While the chips you find in the latest/greatest synthesizer (which Yamaha manufacturers in-house, by the way) allow many things to be done, it is always what you do with them that is important to the product. Let’s digress for a moment, and like Copernicus, let’s not think the center of the cutting-edge technology universe is found in the products designed for us, the working professional musician… because the cutting edge of technology sometimes targets a different market all together.
The so-called “working professional musician” who would be using a Motif-series or even a Tyros-series is budget conscious, very budget conscious, in fact. This is why you find the price points that you currently find for these types of keyboards. The cutting edge technology is always expensive (well it very often is, at first). What if you did not have to constrain the products to $2000-$4000 range? What if you could design products at twice, three times or four times (or even 10-20 times) that price point? Then you would see the chips do something spectacular!!!
For example, Yamaha initially began as an organ company - and they still manufacturer organs (Electones) which always have some of the cutting edge technology. Those organs can run lots of money! The second product, and arguably the most well known Yamaha products, are pianos… and in this area Yamaha excels in the manufacture of fine acoustic, acoustic/electronic hybrids and cutting edge digital pianos.
One of the thrills for me personally at a NAMM show is walking next door to the Yamaha Piano Division to get an idea of what they are up to… it is always enlightening and is always like looking into the future. (I secretly wonder when the technology will trickle down to the so-called “working professional musician” - that’s were I live at the company… and if you are reading this, where you live most likely, too). I’m in the Pro Audio & Combo Division of Yamaha (the so-called Rock ‘n’ Roll division).
Recently, the DSP (Digital Signal Processing) development at Yamaha introduced Active Field Control technology… It has been in the works in some form or other for some time. (Back when I played at the opening of the Yamaha Communication Center in NYC back in 1987, they premiered a speaker/room technology that seemed somewhat similar in theory). Instrumental Active Field Control (iAFC) technology allows today’s Yamaha cutting edge digital piano (you know the big, expensive furniture pieces with built in speakers) orient itself to your living environment. It has microphones that help analyze the room and they adjust the soundboard simulation and the speaker system to the acoustics of the room in which you place it! Awesome stuff…
They are talking about 8 important innovative features that make for the stunning piano experience (some you have started to see “trickle” into the so-called, pro-level keyboards):
_Instrumental Active Field Control
_Dynamic Stereo Sampling
_Keyboard Touch Response (GH3 or Graded Hammer 3 -Yamaha natural wood keys)
Some of these you recognize (as they have been sneaking into the PF-series, P-series, CP-series, S90 ES and now the Motif XS-series) - some others it will be years before they trickle down (if at all) to the pro-level (pro’s don’t want or need speaker systems built into their gear, it is considered non-pro, go figure!?!). And wooden keys, while great on the fingers, nothing feels like wood, are heavy… maybe you didn’t hear me, are HEAVY… (and don’t travel well). Professionals, working professional musicians, constantly complain about weight, you know.
I had a piano dealer, who I got to know over the years I’ve been with Yamaha, say to me that most pianos wind up in purgatory. What he meant was if you believe in acoustic pianos as living things - you take them out of the crate and you must start regulating and tuning them (caring for and feeding them) - and I agree, then you must believe that they are happiest when they are played. However, a large percentage of acoustic piano sales are furniture sales… He said, “The majority of these beauties will be Pledged more than played”.
Let me explain for those not familiar, “Pledge” is the registered brand name for a leading dust spray used on fine furniture here in the USA. So some of the finest pianos in the world are relegated to being nothing more than decorative furniture and are played very rarely, if at all. The same is true for some of today’s high-end electronic pianos. They look like and feel like the real thing, and in many cases they are very, very close to the experience of playing the real thing. Fortunately, many of the customers for the electronic versions of the piano are likely to actually play the units – they are looking for something that has all the sound and feel benefits of an acoustic without having to care for and feed it (if you get my meaning).
The Doctors and Lawyers who buy these are professional people but they do not earn their living at music (obviously)… and they want the best. Most of the specifications are lost on them. They don’t care that the chip inside is doing all kinds of analysis of the room environment to recreate the proper vibrations, they only know they have the money and they want the best. Nice work… if you can get it…
Okay, that was a look from the view where, we, the so-called working professional musicians, aren’t at the center of cutting edge universe. If you thought you were, you’ll get over it. Eventually, the good stuff trickles down, and we figure a way to make it work for us. So if you ask is there a bright future for music technology? You bet, as long as companies like Yamaha continue to push the envelope. Take solace in the customer for the high-end electronic pianos, never edits or tweaks sounds, never even thinks about a Modulation or Pitch Bend Wheel, and could care less about “ phat” filters or even adjusting effect parameters. (Now the instrument can adjust itself, how cool is that!?!)
Some of this is going to be covered in an upcoming Power User article on the new Effect processor chip found in the Motif XS… which did not just magically arrive in a pro synth - but definitely “trickled down” from our $20,000+ digital mixing consoles and from our studio grade effect processors. Oh boy, wait until you get your mitts on this chip!
Phil (Bad Mister) Clendeninn