Synth Workshop, Motif XF Sound Management

A big way in which the Yamaha Motif XF (reviewed June ’11) is different from its predecessor the XS is that it can store up to 2GB of samplebased sounds that remain in memory with the power off .
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By Julian Colbeck and Stephen Fortner

A big way in which the Yamaha Motif XF (reviewed June ’11) is different from its predecessor the XS is that it can store up to 2GB of samplebased sounds that remain in memory with the power off. Maximing the benefits of this requires some planning and strategy. As with so many things, understanding the terminology is the first step.


User Peruser

A key word is “user,” abbreviated USR on the Motif line. “User” means something that can be changed by you. In the Motif file system, it may refer to either of the following, which can create some confusion: First, a user location for Voices, Performances, and so on, whose contents can be overwritten— “program memory” by a familiar term. Second, RAM where samples can be loaded and kept temporarily until the Motif is powered down.

The opposite of “user” is “preset.” You can’t overwrite preset Voices, Performances, or banks. You can edit them, but you then need to write them to a user location.

The Motif XF has four user Voice banks where you can store anything—from an edited preset or a new Voice you programmed from scratch, to a purchased Voice library. On the Motif, “Voice” means a single sound, and “Performance” means a combi of up to four Voices, which can be split and layered across the keyboard.

Like most modern synths, the Motif XF has factory wave ROM. If you alter a Voice, you’re not affecting this wave ROM—you’re just changing the various synth settings “downstream” of that ROM. Many classic third-party Voice libraries drew on factory wave ROM only. By contrast, many newer third-party libraries include their own samples. Those samples—or any that you record yourself using the Motif ’s integrated sampling —need to be stored in sample memory.

Flash on the XF

On Motifs prior to the XF, optional sample RAM—user memory— served this purpose. If you turned off the Motif, you’d have to reload your samples the next time you powered on. The Motif XF has 128MB of sample RAM pre-installed. You can’t expand this directly; instead, you get more memory via optional Flash boards—the XF takes one or two, each either 512MB or 1GB in size, for a 2GB maximum. Unlike RAM, Flash retains data with the power off .

With sample RAM, if you got confused about what Voices were using what samples, you could power down and start over. Reformatting a Flash board, by contrast, can take up to 30 minutes, as can reloading the data afterwards. You can avoid this by knowing exactly what you’re storing and where.

Voices and Performances (not to mention sequencer Patterns, Songs, and arpeggiator phrases) are never stored to user RAM or Flash boards; only samples go there. Voices and Performances are sets of settings that refer to samples living in factory ROM, user RAM, or Flash. As on most modern synths, user Voice and Performance settings are retained with the power off (a separate and relatively small bit of Flash memory on the mainboard is devoted to this), but anything in user sample RAM is not. Yet they’re both called “user,” so it’s forgivable to assume they have the same behavior. They don’t.

Flash Course

When loading new Voice libraries into the XF from a USB drive or networked computer, the fields on the XF’s File screen are key. A lot of traffic direction happens on this one screen, so we’ve color-coded the key areas in our “XF File Screen Decoder” below to help make sense of it all. Sound libraries can feature Voice settings stored to any user Voice bank. If the library includes its own samples, you must point them to the desired destination. You can freely load samples that the library’s creator originally had in one area of memory (USR sample RAM, or Flash boards FL1 or FL2, as outlined in blue in our screenshot) to another (as outlined in green).

Note that in the green-outlined area, the “None” destination is crucial for when you’ve filled up one Flash board with samples and want to start filling another. The alternatives “FL1 without sample” or “FL2 without sample” might seem correct intuitively, but they’ll actually reload all the key and velocity mapping pointers—but not the samples themselves—to either FL1 or FL2. So avoid these unless you know exactly why you need them.

You can also specify what type of data to load (as outlined in yellow).

All: Overwrites everything: Voices, Performances, Songs, Patterns, arpeggios, samples, and MIDI/system settings.
All Voice: Overwrites Voice and Performance settings and associated samples, but not Songs, Patterns, arpeggios, or system settings.
1 Bank Voice: Loads one user bank of Voices and associated samples. Third-party libraries tend to load their Voices to USR4 by default, so this is handy for redirecting those to a different bank.
Voice: Loads a single Voice to your choice of slot in any user bank.

Saving: With and Without Sample

The difference between the raw sample material used by a Voice and the editable parameters for that same Voice is especially relevant when saving Voices you’ve edited. If a piano library has already been installed to Flash, you don’t want to re-save the sample data just because you’ve adjusted the filter. So, the XF gives you the option of saving your edited Voices “with sample” or “without sample,” as we’ve outlined in red in our screenshot. This also saves load time later on. Loading an “All” file whose associated samples are already in Flash will take mere seconds.

Keep in mind that saving samples to Flash is really burning data—data that can’t simply be overwritten. When saving work you’ve done in the XF, especially if you have two Flash boards installed, keep a careful eye on “with sample” and “without sample” so that you don’t save samples redundantly.

File Detective

We’ve said that the USR, FL1, and FL2 sources (again, blue outline) represent where samples were originally saved when a file was created. The file extension in the name of the library tells you where. In our screen shot, the highligted file on the USB drive is “GPOBrass&Pipeorgan. n3.X3A.” The “X3A” means it’s a Motif XF-formatted file. The “n3” means that nothing was stored to either of the Flash boards when this library was created and saved. (By elimination, if custom samples are present at all, they were originally stored to user sample RAM.) An “n2” in its place would mean that samples were stored to FL1, not FL2. Conversely, “n1” means samples were stored to FL2, not FL1. The unifying theme here is that “n” means “nothing.”

XF File Screen Decoder

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Top center: A directory of sound libraries (Garritan Pesonal Orchestra in this case) from a connected USB drive.
Red outline: These options for whether samples are stored to Flash boards are relevant only to saving work you’ve done on the XF, not to loading sounds from a drive.
Blue outline: USR, FL1, and FL2 refer to where any custom samples were stored when the file you’re about to load from the USB drive was originally saved—not to what’s currently in the XF’s user and Flash sample memory, as one might assume.
Green outline: Destinations you can choose for the incoming sample content from the loaded file.
Yellow outline: What type of data is loaded or saved.