1. Performance Creator lets you roll your own splits, layers, and drum performance setups with minimum button pushing.
2. Dedicated octave-shift and transpose buttons are placed so you could hit them with a free finger of a hand that’s playing a chord.
3. These backlit buttons select parts of splits and layers, and turn them on or off.
4. Just below, these buttons activate and latch the arpeggiator for each of the four independent parts.
5. These toggle buttons select which four parameters the knobs control (filter/envelope, EQ, etc.), so you’re never more than one click away from the function you want.
6. Faders have four pages of functions: volume and panning for parts, and sends for the master chorus and reverb.
7. There’s enough real estate here to park a small laptop or a tabletop synth module.
8. DAW Remote button turns the S70XS into a control surface for DP, Logic, or Sonar — or the included Cubase AI software, for which the integration goes especially deep. PROS
Great sounds including stellar new S6
piano. Super-easy to create splits and
layers on the fly. Expanded control surface
functionality for DAWs.
Nearly as wide as some 88-note keyboards.
Small display. Deep sound
editing requires computer software.
INFOS70XS (76 keys): $3,699 list/approx.
$2,300 street; S90XS (88 keys):
$3,799 list/approx. $2,400 street,
NEED TO KNOW
What are the best sounds in the
S70XS? The new S6 piano and the
entire Motif XS ROM, particularly keyboard
sounds like EPs, Clavs, and
What does it have that previous S-series
synths didn’t? That S6 piano,
much easier creation of splits and layers,
better realtime arpeggiator control,
and more control surface ability.
Why would I get this instead of a
workstation or other ROMpler?
Because it’s focused on features that
really make live gigging easier — and
that piano sound we keep mentioning
What’s the big deal with 76 keys?
Don’t other keyboards come in that
size? Yes, but the S70XS is the only
deeply editable, do-it-all synth (as
opposed to a vintage-keys clone,
stage piano, or MIDI controller) we
know that has 76 fully-weighted keys.
How many effects can it do at
once? Eight inserts, send-based
reverb and chorus, last-in-the-chain
master effect and EQ, plus EQ per multitimbral
part. In other words, you won’t
run out, even with complex setups
I’ve had an S90 “classic” in my gig
rig since 2003, so I’m very familiar with
the interface, sounds, and features of this
original S90 (reviewed Jan. ’03), which
was based on the original Motif but
focused on live use. Then, the S90ES
came on the heels of the Motif ES — both
had double the polyphony and greatly
improved sounds. Now, the XS generation
of the S series offers not just the full
Motif XS sound set, but a gorgeous main
piano sound you won’t find in the Motif
XS. Also, Yamaha is consciously
addressing a couple of trends gleaned
from user buzz: First, a perception that
the S was just “a Motif without a
sequencer.” In response, Yamaha
revamped the user interface with a focus
on the most common gig tasks, especially
setting up splits and layers quickly.
Second, musicians have wanted the
action, sounds, and performance control
of the S series in a 76-key size for years
— with fully weighted keys, not the
springier semi-weighted sort usually
found on 76ers.
Even at first glance, you notice a lot of
new things. Lots of backlit buttons and
four new knobs augment the four faders
of the S-class ancestors. The knobs open
up more possibilities for realtime control,
with virtually all the preset sounds
thoughtfully programmed to use these
knobs in musical ways. The two toggle
buttons that select knob functions were a
piece of cake at gigs, and the knobs
quickly became an extension of my brain.
The only drawback is that the knobs are
mounted close to the back edge of the
panel, making them harder to access if a
second keyboard is stacked above.
At first glance, the LCD seems tiny
compared to the large color screen on
the Motif XS. However, once I got into
the greater number of controls and more intuitive menu structure (compared to the
S90 classic and ES), I didn’t feel at all
inhibited. There’s even a hidden feature
that super-sizes the fonts, which is most
welcome at gigs. Like the knobs, the display
could be mounted a little closer to
the keys to make it more visible in multikeyboard
New backlit red buttons turn individual
Voices (Yamaha’s term for single sound
programs, not to be confused with voices
of polyphony) in a Performance (a multitimbral
split or layer) on or off. You get
separate buttons for engaging the arpeggiator,
and for keeping it playing when
you release the keys, for each Performance
part. I saw this kind of attention
to hardware control throughout the
instrument, and it inspired me to a new
level of performance.
Yamaha opted to put the pitch and mod
wheels to the left of the keys. This adds
about five inches of width as compared
with putting them on the top panel, which is
where they were on the S80 and S90 classic.
Many users might prefer the latter position
and a smaller size — being able to buy a
smaller case, especially if you drive something
smaller than a minivan or SUV, is one
of the main value propositions of a 76-key
keyboard. Yamaha says they made a conscious
decision based on playability. That’s
true — most players are trained to reach
here, and there’s no problem accessing the
wheels if another full-length keyboard is
above the S70XS on a stand. But this does
make the S70XS only two inches narrower
than my 88-key S90 classic. Nonetheless,
it’s a managable 44.2 pounds, well-balanced
to carry, and surprisingly easy to
hoist onto a keyboard stand.
The S70XS has the complete factory
ROM (and synth engine and effects) of
the Motif XS (reviewed July ’07), and this
is one deep sound set. Just about anything
you could possibly need is on hand.
What you won’t find in any Motif, though,
are certain new grand piano Voices in the
S70XS and S90XS. They’re based on the
prestigious Yamaha S6 concert grand,
and have a nice brightness that cuts
through a mix while remaining realistic
and warm. Among the presets, you get
many variations of classical, jazz, and pop
pianos. My favorite for live rock use is
“Piano Rock S6,” which has lots of
expressive ability, but also enough brightness
to drive it through the mix. On all the
new S6-based Voices, you can really hear
that realism and attention to detail has
been kicked up quite a few notches from
the Motif. Keyboard’s Stephen Fortner
chimed in, “I loved the main piano sound
in the CP-300, which was several cuts
above the Motif XS main piano. But this
new S6 sample is a whole other level still.”
The rest of the sonic landscape covers
a broad base: meaty, funky electric pianos
and Clavs, B-3 organs that sound darned
good for sampled sounds, dozens of analog
leads and lush pads, gorgeous
orchestral strings, breathtakingly realistic
woodwinds, edgy modern synth tones,
and still the most realistic acoustic guitars
you’ll find in any hardware synth. Using the Favorites feature, I could simply tag
Voices I liked (signified by a heart icon in
the display) for quick call-up later. This
also works with Performances.
AT THE GIGS
The S70XS action is balanced, meaning
the keys are the same weight across the
whole range. I could tell very little difference
between it and my careworn S90
Classic, aside from the older keyboard
being broken in. This action is a joy to
play, and given that it has aftertouch,
about the best combination I’ve played for
digging into acoustic and electric pianos
as well as ripping synth and organ leads.
I played the S70XS for several gigs
and rehearsals with my soul/dance band
SoulerCoaster, as well as ’80s cover
band Flat Elvis. Having used the S90
classic for years was a great primer, but
the sound quality and realtime control of
the S70XS were breaths of fresh air. I
was pleasantly surprised to learn that the
S70XS and S90XS load files from the
Motif XS. Since I’d previously owned a
Motif XS7, I had a USB drive with all my
gig sounds, which loaded right into the S70XS with nary a complaint, aside from
a few differences in the Voice pointers.
In previous S-series keyboards, creating
new splits and layers was time-consuming,
because for each one, you had
to edit together a Performance preset
containing the sounds and key ranges.
The S70XS has a one-touch approach:
Simply press the Split or Layer button,
and the current sound is automatically
coupled with another, which you can set
as the default “second sound” or quickly
change by scrolling through sound categories.
This act seamlessly creates a Performance,
which you then save into an
initialized memory spot. Having blank
memory to store edited Voices and Performances
felt a lot more logical than
overwriting duplicates of factory sounds
in the User bank, which is what you did
on Motifs and previous S synths.
The front panel and menus can edit
common settings such as key range, filter
cutoff, resonance, and effects, but
deeper edits at the Element level require
connection to a computer. (An Element is
like an “oscillator” in a patch, but it’s
really an entire synth chain with waveform,
filter, modulation, etc.) While the
included software editor is pretty slick
(see facing page), some players will miss
being able to dive into every parameter
from the keyboard itself
Worth noting on the S70XS is the
“Multi/Seq Play” mode, selectable by a
button under the Voice, Performance, and
Master buttons. Not to be confused with
Yamaha’s usual Performance mode, which
splits and layers up to four Voices, Multi
mode allows access to 16 Voices via
MIDI. Helpful Multi templates contain
popular combinations of drums, bass,
piano, strings, and so on. You can address
these from your DAW or sequencer — or
use Multis as speedy-access sound
banks at gigs. It’s similar to the Motif’s
Pattern or Song mode in how it lines up
Voices side by side, and what’s especially
cool is that you can switch sounds while
holding keys or a sustain pedal, and the
S70XS will actually do “patch remain” —
sustained notes on the old Voice won’t be
cut off by the patch change. I’d like to see
this work in plain old single-patch mode
as well (as it has on Kurzweil synths since
K2000 days) but it’s good that Yamaha
gives you a way to hold a chord and
sound-hunt at the gig. You can also execute
a “Job > Copy” command that
imports a full Performance into your Multi,
including four-part arpeggios — very cool!
In the studio, I explored the S70XS’
immense selection (over 6,000) of up to
four-part arpeggios, though as Motif and S
users know, “arpeggios” is an understatement.
Though there are classic up/down
synth patterns aplenty, most of the content
is musical phrases of the sort you’d expect
from better loopware libraries. It runs the
gamut from country to heavy metal to
smooth jazz to urban to Latin to film score —
almost any style you can imagine. Need to
sound like Herbie Hancock during the
Headhunters era? There’s an arp for that.
“Rosanna”-era Toto? There’s an arp for
that. Caliente piano montuno? There’s an
arp for that. I could write an entire review
on this hypnotic capability that, with
some preparation, can turn you into a
[Keyboard Corner forum regular and S70XS/Cubase power user Dan Stecko (“DanS” on the forum) provided insights on the S70XS’ software editing and DAW capabilities. –Ed.]
With Steinberg Cubase booted up and the S70XS connected to a Mac or PC via USB, pressing the DAW Remote button turns the arpeggio select/effect toggle buttons into transport controls. The S70XS’ scroll wheel scrubs through tracks, the arrow buttons change tracks, and of course, the faders do track volume. Via Mackie Control Universal protocol, you get similar functionality in Digital Performer, Logic, and Sonar.
In Cubase, if I selected a soft synth’s track, the synth’s name appeared in the XS’ display, and some of its settings became editable with the knobs and faders. If your soft synth has a “MIDI learn” function, you can make these controls edit whatever you want. In the editor software, you can create up to 50 control assignment templates for your soft synths. Very cool.
Exclusive to Cubase, the editor software also lets you automate the S70XS as though it were a VSTi. Select “External S70XS VST” in a Device slot, click “Auto Sync” once the editor opens to get Cubase and the S70XS talking, and you’re in business. Once you create a setup you like, you can send it back to the XS as a Multi, or store it with your Cubase song for recall. Of course, the editor also works in standalone mode. --Dan Stecko
The S70XS is a true performer’s instrument
with killer sounds sourced from the
Motif XS, along with a new acoustic
piano that, frankly, rocks harder than anything
else I’ve played in a digital stage
piano anywhere near this price. Only, the
S70XS isn’t just a stage piano — it’s a
full-on synth that does every sound well
and many sounds exceptionally well.
None of the competition combines these
capabilities with fully-weighted keys. The
Kurzweil PC3 [reviewed Dec. ’08] is the
most similar, but with a semi-weighted
action — fully-weighted keys are on the
88-note PC3X only. The Nord Stage EX
has 76 weighted keys, but because it’s
primarily a vintage clone, it lacks the huge
variety of sounds and deep synthesizer
engine of the Yamaha. I would have made
the unit a bit smaller, but this is hardly a
dealbreaker. The S70XS is an outstanding
and game-changing entry in the “goto
gig keyboard” field.
Editor's note: We also have a review coming up of Yamaha's new CP-1 stage piano. For exclusive preview video, click this link: