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Montage M8x review: Most anticipated Yamaha synth in years

The Montage M8x is the latest addition to the Montage lineup and Yamaha’s new flagship keyboard. The Montage M8x promises to be much more than a synth; it appears to be the ultimate workstation keyboard for performers.

In this review, we’ll find out if one of the most anticipated releases in some time lives up to the hype.

playing the Yamaha Montage M8x
Image: Yamaha

Final verdict on the Montage M8x 4.9

The Montage M8x is a synth, a stage piano, a workstation, and more, but it’s no jack of all trades; it’s exceptional everywhere. For me, it offers more than other high-end performance keyboards, and despite the price tag, it’s excellent value for money.

What I like most about the M8x is that it expands on previous Montage potential but does so with a much-needed improved workflow; it even pays tribute to past classics like the AN1x and Motif.

What I like

  • Three outstanding sound engines.
  • Incredible pianos and organs.
  • Can handle massive soundscapes that other synths can’t.
  • Huge max polyphony.
  • Well-thought-out interface.
  • Polyphonic aftertouch.
  • All-rounder.

What I don’t like

  • AN-X only 16-voice.
Buy Yamaha Montage M8x at: SweetwaterAmazon

Why you should trust me

A keyboardist can wear many hats; over the last 20 years, I’ve worn most of them and learned some harsh lessons along the way.

James Nugent, author and contributor at Higher Hz

One of the most valuable lessons I learned through being thrown in at the deep end early on is the importance of a practical setup.

A keyboard player often has to be a pianist, sampler, one-person horn/string section, and more, all on the same gig.

Having multiple keyboards to cover each role on those gigs can leave you feeling like you need more than two hands to stay afloat.

Having experienced the best and worst of those gigs, I know what matters most from a keyboard that promises extensive functionality with a user-friendly workflow like the Montage M8x.

Sound quality 5.0

It’s hard to know where to start with such an expansive instrument, but despite its synth label, I’ll start with the pianos.

The Montage M8x features Yamaha’s CFX concert grand tone, which is always fantastic, but with the enhanced AWM2 engine, it sounds more detailed than ever.

Whether playing legato or staccato, the natural decay of notes, especially in the lower range, is as realistic as it gets. You also get variations like the Nashville Vintage Piano, which is dreamy, nostalgic, and melancholy.

Another standout is the Upright Felt Piano, which has a crisper attack than many felt pianos, which prevents it from sounding muffled.

The consensus amongst Yamaha enthusiasts is that the Montage M8x presets (over 3000) are Yamaha’s best since the height of the Motif days, and I can hear why. I was lucky enough to own a couple of Yamaha Motifs over the years (and silly enough to let them go).

To indicate the extent of Yamaha’s AWM2 enhancements, sounds from previous Montage keyboards could consist of 16 parts and eight elements per part; now, you get the same 16 parts but 128 elements per part.

Other sounds you associate with a classic Motif, R’n’B-friendly electric pianos, gospel organs, and hip-hop flutes are all present and better than before.

Overall, the sound quality is exceptional, and Yamaha has managed to recapture the excitement of the Motif days in a modern Montage.

All of that without even getting into the other sound engines.

AWM2 has a max polyphony of 256 notes.

Sound design 5.0

Along with the AWM2 engine, the Montage M8x features FM-X and AN-X sound engines.

The FM-X engine isn’t new, and although not quite a DX7 clone, it’s heavily inspired by the vintage FM synth, albeit far more powerful and flexible. This 8-operator engine offers far higher polyphony (128 notes), more algorithms, and more spectral forms than the DX7.

It also has features unavailable in the DX7, like resonant filters and a Frequency Envelope Generator. The FM-X engine is ideal for anything from 80s pop lines to more engulfing, evolving sonic textures.

The AN-X engine comes from the 90s AN1x three-oscillator (Saw 1/2, Triangle, Square, and Sine waveforms), dual filter, virtual analog synth. It features 10 filter types: pulse width modulation, ring modulation, amp/filter LFO, voltage drift, and aging settings.

While the sample-based AWM2 engine is outstanding, and the FM-X engine provides every DX7 on steroids, it’s fair to say that previous Montage models perhaps lacked in the analog-like synth department. So, the addition of the 16-voice AN-X engine is significant and further cements the Montage M8x as a genuine all-rounder.

In terms of expansive sound design, you have the capabilities of individual sound engines and the combined power of all three. Yamaha’s Motion Control Synthesis allows you to control parameters in all three engines as a multi-tone-generator engine and make multi-dimensional parameter changes using Motion Controls (Super Knob, Motion Sequencer, Envelope Follower).

Montage M8x - Super Knob
Image: Yamaha

All three engines provide a combined max polyphony of 400 notes, which means you can split and layer to your heart’s content to create incredibly complex, multi-textured sounds.

Keyboard feel 4.7

The Montage M8x has Yamaha’s GEX keyboard with 88 weighted keys and polyphonic aftertouch. I like the new GEX action very much, and it’s excellent for an instrument that encourages so many playing styles (piano, synth, organ).

However, if I look at specific areas, like a realistic piano feel, something like the much cheaper Numa X Piano GT is better (of course, it’s miles behind the Montage in other areas), and for synths and organs, the Montage M7/M6 with semi-weighted keys is better.

In Yamaha’s defense, it’s impossible to be perfect for every playing style, and the GEX action is an outstanding middle ground. As a pianist, one of the things I love about the GEX action is that it’s incredibly responsive to fast trills and repeated notes, behaving much like a real piano.

The action also performs better for synths and organs than most stage pianos offering those sounds.

Features 5.0

The Yamaha Montage M8x has no shortage of features; here are some of the best.

  • Polyphonic aftertouch. Aftertouch is a very tactile and expressive way to adjust the timbre of a sound, and polyphonic aftertouch allows you to do that on a per-note basis rather than pressure applied to a single note affecting the entire keyboard. It’s fantastic.
  • Expanded articulations. Expanded articulations are common on arranger keyboards, and I like the idea but not always the execution. I’m glad to say that the M8x avoids the somewhat cartoonish nature of expanded articulations on many cheaper keyboards, and the transitions are much more authentic.
  • Super Knob. The Super Knob is a favorite feature of Montage users and acts as a master macro control with more morph points than ever.
  • Memory boost. The Wave ROM Preset memory has almost doubled to nearly 10 GB, and the Flash ROM User memory has more than doubled to 3.8 GB. If you need to prepare a lot of live sets, it’s perfect with 16 Library Slots for custom performances and waveforms.
  • Pattern sequencer. The built-in sequencer offers 16 tracks per pattern.
  • Motion sequencer. You have four motion sequencing lanes per part (eight per performance) with adjustable lengths and curves. The motion sequencer is a powerful but simple way to create complex textures by assigning different lanes to different parameters, like filter cutoff.
  • Arpeggio patterns. Many performance patches use arpeggio patterns that you can swap out for any of the available 10,000 patterns. Again, this is another powerful but simple way to transform a sound into something very different.
  • Dual screens. The Montage M8x has a seven-inch TFT color touchscreen and a secondary parameter (quick-edit) screen. The second screen provides easier access to many parameters and is a real workflow game-changer.
  • VCM rotary speaker simulation. Between the rotary speaker emulation and the accurate behavior of the physical drawbars, the Montage M8x organ sounds feel more organic and authentic than most.

In use 4.9

I think the M8x is the best-sounding Montage to date, which is impressive because they all sound good. As remarkable as it sounds, my favorite thing about the new Montage might be the vastly improved interface.

The M8x offers more hands-on control than any other Montage, with dedicated and color-coded buttons, assignable knobs, and faders. Six new endless encoders under the main touchscreen do much of the heavy lifting.

For me, the parameter screen mentioned above is the most significant enhancement because it ties everything together. Previous Montage models weren’t nearly as tedious to navigate as the DX7, but a convoluted workflow was a common complaint. It’s especially useful to perform quick edits in the FM-X engine.

With such an in-depth instrument, the interface has to be right, and this time, Yamaha got it right.

Build quality 4.9

The Montage M8x is a substantial unit weighing over 60 lbs. It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s built like a tank, and the only complaint you’d have gigging with it is having to carry it.

All of the buttons and controls are robust with a premium feel. The endless encoders are extremely accurate, whether making precision adjustments or broader changes. Faders can often reveal a lack of care or attention to detail, even in high-end keyboards, but the faders here are smooth and sturdy.

The Yamaha Montage M8x is a well-planned and well-executed machine.

Connectivity 4.8

You get MIDI In/Out/Thru and three USB ports (two type A, one type B). There are four pedal inputs: one sustain, one assignable, and two foot controller inputs – all 1/4-inch.

The M8x has four 1/4-inch TRS audio outputs and two audio inputs. Some users might have liked to see more audio inputs or even XLR outputs, but I doubt it will deter many potential buyers.

You also get a single 1/4-inch headphone jack.

Compared to other synths/stage pianos

I love the Montage M8x, but it’s a hefty investment, so here are some worthy alternatives.

Montage M8x vs Nord Stage 4

I prefer the Montage over the Nord, but I believe the Stage 4 is a significant improvement from the last model. Some users will prefer the classic Nord interface.

Read the full Nord Stage 4 review

Montage M8x vs Roland RD-2000

The RD-2000 might be relatively old now, but considering the difference in price, it’s always worth considering.

Read the full Roland RD-2000 review

Montage M8x vs Roland Fantom 8

The Fantom 8 and Montage M8x have a lot in common; they are both exceptional machines. Right now, I just think the Montage M8x is the best in its class.

Montage M8x vs UDO Super Gemini

The Super Gemini is a different beast, but if you want to forego the stage piano element and go for a pure synth, it’s hard to top this one.

Who is the Yamaha Montage M8x best suited for?

The Montage M8x is for performers, producers, and composers who are serious about sound design. It’s vast, so make sure you need it.

Buy Yamaha Montage M8x at: SweetwaterAmazon