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If you’re serious about audio production and synthesis, then no doubt the new MONTAGE6 from Yamaha has come up in your research. We recently had the opportunity to play with the 61-key synthesizer, the new flagship from Yamaha, and we were both thoroughly overwhelmed with the amount of things this piece of machinery can do, and surprised at its relative ease of use.
The MONTAGE6 is really a mixture of the best of both the DX and MOTIF series (yeah, we never really figured out FM synthesis, either, but don’t let that stop you from giving this board serious consideration if you’re looking for a top-of-the-line synth monster). At the heart of the beast is the motion control matrix, which we saw demo’d at NAMM and really came to fully understand (and appreciate) after a few weeks testing the MONTAGE in our studio and office.
The MONTAGE6 offers a seamless command interface for controlling the engines, that paradoxically feels both intimidating (because of all the parameters you can tweak) yet somehow intuitive. I know that sounds contradictory, but the Yamaha team has made a board that on one hand offers up so much control that you might initially feel overwhelmed, yet once you start using it, everything “clicks” and becomes second nature.
What we loved, off the bat, was the Super Knob. Seriously, this thing is powerful, and if you felt a little intimated (like us), try using the Super Knob first. What it does is control multiple parameters at once, so you’re modulating in an optimized way with the turn of one simple-to-use control. We’re not gonna lie; sometimes we weren’t really sure what we were adjusting at the macro-level, only that this magic knob made everything sound amazing with a single sweep. You can even control it with a foot controller like the FC7, so you can easily go from subtle shifts in sound modulation to ridiculous, over-the-top severity in a matter of seconds.
Worth mentioning, as well, is the really cool envelope follower. The idea here is that you can use audio coming into the board as a mod source. What’s this do? Well, take a vocal track, for example, or some percussion or guitar, and use that audio to control parameters to shape the sound. It’s really far-out stuff, and expands upon the basic modulation parameters you might be used to, like simple LFOs that have one or two basic modulation sources. You’ll be up all night exploring this feature. Seriously.
Everything about the MONTAGE6 is top-shelf. The weighted key bed feels great. The aftertouch works like a champ for our favorite vibrato effects, the pitch and mod wheels are ultra-smooth, the screen is touch sensitive, bright and colorful (you know us, we HATE menu-driven systems but grew to love the MONTAGE interface, so that should tell you something). We tried to find faults. Really, we did. But nothing comes to mind. And let’s be honest. If you’re shelling out 3 grand for a synth, everything better be perfect. Amiright?
What kept us coming back, really, was the sound-shaping capabilities afforded by all the parameter-tweaking options any knob-head will be drooling over. We see this as the future go-to for EDM producers, hip-hop producers, heck, even classically-trained pianists who want a fully-featured keyboard for the road that sounds like their favorite grand piano.
Yes, the MONTAGE6 even excels at the thing you forgot keyboards were originally supposed to do: sound like pianos (and as much as we have a soft spot for the old DX7, it was never our fave acoustic or electric piano replacement). The Bösendorfer Grand Piano is available as part of the MONTAGE sound library. Let that sink in.
So, the first thing we did was listen to some hi-res Tori Amos piano passages to hear what a real Bösendorfer sounds like at the hands of a master, then proceeded to play passages of our own (admittedly, non-masterfully) through the MONTAGE6. While you’re not gonna replace a six-figure, master-crafted acoustic instrument like the Bösendorfer, you come pretty darn close to our ears with the on-board Grand settings, especially with the velocity sensitive key bed and natural sustain features. As in, so close you’d be nuts not to snap one of these up for your studio if you want to start recording serious acoustic piano parts, but have neither the space nor finances to install a grand piano in your main tracking room.
There’s almost too much to cover with the MONTAGE6. It’s an insanely powerful synthesizer. It’s a sound engine masterwork. It’s a producer’s dream. It’s a sound-shaping gift from the Yamaha geniuses, let’s put it that way. It’s also a workhorse that will likely put four or five pieces of gear in your studio out of a job.
[Editor’s note, after we completed our review, Yamaha released the new OS 1.5 for MONTAGE. Here’s what they say about it: “MONTAGE OS v1.5 adds both new features and new content, plus it’s a free download for all MONTAGE owners. The new OS enhances the instrument’s sound, broadens and tightens control on the fly, and streamlines workflow for a more intuitive interface.” Hopefully we’ll get to test out the new additions in a later review]
amazing sound-shaping capabilities, excellent build quality, natural feel, great display/menu system.