Comparisons are always an interesting thing. Here we take a look at two main rivals for your cash, the Yamaha MX88 and Roland Juno DS88. Which comes out on top?
Roland loaned me the DS88 for a few weeks so I am pretty familiar with it and Yamaha let me test the MX49 MK2 for a similar amount of time and given that the only difference between the MX49, 61 and 88 is the keys I think a fair comparison can be made.
So, a quick spec check :
- 88-note, GHS (Graded Hammer Standard) weighted action keybed. Heavier in the low keys and lighter in the high keys, just like an acoustic piano.
- Class-compliant USB audio/MIDI, no drivers needed.
- Motif sound engine: layer, zone, switch, cycle, randomize and control up to 8 elements within a single voice.
- Virtual circuitry Modeling (vcm) re-creates the sound and behavior of vintage effects and signal processors.
- 128 notes of polyphony ensures dropout-free performance playing live or with full 16-track sequences.
- Cubase Ai included
- FM Essential App
- Audio/Midi interface
- Weight = 13.87kg/30.6lbs
- Price correct as of 16th April 2018 writing £799.00
Roland Juno DS88
- 88 keys Progressive hammer action (Ivory Feel-G Keyboard with Escapement)
- Includes all the sounds from the popular JUNO-Di.
- Wave expansion slot enables users to download new sound waveforms, available for free at Roland’s Axial website.
- Sample import function for playing user WAV files on the JUNO-DS88’s keyboard
- Phrase Pads for enhancing your performances
- 8-track sequencer
- LCD 256 x 80 dots Screen
- Audio/Midi Interface
- Can be battery powered
- Weight = 17kg/37.47lbs
- Price correct as of 16th April 2018 £879
So just going by that very brief comparison, in theory the Yamaha MX88 should have the better keys but I would need to get a hands-on to be sure. I did love the keys on the Juno DS88 though. The “ivory feel” refers to the slightly textured nature of the keys. Not only do they feel great but they reduce the chances of your fingers slipping and accidentally hitting the wrong note…very handy for people like me!
The MX88 has a smaller wave rom at 166mb vs the DS88’s 256mb but of course numbers don’t tell the whole story. We know from experience that great things can be had from very small amounts of wave memory. Just look what Yamaha managed to do with the SY77!
Yamaha’s MX88 brings with it the sound engine from the very successful Yamaha Motif XS which of course was Yamaha’s flagship synth just a few years ago. So the MX includes not only the sounds of the XS but also sounds from previous ‘Motif’ flagship keyboards. That’s quite some heritage and a LOT of very high quality sounds to play with.
The MX88 does unfortunately keep that incredibly tiny screen from the rest of the MX range. I had hoped that Yamaha would replace the screen with something larger. It’s not a deal breaker though and you can quickly navigate around the sounds without too much trouble. The Roland DS88 has a nice clear 256 x 80 screen with white text on a dark blue background. It is not massive by today’s standards but does make navigation and editing a very pleasant experience.
Both keyboards have a number of real time controllers and both make good master keyboards for your DAW. I think if I remember correctly the DS88 has more DAW presets than the MX but there’s not much between them here. The MX integrates very well with Cubase Ai which of course comes bundled with the keyboard (download required).
As mentioned the MX comes with Cubase Ai which brings massive added value to the package. Not only does it feature powerful recording and editing tools, it also includes a complete set of great-sounding VST 3 effects plug-ins covering everything from EQ to dynamics to reverb. You also get HALion Sonic SE and Groove Agent SE which provide a vast array of high-end sampled instruments and acoustic/electronic drums and grooves. Not only that but there is also the acclaimed AmpSimulator which gives you all the amps you need. In fact bundling Cubase Ai with the MX is like giving you a whole studio AND extra synth, FREE!
There is also another bonus with the MX and that is Yamaha’s free ‘FM Essential App‘ which gives you a 4 Op virtual FM synth that runs on your iPad or iPhone connected to the MX. Here’s how Yamaha describe it:
FM Essential is a synthesizer app which brings some of Yamaha’s legendary FM synthesizers to your iPhone and iPad. Connected with the MX BK/BU series, you can play 271 high-quality voices consisting of selected presets from classic FM synths such as the DX100, TX81Z and V50. (note: you do also need the Apple Camera Connection kit in order to use this app)
The Juno DS88 on the other hand comes with….nothing! Yes folks, a big fat zero in the software dept. Roland really need to up their game on that one. For now if you want a free DAW you can download one of the many options out there such as Mackie Traktion or Reaper
Price for the Juno DS88 is currently £879 and the Yamaha MX88 is £799 but obviously that fluctuates with the pound not being as stable as it was post Brexit.
Which one would I buy? That’s a hard question to answer simply because I have not had the opportunity yet to try the MX88’s keys and for me that is a massive part of the buying decision. The DS88 is quite inspiring both in the sounds coming out of it and the feel of the keys and as I have already lived with it for around 6 weeks I know I would be very happy with it, however one can’t ignore the fact that bundling Cubase Ai with the MX range is definitely a big deal. That makes it not only a fantastic sounding keyboard but also a very powerful “workstation” and adds massive value to the package. Plus there is the FM Essential App to consider. That’s a LOT of keyboard for the money. Plus Yamaha have added new free content which you can read about here
I don’t think you could go wrong with either of these keyboards and a lot will come down to whether you prefer the ‘Yamaha’ sound or the ‘Roland’ sound but taken as a whole package the MX wins out in the value for money stakes and is probably where my cash would go.
Would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Do you think this was a good move by Yamaha or should they have perhaps invested the money elsewhere? Let us know what you think on the forum here