Read Performer’s review of the new Yamaha MX88 Music Synthesizer.
If you want the a powerful (and realistic) sound engine, but don’t need all the bells and whistles of something like, say the MONTAGE series from Yamaha, the new MX88 might be just the thing for you. The MX88 is an 88-key synth machine that features an exceptional keybed with very piano-like action, a fully-loaded Motif sound engine, a built-in control surface and connectivity out the wazoo.
We hesitate to call machines like this “workstations” anymore, because a) manufacturers typically hate it and b) the word has become kind of nebulous. But in this day and age, the MX88 really does become a station where you get work done. Starting with the bi-directional USB audio/MIDI interface, the MX88 not only acts as a powerful MIDI controller, but it solves the problem most USB-equipped keyboards don’t: namely, it doesn’t make me feel like an idiot because I want to capture the sound (not just MIDI data) from my synth. I mean, is that such a crazy request?
With the MX88, recording your synth sounds directly to your DAW (Cubase AI is handily provided) is a breeze. Not only that, you’ve got an on-board control surface with transport controls. So, you can perform, edit sound patches, tweak parameters in your DAW, and do it all from one piece of hardware. Super nice touch for producers, especially at this price point. I love the sound of a lot of modern keyboards, but dislike the hassle of taking up precious inputs on small desktop interfaces when I want to record them. Bonus points for being able to take charge of your virtual instruments with the MX88 controls, as well.
All of that is great, of course, but it means diddly if the keyboard doesn’t sound good. At nearly a third the price of the MONTAGE unit we tested not too long ago, we were curious, to say the least. But again, with the Motif sound engine on tap, we were not disappointed. We loved the concert grand sounds on the MONTAGE line, and the MX88 is no slouch either. If you simply want a great digital stage piano, this might be worth the price tag just for that. In fact, we liked it better as a touring piano option better than some of the KORG and Roland models that we’ve seen at higher price points in previous years.
It’s not just the grand sounds that are intriguing; you’ve got tons of guitar, bass, synth and other classic Yamaha keyboard sounds, as well. And of course, the fun doesn’t stop there. You’ve got 128-note polyphony (we tested all 128 notes at once, it sounds awful but it works! Just kidding, this is awesome to eliminate frustrating dropouts), iOS integration for you mobile recorders, and even specially coated keys that absorb all your gross (OK, all of OUR gross) finger moisture after long sessions. We played with the MX88 for a few weeks and found it has a slight learning curve, but is not nearly as intimidating as models higher up the Yamaha food chain. After one afternoon, we had it pretty well figured out (even the small nav screen, which we usually despise).
That said, the menu screen is not as immersive as the MONTAGE line, but then again, we wouldn’t expect it to be. The MX88 is a perfect choice if you’ve been thinking about something like the Numa Compact 2, which we’ve reviewed in this issue, but you need more powerful studio integration and more sound library options. At around $1000 in the wild, the MX88 is sure to be your new best bud in the studio, on stage and in the practice room.
Feels great, plentiful connectivity, DAW control, MOTIF sound engine.
Could be intimidating to newcomers.