The trend in keyboards is to create a flagship product and
then trickle down the features into more affordable iterations. This
inevitably requires some trade-offs, but Yamaha’s
new MOXF series cuts surprisingly few corners in its
achievement of a studio and gig workstation that, size for size, comes
in at literally half the price of the top-end Motif XF. How does the
MOXF measure up to its heavier and more expensive ancestor? Let’s find
Exceptionally diverse and professional sound set. Light
weight and small footprint—especially the 88-note weighted version.
Durable and ultra-portable. Huge library of inspiring musical phrases
and loops onboard. Dedicated transpose and octave shift buttons. Loads
user and third party samples into optional Flash memory. Acts as USB
Interface takes awhile to understand if you’re new to the
Motif series. Pitch wheel is sluggish to return to center. Keys don’t
sense aftertouch. Stereo main outs only.
The MOXF serves up the majority of Motif XF features for a
far lower price. For live use, the light weight may even make it the
MOXF6: $1,499 list | $1,199 street
MOXF8: $1,999 list | $1,699 street
I’ve been a longtime user of Yamaha performance and
workstation keyboards, dating back to the original S90 and then the
Motif XS. So I was immediately familiar with the basic interface and
overall workflow of my MOXF8 review unit, as Yamaha has kept the UI very
similar. The MOXF8 has a great-feeling graded action that rivals nearly
any dedicated stage piano I’ve played. Even so, it’s surprisingly
portable for an 88-noter (just shy of 33 pounds) and has a smaller
footprint than many other keyboards in its class, due to the clever
placement of the pitch-bend and modulation wheels on the top left of the
front panel above the keyboard, rather than to the left of the keys.
Keyboard players have a longstanding debate about which placement is
more intuitive, but seeing as I play a lot of gigs, I’ll take the
smaller dimensions any day.
The MOXF chassis is plastic, which is what makes it so
light. Perhaps the steel of the full-blown Motifs is more durable, but
the rigid construction of the MOFX8 seems plenty robust enough for the
weekend barroom or church musician—I transported it in a soft gig bag
and it held up just fine. A minor tradeoff is the use of a wall-wart
power supply, which helps keep the weight and cost lower. Need to go
even lighter still? The 61-key MOXF6 is electronically and sonically
identical, and weighs in at 15.6 pounds.
While I was getting the MOFX8 ready for gigs, I was
pleasantly surprised to find the entire factory ROM sound set of the
Motif XF on board (plus some extra sounds) for a total of 741MB of wave
data. That’s serious horsepower. Yamaha also kept the 128-voice
polyphony as well as the eight-way VCM (Virtual Circuit Modeling)
effects, so like on the Motif XF, you can layer up to eight parts with
independent insert effects for each. Verdict: Compared to the flagship
Motif XF, there’s really nothing lost here in terms of sound capability.
The Motif XF does have user sampling, which is not
possible on the MOXF—though it can play back audio samples loaded from
USB to an optional Flash memory board. Also, the MOXF has one Flash slot
instead of the Motif XF’s two, halving the maximum memory to 1GB.
Regardless, the vast breadth of onboard sounds should keep most anyone
happy for a very long time. Beyond this, you can load the Flash memory
with third-party wave data and programs from an impressive pantheon of
sound designers. It’s a nod to the earlier Motifs’ PLG expansion boards
and a great way to keep the instrument fresh.
Phrases and Sequencer
“Sound, Inspiration, Integration” is Yamaha’s catchphrase
for the MOXF. I’ve already mentioned the great sounds, but let me touch
on the inspiration and integration aspects. The Motif series is known
for having an extensive set of onboard “arpeggios” that go way beyond
the retro up/down affairs that Nick Rhodes made famous in Duran Duran
(though the MOXF can certainly do those). MOXF (and Motif) arpeggios are
rhythmic and/or melodic patterns and phrases that turn the instrument
into an instant jam session.
Close to 8,000 unique arpeggios range from funky ’70s
grooves lifted right out of a Headhunters session, to modern EDM and
Euro-disco, to more acoustic- and guitar-driven phrases that form good
background for folk and blues tunes. These motifs do indeed
provide inspiration, and if you’re loath to use factory patterns,
changing them up a bit still makes for great song starters. I’ve played
the MOXF8 for hours on end and I still have yet to explore all of the
Sitting on top of all of this is a deep 16-track
sequencer. We’ve covered the Motif series’ song creation workflow in
previous reviews, but this much bears repeating: It’s seamless to start
with an inspiring pattern, incorporate this into a multitrack sequence,
rinse and repeat, and come up with a lot of material quickly before
reaching for your computer.
Once you do, the MOXF boasts very useful computer
connectivity. It can function as a USB audio interface, routing both its
own sounds and audio from its stereo inputs into your computer—and even
the Motif XF doesn’t have its dedicated fader and LED level meter for
DAW playback. Like its predecessors, its knobs and buttons can act as a
DAW control surface for Cubase, Digital Performer, Logic, and Sonar.
Given that Yamaha owns Steinberg, integration is tightest with Cubase
I set up the MOFX8 for a few bar gigs with my eclectic
cover band, Flat Elvis. I needed to be able to handle the usual piano,
Rhodes, and Wurly required for covering classic Tom Petty, Hall and
Oates, and Bruce Springsteen; while also nailing many ’80s sounds for
Loverboy, U2, Modern English, and the Cars; plus a healthy smattering of
’90s material such as Cake and Coldplay. The MOXF8 did not disappoint,
with many variations of each sound and a “Favorites” feature to easily
find sounds I’d flagged when prepping for the gig. I’d be remiss if I
failed to mention the amazing “Sweet Flute,” a highly realistic flute
that perfectly nailed our cover of Men At Work’s “Down Under.”
Throughout my gig, the MOXF8 performed like a champ, with
its authentic acoustic and electric pianos and soaring, fat synth
sounds. I did have an issue or two navigating the plethora of buttons,
particularly on a dark stage. If, like me, you have a diverse set that
requires lots of splits and layers, I recommend getting set up offline
and rehearsing sound changes no matter what keyboard you use. If you’re
using a smaller sound set, the category and favorite functions makes
playing a basic gig a no-brainer.
I noticed that the pitch wheel was a bit sluggish to
spring back to center position. Another thing to look out for: Having
dedicated octave and transpose buttons rocks, but they’re very close to
the keys (just above C3), so wild playing runs the risk of
accidentally hitting one. Also, for mixing layered sounds, I’d prefer a
set of faders in place of one of the two rows of four knobs, but given
the price of the MOXF, I’m not complaining. While bigger is better when
it comes to a keyboard’s display, I was perfectly comfortable with the
MOXF8’s compact monochrome screen, as it organizes information very
similarly to the Motif ES and my S90 performance synth.
I occasionally do a gig where the drummer needs to take a
couple of breaks. When this happens, I’ve routed programmed drums from
my Motif XS to a separate front-of-house line so that the engineer can
mix them separately. Because the MOXF has only a single pair of main
outs, I wouldn’t be able to do this, nor send a drummer a click that’s
not heard in the house. Most keyboard players won’t miss this, though,
so if it kept the cost low, Yamaha made the right call.
The uninitiated may wonder, “What the heck is KARMA?”
Algorithmic Realtime Music Architecture (so named for developer Stephen
Kay) is a unique engine that generates realtime MIDI data to create
evolving, percolating patterns and musical effects. It first appeared in
the Korg KARMA workstation in 2001 and has since been used in multiple
Korg keyboards including the OASYS and M3. The Motif version of KARMA
uses a connected Mac or PC to drive Yamaha Motif XS/XF, MOX, and MOFX
series instruments. (The Motif classic, ES, and MO are not currently
Given that these synths are already packed with patterns
and phrases, what does KARMA add? In a nutshell, greater depth than what
can be done within the confines of the stock MOFX—not to mention an
inspiring but manageable degree of unpredictability. KARMA offers an
eight-track design: two layers of music are playable from zones on the
keyboard. Then, six “modules” can apply phrases, arpeggios, strumming,
and other musical effects (GE or Generated Effect in KARMA parlance) to
internal sounds. It’s like auto-accompaniment with a mind of its own . .
. on steroids.
Within these performance modules are eight programmable
“scenes,” much like different parts of a song. Each scene has a huge
amount of user-controllable variation. The swing, complexity, accents,
pattern, and time signature (to name a few things) can be dialed in to
taste and saved at the scene level. One can get very far away from the
original Performance, arriving at something entirely new.
After downloading and authorizing the software via an
emailed code, I uploaded a data file via USB into the MOXF. My review
unit also required a firmware upgrade to version 1.03, but then I was
off to the races.
Functionally, KARMA Motif is a marriage between the KARMA
Performance and the Yamaha’s Song mode. Anything related to MIDI notes
and controller data, you edit in the KARMA Motif software. Anything
related to the sounds being played, you edit in the keyboard. I found
that the MOFX’s DAW control mode worked very well with many aspects of
KARMA Motif. Once I created performances I liked I could seamlessly
record them into the MOFX’s sequencer.
I made my way through the vast landscape of KARMA
Performances and found material appropriate for pretty much every
musical genre. It would take hours to explore and tweak each
Performance, but there’s truly inspiring material here. A few of my
favorites were the mellow R&B groove “Diva’s Delight,” “Trev &
Seal,” paying homage to a great ’90s era pop duo, and “1985,” which
brings back everything that was great in movie soundtracks of that era.
KARMA Motif is a great addition to the MOFX and is
well-suited for film and TV work as well as experimental songwriting—not
to mention a very fun way to create mesmerizing solo performances. It’s
transformative, addictive to use, and adds major firepower to supported
You can download KARMA Motif for $199 from karma-lab.com.
The MOXF8 succeeds on many levels as a performing and
recording instrument. It includes every single one of the killer sounds
and most of the workstation features from the Motif XF in a lightweight,
compact, and affordable form. The previous “Motif lite” keyboards were
the MOX and MO, and the MOXF supersedes these instruments across every
major dimension while still being offered at an excellent price.
Speaking from a semi-professional keyboardist’s point of view, none of
the design choices Yamaha made to hit this price are deal-breakers.
The MOXF’s computer integration features make it an
outstanding entry into studio workstations, and unless you really need
multiple outputs onstage, its light weight makes a case for choosing it
over the Motif XF or XS as the do-it-all gig machine you throw in the
car. Stage and studio use alike are bolstered by the 128-voice
polyphony, all the waveform ROM, sound programming, and phrases from the
Motif XF, the ecosystem of third-party sounds for the optional Flash
memory, and (on the MOXF8) the expressive weighted action. Put it all
together, and the MOXF hits a very sweet spot, earning our Key Buy Award
in the bargain.