The ultra-light Yamaha MX synths are anything but
featherweights when it comes to performance. The biggest deal is that
the MX series’ sounds are taken from the Motif XS, and to our ears sound
every bit as lush, rich, and detailed. Whatever Yamaha did to get the
price of these synths so low, it seems not to have involved the sounds,
converters, or output stage. The MX can also act as a basic stereo USB
audio interface, and has respectable control surface functionality for
popular DAW software. It’s not a workstation in itself, i.e., you
won’t find the Motif family’s multitrack sequencing, but as we’ll see,
there’s an app for that. On-the-gig use is our focus in this issue, so
let’s dig in.
Keys and Controls
Our test unit was an MX61; the MX49 is identical except
for its four-octave keyboard. Speaking of the keyboard, both the white
and black keys were balanced, smooth, and extremely playable. While I
would’ve preferred to be able to choose velocity curves, I had no
problem playing acoustic piano sounds across the full dynamic range, and
I could get a nice bark from Rhodes and Clavinet sounds. Since I’m
mainly an organ player, I find it easier to play non-organ sounds on a
semi-weighted keyboard than organs on a weighted one, so the MX
certainly agreed with me in that respect. Aftertouch would be nice, but
at this price no one should be surprised at its omission.
The MX is extremely easy to navigate. If you’re familiar
with the Motif family, think of the MX as being in “category search”
mode by default. Voices (Yamaha’s term for single sound programs) are
logically organized in 16 categories, and you find them by hitting a
category button and spinning the comfortable jog wheel.
One cannot overstate how simple the MX is to split and
layer. Holding the Split button and pressing a key sets the split point.
Layering is a similar one-touch operation. The upper/main Voice is
shown on the top row of the LCD and the lower/layered Voice is on the
bottom. Cursoring to one row or the other lets you change the Voice for
the corresponding keyboard zone.
Unlike the Motif, there’s no distinction between Voice
(single) and Performance (multitimbral) modes; the MX is effectively
always in multitimbral mode. The 16 category buttons double as part
selectors, letting you rack up a Performance of 16 favorite sounds and
switch between them with one touch. Doing so will not cut off sustained
notes from the previous sound—kudos! The MX is 16-part multitimbral, but
using the front panel, you can play a maximum of two parts at once, i.e.
the aforementioned split or layer, plus a drum pattern if desired.
Using an external DAW or the Vycro MX software editor (see page XX), you
can stack more layers. While this might be a drawback for some, the
quality of the Voices was such that I never wanted for more layering.
The four knobs have three rows of functions with the usual
button to switch them. Filter cutoff, resonance, and chorus and reverb
send are on top; attack, decay, sustain, and release are in the middle;
and part volume, pan, and two assignable slots are on the bottom. There
are also dedicated transpose and octave shift buttons. In a live
situation, this is far better than “soft” or assignable buttons for
these important functions.
When playing, I had to keep reminding myself how
affordable the MX was. I also never hit the ceiling of 128 voices of
polyphony—at least not that I could hear. I was impressed at the sheer
number of quality pianos, organs, electric pianos, Clavs, strings,
synths, and much more. The acoustic piano sounds were rich, and there’s a
piano optimized for running monaurally. Some of my favorite vintage
sounds were “Early 70’s EP,” “Vintage Case,” and “Natural Wurli.”
Like any do-it-all keyboard based on PCM samples, the MX
won’t rival a dedicated organ clone when it comes to B-3 sounds.
However, while you don’t have individual drawbar control, the organ
patches are surprisingly soulful and realistic, and a Leslie effect that
has separately discernible upper and lower rotors is on the mod wheel.
The selection of expressive acoustic and electric basses was great for
gigs where I played left-hand bass. The synth Voices ran the gamut from
leads to pads to comping sounds that had a crisp attack. “Things that
are supposed to sound analog are really smooth, especially for
sample-based sounds,” commented editor Stephen Fortner. “Sweep the
filter cutoff, for instance, and you really hear the care.” At a private
party, I even plugged the MX into the DJ’s mixer and did an impromptu
trance number. Very cool!
Yamaha’s Virtual Circuit Modeling effects have made the
trip over from the Motif XS. As the name suggests, VCM simulates vintage
hardware effects (including flanger, phaser, wah, EQ, and more) at the
circuit level, with excellent sonic results. Choices include EQ,
flanger, phaser, wah, and more. You get one insert effect per Voice,
send-based chorus and reverb, and a five-band master EQ that you access
from a menu—I’d prefer another row of knob functions for this, as I
often make quick adjustments based on room acoustics.