Yamaha Motif
Yamaha built a versatile and expandable synth workstation designed to ‘sound
great’. Richard Clews asks, ‘what’s my Motif?
Visually, the Motif ’s clean lines and metallic finish give it a
distinct identity. There are three keyboard lengths to choose
from. The Motif 6 (61-note) and 7 (76-note) use the ‘FS’
action from the EX5 and recent Korgs, while the 88-note
while the knobs adjust filters and envelopes. Heavy duty
editing can be carried out with bundled software, and the
Motif 7 and 8 have enough space to rest a KAOSS pad or
similar Midi controller. Elsewhere, the LCD display is
clear, and the number of editing pages has been
minimised by ‘context sensitive’ editing – for example, if
you are in Sampling mode and press Edit, you immediately call up Sampling parameters. There’s no wading
through Voice and Sequencing pages first.
Round the back, the Motif has a full range of connections – stereo, plus two assignable outs, two foot controller inputs, sustain and foot switches, breath controller
and A/D input (on 6.5mm jacks). Outputs can be
increased with an AIEB1 expansion board (six analogue
outs, optical and S/PDIF) or mLAN8E. A ventilated panel
gives access to three slots for Plug-in synthesis boards,
and SCSI comes as standard. One ergonomic slip is that
the outputs are beneath a ledge. Therefore you need to
get behind the synth to make connections, rather than
lean over the front panel.
Motif 8 boasts weighted piano-action keys. All keyboards
come with aftertouch, but not poly aftertouch, which has
sadly gone the way of the thylacine. The Motif 7 used for
this test had an excellent keyboard feel, reinforced by the
instrument’s solid build. At 18kg, the Motif has enough
weight to inspire confidence but not damage your back.
Real-time editing is executed with four sliders and four
knobs. While each set of controls has 16 assignable
functions, the sliders are mainly used for level changes
This could be problematic if you need to swap a faulty
cable during a gig.
Inside, there are 384 preset Voices, each comprising up
to four AWM2 sample elements, 128 Performances, which
combine up to four Voices in splits or layers, and 48 drum
kits. A maximum 128 edited Voices and 16 drum kits can
be stored internally, while each Performance is already in
a ‘user’ space – edits will overwrite the factory settings.
Polyphony is 62 notes, plus the polyphony of any Plug-in
amaha’s new Motif synthesiser is the latest in a long
line of innovative and versatile keyboards. Its predecessor, the EX5, was one of the few instruments to
combine several synthesis methods ‘under the bonnet’.
DSP limitations hampered its success, but the EX5 concept
has evolved into Yamaha’s Plug-in range of DSP boards,
which play a substantial role in the new synth’s design.
In addition to expandability, the Motif promises to
bring sampling, sequencing and synthesis together
through its Integrated Sampling Sequencer – a feature
shared with the RS7000. The Motif can also control
software sequencers from its front panel, a benefit to
keyboard players with computer-based studios. Exciting
stuff, and an invitation to get motifated [arf ! – CH].
In Out, Shake it All About
boards installed. Internal sample storage is a maximum
64MB (4MB comes fitted) on 72-pin SIMMS, but this is
volatile – you must save data using Smart Media cards or
SCSI drives. A useful ‘Autoload’ feature enables you to
load 64MB of data immediately into the Motif when you
switch on the power – useful after a power cut, and only
takes five minutes.
Integrated Sampling Sequencer
At the core of the Motif is the Integrated Sampling
Sequencer. This enables you to bring phrases, arpeggios
and samples (‘motifs’) together and re-arrange them in
real-time to create songs. The Motif is not a full sampler
– complex multisamples and cross-fades are beyond its
capabilities – but you can approach sampling in two
ways. In Voice/Performance mode, a sample is saved as
a User Voice, which can either be played ‘straight’, or
combined with other Voices in a Performance. This is
ideal for tuned sounds such as organs or synths. In
Song/Pattern mode, a sample is saved as a Sample Voice
and locked to a particular Song or Pattern. It can then be
broken up or ‘sliced’ from this point, making
Song/Pattern mode the best for loops and phrases.
Slicing is performed in three ways: ‘Beat’ for percussive
sounds with short decays, ‘Phrase’ for longer sounds (e.g.
cymbals), or ‘Quick’, which slices regardless of content.
Samples can be given Midi notes automatically, which
makes light work of sampling loops with different bpms
and playing them back in perfect time, as the tempo is
now controlled by the sequencer. One drawback of slicing
is that new data is created while slices are made, which
means slicing can be a slow process and eats into your
RAM. The way to minimise this is to install more sample
RAM and make sure the loops you sample are as short as
possible. As a guide, an eight bar phrase of music (vocals
and drums) can take about 2 minutes to process.
The sequencing part of the Integrated Sampling
Sequencer has 16 tracks and a 111,000 note capacity.
There are two recording modes – Song Record and
Pattern Record. Song Record comprises linear and step
recording, while Pattern Record gives you replace, overdub
and step recording options. Pattern Record is suited to
bass line and rhythm creation, and allows easy editing via
Pattern Mode Erase – simply press the F6 function key and
Yamaha R&D’s Nick Howe offers some more Motif insight.
Nick Howes is one of Yamaha’s leading development specialists. Based at the company’s
R&D centre in London, Nick has worked on
voice design and development on many
Yamaha instruments, including the Motif (originally called ‘Kangaroo’), AN200 and CS6x, and
continues to be heavily involved with the
SW1000XG soundcard. Recently he kindly
agreed to explain the Motif ‘mindset’.
Richard Clews: What is the design philosophy
behind the Motif?
Nick Howes: Principally it is a high quality performance instrument. While in many respects
the EX Series was technically more complex,
due to DSP resource limitations it suffered.
Principally with slow SCSI, and many ‘DSP
resource full’ errors.
RC: Is the Integrated Sampling Sequencer a
derivative of the Loop Divide/Remix function on
the A4/5000 samplers?
NH: It features that function, but takes the
concept of being able to integrate a new
sampled wave with the synthesis architecture
and preset ROM waves as seamlessly as
possible. It just brings the idea of sampling with
synthesis together in a more streamlined
manner than in previous synths. The Ensoniq
TS series from around 10 years ago had similar
concepts, but without the user sampling.
RC: How does the Integrated Sampling
Sequencer differ from ReCycle and the Beat
Munging on E-mu’s samplers?
NH: It’s similar in concept to Recycle, however
the resampling loop divide functions are, in our
opinions, superior in the results they can attain.
The creative possibilities provided by them,
combined with the ISS engine concept, makes
creating new ‘musical’ sounding loops and
phrases much more viable.
RC: Is the arpeggiator meant to rival the Korg
Karma, or offer something genuinely different?
NH: Karma is on paper more complex, in that
it uses a previously unseen multi-arpeggiator
engine. The whole basis behind the Motif arp is
making possible ‘real performances’ that
would be too complex for many players. The
arpeggiator can produce complex motion
results, but playing some of the guitar-based
arpeggio types will give you a feel for what we
were trying to achieve.
RC: Do you think Yamaha will use Poly VL,
FDSP or Fourier Synthesis as the basis for
future Motif Plug-ins? When will these
synthesis methods evolve?
NH: VL is now in POLY mode in our new
software synth. FS is still not really evolved
enough for many people, and I would hope
that future developments would integrate this
further. PLG architecture is a two-channel
insert effect or two-channel audio streaming
architecture, so implementing FDSP may
prove challenging. FDSP was very exciting in
that it provided unique sounding instruments,
and could create very authentic overlays for
more traditional sounding voices, so again I
would hope to see more in future.
RC: Do you have any plans to emulate other
synths in software, following your success with
replicating the Prophet 5? Yamaha’s analogue
giants should be first on the list.
NH: Indeed. But with so many very good simulations available from companies such as
Native Instruments and Waldorf, I think I would
rather see Yamaha focus on innovative
approaches to synthesis rather than emulative
What we did with AN was great fun, and as
Yamaha had a lot to do with Sequential in the
late ‘80s (so to speak!) it seemed a logical one
to do. AN is very flexible, and the cross modulation options in the PLG card did give it an
extra edge over the AN keyboard. The arrival of
the new Kenton Plugstation is rather well
timed, as it means that you could have up to
seven PLG cards, which would be a staggering synth in anyone’s books.
RC: Why do you believe the Motif stands apart
from other workstations?
NH: The thing with Motif that we have said
from day one is that “it just sounds great”, and
you can only really appreciate that if you play it.
It is not the most complex synth ever built, but
then most people don’t want that. A lot of time
was spent (more than almost any synth I have
worked on) getting the voices right – lots of
changes were made right up to the last minute,
demo songs were carefully done and redone,
and sound ordering to create a useful palette
was discussed time and time again. In the end,
we hope to have got it right.
RC: What sort of developments, regarding
customer support and upgrades, are due in
the near future?
NH: Motif with mLAN has some exciting possibilities in terms of integration with the
computer, and we plan to do some things that
have not really been seen before with this
architecture. R&D London is planning to
release many new sounds over the coming
months, and as the OS on Motif is Flash-ROM
based, new tricks could be implemented in
future. The remote control modes are already
proving popular, so that is one area we could
expand on..
hold down the notes you want to erase. Once your
patterns are finished, you can use Pattern Chain Record
mode to arrange your patterns in real time, assigning
tempo changes and section muting to separate tracks.
The Motif ’s arpeggiator adds more real-time control.
Arpeggios are classed as a ‘sequence’ (up/down
arpeggios), ‘phrase’ (riffs and strums), ‘drum pattern’
(have a guess) or ‘control’ (tonal changes). With a one to
300 bpm range, ‘rippling’ effects are possible, as the
‘Thips’ pattern demonstrates. Arpeggios can be transmitted via Midi, and respond to velocity sensitivity, adding
colour to instrument-based patterns. You can create your
own arpeggios by recording a phrase to a Song track, and
converting it into arpeggio data using the Song Job
function. It is also possible to record arpeggios as normal
track data in the sequencer, or record on/off commands
to trigger an arpeggio as part of a Song.
Soundset City
Speaking of songs, one of the first things to try out on
the Motif is the collection of 27 demos. However, these
can only be accessed if the Motif has its Auto Demo
Load function activated. This is a fairly simple process,
but Yamaha should have made things easier. Once
loaded, you access the demos in Song Mode. Highlights
include: ‘ISS Magic’, a fully produced song complete with
vocals; ‘Funk Jam’, which shows a Jamiroquai influence;
and ‘Ethnic’, a kind of ‘Big Bollywood Beat’ creation.
Now to the sounds themselves. Despite the wonders of
the Integrated Sampling Sequencer, it is the Motif ’s sound
set which will get players talking – and keep them talking
for some time. A generous 84MB of ROM has been
cleverly compressed to do justice to the 1309 onboard
waveforms, which form the basis of the 384 Voices.
These can be accessed with the Bank, Group and
Number buttons to the right of the panel, or with the data
dial and increment/decrement buttons. Category Search
speeds up the selection process, and you can assign the
most useful Voices to the Favourites bank.
Most of the sounds are big, with excellent clarity, and
do not rely heavily on effects. ‘Power Grand’ is an outstanding sample of a Yamaha piano, and is accurate
across the whole keyboard. ‘Early Fusion’ is a great
Rhodes for Steely Dan worshippers, while ‘Touch Clavi’
uses the mod wheel for ‘wah’ control. There are first-rate
pipe, reed and Hammond organs, including
‘16+8+5&1/3’, which uses the four sliders as drawbars
and the mod wheel for slow/fast Leslie. ‘Sweet Flute’,
‘Stereo Cello’ and ‘Symphony’ (a brass sound) are
superlative, and bound to see a lot of use. ‘Over the Top’
deserves its name – a three-way split of distorted filth,
dive-bombs and slide noise, with a clean lead at the top
end. Sadly, there’s not enough space to describe the
wonderful analogue patches, African and Indian combinations, and comforting pads. But a mention must go to the
atmospheric and FX-type sounds, including ‘I was born’,
‘KewBrick’ and ‘Esmeralda’ – highly imaginative and
something the Motif will become renowned for.
The Motif ’s versatility can be boosted by three Plug-in
boards, or seven if you add a Kenton Plugstation. The
synth can also playback sounds from Yamaha and Akai
CD-Roms (with synth parameters intact), but not E-mu or
Roland. However, as the operating system is updateable,
this may change. In addition, there is a huge range of
filters and high quality effects to play with, including
dynamic ring mod, digital turntable and amp simulator
effects. There are two insert effects and two global effects
per Voice, but in sequence mode only one Voice can
keep its insert effects.
The Remote Control function allows you to drive the
leading software sequencers from the Motif ’s front panel,
via USB. At present, programs catered for are: (for PC)
Cubase VST v5.0, Logic Audio Platinum v4.6, Cakewalk
Pro Audio v9.0 and Pro Tools v5.0. The Mac versions can
also be controlled, except for Cakewalk Pro Audio. While
the functions vary slightly between programs, the Motif ’s
knobs are used for EQ, Pan and Send, while the sliders
handle level changes. The sequencer transport, track
mute and track select buttons control the same
commands in the software. Other control functions are
found in Master Mode, where you can configure the
Motif as a master keyboard with four zones, and store
your favourite settings for each mode of the synthesiser.
Recurring Motif?
The Motif is an extremely adaptable and complex instrument. Trying to explain its capabilities is a mighty task,
and one which nearly defeats the confusing instruction
manual. It describes things adequately, but in lots of
places at once. Thankfully a video manual is on the way,
and in the meantime, Motif owners have the
motifator.com website to turn to. This is a superb
resource that will tell you anything you need to know
about the Motif, and many of its competitors. It will also
provide free sounds in the near future.
It’s good to see a hardware synth that has arrived on
time, with no major bugs and full support from its manufacturer. These are not things to be taken for granted, and
play a huge part in the effective worth of any instrument.
Aside from that, the Motif ’s Integrated Sampling
Sequencer, unparalleled expandability and superior
sounds mark it out as one of the best synths in years.
Play it as soon as possible.
Thanks to Chris and Paul from Sound Control, and Nick
Howes for their assistance with this review.
Distributed by
• Yamaha Australia
Phone: 1800 805413
Web: www.yamaha.co.uk or www.motifator.com
• Motif 6: $5,495; Motif 7: $6,495; Motif 8: $7,495