You might think that the new MODX synthesizer from Yamaha is just a compact version of their flagship MONTAGE keyboard [Tape Op #127], and on the surface you might be right (the MODX sound engine is based on the same technology as the MONTAGE) – but there's a lot more here to unpack. MONTAGE 6 weighs over 30 pounds, whereas the MODX6 comes in at less than half that weight. The more keys, the heavier –the MODX line includes three sizes: the MODX6, 7, and 8. For gig schlepping, I'll take the lighter keyboard that is thin and well balanced, and although made of plastic, the MODX feels sturdy enough to transport in a soft case – this sure beats wrestling a Hammond after a long night, or even a heavier synthesizer like the MONTAGE.

Many of the MODX6's functionality controlled via its seven-inch touchscreen panel, which definitely saves on space. Next to the touchscreen are four controller knobs above their respective sliders. Also borrowed from the MONTAGE is the Super Knob that allows for simultaneous control of up to 128 function parameters (like volume, pan, effect sends, filters, LFOs, and Operators) – Super Knob functionality can be assigned to a second foot controller for hands-free operation while performing. Single function buttons (for non-performance utilities) that you might find on other synthesizers are controlled with touchscreen. It took a little time to get used to this, but with a little practice I didn't really miss the buttons too much.

Let's talk about the sound engine – the meat and potatoes of any synthesizer. With the MODX, you get both engines found in the MONTAGE with the same 16 Part Performance. The AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory 2 sample and synthesis engine) specs out exactly the same as the MONTAGE with 128 simultaneous stereo/mono waves available. Combine that with the 64-note polyphony of the FM-X, you get 192-note polyphony. Note that the MODX offers eight Operator Voices, half of the MONTAGE's FM firepower, but still more than any Yamaha DX7 (and there is an app to convert old DX libraries to the MODX) voices!

One can get almost microscopic in editing a MODX AWM voice or building an FM one, but the real fun starts with playing the keyboard and using the new Motion Control to change the sound in real time. The most obvious aspect of Yamaha's Motion Control is the Super Knob. The settings of the four small controller knobs (as well as 5-8 alternate controller assignments) and faders can be linked for all kinds of sonic movement, sweeping through the various parameters while the knob displays its position via the ring of LEDs that surround it. As stated earlier, up to 128 parameters can be latched onto the Super Knob and can be easily manipulated, resulting in multiple dimensional changes to the sound.

Another handy feature is SSW (Seamless Sound Switching), which allows the user to change performances without experiencing any effects or envelopes suddenly jerking to a stop when transitioning between songs.

The MODX also offers a built-in USB audio interface for audio. It is a Yamaha design of course, and we all know that they build pro-level gear! It's a 4-in/10-out iOS compatible line level interface – it's all you need (and more) for recording with your MODX. The latest USB drivers deliver low latency, and there is a hardwired, top-panel volume knob for quickly balancing levels between your DAW's return mix and the synth, which is good use of valuable space. MODX's A/D takes advantage of features like it's Envelope Follower and ABS (Audio Beat Sync) that allows the keyboard to detect and sync the Arpeggiator, the Motion Sequencer, or Songs to external tempos. Effects choices are vast, including everything from lush reverbs and realistic piano patches to amp models and gritty EDM sounds.

Yamaha's Soundmondo site works with the MODX for sharing sounds and presets, as well as songs, with other users. MODX also has its own app, MODX Connect, which allows the synth to share song and performance data with your Mac, PC, or iOS device, while allowing the MODX to function as a VST3 plug-in. And you get a free copy of Steinberg's Cubase AI, so you are good to go for music production with a complete, integrated system. Overall, the MODX provides the most important of MONTAGE's capabilities with a few added features, in a smaller, lighter, and more wallet-friendly package!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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