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Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
DrSynth #3064640 10/02/20 08:45 PM
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Originally Posted by DrSynth
Originally Posted by jerrythek
AWM2
This is Yamaha’s venerable PCM-playback engine, and it has grown over the years to include more and more features without changing the name. The first Yamaha keyboard to sport the moniker AWM2 was the SY77, released in 1989! So obviously the engine has progressed since then..

Jerry,

Tiny correction and not relevant to the MODX -- the SY series as Yamaha's first sample playback synths were AWM; AWM2 started with the W series.

(there's typos/error in their online 40th aniversary history pages and the various Wikipedia entries are incorrect)

Manny

Yup, I got my info from the 40th anniversary document, which is a great read. But many of the synth info sites also have it wrong, probably based on the Wikipedia info. Thanks for the clarification.I'll fix it in the entry itself.

Jerry

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Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
allan_evett #3064642 10/02/20 08:53 PM
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Originally Posted by allan_evett
Jerry,

Thanks a bunch for this! I'm greatly enjoying reading through this thread so far. It was sometimes a convoluted path moving those sounds, but Yamaha's tutorials were very helpful. I give credit to all their clinicians, and especially Phil "BadMister" Clendeninn - who was able to rescue me from more than a few EX5 and Motif rabbit holes between 1998 and 2008. <snip>

I am especially looking forward to your dive into FM-X on the MODX, since most of my explorations and limited programming have been in the AWM-2 domain. Would like to learn more about FM-X and it's inner workings. The specs and sounds so far are impressive.

Thanks Allan. Yes, the Yamaha clinicians are a great bunch, and I've been friends with some of them for decades now. I get a lot of insight from reading their application articles and responses to customers. Phil has been a friends for over 30 years now - he is one of the best in the biz.

Jerry

Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3064737 10/03/20 05:40 PM
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as a new MODX owner, I have basic questions. If this distracts from the topic theme , let me know

for example...

The default drum volume is 120, when adding a rhythm part to a Performance

120 for a drum rhythm/beat is LOUD. I can't recall one instance for my music production
where default max volume on drums is needed.

{BTW, Kronos has similar defaults at 127}

anyway, is there a Global fix to lower the '120 default ' drum volume ?

Its extra work to level down drum sounds on each Performance.

'100 " would be more user friendly for drum volume.

Last edited by GregC; 10/03/20 05:41 PM.
Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
GregC #3064753 10/03/20 07:15 PM
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Hi Greg:

I don't see any way to make a global change to that. Questions like this would be better served posted here. Many more owners, but more importantly, Yamaha staff do respond to issues.

Jerry

Originally Posted by GregC
as a new MODX owner, I have basic questions. If this distracts from the topic theme , let me know

for example...

The default drum volume is 120, when adding a rhythm part to a Performance

120 for a drum rhythm/beat is LOUD. I can't recall one instance for my music production
where default max volume on drums is needed.

{BTW, Kronos has similar defaults at 127}

anyway, is there a Global fix to lower the '120 default ' drum volume ?

Its extra work to level down drum sounds on each Performance.

'100 " would be more user friendly for drum volume.

Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3065890 10/13/20 02:10 AM
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Next up is the FM-X engine. I’m going to state right up front that while I am familiar with the technical aspects of FM and can speak to the progression of Yamaha’s development of it, I do not have the decades-long practical experience and application history of using it, as I do with analog synthesis and sample-based synthesis technologies. So I can’t speak of things from that perspective. There are plenty of FM-programming experts who have long lived the walk and talk the talk. And I will point you to many articles that you can explore to take that type of deep-dive.

The FM-X engine in the MODX comes from Yamaha's FS-1R rack unit, first released in 1998. So much of the time users speak about the formant-shaping synthesis aspect of that product, but it was the first FM synth to introduce the features that now make up FM-X here in the MODX and the Montage. What are those features?

- 8 operators, up from 6 in earlier FM synths

- many more algorithms, or ways of combining/routing those 8 operators (88 algorithms versus 32 in the early DX models, and up to 45 in later models)

- a new approach to providing more waveforms than just a sine wave

- while there were some FM products that had a filter before the FS-1R, like the SY77/99 and W-series (even the DX-200!), the multi-mode filter in these newer models is more powerful.

- increased polyphony (64 for MODX, 128 for Montage)

Let me break a few of these down.

Operators and Algorithms
An Operator is a oscillator, usually though of as a tone-producing object. But if you understand FM there are two roles that an Operator can play. If it is a Carrier, it’s a tone-producing object as you might expect. A Modulator is an Operator that isn’t heard in and of itself: it is routed to a Carrier to modify its harmonic characteristics.

Dr. John Chowning is the “father” of FM, and he likes to be called the discoverer of it, not the inventor, because the science behind it exists in nature, and he only discovered, explored and promoted it. For more on his discovery and history you might enjoy this recent article/interview I did with him.

Clonk

The basics of the science are that when one waveform modulates another at low frequencies it can be used to produce vibrato, tremolo, and other pitch and amplitude changes. That’s what an LFO is/does. But Chowning discovered that if the frequency is raised up into audio-rate territory the modulation starts to create timbral changes. So a simple sine wave (which has no harmonics) can be modulated to create much more complex harmonic structures. FM provides a very detailed, and controllable way to shape sound in this fashion.

The way you combine and route Operators to create these Modulator/Carrier relationships is called an Algorithm. And they can range from very simple basic (4 stacks of Carriers where each is modulated by a single Modulator), to various grouping of multiple Modulators feeding into a Carrier and so on. Add in the Yamaha discovery of Feedback, where the output of the modulated Carrier is then fed back into the process to increase the harmonic activity and you have a lot of possibilities. Where the original DX7 had 32 of these algorithms, it has grown over the years, and now we are given 88 to work with. This can seem very daunting to understand, but if you look at each Carrier as an oscillator producing a waveform, and the Modulators as “parameters” that help to determine that waveform you can look at an Algorithm and at least understand how many waveforms it is going to produce, regardless of how they are made. And know that the final output of that algorithm is producing a single note of polyphony.

In the beginning, it took 2 Operators to produce any sort of timbral change from a Sine wave. The tuning relationship between them and the amplitude of the Modulator would define the timbre. When I said above that Yamaha discovered Feedback, it was a way of producing more timbral complexity without having to use another Operator (or group of Operators) to create additional harmonic/inharmonics, since it was just “re-using” the existing chain to get more complexity. A brilliantly efficient discovery.

More Than Sine Waves
Over time Yamaha explored using more than sine waves, so that you could start with something more complex to perform either role (Carrier or Modulator). Think of it this way: if you want to produce a Sawtooth wave, which has all the harmonics in the harmonic series, why spend a bunch of Operators – just start with a damn Saw wave! This way you’ve reserved more tools to do other things. Through the years Yamaha experimented with some additional waveform choices, even offering the ability to use PCM in the mix, but with the FS1R and now the MODX/Montage they have settled on a cool system. They now define that selection as a parameter called Spectral. As you might imagine, these other “waveforms” act as a variable spectrum of harmonics, not unlike a wavetable that can offer a wide range of waveform possibilities.

[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

The choices are:

All 1 and 2: basically sawtooth waves that offer all harmonics, with slightly different ranges between the 1 and 2 choices.

Odd 1 and 2: basically pulse waves than only offer odd harmonics, again with different ranges each.

Res 1 and 2: Resonant wavetables with the range differences.

The All and Odd choices have another parameter called Skirt, which is how you step through, or sweep through the range of harmonics possible in each. Note that while you can sweep these “values” there is a stepping sound when it goes to the next index. I hear 8 different choices per Spectral offering.

Note: for some, listening to these examples is only slightly more entertaining than watching paint dry!


7 Spectral Waves

All1, All2, Odd1, Odd2, Res1, Res2 w/Skirt at 64

All1, All2, Odd1, Odd2, Res1, Res 2 w/Skirt at 127

The two Res choices have one other parameter called Resonance, which like analog synthesis increases the level of the harmonics adjacent to the Skirt value, or the Cutoff of an analog filter. Again: while you can sweep both Skirt and the Resonance parameters, there is a stepping sound when it goes each index (8 for Skirt, 30 for resonance).

Sweeps of Res1 and Res2 at various Skirt and Resonance settings

To be fair, Yamaha has never claimed that these are smooth “wavetables” meant to be swept. They are a wide range of timbral choices to be selected from. And you can sweep them, just embrace the steppy quality they offer – all’s good in love and synthesis!

This design gives you the ability to start with a waveform (the math works out to 512 choices) that is very definable in its harmonic content so you can produce FM results that are controllable, and the waveform timbre can be varied in an organic fashion. It makes a lot of sense to me, and gives us a system that we can understand based on analog synthesis, helping to get a lot of timbral possibilities from a basic 2-Operator, 1-Modulator/1-Carrier setup. Apply this fundamental building block to an 8-Operator design with 88 Algorithms and I know my head hurts already! But FM programming experts can benefit from this significant advancement over FM designs of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

In the interface of MODX I liked how Yamaha implemented an algorithm Search function, where you can define how many Carriers you want, and how many Operators are being chained to them. So you choose how many sounding building blocks you need and then can quickly find the choices based on the complexity of the associated modulation configurations.

[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

You have an EG for the level of each Operator (with velocity mod of level with curve choices!), with Hold, Attack, Decay 1 and Decay 2 and Release stages with separate Time and Level controls, and a simpler Attack and Decay EG for each Operator’s pitch with velocity and key-tracking control.

[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

At the Part level (the sum of the 8 Operators) you get additional pitch controls, including micro tuning tables that were added in OS 2.0. The filter choices are the same 18 types we looked at in AWM2, so they cover a lot of ground.

Without getting to far ahead of myself, since I haven’t spoken about the MODX sounds themselves, just let me say that this system is capable of a wide range of timbres, and while it can certainly produce the FM clichés that we remember/love/love to hate, it is capable of so much more. I hear plenty of sounds that are emulating analog synthesis, and just a lot of really great FM programming that reminds me this is a powerful technology. And that was just using one FM Element in a Performance. Getting ahead of myself again, with up to 8 Elements available you have a TX816 rack at your disposal, and if applied to creating a single integrated sound (as opposed to being used for multi-timbral sequencing playback) the result are impressive. We’ll come back to that.

The amount of modulation and movement possible with Motion Sequences, the Super Knob and a new feature called Smart Morph (which analyzes up to 4 FM sounds and then intelligently interpolates/morphs between them under your direct or modulated control) brings life to pads, synth sound effects and so many other categories of sounds. So color me impressed with how far Yamaha has taken FM, and how talented the team of sound designers was who shaped the factory sounds.

Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3065929 10/13/20 03:49 PM
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Tbh everything prior to your last paragraph sounds like catching up to FM7/8 and presumably other FM-centric VSTs. Nothing wrong with that as I'm sure many will prefer having FM built into a hardware keyboard but with the more recent features and capabilities.

As always I'm going to challenge whether the hardware version has the often touted interface advantage compared to a mouse and large screen. I'm speaking from the perspective of serious editing or creation of new patches. I think there have been several questionable biases toward recent hardware by some, specifically the Wavestate and Hydrasynth. When you get past a certain complexity the computer just makes more sense - at least to me. I also believe most of us who were seriously into programming the FS1R and it's predecessors were using computer editors.

I'm a bit surprised Yamaha didn't go with the algorithm-less approach ala FM7/8. There's no way I'd want to go back to pre-made algorithms after this.

I am intrigued by this Smart Morph function. I'd love to hear some samples of this if you have them.

Having mostly grumbled your review is excellent Jerry and very much appreciated!

Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
Anti-DarkyLord #3065974 10/13/20 10:12 PM
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Hi (I don't know which name to use, don't want to give up your secret identity!):

I guess I would first say that I am not surprised that Yamaha has taken a "incremental" approach to their own technological path... I don't see them as a bold, radical "agent of change"...
thu

But I agree with you, that except for the Smart Morph and modulation features that are really outside of the FM-X engine itself, this is not an implementation that has progressed that much beyond the FS-1R (not counting the quality and diversity of effects). What I do think has progressed is the sound design team's comfort with it, their perhaps acquired skills over the years, that has resulted in a level of sounds that far impressed me than those offered in previous incarnations/decades. Not to mention the design of the Performance (which I haven't covered yet) that offers far greater possibilities for sounds than any previous Yamaha system. More on that in my next installment.

As regards interface advantage, I'm not familiar with a "touted advantage" for hardware as regards these models, and thinking about that, perhaps the Montage offers a better case for that than the MODX, given the larger control surface on the left side of the panel (with 8 encoders/sliders etc.) and all the dedicated switches it has on the right side for accessing/turning on and off operators/elements and such. There is no doubt that for me, the interface is complicated, and involves a lot of navigation. And I've already spoken to the small type, and small text fields. But I have the same problem with FM8 - I really wish I could scale the interface, given my nice large screen that is just mocking me!

In general, software has the opportunity to offer a better interface and programming experience, but I think there's an issue of familiarity that plays into this. The longer you spend with a system the better your chops get. Over the years working with products that I have been partially responsible for, my muscle memory develops and I could speed around the interface, even though some were complicated. So I can't speak to that regarding the MODX, with so little time spent with it, but overall I feel it's laid out well, but remains complicated to work with, certainly for the majority of casual to average users.

The best approach will always be a combination of software and a dedicated, or well-constructed controller interface for things. But other than mixing console-like control surfaces the market for a knob/slider/button festooned controller for software remains a very niche thing...

I'll be recording some audio and will certainly cover some Smart Morph - I'm still working up my skills with it.

Thanks for the comments, input, and kind words.

Jerry

Originally Posted by Anti-DarkyLord
Tbh everything prior to your last paragraph sounds like catching up to FM7/8 and presumably other FM-centric VSTs. Nothing wrong with that as I'm sure many will prefer having FM built into a hardware keyboard but with the more recent features and capabilities.

As always I'm going to challenge whether the hardware version has the often touted interface advantage compared to a mouse and large screen. I'm speaking from the perspective of serious editing or creation of new patches. I think there have been several questionable biases toward recent hardware by some, specifically the Wavestate and Hydrasynth. When you get past a certain complexity the computer just makes more sense - at least to me. I also believe most of us who were seriously into programming the FS1R and it's predecessors were using computer editors.

I'm a bit surprised Yamaha didn't go with the algorithm-less approach ala FM7/8. There's no way I'd want to go back to pre-made algorithms after this.

I am intrigued by this Smart Morph function. I'd love to hear some samples of this if you have them.

Having mostly grumbled your review is excellent Jerry and very much appreciated!

Last edited by jerrythek; 10/13/20 10:54 PM. Reason: clarification
Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3065981 10/13/20 11:23 PM
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Good point Jerry regarding interface familiarity, muscle memory and FM8’s small fonts (and growing smaller by the month). I have to remind myself that I used to spend hours at a time almost every day on the original DX7. And this was prior to computer editors but it didn’t matter. I still enjoyed it a lot because it was so new and exciting. And I was a lot less picky, probably because I wasn’t reminded on a daily basis how much everything really sucks

I guess I’ve since gotten used to that matrix display with FM-8 and there’s not much reason to change at this point. Now can someone please point me to operator 4’s feedback path into operator 2? frown

Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3066003 10/14/20 02:18 AM
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Yamaha has created a lot of good tutorials on the MODX (and the Montage), and Dr. Synth (Manny Fernandez) has some really interesting content there as well. Try these links:

Bad Mister Part 1

Bad Mister Part 3

Manny's Intro To FM

Manny explains FM-X

Or just do a search on their site for either FM or FM-X.


I've always enjoyed Gordon Reid's reviews and writing in Sound On Sound, here are some articles he did on FM that get deep pretty quickly, but are very interesting reads:

G. Reid FM Part 1

G. Reid FM Part 2


These publications from Yamaha are also a great read:

Part 1
Part 2

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Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3066226 10/16/20 02:22 AM
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Performances
OK, it’s time to get out of the building blocks and into some practical things.

The MODX only has one Mode, meaning you don’t have single sounds, and a different mode for multi-sounds etc. It always lives in what is called a Performance. A Performance can be comprised of up to 16 Parts; each of those can be either an AWM2 (sampled) sound, or an FM-X sound. Remember that an AWM2 sound can be made up of up to 8 Elements (a fully programmed oscillator/multisample), and an FM-X sound is made up from 8 Operators.

A Part can be key-limited to only play across a specific range, and/or velocity limited. Its velocity response can be offset as well. Parts can be set to mono or poly, and can be single or multi-trigger. Portamento is set at the Part level, as are transpose/detune, scale/tuning choices and pitch bend range (separate for up and down, of course!).

Each Part can be routed to 2 dedicated Insert effects, and then have send levels set to go into the Performance level Reverb and a Variation effect. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s even a 3-band EQ before the Insert effects and a 2-band EQ after them. Up to 8 Parts can be driven by its own arpeggio pattern, and Motion Sequence (more on that later). Each Part has a dedicated LFO (in addition to what happens at the Element level), which is mostly used to modulate effects parameters, but also can modulate Part Level, Pitch, Filter Cutoff, Resonance, Pan and the Element LFO Speed (nice!). All the onboard controllers can be set/routed individually for each Part in a Performance, so moving the Mod Wheel might open the Filter on one while modulating an effect in another and on, and on.

So a Performance can be used to create a highly complex single sound that uses multiple elements to produce (I’ll describe some piano sounds in a moment), to produce layered sounds, splits, sounds that are both split and layered and so on. Each Part has a setting called Keyboard Control, which is the on/off status, as well as Mute and Solo functions. If you hold a note and mute it, when you turn it back on it is still sounding. If you turn off KbdCtrl it shuts down the sound and the Mute or Solo have no effect. You would need to turn back on KybdCtrl and play a note again to start it sounding.

When you select a Performance you have a choice of what is shown in the display.

[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
This is the basic screen, showing you the first 8 Parts.

If you press the Performance/Home button again you get this view:
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
Notice near the top it shows the status of all 16 Parts (green meaning on/being used), and the right side gives you helpful graphics to show sound names and key ranges. If you touch the 1-4, 5-8, 9-12 or 13-16 area, the fields below and to the right switch to show info for those 4 Parts. Notice than an unused Part shows as empty with a plus sign in the center. Touch that and you are taken through the steps to choose a sound to use there, and away you go.

Press Performance/Home a third time and you get this screen, showing the levels of each of the 8 elements within the sound (this only works with AWM2 sounds and drumkits, when you select Element/Operator for the sliders to the left of the display).
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

Within any of these views, if you touch the Type/Name field you can toggle it between the sound name, or the sound category plus the technology used to make it. Touching field itself brings up a Category Search function to select a sound to use.
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

The Attribute selection box is very powerful – as you can see below you can really drill down to the type of sound not only by the musical instrument/family/genre, but also by aspects of the technology used to make it. Very cool.
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

There is also a dedicated Category button to the right on the panel which is normally used to select Performances, this Category field has all the same features, but is for selecting Parts, which are going to be Elements from within another Performance. If you touch the Performance name itself and then press Edit you will be brought to some overall things to edit about the whole Performance, like overall volume, assignable switch modes, effects returns etc. Touch any of the lower fields within the display and then Edit, and you are brought to sound editing itself.

All of this has described what you see/can do when the left tab is on Home. Moving through the other choices brings up their respective screens. I’m not going to go through every one (there’s manuals for that!), but there are mixing screens,
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
and others that relate to functions that I am not going over right now. More later…

A General Rule/A Fly In The Ointment
The first 8 Parts in a Performance can be used to play sounds directly from the keyboard. They can be anything that you would do with up to 8 Parts combined as you wish. [added} These 8 Parts can all be triggered from an external source all on a single channel if desired - any Part that has Kybd Ctrl set on will respond to the same MIDI channel. Parts 9-16 are “reserved” to be driven from external MIDI, usually for being sequenced from an external device. The one exception to that is that you can populate a Performance with 16 single sound Parts and switch between them one by one, so you can have 16 instruments pre-loaded and access them individually during live performance. But Parts 9-16 cannot be used live on the keyboard in conjunction with Parts 1-8, nor can they be combined into any layers/splits. [added} But with a new MIDI setting called Hybrid, added in OS 2.0 you can address the first 8 Parts all via the same MIDI channel as splits/layers/whatever, and then also address single Parts from 9-16 each on their own MIDI channel. So you can build up complex setups to be driven from an external controller, as long as it can send on multiple MIDI channels. If it can't, then you are limited to using 8 Parts, as you are from the MODX itself.

This has been bemoaned by users around the world, and may be the #1 requested “fix” to the design of a Performance in the MODX/Montage. But as of this writing that’s just the way it is. It’s a shame. [revised] On my Kronos I often create setups that involved more than 8 parts – Korg broke that barrier back with the M3 in 2007! Korg Combis, Roland Studio Sets, and Kurzweil Multis all can be up to 16 parts with no rules imposed. So if you need more than 8 part setups you know the facts.

Last edited by jerrythek; 10/17/20 08:51 PM. Reason: added info on Category Attribute field, later added more detail about external MIDI triggering of multiple Parts.
Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3066501 10/19/20 12:37 AM
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Sounds
With 2,227 Performances (including 32 new Performances added in Version 2.5) I can’t begin to convey the breadth and depth of the onboard sounds. But let me give you my subjective view on the main sound categories that we’re all likely interested in. This post is all about acoustic and electro-mechanical keys.

Acoustic Piano
MODX offers 4 flavors of grand piano (CFX, S6, CF3 and S700) plus an upright. Sound construction varies from single Parts to multiple Parts, with switching from as little as 8 Elements up to complex setups like the CFX Concert, which has 9-way velocity switching from the notes up to G (spread across 2 Parts), 8-way velocity switching for the undampened notes from G#5 and above, plus a key off layer in Part 4. That’s 18 Elements in total!

The CFX has a very harmonically rich sound, and is the most detailed to my ears, with no discernable switches across the velocity ranges, nor egregious changes across the note range. Damper resonance (the ambience that is created when the
damper pedal is used to let notes sustain, and causes struck notes to also cause the other strings to ring a bit) can be added with an Insert Effect. Here’s two examples, the first without the damper resonance effect, the second with it added:
CFX no damper resonance
CFX with damper resonance
Note: This is an improv I recorded years ago originally for Ivory American Grand, re-purposed.

There is no modeled sympathetic resonance effect/technology, where the struck and/or open/held strings interact with each other, which some competing products do offer. This is most beneficial in solo and very small ensemble playing; otherwise it tends to be masked.

Kudos to the programmer who set up the Mod Wheel in the CFX Concert performance to turn the sound into a slow attack/bowed piano. So often the Mod Wheel is just disabled for pianos – extra points for creativity! Across all the pianos, most often the Super Knob is used for reverb depth, other times one of the assignable switches, many times the Mod Wheel adds some chorusing etc.

The S700 is a bit more mellow, which makes sense as it comes from a 7 foot grand, where the CFX is a 9 foot concert grand. But it is created as an only 3-way velocity switch (1-layer for the higher undampened notes, plus key-off), so it transitions much quicker to a harder struck tone, with less gradation. I preferred it within a track/band setting rather than for nuanced solo classic or jazz playing as it has the smallest stereo image and less nuanced dynamic range. And sometimes that’s what you need.
S700

The CF3 used to be the top-of-the-line Yamaha Concert Grand, since supplanted by the CFX. It’s also an all-around nice piano, constructed as a 4-way velocity switch (3-way for the higher undampened notes, plus key-off), so it’s the middle of three insofar as smooth transitions go.
CF3

There’s also an S6, a 6’11” model that has the brighter tone we tend to think of when we think the ubiquitous C7 studio model, constructed as a 5-way velocity switch (1-layer for the higher undampened notes, plus key-off). It sounds older technologically, as the note-by-note transitions sound a little more stretched, but that’s the microscopic view, perhaps not as important in a band/track context.
S6

Do you notice something? All the pianos are Yamaha instruments… if you want a Steinway, or a Fazioli, or a Bechstein you’re out of luck. Yamaha does offer a Bosendorfer, which can be downloaded for free, which is great, but their brand myopia is something to be noted.

The upright piano is very nice, constructed as a 4-way velocity switch, plus key-off. It’s a bit bright, not perhaps as moody as you may want, but that’s just programming. The Imaginary Upright could be tweaked to reduce the effects and it turns into a nice, darker upright sound. I also found the main Upright sound to be too dynamic, in that it really disappeared quickly as I played softer. But again, that’s just programming, and you could use the velocity offset (found on the Part Common tab) to quickly compress the low range of the velocity response a bit.
Upright
Note: This uses one of the Audition phrases from the MODX

Beyond the pianos presented by themselves there are all the usual piano plus strings, plus pad and various blends. I counted 27 dedicated acoustic piano Performances, plus another 6 that were categorized as Layers (additional blends), and 3 found in the Vintage category (including a Honkytonk) so there’s a decent selection to draw from.

There’s a very good 4-way switched CP-80, programmed both clean and with chorus, and with some layers, as well as an older CP-70 that is a single multisample. It sounds like a very ‘90s sampling approach to that ‘70s instrument.
CP80
CP80 plus pad
CP70
Note: These use the Audition phrases from the MODX

Electric Pianos
Rhodes
The MODX offers a decent range of Rhodes flavors/vintages, including: EP1 (3-way, medium tine amount), EP2 (4-way, very pronounced tine amount), EP3 (4-way, slightly less tine amount than EP2), EP4 (5-way switch, least tine amount), RD Soft (5-way 88-key suitcase? Less tine amount), RD Hard (4-way 88-key stage? Less tine amount), RD73 (5-way, medium tine amount) and RD78 (5-way, prominent tine amount – no surprise there!) – almost all with key noise and key-off noise elements. Sure, when explored under microscopic detail you easily hear the velocity switches, so let’s not compare them to the best software libraries and modeled approaches, but played in context these all work very well. I’m a tweaker, so often I will make small adjustments to the velocity range for different Elements to better match my touch, but these are really great Rhodes’ for a hardware keyboard, and there’s a good selection of sounds made from them, with period accurate effects, amps etc. Note that any sounds labeled Dyno are not using samples from a Dyno-My modded instrument – they are programming recreations. On the plus side, that means you can dial back (or forward) the exaggerated bell/tine aspect. Here's a whole lotta sound examples:
74 Phaser
88 Key Case Soft
Bell Chorus
Case 75 Medium
Rd 73
Vintage 74
Dyno Chorus
Note: This is an improv I recorded a few years ago for Korg to use in some of their home digital pianos... the latter half I called Island Soul.

FM-X of course delivers a plethora of digital Rhodes simulations, and they run the gamut from the overplayed, to some really evocative mellower timbres, and they also blend nicely against the sampled Rhodes and in conjunction with acoustic piano. It’s really nice to have them available as real FM, not just samples of the sounds as was so often done through the ‘90s and the first decade of the 2000s. FM is highly dynamic, and samples don’t do it justice.
Case 73 + FM Blend
Gentle FM EP - my favorite

Wurly
MODX offers up three sampled Wurly choices: Wr1 (3-way – kind of short samples), Wr2 (4-way – longer, a bit more hollow-sounding) and Wr3 (5-way, with a bit more bite). FM-X also does an OK Wurly, and I had fun combining the two technologies. Scroll through the many amps/cabinets and distortion and I lost a lot of time. That’s a good thing!
Various Wurlie examples
Note: These use the Audition phrases from the MODX

Clavinet
There are 5 sampled Clav choices: the first 3 are all single multisamples that seem pretty old, in that they have the attack portion and go right into a small loop. They program up OK, but they’re more about the attack than any body or sustain to the sound, which is fine if your playing busy 16th note funk parts. In fact, most of the sounds using them decay away quicker than a real clav would to hide this aspect of the samples (listen to the end of the following examples). Clav 4 is 2-way, and Clav 5 3-way, and they are longer samples, making them more versatile. Stepping away from the microscope the many clav sounds are good, again making use of effects like touch and auto-wah, amp simulations and such. Yamaha makes no effort to describe which clav settings were sampled so you’re on your own, and they certainly aren’t trying to recreate all the rocker settings of the real instrument. I wish they had offered more variety of tones in this category.
Various Clav Examples
Note: These use the Audition phrases from the MODX

FM could always do a decent synthy clav sound, so I was surprised to only see 4 FM-X sounds included. Did I mention that the MODX could import DX7 sounds? So there’s the pathway to more…

Organ
All of the organ sounds in the MODX are either sampled or created using FM-X; there is no dedicated modeling engine to recreate the classic tonewheel organ sound. Given that decision, let’s focus on how Yamaha approached that using sampling.

Tonewheel
I’m going to ignore some obviously older samples that include Leslie spinning slow and fast, as well as some fully shaped rock sounds, jazz settings, and sounds with percussion on. These are the domain of tried-and-true ROMpler keyboards and arrangers, and while they give you the basic sound, they are not very true to the real spirit of the instrument. But when organ is not your main instrument, or you need a layer in a multi-sound setup they can work OK.

Since the Motif range of instruments (based on my studying all the Data Lists for the various models) Yamaha has provided what I’ll call DNA samples of all the elements of a tonewheel organ to build sounds from. Each drawbar by itself, some combinations of two or more drawbars, a single percussion tone (you can tune and shape it of course), rotor noise, rotor “grit” and other standing-state noises that are part of what you hear coming out of a Leslie. While it is true that these noises increase with the number of notes you are playing (my audio examples have me playing 1, 2, 3 and then 4 notes so you can hear how the sound level does increase with more polyphony), these elements really do help to build a wide range of organ sounds, from pure to older and less maintained recreations.
Organ Noise Elements

So while it is an imperfect method, I found this approach to provide reasonable simulations of a tonewheel sound, and in fact I feel these are better than any other sampled approach I’ve encountered in a ROMpler type of keyboard. No doubt it doesn’t compare to a clonewheel approach, and the MODX suffers from not having enough sliders to give you control over the drawbars in realtime (Montage would at least give you 8). You can use Scenes (I know I haven’t described them in detail yet) to easily change between registrations, but they don’t move the drawbar levels gradually, nor will the sound sustain through the Scene change. But for non-purists who want a variety of decent organ sounds this approach beats other sampling approaches I have checked out. I enjoyed playing a lot of the Performances and they cover all the bases you would want.
AWM2 Tonewheel Organ Examples
Note: These use the Audition phrases from the MODX

The Rotary Speaker effects are well-featured: I liked #2 better, as it offers separate ramp up and down speeds for the horn and rotor and a built-in drive effect. Rotary 1 seems a bit simpler but it does have some different parameters. There are two parameters with Drive in their names (Drive Horn and Drive Rotor), but they are not a typical overdrive. They are the depth of modulation, or the doppler swirling effect inherent in a spinning speaker, so they can be used to tame the “throbbing” sound per speaker. Lowering it for the Rotor is a great way of getting that “Memphis” sound, which was having the motor disabled for the rotor to get a more consistent and fuller bass. Rotary 1 also has built-in 2-band EQ, which 2 doesn’t. Each has their strengths and they sound good for a synth keyboard.

My main gripe is the Chorus/Vibrato. It just doesn’t sound right to my ears, and it is a single setting that is modulation the LFO for each Element, both the rate and the depth. Looking into the programming each Element’s LFO is set to slightly different rates to help approximate chorusing, but the result just sounds synthetic to my ears.
C/V Example
Given that tonewheel cognoscenti rarely agree on which clonewheel gets this all-important aspect of the sound right, I am sure they will not appreciate this approach. Yamaha has made great strides over the last decade or so with their VCM (Virtual Circuit Modeling) approach to effects, I think they need to focus some attention to modeling the chorus/vibrato circuit of a tonewheel organ soon.

Likewise, using a sampled percussion element doesn’t allow them to get the poly on attack/mono retriggering aspect of percussion behavior right. Perhaps with the development of the YC-61 stage keyboard with a true modeled organ engine (which came out after the development of the Montage) Yamaha can add it to this range (is that even possible?), or make next-gen instruments that include it.

The FM-X organs are not a realistic substitute for a true tonewheel sound, but they are nice options to have for dance and electronic music use. I enjoyed using the Super Knob to change registrations and these sounds certainly have their place.
FM-X Tonewheel Organs
Note: These use the Audition phrases from the MODX

Combo
MODX has samples for some combo organs, I can see (and hear) both Vox and Farfisa options, with many more choices for the Farfisa. Some other generic names like Compact Electronic and Portable Electronic are likely taken from older Yamaha combo organs. I enjoyed the Performances for these, and while I didn’t like all aspects of the programming (I lean towards more subtle depths for vibrato settings in general) these sounds are easily tweaked to match my/your tastes. Again, the wealth of amp effects and two Leslie effects add greatly to the variety you can achieve. There’s only 2 FM-generated combo organ Performances, but they sound great.
AWM2 Combo Organs
Note: These use the Audition phrases from the MODX - sorry for the "organist on speed" in the beginning!
FM-X Combo Organ

Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3066760 10/21/20 01:07 AM
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Yamaha has generously made some additional sounds available for free, downloadable from their website for both the Montage and MODX.
Extra sounds from Yamaha

Bosendorfer Imperial Grand
The first up is a Bosendorfer Imperial 290 grand piano – an instrument we all would love to have. And we can. Easily downloaded, copied to a MODX-formatted USB stick and loaded into the MODX’s Flash memory, my first reaction was, “Nice woody character, a refreshing change from the Yamaha pianos.” It’s 10 layer velocity switching with 2-way for the upper undampened range, plus a key off Element, so it transitions really nicely under the fingers. But after playing it for a while I felt that it had a bit of a chorused, or phasey quality… at first I wasn’t sure what it was. The presets are too wet for my taste, but that is conveniently mapped to the Super Knob so you pull it back easily. Maybe it’s that it seems to be a little far-mic’d and it’s some room ambience that is captured in the sound. Turning off all the effects proved that was the case. Then you add a s***-ton of Hall Reverb and pretty deep Damper Resonance effect and it’s just too much (for me, certainly). Listen to the two audio files, below, the first with their programming, and then the second with ALL effects off. It’s still a somewhat ambient, in-the-room piano sound.
My 2-chord improv on Imperial Grand main Performance stock
Same 2 chord improv, no effects

So seriously taming the effects programming helped me to like it more. I checked out the promotional videos (again) for the Imperial and they all sounded better – obviously the performer also turned down all the effects depth. As an example, this demo sounds really nice (and not like how the presets sound):
Yamaha promotional video

As another example, here's one of the Audition phrases playing the sound:
Imperial Grand Audition Phrase

Playing more, I found some issues in the middle register, with a too-fast decay, which quickly moves into the noticeable loop. I usually wouldn’t get this microscopic, but the fast decay was making the middle register especially “plonky” – a deep technical term I’m sure you all understand. So here are some long notes played up from the G below Middle C, and then even longer notes so you can really hear how it quickly decays and settles into the loop.
under the microscope
Note that these are the shaped sound, not the raw waves. You don’t hear these things when playing fast, or not holding notes very long, which is too often the case in demos. My take: I would have gladly traded off some velocity layers to lengthen the samples more. It’s a potentially great-sounding piano that for me is undone by these issues. YMMV, of course.

Chick’s Mark V
It is well known among Rhodes cognoscenti that Chick Corea has a specially modded Mark V instrument with a very bright, percussive tone. Yamaha helped him to sample it years ago, and they have been offering versions of it for their instruments for some time now. This is my first chance to really play it and analyze it and I love it. Sure, it’s a specialized sound, just like a Dyno-My modded instrument is (this is not a Dyno Rhodes), but it surely has its place. It is based on 4 sampled levels and 1 key-off noise (most sounds have a 5th Element, but it reuses the 4th waveform for some different programming, not really a different timbre). Whatever – it plays great, with almost no discernable jumps in velocity transitions, because it is always somewhat bright.
Chick's Mark V

16 Performances are provided and they cover a good variety, from the basic instrument to the slightly amped sound of his early Return To Forever days (think Light As A Feather), on to layered sounds and even two Performances split with a right hand lead sound.
More Mark V Performances
Sure, I would have made a few programming differences, like in that early RTF sound I would not have put the tape delay on a switch, as it turns on way too wet already with no control over the depth. I‘d swap that function with the Super Knob, which is increasing the amp distortion. I want more range on the delay depth, and I don’t need to make the amp go so far into metal overdrive (which is not at all true to anything Chick has ever recorded). But it’s a programmable synth and those are easy changes. Overall I give the free library a hearty both thumbs up.

Purgatory Creek Vintage Keys
OK, these are not from Yamaha, and I can’t start exploring all the third-party libraries for the MODX, but I’ve known Bill Busch for many years through my role at Korg, and when he saw I was doing this review he offered to let me check out this library. Since I’ve been discussing the primary categories of electro-mechanical keys it is worth a quick mention.

He offers two Rhodes, a 1975 MK1 and a Mark V. Both feature 6 velocity-switched layers, a key-off Element plus real release samples, which are the sound of the note sustaining through to when the dampers make full contact. They really add character to the sounds, especially in the lower end. Well-sampled and well-programmed, I enjoyed them immensely.

He offers both a 200a and 140b Wurly, both made from 4 velocity-switched layers, plus a Key Noise, which is the impact sound when a note is played, plus release samples and key-off noise. Again, this approach adds a lot of realism to the sounds.

Remember when I wished that Yamaha went deeper in their Clav sampling? Here’s the answer. Vintage Keyboard Collection offers every tonal setting of the Clavinet, with 6 velocity-switched layers plus key-off noise, with long samples and… suffice it to say my wish was granted in spades. The muted settings are synthesized, but they sound more than good enough.

Add in a Pianet N (5-way plus release samples) and a CP70 (3-way) and it’s an excellent collection – a steal at only $59. Well done, Bill!

Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3066779 10/21/20 04:35 AM
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Originally Posted by jerrythek
The longer you spend with a system the better your chops get. Over the years working with products that I have been partially responsible for, my muscle memory develops and I could speed around the interface, even though some were complicated.

It will be interesting to see how MIDI 2.0 Profiles and Property Exchange affect this. In my ideal world (yeah, right!) some company would make a "be-all-and-end-all" hardware interface that manufacturers would adopt as a standard for their Profiles.

Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
Anderton #3066781 10/21/20 08:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
Originally Posted by jerrythek
The longer you spend with a system the better your chops get. Over the years working with products that I have been partially responsible for, my muscle memory develops and I could speed around the interface, even though some were complicated.

It will be interesting to see how MIDI 2.0 Profiles and Property Exchange affect this. In my ideal world (yeah, right!) some company would make a "be-all-and-end-all" hardware interface that manufacturers would adopt as a standard for their Profiles.

I agree, Craig, they are interesting concepts that I can't wait to see implemented. But I think the statement to quote would better be this:

"The best approach will always be a combination of software and a dedicated, or well-constructed controller interface for things. But other than mixing console-like control surfaces the market for a knob/slider/button festooned controller for software remains a very niche thing..."
idea 2thu

Jerry

Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3066791 10/21/20 12:40 PM
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Can't agree enough with the Purgatory Creek Vintage Keys - bought them a year of more ago for my MODX and love them to bits thu


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Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
jerrythek #3066848 10/21/20 06:34 PM
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Originally Posted by jerrythek
Originally Posted by Anderton
Originally Posted by jerrythek
The longer you spend with a system the better your chops get. Over the years working with products that I have been partially responsible for, my muscle memory develops and I could speed around the interface, even though some were complicated.

It will be interesting to see how MIDI 2.0 Profiles and Property Exchange affect this. In my ideal world (yeah, right!) some company would make a "be-all-and-end-all" hardware interface that manufacturers would adopt as a standard for their Profiles.

I agree, Craig, they are interesting concepts that I can't wait to see implemented. But I think the statement to quote would better be this:

"The best approach will always be a combination of software and a dedicated, or well-constructed controller interface for things. But other than mixing console-like control surfaces the market for a knob/slider/button festooned controller for software remains a very niche thing..."
idea 2thu

Jerry

Yes, they are a niche thing but I think there are two main reasons for that.

* They're not ergonomic. With the control panel of an analog synth, you see the signal flow...the filter controls are grouped together, the envelope controls are close to each other, etc. With a general-purpose control surface that works with anything from a mixer to a soft synth to a lighting controller, it doesn't excel at any of its applications. And the way the VST spec is set up, it's a crap shoot as to what parameters will show up on page X of a multi-page menu. I don't want to hijack the thread and get into a discussion of how to solve this, but I do have several practical ideas that I think would make most people want to create sounds using the control surface as opposed to using a mouse.
* The controls don't feel "analog." The stair-stepping and zipper noise just doesn't feel like that's what a control should do. Hopefully 32-bit resolution will take care of that.

What made me think about all this is I have an OB-8 set up in my studio, and it's a joy to program compared to using a mouse with a soft synth equivalent. I realized if it was a control surface, those same controls could cover the most common controls of almost any virtual analog synth or sampler.

Re: In The Lab: The Yamaha MODX6
Anderton #3066884 10/21/20 09:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
Originally Posted by jerrythek
The best approach will always be a combination of software and a dedicated, or well-constructed controller interface for things. But other than mixing console-like control surfaces the market for a knob/slider/button festooned controller for software remains a very niche thing..."
idea 2thu

Jerry

Yes, they are a niche thing but I think there are two main reasons for that.

* They're not ergonomic. With the control panel of an analog synth, you see the signal flow...the filter controls are grouped together, the envelope controls are close to each other, etc. With a general-purpose control surface that works with anything from a mixer to a soft synth to a lighting controller, it doesn't excel at any of its applications. And the way the VST spec is set up, it's a crap shoot as to what parameters will show up on page X of a multi-page menu. I don't want to hijack the thread and get into a discussion of how to solve this, but I do have several practical ideas that I think would make most people want to create sounds using the control surface as opposed to using a mouse.
* The controls don't feel "analog." The stair-stepping and zipper noise just doesn't feel like that's what a control should do. Hopefully 32-bit resolution will take care of that.

What made me think about all this is I have an OB-8 set up in my studio, and it's a joy to program compared to using a mouse with a soft synth equivalent. I realized if it was a control surface, those same controls could cover the most common controls of almost any virtual analog synth or sampler.

Oh I agree, and I was not thinking about some generic control surface intended for different purposes. It has to be designed to be a synth interface. I wouldn't want to mix records using a Push-style device - the best control surfaces for recording/mixing mimic a desk, right? The best interface for a synth should be designed like... a synth. It has to be laid out as you suggest. And with a lot of knobs/switches/sliders/whatever it wouldn't be cheap. Plus they need to be high resolution as you discuss. So I'm not saying it's economically viable... or maybe it is. I don't know for sure.

Here's an interesting viewpoint: Omnisphere added their hardware integration feature, and it's really cool, but in some ways you can look at it and go, "if I already have this great sounding and well-laid out synth why do I need to replicate it in software?" But then you realize that you can have any type of filter (that Omnisphere has, which is a lot), and you realize that you have a likely much more robust Mod Matrix, and so on, and you start to dream of our favorite synth's interface/control surface married to any type of possibility in the engine. Now that's enticing! But as you infer, this sounds like a great topic on its own. Hope you're well, my friend.

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