Cool MODX Is Yamaha's Portable, Affordable Montage

MODX is to Montage as MOXF is to MOTIF

We've written before about Yamaha's bold willingness to upend and redefine traditional keyboard product categories as it releases new flagship instruments: Montage isn't precisely the MOTIF successor many were expecting and predicting, and Genos is something more than just a Tyros 6. Both are fantastic keyboards, but how well these square pegs fit into category round holes like 'workstation' or 'arranger' is by design very much up for debate.

That said, there seems to be very little confusion or debate about where Yamaha's new MODX Music Synthesizer line fits into its product matrix. MODX is to Montage as the MO/MOX/MOXF products were to MOTIF: a slimmed down, portable and affordable version of the flagship. Available in 61-, 76- and 88-key models with synth action, semi-weighted and high-quality GHS keybeds respectively, MODX retains the banner features of Montage while at the same time finding an interesting variety of ways to slim down the spec, the weight and, perhaps most importantly, the price.

MODX has the same core synthesis capabilities as Montage, delivered through a combination of Yamaha's stalwart AWM2 engine and the newer FM-X engine, a dual-pronged approach that harkens back well beyond Montage to the venerable SYxx series of keyboards and their rackmountable TGxx counterparts. AWM2 is a PCM sample-based engine that goes well beyond mere sample playback and can interact with the FM engine in a variety of interesting ways, while FM-X is the latest iteration of Yamaha's frequency modulation synthesis technology that goes all the way back to DX7. On the AWM2 side, MODX comes with the same 5GB of sounds found on Montage and is capable of 128 notes of polyphony, while FM-X is an 8-operator FM engine capable of 64 notes of polyphony.

MODX also brings along Montage's innovative Motion Control System, which includes the distinctive Super Knob, the Motion Sequencer and the Envelope Follower. Super Knob is used to simultaneously morph up to 128 parameters across settings and also puts on a surprisingly intricate little blinking light show (though it's worth pointing out that it can also be set to show only a steady light or, if you prefer, turned off completely). Motion Sequences, meanwhile, provide tempo-synced modulation of parameters with up to eight lanes of automation per Performance and the Envelope Follower uses internal or external audio input as a control/modulation source. Along similar lines, MODX also has what Yamaha calls Auto Beat Sync, which detects and synchronizes to BPM at the external audio input.

Montage's PCM-based Rhythm Patterns are here intact, available at the press of a button for both practice and performance, along with an extensive effects engine using Yamaha's Virtual Circuit Modeling technology. In addition to the standard effects you'd expect there are, for better or worse, a whole host of EDM-focused options like Beat Repeat, Vinyl Break, Bit Crusher and Spiralizer along with more traditional extras like amp simulators, analog-style delays and piano-specific options like Damper Resonance. There's even a compressor with sidechain!

Yamaha MODX8 Music Synthesizer
Yamaha MODX8 Music Synthesizer

On the physical side, in addition to Super Knob, MODX also has the same 7" WVGA color TFT touch screen as Montage with the same interface, a boon not only for musicians who want 'The Full Montage,' so to speak, but presumably also for Yamaha's engineers, who should be better able to keep future Montage and MODX operating system updates in sync than they might have been able to with the forked MOTIF and MO/MOX/MOXF derivatives. Inside, there's a 2-in/10-out USB audio interface, which when coupled with the two A/D external audio inputs could obviate a traditional standalone interface and make MODX the center of your recording setup. To further sweeten the deal, MODX comes with a license for Steinberg Cubase AI, which provides integrated recording and editing on up to 32 audio tracks and 48 MIDI tracks.

So with all the great features that are the same as Montage, what's different? After all, the dramatic reductions in price and weight have to come from somewhere, right? Well, yes, obviously there are differences and compromises, but seemingly little in the way of dealbreakers. There are fewer top-panel physical controls, but Montage parameters run by those controls are easily migrated to the touch screen. Whereas Montage's built-in audio interface has 16 channels and runs at 192kHz, MODX has 10 channels and runs at 44.1kHz. Yamaha's innovative Seamless Sound Switching functionality, which changes from one Performance to another without cutting off sustained notes, works on MODX Performances of up to four parts, whereas on Montage it can work on up to eight parts. The amount of flash ROM storage on MODX looks to be roughly half of what's available on Montage. There are differences, but not much in the way of Montage features and functions that are simply absent on MODX, apart from the aforementioned physical controls.

So for anyone who's been salivating over Montage's incredible sound but couldn't quite justify the spend, MODX is a great way to get into Yamaha's most modern synth engine, and for Montage owners who couldn't quite bring themselves to bring such a heavy and expensive instrument to gigs, MODX is a great way to take your Montage sounds on the road. And speaking of taking MODX on the road, it's worth enumerating the remarkable reduction in weight: whereas the 88-key Montage 8 weighs 63 lbs., MODX8, in spite of sporting a full Graded Hammer Action keybed, comes in at only 30.5 lbs. MODX7 has a semi-weighted action and weighs just 16.5 lbs. compared to Montage 7 at 37 lbs., and MODX6 is a svelte 15 lbs. compared to Montage 6 at 33 lbs.

Here at Kraft Music we're more than a little enthusiastic about MODX and expect it to find a wide audience not only among those who've been waiting for a budget-friendly Montage derivative but also with folks eyeing upgrades or replacements for aging MO/MOX/MOXF models. Be sure to check out our application-based bundles for great savings on ready-to-use packages!