy of the front-panel control knobs, since one of their options is to change how arpeggios play back. And a nice new touch is that arpeggiations assigned to a Voice, Song or Pattern can be transmitted over MIDI, but not those in a Performance. But note that some of the complex patterns don't work with external sounds, because they won't be programmed in the same way as internal ES Voices.
Throughout the long history of AWM2 instruments, Yamaha haven't really done much to change the effects configuration of their instruments — until now. The ES sees a big change in the way Yamaha handle effects in a synth workstation. Of course, there are send effects, and here there are two main categories: Chorus (49 types including delay effects as well as modulation) and Reverb (20 types). They are accessed by a send system whether you're working with the individual Elements in a Voice, Voices in a Performance, or Voices assigned to a sequencer Pattern or Song. In addition, there are 116 insert effects. For Voices, there are two freely assignable inserts — and they're quite sophisticated ones, too, many newly designed from scratch for the ES. Splendidly, these choices are maintained when the Voices are used in a Performance, so there's no need for insert effects per se within Performances. However, each part in a Performance also has its own three-band EQ (new for the ES), plus synth offset controls which allow you to customise a Voice from within the Performance without having to overwrite the original Voices.
In Song and Pattern modes, however, the insert effects complement is multiplied by four. You read correctly: eight insert effects, of the same quality and range, can be used within any Song or Pattern. While this arrangement doesn't quite equal the superb flexibility of Korg's Triton, it moves much closer, and is rather more powerful than what Yamaha have previously offered.
There are no new effect names as such — tempo-sync'ed delays and flangers, distortion, rotary-speaker effects and enhancers are joined by the usual 'Jump', 'Slice' and 'Talking Modulation' effects that we've grown to love on Yamaha instruments. Some, however, especially those with a vintage feel, have been redesigned frorm scratch with reference to classic pedals and the like.
Even that isn't even the whole story: a five-band master EQ (similar to that on the original Motif) is here joined by a mastering effects processor, the gem of which is a multi-band compressor, which is perfect for sweetening the mixes output by the ES. Other mastering options include DJ effects such as a dynamic filter, lo-fi and distortion effects — although these don't really count as 'mastering' processes in my dictionary, fun and useful as they are! Finally, of course, there's the aforementioned three-band EQ, which can be added to all four parts of a Performance and all 16 tracks of a sequencer in Song or Pattern mode. It all adds up to a lot of built-in signal processing.
The Motif, when interfaced with a computer, could be used to control the on-screen controls of some music software. The same is true with the ES; in fact, it apparently uses the same control protocol as Yamaha's forthcoming 01X Firewire/ mLAN control surface/ audio interface/ MIDI interface. But while you'll be able to control lots of on-screen parameters, don't expect it to be completely easy: the Motif has a small number of knobs and sliders compared to the 01X, and you'll have to do a bit of bank switching to access all the channels of a typical session's on-screen mixer.
Yamaha do make life a little easier for you, by providing templates that are ready to go with the Motif for Cubase, Logic, Sonar and Digital Performer.
Yamaha are actually quite pleased about the way the ES's control surface integrates with software; not only are the above-mentioned links provided, but in the UK, demos of several Native Instruments software synths are included with the Motif ES package for just this reason.
Sequencing on the Motif ES is, in the same way as on the original, divided into two modes: Pattern and Song. The actual recording and editing process is roughly the same in both, in that up to 16 channels of MIDI data can be recorded in step or real time, with user control over global sequencing parameters such as time signature, tempo, input quantise, and so on. The step-time recording option is particularly flexible, allowing you to use the keyboard and/or the grid display in a way reminiscent of older hardware sequencers. Post-recording editing functions almost equal those in a dedicated software sequencer, except that you have to edit via the Motif ES's relatively small display, of course! Both the Korg Triton and the Roland Fantom S, ES's closest competition, have much larger displays. What's more, the Fantom S offers the option of connecting a mouse and monitor, and the Triton features Korg's nifty touchscreen, which helps OS navigation and parameter editing more than you might think.
Standard editing functions such as quantise, transpose, velocity- and gate-time manipulation, and cut, paste and delete are joined (in Pattern mode) by a couple of nifty functions. 'Remix' basically randomises data on a track, often producing new and interesting material. It's a good trick to apply to tracks on which samples have been recorded and split (more on sample tracks in a moment). There's also the playback-only 'Grid Groove' option, the closest Motif ES gets to groove templates.
Pattern mode feels, as it did on the original Motif, as if it's borrowed from a home arranger-style keyboard. If you've used pattern-based sequencing on a drum machine or hardware sequencer before, you might find some of the terms confusing; the 64 available 'Patterns' are here merely the memory locations in which you store sequence data. Within each Pattern memory, you can have up to 16 different 'Sections', which more closely resemble what were called patterns in drum machines and sequencers of years gone by. Each Section, which can be up to 256 bars long on the Motif ES, can have a completely different set of Voices assigned to each track, if desired, with full mixing facilities: level and pan, three-band EQ, eight insert effects freely assignable as you need them, two send effects, plus the master effects and master EQ.
The integrated sampling sequencer really comes into its own here: not only can Voices be assigned to sequencer tracks, but sampled audio can be recorded there, too, for something not a million miles away from hard disk recording without the hard disk. The upshot is that it's pretty easy to create anything from a scratch backing track to a fully fledged composition.
Each Pattern memory now contains a chain function (only one pattern chain was permitted on the original Motif), which is used to determine the order in which the sequenced Sections you've created will be played back. If your Sections have different Voices assigned to tracks, then the changes show up as program changes. While chaining, it's possible to change mixer settings, so a single Section could be the basis for a whole track with muting and unmuting of parts.
Song mode, meanwhile, provides a more linear, tape-like recording environment. Much of the basic feel is the same as Patterns — you have all the same setup and editing options, and can record samples into tracks. There's a certain degree of interconvertibility, in that Pattern chains can be converted into Songs if you wish. This eradicates the Section boundaries in the Pattern chain, creating a continuous sequence, over which you can then overdub more longform solos, or mix and arrange your Song in a more linear manner. There are 64 Song memories in total. Both Songs and Patterns are lost on power down, so you'll need external storage of some kind to avoid losing your work.
One Song mode trick worth mentioning is the way that individual tracks can be looped by means of an independent switch on each track. If activated, whatever is on that track will automatically loop to the length of the longest track in the Song. So a two-bar drum loop could play for four minutes to provide backing for a piano part, say, without you having to program the drums to last the length of the piano part.
Of course, the ES sequencer can also play external MIDI sounds, or the ES can be played as a multitimbral sound module from an external sequencer. The ES will also load and save data in MIDI File Format, so if you do have a computer, you can rework material with the tools offered by both platforms. The sequencer proved resistant to crashing, except when playing back absurdly controller-heavy data, but as on the S90 I reviewed in SOS December 2003, pressing patch-selection buttons while the sequencer was running did cause timing problems, which could be annoying.
Yamaha are quite good at keeping their customers supplied with extras, most of them free. For example, A Complete Guide to the Yamaha Motif ES is a handy DVD wth a running time of nearly three hours, and it's free to anybody — even people just thinking about buying an ES. It runs through loads of operational routines in a clear manner, and your understanding is really helped by seeing the moves in action, rather than trying to figure out what the manual means.
You may not get a Smart Media card in the box, but once you've bought an ES, make a point of registering it: buy one between now and January 31, 2004, and Yamaha will send you the Atmosfear voice set — 64 synth pads and soundscapes designed in the UK — on a Smart Media card absolutely free. They just need to see a copy of your Motif ES receipt, and your name and address. Note that this offer is only open to Yamaha customers in the UK and Eire, though.
The Motif users' site www.motifator.com also offers a lot of useful content, in the form of tutorials and extra sounds, both free and commercial (Motif voices can be loaded into the ES, remember). I found a detailed document here which explored transferring Voices, samples and sequence data from the older synth to the new, which could be useful if you need to know how.
As an owner of Yamaha's A5000 rack sampler, and having co-reviewed the original Motif, I knew what to expect from the sampling side of the ES. But even here there are changes, most notably in the RAM specified by Yamaha: PC100 or PC133 168-pin DIMMs, which are inexpensive, and currently in plentiful supply. The maximum RAM installable is also 512MB in two RAM modules (the original Motif maxed out at 64MB!). RAM can only be installed in pairs, so the minimum loadable will be 128MB in two 64MB DIMMs.
Sampling is undertaken via the stereo analogue inputs, or by internally recording a mix of whatever the Motif ES is playing at a given time. Add an AIEB2 input/output expansion board or the imminent mLAN16E board, and you'll be able to sample digitally, too. Getting samples from your computer isn't straightforward: there's no SCSI connection as there was with on the original Motif, so you'll need a Smart Media card plus a reader attached to your computer to do the swap. A USB device that you can swap between synth and computer will also do the trick, though the manual warns about hot-swapping USB devices, especially those powered by the USB connection.
There's a choice of automatic or manual sampling, with a range of level and input controls (the analogue input, for example, can accept line or mix signals). A wide range of sampling rates is available, from 44.1kHz down to 5.5125kHz (48kHz is available with the AIEB2 option installed). Once you've taken a sample, it can be comprehensively edited, with options including normalisation, trimming, looping, and a good time-stretch. The sampling procedure is elegant, with a dedicated window accessible from Voice, Song or Pattern mode which allows you to record samples directly into a sequence in the way described earlier.
Once there, a MIDI event is also recorded to trigger the sample, and it's possible to split rhythmic material up — especially drum loops and so on — using the Slice function. The Motif ES then creates several more triggers to fire each slice, creating in effect a multisample of the original sample's constituent beats, so that it's possible to slow down and speed up a sequence without compromising the sample in any way — the closest comparison would be with Propellerhead's Recycle software.
Also worthy of mention is Loop Remix function, a Yamaha staple which takes a sliced loop and reorders and/or reverses the slices to create new rhythmic or textural material unobtainable in any other way.
As well as recording samples into the ES's sequencer, you can also use them as the basis for custom instrumental multisampled waveforms. You start with a sample, then this is assigned to a range of notes (and velocities, if desired) that play it on the keyboard, becoming a Keybank in the process. Several Keybanks arranged together as a related multisample become a Waveform, which in turn can be used at the heart of an Element in a Motif ES Voice.
The Motif ES's interfacing is quite comprehensive, but as noted elsewhere in the review, changes have been made that result in some small disappointments. For example, the original Motif's SCSI socket has gone, but in its place is a USB-to-Device socket. However, there was one neat thing about connecting the original Motif to a computer: the link allowed the computer to see SCSI drives and Smart Media cards connected to the Motif, and Yamaha's File Utility software (also supplied with the S90) allowed data to be transferred to and fro. The ES is less straightforward in this respect. The manual explicitly notes that USB devices attached to the ES's 'To Device' USB port will not be seen by a computer attached to the 'To Host' port. More worryingly, File Utility isn't included in the ES's software bundle, so it's not clear if a computer will be able to talk to a Smart Media card inserted into the ES! It seems not.
Certainly, if you have an Smart Media card reader attached to, or built into, your computer, simply moving the card between synth and computer will allow you to move samples and other data easily. But that's yet another expense for the new Motif ES owner. I'd also note that the included version of Yamaha's excellent Tiny Wave Editor sample-editing package still thinks it's living in a SCSI world with the original (SCSI-equipped) Motif and offers no way of directly beaming samples to (or extracting them from) the Motif ES — you need to move Smart Media cards or other USB storage devices to and fro. There is no other way.
Computer interfacing will become more interesting, though, when Yamaha's new improved mLAN board — the mLAN16E — becomes available later this year: audio and MIDI can be passed in both directions down a single cable, so it seems that the sampling inputs and insert effects become useable within whatever sequencing environment you use.
Other supplied software — the excellent Voice Editor application and the PC-only SQ01 sequencer — function perfectly via the USB connection, as do other MIDI applications. None of the supplied software is for Mac OS X, the now default OS for Apple computers. Nor will the supplied software run in Classic emulation mode. A Mac OS X driver can be downloaded from www.yamahasynth.com, but there was no news of anything else as we went to press.
Not only can the Motif ES be a sequencing, sampling synth workstation, it also has something to offer as the master keyboard in a larger MIDI studio. These facilities have been inherited from the original Motif, via the recent S90 synth. Essentially, it's possible to layer, key-split or velocity-split up to four ES Voices, up to four patches on external MIDI instruments, or a mix of the two — like a super-Performance that's not limited to sounds on the ES itself.
Master keyboard setups are saved into one of 128 master memories. Unusually — and usefully — these memories can accommodate practically anything located on the ES. It's possible to save anything to a Master memory, whether that be a Voice, Performance, Pattern or Song. This facility is offered to make what is a deep and complex instrument easier to navigate when you're in a hurry. Simply plonk all your favourite Voices, Performances, Songs or Patterns in Master memories, and they can be recalled more quickly than by scrolling through the rest of the OS in normal circumstances. The feature is especially useful for live users of the Motif ES: you can set up a chain of whatever you want to use on stage for instant recall. A footswitch can also step through the Master memory list, if desired. So you could have a Song in memory 1, followed by a Voice to vamp with during a break between songs, then the next song and so on. For studio users, the master memory list could be treated like a 'favourites' list, so that your most commonly used data is more accessible than by other means.
In summing up the Motif ES, I can only echo comments made in the review of the original Motif. It features everything you'd expect — bar sample RAM! — and should be able to do anything reasonable that you want it to. The interface is neutral enough to suit any style of music you'd want to create with it, and the huge waveform ROM, coupled with the large number of presets, covers enough bases that you won't have to buy PLG cards unless you really want to! The synthesis capabilities are familiar, yet somehow better than previously, particularly as regards effects implementation, and the sound is solid and vibrant. It's also good to see the sampler and sequencer so well integrated.
Overall, the often subtle but significant changes to the Motif range indicate more of an evolutionary move up the ladder, rather than something radically different from what has gone before. Aspects are better, certainly, but not in the consistent way that made the original Motif such an eye-opener. That said, Motif ES is, and will remain for some time, one of the 'must-test' options for those seeking an all-in-one synth/sampling workstation. The choice won't be easy, but make it an ES and you won't be disappointed.
- Huge polyphony.
- Huge waveform ROM.
- Huge potential sample RAM.
- Sample section takes standard, affordable DIMM memory modules.
- USB is included as standard, and USB storage devices can be used.
- There's no sample RAM as standard; you need to buy some in order to sample.
- A Smart Media card or USB device is an essential purchase in order to back up your sequences and samples.
- There's no digital output as standard.
The ES range represents evolution rather than revolution, but when the creature evolving is a Motif, you can be sure the result is more than viable; it's still desirable, still powerful, still a sonic cut above. The new mLAN option promises even closer integration with your computer, too.