The release of Yamaha’s new top-of-the-line keyboard, the Genos Digital Workstation, is big news for songwriters and performers. That’s because the company designed the instrument from the ground up to create an improved and refined arranger keyboard that is a worthy successor to the Tyros 5.
In my 2016 review of the Tyros 5 for Keyboard magazine (available at keyboardmag.com), I identified the core customer for arranger keyboards: a musician who performs in a typical one-man-band situation that requires an instrument that can play most of the parts, while supporting the musician's singing with onboard effects, vocal harmony, and lyric display, and providing both MIDI and/or audio song playback. The musicians for whom arranger keyboards are designed are more concerned with playing their songs and putting on a good show than diving deep into sound editing and other complex functionality.
With that in mind, I get why Yamaha reclassified the Genos as a Digital Workstation: The company wants you to view it without any preconceived biases. And it would be a shame to not check it out, because the Genos offers stunning sounds, well-crafted musical styles, and a range of cutting-edge technologies that befit a topline professional instrument.
FROM THE TOP
The Genos looks sleek with its 9" color touch-screen. And its array of buttons, knobs, and sliders are cleanly laid out and less crowded than on its predecessor, the Tyros 5.
The Genos is always ready to play sounds (Voices in Yamahaspeak), provide accompaniment, trigger phrases and oneshots from its four pads, play two songs (either MIDI or audio-based, with associated lyric display), and enhance your singing with effects and auto-harmony. All of these activities are clearly shown in the display, and touching the indicated field provides access to select a new sound, file, or anything else you need. Moreover, the user interface provides access to controls and settings in a very flexible way (see Figure 1).
On the left are nine relatively long-throw sliders and six knobs that have a clear center-detent. The knobs have three sets of assignable parameters, and the sliders two sets, all with their own dedicated display—nice!
At the bottom of the Home Screen are six user-assignable tabs that can call up any page you want, reducing the need to go menu diving (see Figure 2).
To the right of the display are six Gateway buttons that give you access to what you could consider the modes of the Genos. Home, as you would expect, takes you back to the main screen, whereas Style behaves the same as if you had touched the Style name on the display. The Voice button provides a complete overview of the Voice settings, such as volume, pan, octave, EQ, insert effect and sends to the Chorus and Reverb. The Song gateway provides more parameters than from the Home screen’s button. The Playlist button is for putting your Registrations and Songs in a list for easier access during gigs.
Below the Gateway buttons are six assignable buttons you can use to recall any menu page or function, or to double as any front-panel button for controlling mixing functions, accompaniment controls, and more. This seems to create redundancy, but it actually gives you a wonderfully “flattened” front-panel interface for such a featurerich product. Kudos to Yamaha’s design team.
The Genos is outfitted with a 76-key FSX organtouch keyboard with aftertouch. It feels great: crisp, with just the right balance of initial resistance and push back. Pitch bend and modulation are available from a single joystick, which adds a second direction for modulation, and a modulation-hold button for locking in the value. Expressive control is also enhanced with three articulation switches (for sound control), one assignable button (also labeled as a rotary-speaker speed control), dedicated octave and transpose controls, and three assignable pedal inputs (two switches and one sweep).
In addition to these pedal jacks, the back panel includes the main stereo outputs, four additional analog outs, and two audio inputs, all on 1/4" jacks. The mic input is an XLR/1/4" combo jack with switchable +48V phantom power. You’ll also find two sets of MIDI I/O, two USB ports and a coaxial (S/PDIF) digital output. And remarkably, the Genos is slightly smaller and, at 28.7 lbs, 7 lbs. lighter than the Tyros 5.
I HEAR VOICES
The Genos is packed with more than 1,650 sounds (Voices) and 58 drum/SFX kits. The instrument’s polyphony is a respectable 128 notes out of the box, and you can utilize another 128 notes for Yamaha expansions and your custom samples.
However, in keeping with the design concept, the Genos’ Voices are not deeply editable. Basic filter cutoff/resonance and amp-envelope offset controls are available along with modulation (increase/decrease) and aftertouch settings, but there is no additional tweaking available onboard and only limited editing capabilities from the computer application Yamaha provides (the most basic types of sound can be edited there). But because everything from the Tyros 5 is available in the Genos, I’ll concentrate, here, on what is new.
For example, there are two new pianos—Yamaha’s top-of-the-line CFX concert grand and the C7 grand, a studio favorite for decades. They both seem to be 4-way stereo, with damper resonance available as an effect. The presets are nice, and I was able to shape a range of other tones by using the 2-band EQ, tweaking the filter cutoff, and taking advantage of the wealth of internal effects.
The electric pianos seem to be re-worked from the Tyros and now include the noises that add dimension and realism to electro-mechanical models. For the Rhodes and Wurlies, move the joystick forward and you fade out the body of the sound to emphasize these noises even more. Not that you need to: In fact, I wish there was a way to mix them down a little bit at times. There is only one flavor of Rhodes (a suitcase model with pronounced bell/tine character), whereas the range of DX variants has been expanded, as have the Wurly, Clav, and CP-80. All are really satisfying to play. Want more? You will be able to get expansion packs in the near future (which I have high hopes for as the ones for the Tyros were excellent).
With the Genos’ organs, Yamaha fixed a complaint of mine from the Tyros: Its sampled organ tone had a lot of low-frequency noise and rumble from the Leslie that got in the way, frequency-wise. In the Genos, this has been cleaned up. The Organ Flutes engine has been retained, and it is very respectable sounding, especially for a keyboard that’s not trying to be a true “clonewheel.” Of course, the nine sliders work as drawbars when one of these sounds is called up. However, the Voice is constructed so that there is no gradual ramping up or down from one Leslie speed to another.
The already excellent strings Voices now have a second session choice called KinoStrings, and they are wonderful. They’ve been sampled with the proper panning/placement of the players, and are a bit more aggressive and thicker than (what is now labeled as) the Seattle Strings.
The Genos also adds a few new brass, woodwind, and guitar instruments, and all the acoustic sounds make great use of the articulation controls to produce natural performance techniques. Plenty of new synth sounds are included, covering vintage up through modern electronic genres.
That brings us to the final category of sounds, the new Revo Drums, which make use of roundrobin sample assignments to bring increased realism to your grooves. The various kits and pieces are uniformly excellent.
In fact, the overall sound of the Genos is superb. With Yamaha’s new D-to-A converter circuitry, the fidelity is audiophile quality.
The Genos also breaks new ground for effects processing power in a keyboard. In addition to the global Master Reverb and Chorus, which is shared by all parts, and a compressor and 8-band EQ that is strapped across the final outputs, the instrument offers a whopping 28 insert-effects blocks. Conceptually, these are intended to offer one insertion effect for each part the Genos can play (right-hand parts, accompaniment parts, both individual tracks in a song, the mic input, and so on), but there is nothing stopping you from combining multiple effects on any part you want.
While none of the factory voicing takes advantage of this, I had a blast crafting richer Voices in every sound category, and I still had plenty of DSP left to do the same for my accompaniment parts. As good as the Voices are, they jump to another level with this type of production care because the effects library is excellent. The one catch is that you cannot save a Voice that uses multiple insertion effects as a user Voice: You must write it to a Registration. And there are some wonky work-arounds needed to edit the effects parameters. But it is all learnable and worth the effort.
The Genos has four Voices ready to play at any time. Three are designated as Right Hand parts, and the last is for the keyboard’s lower end or Left Hand. Front-panel buttons make it easy to switch sounds and to create layered and split setups. You can define the split point for the lower sound, and the upper three sounds, as well.
In a unique implementation, selecting any one of the three Right Hand sounds ignores the split point and gives you full range: When you use the Right 3 sound in conjunction with another, then the split becomes active, so you get the benefit of full-range play and zoned play in an interactive fashion. You can even define a separate range for triggering the accompaniment (or set it to the lowest E if you don’t need to use it), which means you can set three zones for your live playing, with the middle zone able to be a layer. Four of these multisound settings are available and can be saved/recalled as a One Touch setting. If you need more, you can recall them from the display or by using a Registration memory from the ten dedicated front-panel buttons.
Live performers often use a zone to trigger a synth sound effect or sampled part. The Genos has four Multi Pad buttons that can be used to play MIDI or audio phrases, or one shots. Phrases can play once or loop. You can recall other sets of these phrases as described for the One Touch settings.
The arpeggiator has a nice library of patterns, from various up and down groupings to synth phrases and patterns, chord comping, guitar picking and strumming, and filter and gate effects. Timing resolution and note-gate control is available from the Live Control knobs.
JOIN THE BAND
So far, I’ve covered the “regular” keyboard aspects of the Genos, as a nod to (mostly U.S.) players looking to compare it to a “regular” performance synthesizer. But the Genos is an arranger, and a powerful one at that. It delivers 550 Styles, covering just about every genre you could want, and they are uniformly excellent, authentic, and tastefully programmed. Much of the time, it approaches the sound of playing to prerecorded backing tracks, with the flexibility of having complete control over your arrangement. And with the availability of three Intros, four Variations with associated Fills, a Break, and three Endings, the Genos gives you plenty of variety.
Moreover, the sliders and knobs make it easy to mix the band in real time, and you can easily mute parts as needed. You can edit the provided Styles, and I really like the Assembly Mode, which lets you graft phrases from various Style parts to create a new hybrid. I also like the Groove, Dynamics, and Velocity edit controls that allow you to shape the feel and dynamics of a part in musical ways.
Genos incorporates a 16-track MIDI sequencer that can record and edit parts generated by the accompaniment engine, in addition to your Right Hand parts and Multi-Pads (Figure 3). This can be done in a single pass or one part at a time. I enjoy having the ability to try out different chordal ideas against a groove or backing band. By step-entering your chords, the Genos lets you try out an idea, go back and change a given chord type or voicing, or add or delete chords, and each time the “band” will play your new idea.
Once you have the form of your song perfected, you can add more real-time parts. If you sing or play another instrument, you can bounce this MIDI Song to a stereo audio track, and then overdub another audio performance, routing your mic or instrument through effects if desired. Voila, a complete demo created “in the box.”
Of special note is the ability to integrate some cool iDevice apps with the Genos. For example, Yamaha’s Chord Tracker app analyzes the chords of an audio file or song to create a basic chord chart. Choose “Send To Instrument” and it will download a sequence file to the Genos over WiFi that will drive the accompaniment engine and play the song, in any style you want. What a great time to be a musician!
All told, the Genos sounds amazing and offers myriad capabilities, supported by a network of additional sounds, samples, and songs. It also comes with a premium price.
However, the Genos lists for the same price as the Tyros 5, but includes many more samples and sounds, a large color touchscreen, and improved real-time controls with their own dedicated display. You also get 1.8 GB of Flash memory for loading new expansions or user samples, which was an added cost (approx. $450) for the Tyros. Seen in that light, the Genos is a much better value.
I love the sounds, the Styles, and the presentation of the Genos, but I leave it to you to decide if you can afford it. I know sonically and musically you won’t regret it.
Pristine sound quality. Excellent sounds and styles. Abundant effects. Ample memory for samples, sound expansions, and styles.
Expensive. Marginal sound editing. Some operations are confusing.
$6,799; $5,499 street
Accessorizing the Genos
Yamaha also offers a full set of accessories for the Genos. Designed specifically for the instrument, the GNS-MS01 ($379) is a 2.1 sound system with a pair of satellite speakers (3" woofer, 0.8" tweeter, and 20W each) and a subwoofer (6.5" speaker, 40W). The L7-B ($265) stand leaves plenty of room for legs and pedals and has foam padding on top to keep the instrument from slipping. Other options include the UD-BT01 Wireless Bluetooth USB to Host MIDI Adapter ($79) and MD-BT01 Wireless Bluetooth MIDI Interface ($79).
After a 30+ year career in keyboard product development and marketing, and almost 50 years playing them, Jerry Kovarsky is self-assured enough to admit that he likes playing arranger keyboards.