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Microphone Month 3

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Advice/recommendation for professional-level synthesizer


Hi there. I'm a bassist, not a keyboard player, but I'm looking for a nice, professional-level synth. I already have a Yamaha CS1x and Alesis QS6.1. . .

. . . and if you're familiar with keyboards you know the limitations these possess -- mostly from a tonal point of view.
What I need is a "drop-dead, final, will-last-me-the-rest-of-my-life" synth. My only requirements are tone, weighted or semi-weighted keys, and expandability/flexibility. I do NOT need a workstation, but I'll go as far as getting a Motif or Triton if that's what's required to meet my minimum requirements.
I admit I'm kind of lost. I only figured out yesterday the diff between a workstation and a synth! I'm beginning to think all I need is a QS8 but I'm afraid the tone will be as average as it is on my QS6. Another option someone pointed out that I'm seriously considering is the M-Audio 88 Keystation Pro keyboard + Motif rack mounted tone generator (if they would function together; there's no reason to think they wouldn't).
Any ideas, options, criticism, karmic enlightenment, etc., would be greatly appreciated!
May 22, 2005 @01:52pm

Sorry, but there is no "drop-dead, final, will-last-me-the-rest-of-my-life" ANYTHING.
I have a QS8 and would love to get a YamahaES, but in a few years it'll be as outdated as the QS which has lasted me five years now.
Now if I only hadn't sold off that Rhodes73 for $600 fifteen years ago....
:D :D :D
May 22, 2005 @02:10pm

It depends on what kinda sounds you need to get out of it. If you're looking for B&B Piano, Rhodes, Organ, String sounds and want to push a button and play, get a Rompler. If you're looking for analogue synth, or VA for "classic rock" type sounds, you're talking about a whole different ball game.
A little more info would help.
Mike T.
May 22, 2005 @04:51pm

ROMpler?! Oy vey, yet something new to think about!
As for "more information," well, as I said, I like my Alesis 6.1 but it just doesn't have professional-level sounds coming out of it, and that's why I haven't considered the Alesis 8.1. Is the sound module from the 8.1 better than the 6.1?
And Mike, I guess I would have to say I'd be going for the more orchestral sounds, since my 6.1 has decent analog-type synth. . . and I planned on keeping the 6.1 anyway as a dedicated sequencer.
May 22, 2005 @08:03pm

What kind of price range are you thinking?
May 23, 2005 @01:40am

Well, as I said, I'd be willing to go as far as a Triton or Motif if necesssary -- that's ~$3k. (Remember I said I'm looking for the keyboard that will last me the rest of my days. . .) But I sure don't want to spend that much if I don't have to.
For a forum full of keyboardists, I'm getting remarkably few recommendations! A fellow bass player recommended the Kurzweil 2500 -- says he swears by it. Any comments on that model?
PS: OK, it's all starting to become a little clearer to my dimly lit brain. Tim's suggestion about the ES (it would have to be the ES8 for weighted keys) is definitely in first place for now. Interestingly I was already thinking about the ES rack mounted unit in conjunction with an M-Audio keyboard but that may not be as effective as the ES8 by itself.
May 23, 2005 @01:39pm

You can pick up a used Kurzweil K2500 for surprisingly little $$, about the same as a Motif ES but it has the most synthesis horsepower of anything else.
Plus since you are a bass player, you get the benefit of its excellent bass progams and full length ribbon which basically lets you play your Kurz like a fretless bass.
May 23, 2005 @04:04pm

You definitely want to go with one of the 88 weighted key workstations (Yamaha ES8, Roland X8, Korg Triton etc.) seeing how you already have two synths that you plan on keeping. Beyond that, you need to go and play/listen to them to see what feels and sounds right for you. They all have their strengths and weakness but any of them will do you proud. Kurzweil also makes excellent workstations but are a little light on polyphony which can be a major detriment if you plan on doing any serious sequencing/layering of voices. Sound wise though, they're top notch.
Good luck on your decision and let us know you end up buying. :)
May 23, 2005 @04:17pm

Kurz is unfortunately a little light on the viability/support front at the moment. If having the company around to support your instrument in 5 years is important, I'd wait a while to see what unfolds with them. Their almost non-presence at NAMM didn't make me feel any better. But if you can score a 2500 used for a good deal, it might be worth a look, even though the sounds and architecture of that particular synth are on the aged side (13 years, if you count in the K2000).
As to Korg, Yamaha, and Roland and their respective products (Triton, Motif ES, Fantom X)? Well, opinions are like you know what, everyone has one, and you'll find plenty of positive and negative impressions about all three. I have a Triton and a Motif ES8, and play Fantom X7's and X8's on two regular gigs weekly. All three of them are very strong at certain things and weak at others. There is no panacea. What it will come down to for you is playing all three and seeing which one inspires you. The answer to that question is different for different people.
But, heck, a couple general comments:
-The Triton's soundset is getting a little long in the tooth, being not all that different than the 1999 original. But I've found this thing to be surprisingly playable and musical. It does very well in the context of a band, even if the sounds solo'ed out aren't quite as impressive. Adding the EXB-01 expansion beefs it up some in the organs and EPs department. The acoustic piano sound isn't the greatest, even in the Studio and Extreme versions, but it works well in ensembles. Also, very easy to use and get around.
-The Motif ES has a generally wonderful soundset coupled to a frustratingly impenetrable user interface. If you're a longtime Yamaha user, this won't be a problem, but if you're frustrated by nonintuitive things, this may be a problem. I'm not as bowled over by the stock piano in this thing as some are. EP's are typical Yamaha, nice. Organs are okay. Most of the acoustic instruments, drums, and guitar sounds are freakin' great. The Korg does big texture-y things better, if you're into that.
-The Fantom X has my favorite stock EP and acoustic piano sounds at the moment. Wonderful with a band, wonderful solo. Very playable. Organs get beat out by the Korg and Yamaha, in my opinion. Other sounds are a mixed bag, some very nice, some less so. User interface isn't bad, but is a little gimmicky and unnecessarily flashy. Color screen is nice. The ability to trigger loops from the drum pads is great. As usual, Roland's expansion boards are very useful and flexible additions. And so on.
Just to muddy the waters some more, if you're looking for a "drop-dead, final, will-last-me-the-rest-of-my-life" synth, and you don't need to travel with it or gig with it, a computer set up with software synths and virtual instruments will positively smoke any of the above on a sound-for-sound basis, is infinitely future-proof, expandable, and customizable, and doesn't cost a whole lot more than a good hardware synth.
May 23, 2005 @04:49pm

If you just want a "dial and smile" box full of presets (rompler) then go with the Triton Extreme. Great for live gig work.
If you want a system with top notch sounds (but not quite as many) room to grow and expand actual synthesis skills to make your own sounds then go with the Kurzweil.
Another Kurz option would be the SPX, PC1 or PC2 series. Access to Kurz sounds at extremely friendly price points. Certainly these systems will cover all the bases from a sound standpoint.
Also, consider the longevity of the current Kurz platform (as one person pointed out, 13 years and counting, its actually far longer since some of the ROM goes back to the K250 of the 1980's). That proves that it is the most likely candidate out of ALL the existing synth manufacturers for the "will-last-the-rest-of-my-life" category. Sure, it won't last the rest of your life but my point is that Kurzweil is without question the closest you are going to get to it.
Another alternative to the PC-based solution mentioned in the previous post is the Open Labs Neko, which combines an open ended Windows XP based soft synth platform with keyboard, control surface, mixer, hard disk recorder, etc. Perfect as a one stop shopping for your whole gig and then does double studio as a full fledged recording studio. Really, your options are endless and it all comes down to, how much do you want to spend?
May 23, 2005 @06:38pm

A lot of interesting posts everyone, with some good advice. If the main thing you're after are string sounds and are not really concerned about B&B sounds as much, Kurzweil has got some great stings, dated or not. But as MichaelHolly pointed out, they have been almost non existent as a company for a long time. It could be risky to buy something from them if you're looking for the last synth you'll ever buy scenerio. (which is pretty much impossible).
A current workstation by any of the big players could be a better option. The typical workstation has rompler soundsets, a sequencer, and a sampler. You could probably dump the other keyboards to get the money, and invest in a workstation for now and the future. Having the sequencer built into your workstation saves a lot of time trying to figure out Midi and getting everything to work together when you start with a controller, then pick and chose modules. In addition, having the sampler with a workstation will allow you to buy commercial samples and load them into your workstation if any of the built in sounds on the workstation you buy doesn't do it for you. I think that's particularly true of GOOD QUALITY string sounds.
I have a Yamaha Motif ES8, and overall, I'm pretty happy with it. But it IS more difficult and time consuming to learn how to use than Roland and Korg keyboards. The string samples Yamaha put in the ES series ALL have vibrato on them. That doesn't pose a big problem if you are doing orchestrial tracks, until you start playing individual instruments for solo pieces, or even a string ensemble. Being able to play a sample without vibrato and add it with a mod wheel or a KB with after touch is SO MUCH more expressive and realistic than having vibrato on everything and no control over it. I haven't looked into commercial samples that have no vibrato on them to load onto my Motif ES8 yet, so I can't speak to that issue as far as the ES8 is concerned. But again, if you want realistic, expressive string sounds, you need to be aware of the way the stock samples are on the ES8.
Right now, I think the Fantom X would be worth looking at, from an ease of use standpoint alone. Roland updated the piano samples on the new Fantom X, and like most Roland products, they are easier to use than a Yamaha Motif series.
I really don't have any first hand experience with Korg's Triton series to make any intelligent observations. Other posts have covered Korg somewhat.
It's going to come down to what you want to hear, and what interface you're most comfortable with. You might want to get some opinions about commerical string sample libraries from people that have them, just in case whatever you buy doesn't cover all your bases for strings.
Mike T.
May 28, 2005 @05:36pm

You've gotten some good advice so I'm not going to restate a bunch of stuff. You really need to try and get to a music store and play the top three or four your interested in. Don't let the sales people talk you into anything. Many times they have their own agenda. I personally just upgraded a few months ago and I listened, played and learned about the Fantom X, Motif ES, Triton Studio and Kurzweil 2600. They all have their strengths and weaknesses repectively.
I didn't like the piano sound on the Kurzweil or Korg. Since the piano sound is a huge one for me this was a major strike against them. To cut to the chase I went with the Motif ES. Why? Best overal sounds IMO. While the interface my be a bit more difficult to use, like you I plan on keep this baby for a very long time. I just spend three grand so why wouldn't I spend the time to get to know it. Now after a few months I can get around on it no problem. The support from the Motif site and Yamaha is also unbelievable. That being said remember to get what's best for you. I just shared my situation with you since I went through the same experience recently. Good luck!
June 1, 2005 @05:22am

The Motif ES8 was my choice too. Same reason as you shadowcompany, the best soundset of all the workstations out there. The ES covers everything. My main concern for TA is the strings. Personally, having strings with vibrato on them doesn't pose a problem for the music I play, they are great quality sounds. If someone was going to do a "Boston Pops" application for strings, adding some commercial samples without virbrato would be the ticket, whether it be Yamaha or not. As far as the user interface, it just takes a little more time than say using a Roland stage piano for live use. But the Motif ES can certainly be setup for live use too. I worked on a number of modifications of factory patches and saved them off to user banks and can get around on it fast for a live gig. The only thing is, its not as intuitive right out of the box. I too intend to keep my Motif for as long possible too. I really happy with the sounds, action, effects, and capability. Yamaha gear is rock solid.
Mike T.
June 1, 2005 @03:04pm

Please don't take this the wrong way... but the people who have been saying that Kurzweil is a shaky company don't know what they are talking about.
Around 15 years ago they were in trouble but they have been bought out and are now doing just fine. In fact, last month they just released 5 (FIVE!!) brand new keyboard products and have announced another one under development.
More new keyboard products than Roland, Korg, or Yamaha... trust me, these are not the actions of a company in trouble...
June 3, 2005 @10:48pm

Please don't take this the wrong way... but the people who have been saying that Kurzweil is a shaky company don't know what they are talking about.[/
I have to disagree. On other forums Kurzweil employees who post there from time to time are the ones who are saying the company has issues. Kurzweil has laid off employees in the somewhat recent past and many major stores don't carry Kurzweil products. We have a Guitar Center, Sam Ash, Guitar and Keyboard City and about 5-10 mom and pop music shops within 30 miles of me in a major Metropolitan area. None of them carry Kurzweil stuff. The rep at Sam Ash said Kurzweil stopped sending their shipment to them.
Now Kurzweil makes damn good keyboards and its true they have been here before, but to say people don't know what they're talking about isn't correct and misleading
June 6, 2005 @03:46am