A Yamaha XF For Half The Price?
The best things often come in smaller packages and with the MOXF Yamaha have managed to take the essence of their flagship Motif XF and distil it down into something rather wonderful…and at less than half the price! Does the promise match the reality? Read on…
The Workstation market has until recently been somewhat quiet and then, like waiting for the bus that never looks like it will turn up we get a slew of rather interesting workstations all at the same time! First out of the gate was KORG with their entry level KROSS in early 2013 which set a new benchmark in what you could expect from a budget priced workstation. Then at the end of 2013 Yamaha hit a home run in the mid-range sector with the MOXF and bringing up the rear, Roland launched it’s new mid range keyboard, the rather oddly named “FA” at the beginning of 2014.
The thing with workstations though is they are “supposed” to give you everything in one box and given that means, great sounds, a comprehensive midi sequencer, perhaps an audio record function, inputs for external devices and/or instruments as well as sampling or sample import coupled with a decent quality keyboard and screen and you can see it’s quite a big ask? To bring all that in at a price most people can afford is even more of a stretch so, the question is, can it be done or, more pertinently in this case, can Yamaha accomplish the perfect balance in the MOXF?
MOX Deja Vu?
Looking at the MOXF you may be forgiven for thinking you have seen this somewhere before and of course you would be right. Yamaha have used the same case and chassis they used for the MOX and whilst this may not exactly set the world on fire in the aesthetics department it does though, make a lot of sense. Yamaha wanted to give the customer more for roughly the same price and a good way of doing that is to utilize what you already have rather than blow the budget on a frivolous makeover. So, what we have here is the same light weight (7.1kg), the same strong plastic construction, same dark grey finish and same well-appointed controls on the front panel. The layout is, in fact identical.
On the left we have the audio section consisting of volume and gain controls for the input plus a strip of LEDs to monitor internal/external signals. There are a number of real-time controls which sit in two rows of four assignable knobs, two modulation buttons (assignable), two octave-transpose buttons (very welcome), two semitone transpose buttons, an effects section, an arpeggio control and the transport controls for internal sequences or an external DAW. In the middle there is a backlit monochrome LCD with a resolution of 240 x 64 dots accompanied by two rows of six buttons below it, one for the menu pages and another for the sub-pages. You also have to the right of the display four directional buttons and a data wheel plus increment/decrement buttons.
Moving to the right hand side there are buttons for selecting the different playing modes such as Voice, Performance, Master, Song, Pattern and Mixing plus buttons for the other functions such as Job, Utility and Quick Setup the latter enabling you to very quickly create multi-timbral configurations. Further along is the Performance Creator section, which includes buttons for layers, splits and drum assign. Rounding it all off, there are three rows of eight buttons for selecting the multitude of programs and to activate/deactivate layers and arpeggios. With so many ways of getting around the MOXF the lack of a larger screen really is not an issue. I certainly found the MOXF very easy to use once I had become accustomed to all the functions on offer.
The model I had for review was the 61-key version but there is also a 88 key model which sports Yamaha’s GHS (graded hammer standard) keybed. The 61 note version has a semi-weighted keybed with velocity sensitivity but no after touch, although the lack of aftertouch is quite normal at this price point so it seems hardly worth mentioning.
In terms of feel I have to say I quite liked it. I had a KORG KROME (review coming soon) on test at the same time and over the period of weeks that I had both keyboards I tended to gravitate toward the MOXF. The keybed on the KROME was fine but had a shorter travel and felt a little “springier” compared to the Yamaha.
Connections on the rear panel consist of, on the left, the connector for the included AC power adapter and the power switch followed by inputs for left/right audio, a headphone output, left and right audio outputs all of which use 1/4″ jacks, three pedal connectors, two of which are for sustain/assignable switches and one assignable continuous controller), three standard MIDI connectors (In, Out and Thru) and two USB ports (to Host/to Device for audio, MIDI and backups). To sum up, it may look like an MOX on the surface but the real party is happening on the inside!
Motif XF Anyone?
In the MOX we had a sort of cut down version of the Motif XS and this same theme is followed through with the MOXF, with it being a sort of “younger sibling” to the Motif XF. Same DNA in a slightly different package if you will. Without a flash card installed there is the same 741mb wave rom (3,977 waveforms) coupled to 128-note polyphony, which is a very welcome step up from the MOX’s 64 notes of polyphony and brings Yamaha in line with KORG and ROLAND both of whom have been offering 128 note polyphony in their mid-range products for quite some time. Still, it’s not always about the numbers but what you do with them that counts and the 64 voices on the MOX have never proved to be a hindrance for me in the past.
There are actually more presets (1,152) on the MOXF than on the XF (1,024) and more drum kits, 72 vs 64 and the goodies don’t stop there as there are 7,981 arpeggios against the 7,881 for the XF. These are not “normal” up down arps by the way but almost complete performances in their own right, more than enough for any budding songwriter to find a little inspiration.
More remarkable still is the quality of sound that comes from the MOXF. It is very impressive indeed. So impressive In fact I would go as far as to say that unless you put the flagship XF next to the MOXF and played the same sounds on each you would need a super human ear to notice the difference!
Regarding the sounds themselves, well they are generally of a very high quality. I particularly loved the selection of acoustic piano’s on offer which I returned to time and again and also as a guitarist I can confirm the classical guitars are extremely convincing plus of course you have a number of articulations such as slides and harmonics to help matters along nicely.
The Electric pianos, bass, brass, strings and synth sounds are equally excellent. Plus of course we have the ace up Yamaha’s sleeve in their VCM (virtual circuit modelling) technology. I am a massive fan of Yamaha’s VCM. It models hardware effects right down to component level and this makes for stunning levels of realism. These are some of the best effects you will find on any keyboard period! In the world of effects, Yamaha still lead where others follow.
I have heard some people say that the organs are not as good as those on competing products but I would have to disagree. I found no fault with the organs on the MOXF although I will readily admit that I am no connoisseur in this area. Perhaps better ears than mine would notice something amiss but I certainly have no complaints.
I did try hard, very hard, to find fault with the MOXF. Having spent a lot of time with various KORG’s in the past such as the Trinity, Triton, M50, M3 and lately the KROME I had convinced myself that a large touch screen was an absolute must on any keyboard workstation however, after just a few short weeks in the company of the MOXF I had completely reversed that position. A large screen is nice for sure but what it’s really all about is the sound and Yamaha have invested where it counts. With a cornucopia of buttons and real-time controls at your fingertips the MOXF simply doesn’t need a large screen.
There is more than enough information provided on it’s display to allow you to navigate around the inners of the keyboard and this coupled with it’s tight integration with various DAW’s such as Cubase, of which a copy of Cubase Ai is included with the MOXF, means you can do the really deep stuff on your computer in the studio and use the on board screen for scrolling through sounds and performing the odd tweak here and there out on the road.
Talking of software, there is a very comprehensive synth editor that comes with the MOXF. This runs as a standalone or as a plug in for Cubase. At the simple click of a mouse you have complete access to the internals of the keyboard for really detailed editing of voices and mixing parameters. If you couple this with the other tools such as the Remote Editor which allows you to control VST templates for a number of different DAW’s and the rather nifty “Multi Editor Essential” app for the iPad (requires a download) and it’s easy to see how the MOXF not only provides top notch sounds and features in of itself but can also be the hub of a professional grade recording studio.
Getting back to my original question, can you really get what is essentially a Motif XF at half the price? Well yes, on the whole I think you can. The compromises are there of course. You lose the larger display, there is no on-board sampling, one less flash board slot and yes the keybed itself is not of such a high standard BUT and it’s a very important “but”, what you are getting is the beating heart of the XF.
There is the same XF sound engine, the high quality of the sounds themselves plus a larger number of them. One flash board slot and trust me, one slot is going to be more than enough for most people and yes there is no on board sampler but, you CAN import samples to the flash board and manipulate those just the same as on the XF. The keybed is not the same quality as the one on the XF however it is still very nice and for less than half the price I am certainly not complaining.
Would I change anything? Sure, but not much. I would perhaps lower the price of the optional flash-board or even include the half gig version with the MOXF because they certainly aren’t cheap. A larger display would be nice but it’s not essential and well…actually I can’t think of much else. In fact I can’t think of anything! I can’t remember the last time I came across a keyboard I couldn’t really fault so this is a very welcome first for me.
The MOXF is packed with superb quality sounds. It has enough features to keep you busy for years to come (flash board gives extended longevity) and most importantly, it’s a lot of fun to play and really, that’s what it’s all about. If an instrument keeps you coming back for more, keeps you wanting to play, to discover new things, then you can’t ask for more than that. If you want a flagship product at a mid-range price point Yamaha have just given it to you in the MOXF.
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