The workstation keyboard hasn’t died in the age of the computer and the analog revival. Instead, it’s just gotten, well, more workstation-y. Advances in embedded computation have gone alongside general purpose computer hardware, making the workstations from Japanese giants like Yamaha, Korg, and Roland do more than before, with expanded functionality, memory, and sound.

These instruments do so much that it’s hard to describe them. But I know even some serious synth enthusiasts who have a lot of respect for Yamaha’s Montage. That may come as a surprise, partly because Yamaha’s marketing is aimed squarely at other groups. So yes, the Yamaha Montage has a bunch of arrangement features that could replace a computer. And it can be a piano – keyboard clinicians are likely to show off its Bösendorfer, for instance. (With good reason – the combination of the instrument model and reverb sound better than rivals, I think.) And Yamaha seem to think things like a vinyl break effect (uff) will appeal to EDM fans.

But what the Yamaha also has, true to the company’s legacy, is a deep FM engine. And then, all those architecture features make some sense. You can not only dial up powerful FM synthesis sounds, but animate and switch between them seamlessly. There’s also a reason for bands to add this to a tech rider: the control panel, performance features, and fluid, no-dropout sound switching mean the ability to call up sounds reliably onstage.

And there, I suspect there is a market. Having been on deadline wrestling with Kontakt libraries and computers, I absolutely can see the appeal of being able to focus on scoring with a powerful keyboard workstation. There are some thoughtful additions, like an envelope follower hooked up to input. And that FM-X engine sounds terrific.

Here’s the best example I could find of what actually mucking about with FM sounds like (skipping over some more tedious Montage demo vids):

So on some level, actually, I’m surprised that the Montage hasn’t gotten more awareness in synth lover circles. For anyone complaining that there isn’t a new entry in FM synthesis – this is it. It’s got the architecture and control to make it a worthy successor to the DX series. Korg’s Kronos might be a rival there, but it doesn’t have this level of control. It just happens that the best FM synthesizer in years is disguised as another over-designed workstation – even though that’s not actually what it is.

Yamaha is showing some commitment to this model, too, with a 1.5 update that comes just a year after the keyboard’s introduction.

  • Better Rotary Speaker effect, new organ Performances, and new dynamic processor effect for more tonal character
  • More ways to use the Assignable buttons and Super Knob; greater control and tracking of USB audio input volume
  • Auto Beat Sync lets MONTAGE sense and jam with live drums or tracks
  • Create or recall Favorites with the press of a button; improved backup file system leters users store and recall all their data in one file

I just wish Yamaha made a small desktop unit version of this – maybe just the FM-X synth portion. I’d buy that in a heartbeat.

“Wait a minute. Something’s amiss here.”

Hmmm? Yes, dear CDM reader?

“Not to question journalistic integrity, but – I smell a conflict of interest. You didn’t just post this in part as excuse to include that South Park montage song, did you?”

You know me so well…

Yamaha Montage

  • “I just wish Yamaha made a small desktop unit version of this – maybe just the FM-X synth portion. I’d buy that in a heartbeat.”

    +1

  • Tony Scharf

    I was very interested in the Montage, actually. I’ve always liked Yamaha’s sound and the FX. The problem, though, is the price tag. At that price point, lined up side by side against a Kronos, it really starts to feel a bit expensive for what it is.

    I have a Kronos X and it is an absolute *dream* to use. I don’t understand how you can say it lacks control, however, since it’s got a lot built in and two USB ports for hosting external controllers (class compliant audio and MIDI..it’s fantastic!).

    I’d be interested in the montage at about half it’s price. I’m waiting until they start to show up reasonably priced second hand.

    • Polite Society

      I also have a kronos x, and while it is a beast, you have to admit doing almost anything on it is a pain in the arse. I still has the same crazy interface from the triton and oasys. I really wish they would revamp it.
      Also for all of it’s power, I often struggle to do basic things I need it to do for live performance.

      • brianmoore

        I had the first version of the Kronos 61 when it first came out. I LOVED how much variety of synth types were available, but the interface was a little confusing at times. Later on I picked up a Trinity and was like “What???” The UI is almost exactly the same! I’m glad they got rid of the floppy disk on the Kronos 🙂

        • Polite Society

          It’s nuts, right? It pretty much hasn’t changed in 20 years, except bloat up with options hidden in weird places that you have no hope of finding without a tutorial or expert manual decyphering skills.
          I honestly didn’t know it even predated the triton! D:

  • What a beautiful machine but I can’t imagine going back to hardware with all the soft synth and sampler options available.

  • DPrty

    “If you fade out it seems like more time has past in a montage.”

    • brianmoore

      passed – “Put it in a montage!”

  • Sven Eckner

    Peter, I like CDM, but this OP is utter bullcrap. You have no clue. How can the Montage be “the best workstation synth” when even Yamaha admits that the board isn´t a workstation at all? I´m sorry, but you didn´t make your homework.

    “The Montage is not a workstation because it does not work that way.”
    —–Phil Clendeninn a.k.a. ‘Bad Mister’, senior technical sales specialist for Yamaha
    https://www.yamahasynth.com/forum/clarification-about-montage-midi-sequencer-editing-capabilities#reply-7719

    In its current state the Montage is completely unuseable. I launched a petition at Change.org that addresses the flaws. Please sign it. Thanks.

    https://www.change.org/p/takuya-nakata-president-and-representative-director-of-the-yamaha-corporation-help-make-an-update-for-the-montage-synth-a-priority-for-the-yamaha-corporation

    Diese Petition wird versendet an: Takuya Nakata, President and Representative Director of the Yamaha Corporation

    Help make an update for the Montage synth a priority for the Yamaha Corporation

    By Sven Eckner, Deutschland

    With the release of Yamaha’s current flagship synthesizer Montage, fans of the now-abandoned Motif series were hopeful that the new instrument would live up to the legacy that the predecessors established. It turned out that it was not what they had wished for. Yes, the Montage has its own proprietary built-in MIDI sequencer, called ‘Direct Performance Recorder’, but unfortunately, upon release, some important features were missing. Basic functions like copying or erasing MIDI data have not been implemented. So far only simultaneous recording of all 16 tracks is allowed – an impossible task with only one pair of hands. One can not fix mistakes made during a recording. There is no point in all of that, due to the fact that we are talking about a couple of kilobytes of simple MIDI data, not memory-intensive WAV files.

    With signing to this petition you ask the Yamaha Corporation to prioritize making an update to the operating system of the Montage synthesizer. These are the recommended improvements:

    Implement CONSECUTIVE RECORD: It allows tracks to be recorded one after the other, instead of simultaneously.

    Implement LOOP RECORD: Recording takes place repeatedly over a specified area, according to loop point settings.

    Implement COPY: This function copies a specified area of recorder data. It is convenient for repeating the same phrase several times.

    Implement DELETE: This function deletes a specified area of recorder data, and moves the subsequent data to fill the gap. As a result, the measure length will be shortened by the number of deleted measures.

    Implement ERASE: This function erases all the recorder data inside a specified area. As the erased data is replaced by rests, the original measures will remain.

    Implement INSERT: This function inserts blank measures into a specified song position.

    Implement TRANSPOSE: This function transposes the pitch of notes within a specified area, over a +/- 127 semitone range.

    Implement COPY ARP TO TRACK: It allows to place arpeggios in destination tracks. In a ‘Measure’ field, one would be able to specify the beginning bar of the copy-destination.

    Sign the petition
    https://www.change.org/p/takuya-nakata-president-and-representative-director-of-the-yamaha-corporation-help-make-an-update-for-the-montage-synth-a-priority-for-the-yamaha-corporation
    to help make the built-in MIDI recorder of Yamaha’s Montage synthesizer useable. Thank you for participating. 有り難うございます

    Links to this petition have been posted at Yamaha’s official synthesizer forum. Phil Clendeninn a.k.a. ‘Bad Mister’, senior technical sales specialist for Yamaha, has been informed.

    • Alexander E. Wahl

      I get it, you’re a man on a mission. You have your opinion, along with 77 other people that signed your petition so far, and the author has his. But that shouldn’t lead you to insult him. If you want people to listen to you, play nice 😉

  • Martin Roberts

    Great! Next time I have $3,000 to drop on a synth I’ll give this some serious thought. In the meantime guess I’ll stick with iOS’s lame-ass range of FM soft synths.

  • Markus Girrulat

    mmh. This kind of instrument is definetly for live players in a more “classic” jazz or rock band, that needs tons of good sounds on a fingertip. But for that pricetag you can buy a full electronic live set including synths, drummachine and sampler… and they do their job way better, depending on what you do… the montage does a lot… but mostly things i dont use :-))

  • JPS

    This is an impressive sound module. However, a workstation needs a full-featured, integrated MIDI sequencer. The quality of Yamaha’s integrated sequencers have been called into question on several products. For example, their DTX Multi 12 is for percussionists and has a built-in sequencer, but reviewers have complained that it is feature-poor and barely functional.

    A separate case can now be made whether a workstation keyboard should be able to record audio tracks. I think with the way memory and storage have evolved, there is no reason a keyboard shouldn’t be able to run some number of audio tracks. I guess it would depend how much processor power would need to be dedicated to running audio vs. the synth engines. However, with the smart devices, perhaps these functions become less of a priority.

  • Michael Robles

    Kudos to Jim Heywood who did the Montage FM manipulation demo.

  • Andres

    I stop buying hardware when I got the Korg Legacy Collection… that was it, I never imagined something could sound so massive and I have been in electronic music since the Atari ST.