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

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