Hands-On Review:Yamaha Motif Rack ES

Click here for all products by Yamaha.

Yamaha Motif Rack ES

A sonic palette for your imagination

By Olaf Stevenson


It's safe to say that anyone who creates music wants to be innovative and original. However, I often hear people say regarding music, "It's all been done before." Personally, I don't subscribe to such statements. I believe that each musician/producer has the imaginative power to create unique musical ideas, because there are a number of factors that contribute to the overall originality of any piece of music. Thanks to technology, achieving originality in one's music is easier than ever. Yamaha's Motif Rack ES demonstrates this beautifully, with its generous offering of stellar voices, presets, and effects. It's an invaluable tool for any musician seeking to expand their ideas into one-of-a-kind musical creations.


Yamaha Motif Rack ES Color your music
The Motif Rack ES is quite a powerful synthesizer given its single-rackspace design. Like the Motif ES keyboard, it boasts a number of advanced features, such as 128-note polyphony, 175MB of waveform ROM, 1,152 voices, 65 drum kits, and nearly 1,800 arpeggios. It also offers 2 system and 8 insert effects, plug-in board expansion of sounds and polyphony, 128 programmable performances. . . the list goes on and on. The intuitive control system makes it easy to find your way around the many features and operational modes, and the sounds are all studio-quality and varied enough that no matter what style of music you're working with, you'll have a complete sonic arsenal at your disposal.


I was blown away not only by the number of sounds, but by their quality as well. While I had the unit at my disposal, I went a little crazy adding cool overdubs into some of my songs, from piano and strings to some cool spacey effects for one of my more "out there" tracks. Everything sounded impeccable. Finding your way around this expansive library is easy thanks to the Category Search function on the front panel. Yamaha also thought to include a Favorites function, so you can store all the voices you use most in one convenient place. The 160 x 64 dot graphic display is an easy-to-read way of keeping track of where you are and what you're doing.


Getting to know you
The Motif Rack ES offers various operational modes that really highlight its remarkable capabilities. Voice Mode is the most basic operational setting of the Motif Rack ES, and it's a great place to start if you're not too familiar with the many powerful features of the unit. I suggest spending some time in this mode getting to know the huge library of sounds that this synth is capable of creating. Once you've got a handle on it, you can begin experimenting and creating your own sounds, which are saved in the User Bank via Flash RAM. The presets are of such quality that you'll have plenty to keep you occupied until you get the hang of making your own unique voices. I especially fell in love with the Old Blues piano, and the horn sections kept me busy for quite some time too.



Yamaha Motif Rack ES

Performance Mode is perfect for solo performances—it allows you to layer voices, and assign different ones to different sections of your keyboard. This is perfect for creating say, a killer horn section, and still being able to do a sax solo on the fly, or combining instruments like piano and guitar. Performance Mode supports up to four voices, so there are endless cool possibilities for sonic ensembles.


Multi Mode seamlessly integrates the Motif Rack ES with computer software or external sequencers. In this mode, the unit can play a number of voices, known as a multi, simultaneously. Each multi can contain up to 33 parts, so there's plenty of room to create some really cool sounds. Different voices can be assigned to individual tracks in your software or sequencer, giving you the ability to do full-band or orchestral-type playback. Multis can be tweaked either by adding effects to individual parts of the multi as a whole.


Studio Connections software takes integration into your computer-based production studio a step further. There are Studio Connections-compatible Voice and Multi part editors that allow the Motif Rack ES to work exactly like a VST instrument in Cubase SX3 and Nuendo 3. Voices and mixes can be stored and edited on your computer, and all of the Yamaha keyboard's settings are saved as well, breaking down the walls between software synths and hardware modules. This by itself makes the unit a worthy addition to your DAW, let alone all of the other aforementioned features.


Plug-in to more power
As powerful as the Motif Rack ES is straight out of the box, the two Modular Synthesis Plug-in System expansion slots offer the potential for even more polyphony, effects, and voices. There are a number of boards available, and each one will increase the polyphony of the Motif Rack ES while offering new voices to use. Some boards are instrument-specific, such as the Piano board, while others model vintage synthesizers or drums and percussion. Plug-in board installation is quite easy and a detailed explanation is given in the manual to walk you through it.


The bottom line
Based on my experience with the Motif Rack ES, I'd have to say that it's an excellent choice for anyone looking to bolster their music-making arsenal. With all of its pro features and voices, it is an indispensable tool that will take your music to new heights. It would take many more pages to fully expand on everything this unit is capable of. Thankfully, in addition to the in-depth manual that comes with it, there are also web resources such as www.motifator.com that will help get you on your way to achieving your creative musical goals. Consider it an investment in your art—one that will pay off significantly.


Features & Specs:



  • AWM2 tone generator
  • 128-note polyphony
  • 16-part mix architecture with 3-band EQ per part
  • 5-band Master EQ
  • 8 types of mastering effects
  • 2 Modular Synthesis Plug-in System expansion slots
  • 175MB Wave ROM (in 16-bit linear format)
  • 1,859 waveforms
  • 768 preset voices
  • 64 preset drum kits
  • 384 user voices
  • 32 user drum kits
  • 128 performance presets
  • 128 multi presets
  • 2 system and 8 insert effects
  • 20 types of reverb
  • 49 types of chorus
  • 1,787 arpeggio types
  • 160 x 64 dot graphic display
  • MIDI In/Out/Thru
  • Digital and optical outputs
  • 4 - 1/4" assignable outputs
  • L/mono output, R output