Remix contributor and hip-hop producer Stoni created this track using only the Yamaha Motif XS6 on review.
Yamaha's Motif XS series of keyboard workstations have hit the streets sporting the latest fashionable skin tone for music gear and a modern color LCD. With three models — XS6 (61 keys; $2,200), XS7 (76 keys; $3,539) and XS8 (88 keys; $3,999) — the Motif XS range attracts keyboardists by adding many true-to-life acoustic, orchestral and synthesized sounds that cater to all genres of music, from hip-hop and pop to country. The Motif XS6 makes its mark as the next-generation piece that will grow on any producer and musician in a studio setting or live performance.
THE PLAYING FIELD
The Motif XS6 is much smaller than the XS7 and XS8 models, but the large color LCD clearly marks the XS6 as a next-generation workstation. The LCD measures 320 by 240 pixels (5.7 inches wide) and has a Contrast control located on the rear of the unit. Below the LCD are rows of buttons labeled F-1 through F-6 and SF1 through SF5. These buttons correspond to different functions displayed on the screen. The adjustable graphic LCD allows you to work in any environment, especially during a dark stage performance without having concerns for proper lighting. With the large screen, I can see 16 sections at once and view all of my sequences on the same page. Navigating through the category search of the sound banks is easy.
The control section on the XS6 includes the pitch-bend and modulation wheels, a ribbon controller, an Octave button, a master volume slider, assignable function buttons, and the knobs and sliders. Having that many control options comes in handy for highly stylized playing or performances. When I played the keys, I noticed right away a difference in the sound response due to the unit's Initialtouch and Aftertouch features. The surface of the ribbon controller is smooth, and I didn't have to apply too much pressure to get the effect I wanted. For easier access to specific actions you use while in Performance mode, you can assign them to the two assignable function buttons located to the left of the LCD.
While the older Motif ES models had 4-channel faders and four knobs, the XS6 comes with 8-channel faders and eight knobs, which are used to adjust the volume while in Performance mode or to control eight channels of the XS6 internal mixer or eight channels from the mixer of the included Cubase AI4 software or some other DAW sequencer. Keep in mind that all eight parts can be controlled at different volume levels and panned to your desire. A Remote On/Off switch changes the XS6 to Remote mode to use the keyboard and controls — including the transport buttons — to control DAWs and other software.
A push of a button powers the unit on and off through an AC power cord. Other connectors include a standard ¼-inch headphone jack, a footswitch for controlling sustain, a main stereo output and assignable out L/R jacks, which are independent of the main output and can be freely assigned to any of the drum voice keys or drum parts. The analog/digital input jacks let you hook up a microphone, guitar, bass, CD player, synthesizer, etc., and the audio can be used as part of your performance, song or pattern, or as a wave for a voice. While in Sampling mode, those jacks are used for recording samples. In addition, you can use the internal vocoder by connecting a microphone to the input (mono) jack. Depending on your external connection, you can adjust the individual gain of the audio at the analog/digital input jacks using the Gain knob to achieve optimum level.
Voice, Performance and Master modes comprise the XS6's three main operation modes. The keyboard sounds are divided into two groups: normal voices and drum voices. While in Voice mode, you can choose sounds and adjust the pitch, filter and envelopes using the control knobs and sliders. Each single voice can be layered with eight PCM waveform elements. Those elements can incorporate keyboard scaling, zones, splits and Velocity crossfading. With so many options, you can make creative sounds by combining different waves into one single voice, similar to the way you can stack drums in a drum sampler. In Performance mode, you can play back any of the previously recorded performances. After composing a song using the 16-track-per-pattern sequencer, you can use the faders and knobs to tweak it in Mixing mode before you finalize it in Master mode. The Stop, Play, Locate, Record, Rewind and Fast-Forward buttons all responded accurately in real time for smooth playback. During a performance or while in song/pattern playback, you can record MIDI information through the MIDI In/Out/Thru ports.
Starting with the different patches and sections of the sound banks, pressing the Category Search button opens up the Category Search menu page. From there, you can view the main instruments column, and to the right of that another column for the subinstruments. You can turn the data wheel or use the Up/Down cursor buttons to audition the sounds and select them. For my first instrument, I chose the Full Concert Piano and then repeated the step, choosing instruments for all 16 tracks per pattern allowed in Pattern mode using the number buttons (1 through 16) on to the right-hand side of the workstation.
Pressing the Record button brings up the Record page, where you can choose the measures, length, time signature and tempo for the pattern. For each of those recording options, you also have the Record Type: Replace or Overdub. I chose Replace to begin, which records over old notes with new ones in a loop situation, rather than combining them in Overdub. Other settings such as quantize, voice, volume and pan can also be accessed from the Record page, and you can set the record part, track and patch from there. I activated Loop recording throughout my testing, but that isn't required.
For adding extra flavor, the XS6 has a built-in arpeggiator, reverb and Master EQ. Another great feature is that external modules can be controlled with the faders to enhance the song before going into Master mode. The XS6 also provides presets for multiple types of effect configurations that include virtual, color-coded knobs on the LCD. There are 13 effects, each with different presets that sometimes come from dedicated Yamaha effects units: reverb (Rev-X Hall, Rev-X Room, SPX Room, R3 Plate, SPX Stage and others), delay (Cross Delay, Tempo Cross Delay, Tempo Delay Stereo, Control Delay and more), chorus (Modulator, SPX Chorus, Symphonic, etc.), flanger (VCM Flanger, Tempo Flanger, Dynamic Flanger, etc.), phaser (VCM Phaser Mono, Tempo Phaser, Dynamic Phaser, etc.), tremelo/rotary (Auto-Pan, Tremolo, Rotary Speaker), distortion (Amp Sim 1, Amp Sim 2, Comp Distortion Delay, etc.), compressor (VCM Compressor 376, Multi-Band Comp, etc.), wah (VCM Auto-Wah, VCM Pedal Wah), lo-fi (Noisy, Digital Turntable, etc.), Tech (Ring Modulator, Dynamic Filter, Auto-Synth, Isolator, Slice and more) and a vocoder.
Not every effect can apply to every patch, but there is plenty to go around. The VCM (Virtual Circuitry Modeling) effects prefix essentially means that the effect carries the same processing as an analog sound. Therefore, if you are used to tweaking with your fingers, the face of those effects on the LCD will make you feel like you're looking at the real thing, and the presets will definitely give you something to start with. I was looking for a warm, punchy effect to add to my mixes, and the VCM Compressor 376 worked perfectly.
In addition to the traditional MIDI In/Out/Thru ports, a USB-to-Host port connects the XS6 to the computer via USB and transfers MIDI data between the two; it's only for MIDI, however, not for audio I/O. Another USB port called USB-to-Device can connect USB storage devices (hard drive, CD-ROM, Flash disc) to save data created on the Motif XS to the external USB device or load data from a USB device to the Motif.
The XS6 has an expansion bay for a FireWire mLAN connection board, which does not come standard on this model. The mLAN FireWire port is used to connect the Motif directly to Cubase as an audio soundcard. Additionally, the expansion board lets the XS6 be used as a remote control for your computer's DAW system, including built-in presets for Mac (Cubase 4, Cubase Studio 4, Cubase AI4, Logic Pro 7.2.1, Digital Performer 5.1) and Windows (Cubase 4, Cubase Studio 4, Cubase AI4, SONAR 5.2) systems. I tested the mLAN expansion, and its connection speed was fast and stable. I was able to perform stereo dumps directly into Cubase. The digital audio output for the mLAN is 24-bit/44.1 kHz. If you want to connect to other computer networks using LAN, use the Ethernet port. Also, the coaxial S/PDIF digital output allows you to record your patterns and songs directly to CD, DAT or other destinations at 24-bit/44.1 kHz.
GETTING IT IN
Having high-quality sounds is an important part of today's music production, and the XS6 is playing its role. Its symphonic sounds are the real deal, with superior layering and stacking; combining them with the precise reverbs kicked out the sound of a real orchestra in stereo. The hip-hop and R&B drums are the heaviest-hitting drums I've ever heard coming straight out of a workstation. I have never considered using drums straight out of a workstation until now.
Also, working with XS6's effects left me with the feeling I get when working on a DAW using nice VST effects. Stepping up to the mLAN FireWire option for an audio soundcard is great for anyone who doesn't have another soundcard option. And being able to make changes to my sounds and adjust my volume while in Performance mode is a big plus.
The Motif XS6 is a solid synth/sampling workstation that is user friendly, making the job much easier to sample, chop, assign and incorporate custom-made sounds into its sequences. This superb unit definitely lives up to its reputation. Go cop one!
MOTIF XS6 > $2,799
Pros: 1 GB sampling time. Internal or external DAW control with eight faders and eight knobs. MIDI In/Out/Thru. Huge sound library.
Cons: RAM sold separately. No soundcard expansion board.