by Craig Anderton
Few electronic instrument lines have managed to last over a decade, but Yamaha nailed the concept out of the gate with the Motif—despite being introduced in 2001, its offspring continue to this day in the form of the Motif XF. For further proof of the Motif’s popularity, check out the Pro Review on the Motif XS6, which is in the Top 10 of the most-viewed pro reviews.
And why not? The sounds are up to Yamaha’s usual high standards, the keyboard itself is solidly built, and Yamaha has been good about supporting the Motif series with software, sounds, tutorials, a presence on the Motifator.com site, and now, even iPad apps. The Motif XF may not break new ground in terms of synthesis engines, but in addition to giving pretty much more of everything the XS series has, it lets you expand the onboard memory with non-volatile flash RAM (up to 2GB) so your own sounds can have the “look and feel” of being part of the factory ROM set.
For an encore, Yamaha has introduced the Motif 10th Anniversary Pack—basically a package of accessories centered around a 512MB flash RAM board, but also, with a bunch of tools for the studio and several discount coupons. As the 512MB board streets for $149.99, you’re basically paying $50 for the other goodies. And what might they be? Let’s find out (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Contents of the Motif 10th Anniversary Special Pack
Starting at the center of the picture, there’s the star of the show—512MB of flash RAM. Now, your first question might be “Why $150? I can get an 8GB RAM stick at Office Depot for $9.95!” to which the response is “yes, but can it play back 128 voices at once?” and the answer is “no.” Fortunately the board is easy to install (of course, observe proper handling procedures, and by all means don’t zap it with static electricity); once you have it in your Motif, you’ll find the ability to load your own sounds and have them stay in the keyboard even after the power is off is habit-forming. And speaking of RAM sticks, to the upper right of the board is a 4GB Yamaha USB thumb drive. It’s blank, so you can use it for storage with your Motif.
Now let’s proceed through the package, going clockwise from the top. The yellow paper contains activation codes for two free virtual instruments you can download from Yamaha’s web site: Steinberg’s Prologue (which is bundled with current versions of Cubase 6 and AI6), and Yamaha’s Organ Emulator YC-3B. However, note that these were first offered for the Yamaha MOX6 keyboard, so you need to go to the MOX6 download area to grab the files. Note that the YC-3B is available for 64-bit as well as 32-bit Windows, and of course, Mac OS X.
I wasn’t able to install Prologue because it appears intended to work only with Cubase AI5, which isn’t installed on my computer. However, I do have Cubase 6 on my computer, so I was able to grab a screen shot of Prologue (Fig. 2). I’m assuming it’s the same instrument.
Fig. 2: Steinberg’s Prologue is a virtual analog synth that ships with current versions of Cubase.
The YC-3B (Fig. 3) installed without issues, and didn’t seem to care what version of Cubase I had. It's a standard VST3 instrument, so it will open in any VST3-friendly program. Given that you can never be too rich, too thin, or have enough virtual instruments, these are useful additions to your arsenal of plug-ins.
Fig. 3: If you’re one of the last people on the planet without a B3 emulation, now you’re covered. However, this one is really good—if you already have a B3 soft synth, the YC-3B just might replace it.
To the right is a card that extols the virtues of Motifator.com, which I’ve often mentioned as an example other companies should follow for how to encourage a really useful support site; you can also get a 10\\\% discount on any DCP Production Sound Libraries, which are said to be the best-selling third party libraries on Motifator.com.
Continuing clockwise, there’s a coupon for 10\\\% off of the Motif Waveform Editor, which is designed for managing and editing samples, and Motif XF Tools software (librarian, voice editor, drum kit editor, performance editor, mix editor, and master editor). The BFD coupon is something BFD and BFD Eco owners will appreciate: a free (as in, no cost) download of a Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute drum kit for BFD, which normally costs $50. Grab it before they change their minds. And if you don’t have BFD . . . keep reading, because a version of BFD Eco is also included.
The next coupon is a 20\\\% discount for KARMA algorithmic software ($199 MSRP, $159 with discount) adapted to the Motif XF. Those who are familiar with many of Korg’s recent synths already know how useful (and fun) the KARMA algorithms are, and now you can add that dimension to the Motif.
Next up, the DVD-ROM; here’s what’s on it (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4: DVD-ROM contents, as listed on the disc’s main directory.
One of the expansion pack’s major attractions is the Rhodes Mark V electric piano library developed with Chick Corea, which (what an amazing coincidence!) happens to fit in the 512MB board with about 80MB left over. There are 10 variations on the standard electric piano sound (e.g., different effects or EQ) as well as 6 emulations of classic Chick Corea sounds from “Return to Forever” albums (specifically the tracks “Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy,” “The Game Maker,” “Vulcan Worlds,” “Song to the Pharoah Kings,” “Dayride,” and “Celebration Suite Part II”). They’re extremely well-recorded and distinctive—if you want the ultimate Rhodes, look no further.
The DVD-ROM also offers several videos: Chick Corea talking about his Mark V (no playing, though), along with tutorials/promos on the KeyFax drum patterns, Steinberg Prologue and Yamaha YC-3B virtual instruments, how to use the Zildjian Digital Vault (described later), and a video of the KARMA functionality. These are all under 7 minutes, except the Karma one clocks in at 13.5 minutes. It does a fine job of explaining KARMA’s possibilities.
An additional video, “XF Fully Loaded,” is a 1.25 hour tutorial on getting the most out of the options offered by the XF flash memory. Given the length I assumed it would be slow-paced, but it covers managing memory, presets, loading, etc. in sufficient depth that you’ll become a Motif storage/loading/presets Jedi master. There’s also a fair amount of split screen action (Fig. 5) to correlate what’s happening on the display with what the demonstrator is doing on the keyboard.
Fig. 5: A frame grab from the XF Fully Loaded video.
An additional folder of “bonus”videos consists of several videos about associated iPad apps, a short Q&A video with Chick Corea about why he uses the Motif, an introduction to the Zildjian Digital Vault, and six tutorials on how to use it.
In addition to the videos and Mark V piano, there are two other data folders. One is loaded with KeyFax drum patterns translated to a Motif-friendly format, while the other has three additional voice libraries that load into the 128MB of onboard RAM.
The last item on the list is the Zildjian Gen16 Digital Vault. This is basically a custom (but not “lite”) version of Fxpansion’s BFD Eco with 14 cymbal samples (crashes, rides, and hi-hats). However, it has two modes (cymbal and kit) so once you download the free Yamaha drum kit, you have a fully functional, VST drum plug-in with MIDI grooves (Fig. 6). It works with Mac OS X and any Windows programs that can handle 32-bit plug-ins.
Fig. 6: If this looks a lot like FXpansion’s BFD Eco, that’s because aside from a few customizations, it is.
I couldn’t see any easy way to separate the samples from BFD Eco for use in something like MOTU MachFive or NI Kontakt, but who cares—just install the Digital Vault, it’s worth it because the cymbals sound fantastic. (Of course I had to install it to test it for this review, and I also downloaded the Yamaha maple drum kit. Normally after writing the review I’d do a system restore—I don’t need unnecessary programs on my computer—but this one’s staying.)
There’s no question you get bang for the buck with the Anniversary Pack. My only suggestion would be that Yamaha offer a second version with their 1GB flash RAM board. The XF can handle two boards so if you buy the pack and then decide to max out the XF to 2GB, that makes the 512MB board redundant. On the other hand you can still install an additional 1GB board for a total of 1.5GB, although if you want to keep the Mark V piano on board (it’s hard to imagine that you wouldn’t), that’s almost one-third of the available capacity. Power users with enough cash would likely opt for the full 2GB—it’s that useful.
All in all, the Motif 10th Anniversary Pack is a truly multipurpose addition for XF owners—for little more than the cost of the RAM expansion, you get some serious goodies. For example, the Mark V sounds alone cost $129 from Motifator.com.
In any event the Anniversary Pack also brings up an interesting point: ten years of useful life out of a synth line is impressive. Granted, the Motif has evolved over the years—mostly with more voices, more waveforms, and an improved display—but the underlying design philosophy has proven itself. I jumped on the Motif bandwagon back in 2007 with an XS6, and it still feels like a current product. The XF is arguably an incremental change, but the “increment” of being able to load your own sounds and have them available when you turn on the keyboard is an important one.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.