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Yamaha Motif Synth Family

The origin and development of the Motif Line

The Original Motif was introduced in 2001 in its 61, 76, and 88 key versions. The Motif ES was released in 2003.  The new Motif XS was released early in 2007.

What is a Motif?  A motif is a fragment, a recurring succession of notes.  One core idea underlying the Motif synth is that you can take a few Motifs, which may be phrases, arpeggios, patterns, drum beats, and link them up into a song.  Hey, it worked for Beethoven, and many others since.  Indeed, you can think of the Motif as the synth that allows you to create and hack together loops.  But it does more than that.  Its a linear audio recorder, track based MIDI sequencer, as well as being a huge repository of drum patterns and arpeggios. 

Now in its 3rd generation, there is no doubt of the sound quality and power of the Motif XS.  However, it has lost a few functions in its latest incarnation.   The previous Yamaha flagship was the EX5 workstation which used AWM (another name for sample playback synthesis) and sampling.  But the EX5 also had Yamaha's AN (analog) synthesis and VL (virtual acoustic modeling) and FDSP (Formulated Digital Sound Processing) Synthesis.   When introduced in 2001, the Motif stopped giving us these extra forms of synthesis free inside the box.  Yamaha put slots on the Motif to let the user purchase and install these form of synthesis as options. 

The Yamaha EX5 predated the Motif series.

The first Motif had 3 slots for PLG boards, which were retained for the Motif ES.   With the Motif XS the slots are gone.  It is interesting to note that while the EX5 could have 4 different types of synths running together, the new XS only offers AWM, with apparently no option to expand.

So while the Motif XS is a tremendous improvement over the EX5 in some ways, Yamaha has removed alternative synthesis completely.  This is a fundamental shift in synth architecture.  We'll speculate on some of the reasons for this later on in this article.


Motif 7  64 voices

Motif ES7  128 Voices

Motif XS7  128 Voices

Comparing the Motifs 

You can see some of the changes through the history of the Motif just by looking at the pics.  Note the addition of the touch controller below the wheels on the Motif ES7.  The biggest hardware changes took place with the introduction of the Motif XS.  Finally, the Motif catches up to Roland with a color display with a larger screen.  It still is not a TouchView screen like the Triton and the M3.  Note the addition of 4 more sliders, which provide a control surface (non-motorized) for not only the Motif but for your other midi devices as well. 

On the inside the changes are more dramatic.  The Motif has progressed from a 85 mb Rom on the original, to 175 on the ES to 355 MB on the XS.  Sample storage maximums have increased from 64MB to 512 MB on the ES to 1 GB on the XS.  Arpeggios too have increased from 384 on the original to 1700 on the ES to over 6,000 on the XS.  You can find out more info on each by clicking the pictures.

So which Motif?  

Here's the way I see it.  If you want different kinds of synthesis in one board, the ES is fantastic, assuming you fill the slots with PLG boards. As great as the XS is, its all AWM (sample playback) synthesis.  Different types of synthesis help compositions sound more "fresh". 

However, if you want a board that will work with you as a song idea generator, like many arranger boards do, or you want to experiment with 4 layers of arpeggios, have your keyboard suggest riffs and play passages you might not know how to, the XS is calling you. 

The Cool Thing about the XS

Is it cheating?  I mean, having the keyboard suggest parts and write drum beats, etc.?  Well, back when MIDI came out people though correcting (quantizing) your notes in a sequencer was cheating.  When the first audio loops appeared people felt those were cheating.  I will say is that if a tool is out there, people will use it to make music.  If it gives one a musical advantage maybe its something we have to learn, to stay competitive.  

Certainly the XS allows people with no musical skills to write really hot tracks, but I am thinking it can aid the advanced studio synthman too.   When I sit down at the Motif XS I find it totally engaging and amazing.    

Here's how Yamaha wants us to look at it:

While you experiment and play around with Arpeggios in the Performance mode, the song ideas will come fast and fierce-maybe too many to remember. No worries, though. You can capture them easily and directly by recording them to a Song or Pattern (which can be stored to the built-in flash memory). Since the data is MIDI, you don't have to worry about running out of recording space.

They go on to suggest you can just keep the sequencer in record mode and later on sift through what you recorded looking for gems. 

So I tested this.  I got a big performance patch up running a drum pattern, bassline, and an arp and a lead.  I found something that sounded cool in about a minute, and pressed record to get it.  The Motif grabbed all the MIDI data in a big gulp.  When I pressed stop, and peered in the sequencer, there were 4 tracks of patterns recorded, ready to be copied, tweak, edited.  The cool thing here was I never set up those 4 tracks.  I did not have to think in advance "Lessee, bass is Snap Bass bank 4 patch 57, the arp is Tweedle Synth/up/down 8th notes/ bank2 patch 120, the drum kit is hard rock bla bla."  No!  I did not have to do any setup at all.   I just picked out a performance patch and hit a few keys.  In the space of less than 90 seconds, I had 4 tracks recorded and ready for editing.   That to me, is very cool.



See my extensive review of the Motif XS 

Spins off the Motif Technology

The Motif has its spinoff synths.  This includes the Yamaha "Mo" and MM6.  The "MM" is short for "Mini Mo".   It can also be argued the the S90 and S90 ES are derivatives of the Motif as they share the same rom and often the same presets.  The Motif Rack is the ES synth in rack form


Yamaha S90ES 88-Key Weighted Action Synthesizer
The S90 ES combines a stunningly natural acoustic piano sound with all the sonic flexibility of the award winning Motif ES. A new multi-velocity, stereogrand piano sample, the new sound board simulation and the half-damper capability (when used with the Yamaha FC3) all ensure a rich and realistic acoustic piano sound. The 128 note polyphony tone generator, Studio Connections compatibility, mLAN expansion slot, and PLG expandability give it all the synthesis power and control capabilities of our Motif ES line.

Tweak:   The S90ES has all the sounds of the Motif ES, and it goes a little further by adding a more realistic piano sample.  128 notes of polyphony, 228 MG Rom, Studio Connections software capability, 3 PLG slots.  Pure class all the way.  Consider it as a great digital piano with the whole Motif ES rom added in extra.  No sampler, or sequencer on board, but many of us don't need those.



Yamaha MOTIF Rack ES Sound Module
Instant inspiration! You need lots of sonic choices; from authentic to innovative. That's why there are 1,152 voices and 65 different drum kits in the MOTIF-Rack ES. With the most advanced synthesis on the market, MOTIF-Rack ES' 128-note polyphony, 16-part mix architecture and 32 multi-libraries ensure you have the all the flexibility you need.

Tweak:  The Rack ES takes 2 PLG boards, has 128 voices of polyphony, 1700 arpeggios and has can be integrated with the Studio Connections Software to your computer.   A major advantage here is the ability to use the PLG boards, like the DX7 board (PLG 150 DX) and the analog board (PLG 150 AN).  Its is getting 3 great synths in a small rack.  I think this one is destined to be in demand for a long time, even if its replaced by a new Motif XS rack.


Yamaha MO6 61-Key Music Production Synthesizer
Yamaha, proudly introduces the MO Music Production Synthesizer. Targeted to semi-professional musicians and home/project studio owners as well as songwriters and performers, the MO provides a full set of authentic sounds and comprehensive music-making features-including an emphasis on contemporary styles and voices. Highly portable and compact, the MO also serves as an ideal keyboard for live performance situations.

Tweak:  The Mo has 64 voices, a 175 MB rom, no sampling.  It looks a lot like the original Motif.  Unlike the original Motif, the Mo has some high end features like Total Integration and Total Recall using software from the Studio Connections Project.  These features come to life when you use the Mo with recent versions of Steinberg's Cubase.  Great synth for those wanting to get deep into MIDI sequencing, without the CPU hit of soft synths. 

Yamaha MM6 61-Key Synthesizer
The MM6 Music Synthesizer delivers all that power and more. Drawing on the same sounds of the popular pro-level MOTIF series instruments, the MM6 has a wide variety of dynamic, realistic and just plain powerful Voices to help you create amazing music. The MM6 also gives you total control over your sound, with real-time tweakable knobs, and features special Patterns that provide full backing -- drums, bass and chords -- for your live performance and song creation. And since the MM6 is exceptionally light and portable, you can bring it anywhere and everywhere your music takes you.
Search Category:61-Key Synthesizers
Manufacturer: Yamaha

Tweak:  The MM6 has a 70mb Rom, no sampling, and has only 32 voices of polyphony.  A great starter synth.  32 voices is the main limitation, but it should let you get 4-5 tracks down before you have to commit to audio.



PLG Boards

For your original Motif, Motif ES Motif Rack or S90ES.  These are not compatible with the Motif XS

Yamaha PLG150VL Virtual Acoustic Plug-In
The Virtual Acoustic Modular Synthesis Plug-in Board lets you create incredibly expressive, natural sounding voices by digitally simulating the physical characteristics of acoustic instruments. Thanks to its fabulous synthesis architecture, extensive real-time performance control of the voices is possible, making it the ideal Plug-in Board for keyboard soloists.

Yamaha PLG150DX Vintage FM Synth Plug In Board
Add the classic sounds of Yamaha's world-famous DX-7 synthesizer to the S80. The PLG150-DX features the same 6-operator 16-note polyphonic FM tone generation system that took the synthesizer industry by storm. This board is a must-have for performing keyboard players and producers of contemporary music.

Yamaha PLG150AN Analog Synth Plug-In Expansion Board
Reproduce the fat and funky sounds of vintage analog synthesizers. This board gives you a synth engine similar to the one featured in Yamaha's amazing AN1x Analog Physical Modeling Synthesizer. On top of its full array of wave algorithms, resonant filters, LFOs, and envelope generators, it also has distortion and a 3-band equalizer.

Yamaha PLG100VH Vocal Harmony Plug-In Expansion Board
This plug-in adds powerful harmony or vocoder effect to your voice by simply plugging a microphone into the S80's A/D input and playing chords on the keyboard. Harmony interval changes can be recorded in a sequencer track for automated playback - a dream tool for performing vocalists or for singer/songwriters who want to compose and record songs at home.







More Articles by Tweak on Keyboards and Synths

Keyboards and Modules INDEX
Choosing the Right Keyboard for your Studio
Synthesizer Comparison Chart
Guide to Compact MIDI Controllers
All about Synthesizer Modules
The Roland Fantom Family
The Yamaha Motif Family
The Access Virus Family
The Korg Triton/M3 Family
Roland V-Synth GT
Yamaha Motif XS
Korg M3 Resources
Triton Rack/EXB Card Review
Novation ReMote 37 SL
How to program a Synthesizer
Proteus 2000
Keyboard Price List

Which Keyboard is for Me?
Roland Synths and Modules
Korg Synths and Modules
Yamaha Synths and Modules
Emu Synths and Samplers
Alesis Synthesizers
Access Virus Synths
Vintage Synths Forum
The Moog Forum
Waldorf Synthesizers Forum
Clavia Nord Synths
Dave Smith Synths and modules
Novation Synths
Kurzweil Keys Forum



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