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Part 2

 

Imaginary to Real

So far, you’ve witnessed soundtrack and fantastical performances in my random journey. The next is very much in the ‘real emulation’ camp. 'Hybrid Cellos' is simple: just two parts, but the Cello section and FM Strings Ensemble parts blend to produce fantastic strings. This is one of those ones I mentioned that simply layers more of the same kinds of sounds together to produce ultra-real ‘proper’ or acoustic-type instruments.

 

The next random one, 'Rich Strings', does exactly the same by blending two string sections over two parts. Indeed, the most realistic sounds seem to be those where they don’t go overboard in terms of part counts and just use a couple of superb sounds to great effect. Of particular note in this regard are some of the guitar performances, particularly the excellent steel sounds.

 

Needless to say, the keyboard sounds are all exceptional, too, whether standalone or within performances. Again, they don’t use many parts per performance to get their points across and the organ ones score particularly well, as do the electric pianos.

 

As I had the 88-note Montage in for review, it was only right that I spent a lot of time with these ones – and that I duly did, getting truly lost in performances like 'CFX Pop Studio Grand' and 'CFXW Concert' – they give you all of the nuanced piano playing you could ask for.

 

Also worth mentioning in the ‘real’ stakes are the many and varied drum kit performances. Brazilian, Arabic, Kraftwerk-like, Glitch, Scratch… you name it, there’s a kit for it on Montage. We’re not just talking 12 sounds spread across an octave of notes. Here, you get oodles of different sounds or subtle kit variations spread across many octaves.

 

It Even Does…

My final ‘real’ performance is, again, one dialled at random, called 'Orchestral Brass'. This one does something which I don’t believe synths should really be used for: namely, creating brass sounds. For the last 25 years, I’ve wrestled with analogue synths trying to emulate brass (why, FFS!??), digital synths trying to sample brass (noooooooo!!!) and, of course, with a keyboard that does everything, I’m bound to find a performance on it that does brass.

 

Trust me to stumble upon it by accident. Anyway, this one has six parts: trombone, horn section, trumpet section, solo trombone, solo french horn and solo trumpet. And you know what? With six times the parts and all that sampling power, Montage almost does what others before it have failed at – decent brass. There. I’ve said it. Let’s move on and never speak of this again…

 

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Back to the Screen

Of course, I could go on and on dialling up more performances, but you should get the drift by now. There really is something in there for whatever kind of music you make and sounds you want: real, unreal, past and future. As I’ve been dialling through these performances, though, something has struck me. I’ve been using the screen almost without thinking about it and it’s only now I realise that it’s become part of the whole Montage experience without being a thing I had to learn to do.

 

Parts are laid out like sequencer mixers’ in terms of looks (not in terms of dialling volume levels – you use the physical dials for that) and it’s so easy just to scoot across, solo’ing, muting and adding as you go, that you almost forget you’re using a touch screen. Use the screen in conjunction with the handy Part Select keys to its right, and you can easily edit performances, changing parts within them by genre. Return to the touch screen to add or subtract parts and you then find yourself using touch and ‘traditional’ controls as one.

 

Using the screen to select performance types is even more of a joy. I had imagined the ‘software selection way’ of choosing sounds by genre – as soft synths such as FM7/8 do, where you eventually home in on a sound – might be a touch too much to ask of a piece of hardware. Indeed. I was already prepping a negative volley Montage’s way about this before I dialled up the Category Search button within Performance Mode. I should have realised it is, of course, for searching by category…

 

The top half of the screen is taken up by the top layer of categories, from pianos to synths, and then the middle line is taken up by sub categories to home in on a more specific sound. At the bottom, every performance is listed that fits the bill and you simply tap each to audition them – abso-bloody-lutely brilliant. It really is a highlight of the keyboard, and just sums up how cool the screen is. It truly integrates with everything else and even with my big fingers, I didn’t struggle at all – this screen truly is one of the best features on the keyboard.

 

To Sum Up

So far then, what do we have? Two massive engines and stacks of sounds; loads of hands-on controllers, including Super Knob that can be assigned to pretty much any sound parameter; 16 sounds per performance, each of which can have four lanes of Motion Sequencing allowing for lots of dynamic changes; huge Live Sets that comprise different performances for live play; eight Scenes that can be variations of performances; plus, a scratchpad sequencer, which I’ve not touched upon, nor have I even mentioned the keyboard’s effects, Envelope Follower nor the Utility features…

 

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Montage’s Envelope Follower analyses the analogue inputs to measure the tempo of an external signal.

These could be drums or vocals which it can then sync to Montage’s internal arpeggiator.

The synth can therefore sync to any band member – yes, even your drummer…

 

So, by now, you’ll be clear that we have a synth that does pretty much everything you’ll want it to and a stack more if you need it. So are there any drawbacks? Well, yes, but in the grand scheme of things, let’s call them niggles. The biggest for me is probably a lack of outputs. This is a synth with so much power and so much in the way of sonic capabilities, I’d want to let the world know with as many ways to connect to that outside world as possible.

 

You can route via your computer’s USB, but having good, old-fashioned outs to go into a good, old-fashioned mixer (another old-school studio item making a comeback) would have been the icing on the Montage cake. Four is good, eight would have been excellent. 16? One for each part in a performance? That would have been magnificent. The rest of my points are the niggles. There is a delay between dialling up stuff on the screen and it coming through your speakers. Of course there is; the system is playing catch up with a very fast way of accessing sounds.

 

Because of it, though, you might also go too far beyond your chosen sound or parameter as you dial or increment, so don’t get too excited when selecting sounds or performances. Having said that, I found some incredible performances during my random tour because of this, ones I might not have otherwise considered, so maybe a little less hand holding like this should be encouraged. Besides, using the Category Search function for performances and the button category search for parts negates this anyway.

 

Finally, I guess another drawback of Montage is it does almost too much. I do mean this in the nicest possible way, as it’s rare that I’ve written so much on something but still feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. This surely means the synth is bound to be hard to get your head around completely, right? Sometimes, yes, as there are potentially layers and layers to this thing, but on a general level, it’s surprisingly easy to navigate around. I also suspect that if you’re going to pay over two grand for a keyboard, you’re not going to mind spending a little bit of time, or even a lot of time, reading the manual to get the best out of it.

 

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Live Sets are basically sets of performances that you can dial up at the touch of a button.

Note that the type of synthesis that each uses is displayed in green (two types: AWM and FM)

and the purple ‘SSS’ indicates whether Seamless Sound Switching is present in the performance.

 

Alternatives

As the world goes analogue and retro mad, the number of synths that Montage competes with goes down. There are, however, still some big digital synths around from the likes of Roland and Korg. The Roland FA-06 was one that I looked at 18 months ago now, and is something of a pinnacle of workstation synthesis.

 

This workstation philosophy is actually something Montage steers clear of, but both keyboards do share a similar sound mantra. The Korg Kronos is a keyboard I’ve not looked at, but again is certainly up there in terms of flexibility and is, again, more of a workstation. Somewhat bizarrely, you may initially think, I’m wondering if NI’s Komplete Kontrol and Komplete Ultimate might be more of an alternative for potential Montage buyers.

 

Yes, NI’s system is more software-based, but in terms of the breadth of sounds it delivers, it is on a par with Montage. And with its great touch screen, Montage really does offer a computerless-type experience, in that you’ll spend more time on that screen than you will with your DAW. In this respect then, maybe opt for the 88-note S-Series Komplete Kontrol keyboard and Komplete Ultimate. Both still come in cheaper, but do offer a vast sound pool.

 

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Conclusions

Montage is a triumph in so many ways. How could Yamaha manage to update MOTIF and produce something which the range didn’t already have covered? Well, the company has taken that concept – a cover-all keyboard for everyone gigging and recording – and added some surprising and successful twists. Bringing FM into the equation is a stroke of genius, especially with the way it’s implemented with so much power. But my absolute favourite feature is the Motion Control Sequencer.

 

You will have to get your head around it to get the best from it, but it can take your efforts into sonic areas that will surprise and delight you, and areas you may not have considered. Tools and options are here that don’t exist in other places, and with so many at your disposal, you will come up with sound designs that others haven’t, simple as that.

 

The other real beauty of Montage is the level of control. Not just in the obvious Super Knob; yes it works, yes it looks good, but Yamaha has retained the simple grid-and-dial system from MOTIF – a clever move – and combined it with a screen that is simply glorious. I keep going on about how NI’s Komplete Kontrol and inMusic’s VIP software enable you to turn away from your computer to concentrate on the music.

 

Well, the same holds true with Montage, but in a slightly different way. While your computer will still be there for its DAW duties, the screen and control combo almost makes anything else redundant. It breaks down the barriers between hardware and software in a different way to VIP and KK, as it’s like having your computer in your keyboard – it really is that well implemented and opens up the keyboard architecture that well. Bottom line? Montage is the Mother of all synths: climb on board. glasses9.gif

 

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