SonicState got an exclusive hands-on with the new Yamaha line. And the story is becoming clear: the word for these is convenience. You get sleek, minimal design that reduces hands-on control to the essentials, while providing real-time effects and the ability to dial in loads of sounds. The mini keys aren’t a full-sized keybed, but it seems what Yamaha hasn’t done is make something cheaply. Both the sound and apparently physical form are top-of-range, and you don’t sacrifice essentials like MIDI ports. So that bucks some industry tendencies to a race to the bottom. And even if you don’t like these Yamahas, I think it’s important that someone in the industry is doing that apart from boutique Eurorack.

Another reason I’ll defend mini keys – provided these feel good – is that piano-sized keys are just enormous. Recall that part of the reason they’re the size they are is nothing to do with ergonomics and everything to do with the size required by acoustic strings and so on.

We’re hearing US$799 list, but that’d mean a street closer to US$500.

Now, the downside is, you have to choose. Then again, it seems Yamaha is betting on each model appealing to a different audience/genre, which is rather what I’ve gotten chatting with people casually – and this focus also means, unlike the do-anything SYSTEM-1 from Roland, these keyboards are focused on a particular range of controls. That helps keeps the control complement to a minimum.

Prediction: these will be huge sellers, precisely because they aren’t huge. Devices like the iPad have finally convinced people that luxury doesn’t have to mean big, and gigging keyboardists have struggled with luggage long enough. They’re not cheap, fun ways into synthesis in the mold of the Arturia MicroBrute or the KORG microKORG, but they are a chance for people who formerly bought big keyboards just to get the sounds they want to finally downsize. And it seems they may have nailed sound, access, and design. People without the cash will be shouting loudly on the forums, but people with the cash will be quietly making money for Yamaha in the kind of segment the company had more or less ceded lately to competitors.

Kudos to the SonicState lads for shooting this in such detail.