Yamaha's new MODX brings the FM synthesizer into the trendy period

Yamaha’s newest synthesizer, the MODX, is a hybrid instrument that provides next-generation FM synthesis at a worth that’s extra reasonably priced than its flagship instrument. But how does it observe within the footsteps of the corporate’s much-loved DX household? Scott Wilson spent a while with the synth to seek out out.

Yamaha’s DX7 is without doubt one of the few synthesizers that has genuinely formed the sound of music as we all know it immediately. One of the world’s first digital FM synthesizers, it supplied a method to create ostensibly extra ‘practical’ sounds than analog synths just like the MS-20 or CS-80, however grew to become simply as nicely liked for its uncanny signature; its lineage will be traced all the best way from Hall & Oates, Whitney Houston and Brian Eno by Japanese new age music and Detroit techno to vaporwave.

Yamaha isn’t the one synth firm to have launched FM synths, however the DX7’s legacy signifies that the Yamaha title is, for higher or worse, synonymous with the expertise. After the DX model was retired in 2001 following the discontinuation of the DX200 module, Yamaha revived it in 2015 with the Reface DX, a small, transportable FM synth that simplified the customarily arduous FM programming expertise however featured a sound engine that wasn’t fairly as much as the identical customary because the 30-year-old DX7.

The new MODX line, unveiled final week, is Yamaha’s newest stab at FM synthesis. Although the corporate hasn’t made any express hyperlinks between this and the DX line, it’s pretty apparent that it’s calling again to the revered synth model; the DX element of the brand itself is close to an identical to that discovered on the DX7. However, it’s really a cut-down, inexpensive tackle its flagship Montage synthesizer from 2016, a hybrid synth combining a complicated FM-X engine with AWM2, a sample-based synth engine.

Yamaha's new MODX brings the FM synthesizer into the modern era

In easy phrases, which means that the MODX is able to FM synthesis – with a way more advanced engine than the DX7 – in addition to the type of superior synth modeling it’s worthwhile to recreate extremely ‘practical’ acoustic sounds. You may even mix the 2 modes, in case you’re so inclined. Previously, you’d need to spend $2,999 on a Montage for this expertise in a standalone synth, however the MODX begins at $1,299 for the 61-key model and goes as much as $1,899 for the 88-key mannequin.

I acquired an opportunity to play with the MODX final week and was impressed with the expertise, however somewhat underwhelmed by the design. There’s no getting away from the truth that the MODX is aesthetically missing compared to different mid-price synths in the same class, corresponding to Korg’s current Prologue, which blends a pointy, fashionable look with a classic cool. The MODX doesn’t even embrace the garish retro allure of the unique DX7. To be blunt, the MODX seems extra like a MIDI controller than a premium synthesizer.

But if you will get previous the look of the MODX, there’s some intriguing expertise and nice sounds onboard. Browsing by the presets I discovered loads of FM favorites corresponding to twangy digital bass sounds and glassy pads alongside impressively modeled strings and percussion utilizing the AWM2 engine. Using the 2 modes together with what Yamaha calls the “movement sequencer” means that you can make advanced, evolving pad sounds and automate all kinds of parameters.

There’s additionally one thing referred to as the “Super Knob”, which appears to be aimed primarily at dwell performers. Users can map the knob to as much as 128 completely different parameters directly and tweak all of them with a twist of the knob or the press of an hooked up foot pedal. Features like this at all times run the chance of being an under-used gimmick, however the flexibility it affords is more likely to be standard with anybody trying so as to add one thing greater than the same old pitch and modulation to their taking part in fashion.

While I don’t love the look of the keyboard, it does really feel nicely made. It has a number of buttons for navigating the menu and a lot of the interplay is finished a touchscreen, which is responsive sufficient for making your method round presets. It’s undoubtedly higher than the obtuse menu diving of the DX7 for patch design, however in my temporary time modifying patches I discovered it much less fast than the expertise I’ve had utilizing the knobs on the Elektron Digitakt or ALM’s standard Akemie’s Castle module.

Richard Devine, who is probably finest recognized at present for being considered one of Eurorack’s most vocal followers, can also be an FM synth knowledgeable who has been utilizing a Montage for sound design for a number of years now (he not too long ago used the instrument to create a lot of the sounds for Jaguar’s first electrical automotive). In Devine’s opinion, the expertise of programming patches on the brand new MODX is a marked enchancment over Yamaha’s legacy FM synths.

“On my outdated DX7 the screens have been half the dimensions of my iPhone,” he says. “Here we have now a touchscreen, every little thing’s in colour, you could have stunning shows and there’s numerous visible suggestions. Everything in my view could be very elegantly laid out, they did a very nice job – the graphics are good and clear and it’s straightforward to see in low lighting circumstances too, which is sweet for enjoying reveals or working within the studio.”

“Personally, I really feel that I’m in a position to program issues a lot faster with this than my outdated synths just like the DX100. They have been all very tedious to step round, whereas right here you possibly can instantly go to completely different modes in a short time, you possibly can solo issues, you will get to the routing – every little thing is only one button click on away. It’s very fast and intuitive.”

The MODX is significantly inexpensive than the Montage, however concessions have been made to make it extra reasonably priced. On the Montage, the FM-X engine is able to 128-voice polyphony, however on the MODX you solely have entry to 64. For Devine although, this isn’t essentially a dealbreaker. “Even at 64 voices I not often max out,” he says. “Even this model is ready to do 99% of what I would like and I’m not even doing that loopy stuff with it half the time. If you wish to get actually loopy you possibly can – you could have the flexibleness and the facility.”

A variety of producers are going to query the logic of releasing a synth just like the MODX in 2018, when loads of corporations are both trying in the direction of modular synth integration, creating compact all-in-one containers, or each. Even the 61-key MODX6 goes to be a big and costly instrument for bed room producers. If you’re an FM nerd although – particularly one who desires a keyboard for efficiency – there isn’t something fairly prefer it in its class. The MODX may very well be one of the vital compelling causes to contemplate a Yamaha synth in years.

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