Yamaha FM-X Synthesis: Way More Powerful Than A DX-7

Yamaha_Blake-AngelosOur coverage of the Yamaha Montage synthesizer introduction generated a lot of questions from readers about FM-X – the company’s ‘modern, pure Frequency Modulation synthesis’ engine.

So, we talked with Yamaha product specialist Blake Angelos, right, to find out more.

“Although it’s is based on the same type of synthesis as the DX-7,” said Angelos, “It is very different in terms of how it works, the flexibility of the FM-X engine and so on.”

Angelos shared details of the new FM-X synth engine with us. Here is an outline of the main differences between FM-X synthesis, as implemented on the Yamaha Montage keyboards, and the FM capabilities of a keyboard many readers will be familiar with, a Yamaha DX-7:

  • 8 Operators (vs 6 Operators on a DX7).
  • 128 note polyphony (The DX7 has 16-note polyphony)
  • 88 Algorithms (DX7 = 32 Algorithms). “This is a huge difference as the Algorithms, or the arrangement of the operators, offer way more sonic possibilities,” explains Angelos.
  • 7 Spectral Forms (DX7 = only sine). Angelos notes, “The Spectral Forms in Montage (Sine, All 1, All 2, Odd 1, Odd 2, Res 2) give you much more sonic possibilities as well. The All 1/2 are different types of sawtooth waveforms, Odd 1 and 2 are pulse or square type wave form and Res 1 and Res 2 give you a cool spectral resonance parameter to shift the harmonic peaks like a resonant filter (but at the operator level..there’s a filter as well!)”
  • Spectral Skirt (Broadening the Harmonic Curve). This is a powerful editing tool to change the harmonics present.
  • Spectral Resonance (Shifting the Harmonic Peaks)
  • Frequency Envelope Generator (DX7 did not have this)
  • Comprehensive Controllers. “Remember membrane switches and a single data slider on DX7? Zero real time control,” notes Angelos. “Montage has a mind-blowing level of real time control, with Motion Control and the Super Knob alone, but then you also have the knobs, buttons, assignable switches, etc.”
  • Random-controlled Panning (The DX7 was mono…and 12-bit)
  • Filter with multiple types (DX7 had no resonant filters)
  • Additional Common LFO (in addition to the Part LFO
  • 3-Band and 2-Band EQ (at the Part level…No EQ on DX-7)
  • Multiple FM Parts can be used in a Performance (Again, the entire architecture of Montage is completely different and a Performance can have many FM parts, not just one in the “mono” timbral DX7).
  • Insert and System Effects (The Montage has a huge range of effect options; the DX7 had none).
  • Motion Sequences (This allows for many options for rhythmic control over the deeper FM-X engine in Montage)
  • Much more intuitive sound editing with sliders, buttons, and knobs
  • Deep real-time sound sculpting – “The real time sound sculpting possibilities over the FM-X engine is super deep,” according to Angelos. He highlights uses the ‘Super Knob’ (A large macro control knob with a ‘mind-numbing’ number of control destinations, that you can affect in different ways simultaneously.)
  • Sound can be modulated by other Parts or external audio signals using the Envelope Follower. The Montage has a stereo A/D input, so you can modulate parameters with an external source, or you can use one part to modulate another with the Envelope Follower. Utilized with FM-X you can explore some very different and new possibilities.

FM-X Is One Half Of The Picture


While advances in technology have made much deeper FM synthesis practical, FM-X is just one of the Montage’s two synth engines. The Montage keyboards also offer the AWM2 engine, a 128-note polyphonic synth engine that’s an evolution of the one in Yamaha’s Motif synth line.

The Montage architecture, above, lets you create patches that combine sample-based AWM2 sounds with FM-X pure synth sounds, and then animate the sounds with motion control, motion sequencing, envelope followers, an arpeggiator and more.

“Overall, the FM-X sounds in Montage are just way fatter, have much more detail, can do some really amazing morphing things, have stunning pads and leads…It just sounds entirely different than anything else on the planet,” says Angelos. “I’m pretty excited about this instrument, as you can tell!”

Here’s a playlist of Yamaha’s official audio demos for the Montage, which features examples of both FM-X & AWM2 synthesis:

The Yamaha Montage is expected to be available in May, with 61-, 76- and 88-key configurations. See the Yamaha site for more info.

66 thoughts on “Yamaha FM-X Synthesis: Way More Powerful Than A DX-7

  1. I have to admit it. I’ve found myself lusting for one of these. The ability to bring your own samples in to this thing intrigues me. The FM engine seems very deep. I listened to a demonstration at NAMM and was very impressed with the sounds.

  2. The specs are impressive, but the demos aren’t. Can’t hear anything original or inspiring in these sounds. I can get similar sounds from gear that is 15 years old.

    1. The FM portion is very similar to the FS1R which had over 1000 parameters to deal with. The sound developers had a limited amount of time to come with sounds. Stay tuned, there is probably a lot more possibilities there.

      1. These will be $2k+, I think the onus is on the manufacturer not the musicians to show it is absolutely something worth caring about these days. Big new open ended system sure, almost like any DAW from last 15 years! They’ve got to prove they are innovating something relevant out just admit it’s a controller on a softsynth where the user is made to be responsible for their own psych design.

  3. yamaha better UP their light show game ..
    i was looking for more direct feedback to the sounds i was hearing
    all these demos only seem to show half of the keyboard ..?
    and sort of sound like a DX7II +Grey Matter E! + FX

    1. Agree, my DX7 ll FD with Grey Matter E! + FX has similar functionality (although only 32 algorithms and 6 FM operators, etc.), as does my Motif XS with the DX7 FM Digital Synthesis add-on circuit board. And that is all very nice vintage gear, but other than the Korg Oasis, no synth has one-upped my treasured SY99 with AFM & AWM2 which I took out of the box 25 years ago, and still sounds just as good today. I’m impressed with the Montage’s evolution in FM Digital Synthesis (e.g., 128 algorithms, super knob real-time capabilities, etc.), and am eager to play it and hear if it sounds any better than my SY99. I was hoping the Montage would also have the SY99 engine, but unfortunately, it does not. HUGE mistake by Yamaha; it would have been the world’s best all time synth. If only I was running the engineering department in Yamaha’s synth division!!!

      1. Correction: I meant to say in my post above that the Montage has 88 algorithms, up from the DX7 ll FD’s 32 algorithms.

  4. These demos sound Ok but it would be nice if we could have a bit more info on the screen while we listen – like what combination of FM/sampling is used and how, what effects are used, the differences in the variations.

    Also: for a synthesis system that is supposedly so advanced, why does this keyboard look like somebody pulled it straight out of 1995?

    1. “Also: for a synthesis system that is supposedly so advanced, why does this keyboard look like somebody pulled it straight out of 1995?”

      Because Roland already took the ‘red print on black plastic’ look?

        1. I just checked and I find you are totally right… I use to have the SY77 and I lost connecting with FM since then… Im very impress with the FS1r specs.

          I feel that the MONTAGE is trying to reboot FM hiding other FM synths from Yamaha in the past.

    1. Except that the EX5 + FS1r , like the DX7, both have absolutely terrible usability.

      I checked out the Montage at NAMM, and it has a great user interface. Yamaha’s should be hyping that, because it actually makes FM pretty easy.

  5. I’m surprised it does not offer more waveforms or the possibility to load your own. Great to see Yamaha release a new FM synth!

    Meanwhile in software…DEXED and SY66…FREE. Authentic dx sound vs modern FM. 🙂

    1. Well, it has 7 different waveforms. not that it needs them. I mean it has 88 algorithms! using 8 operators. using a practically infinite selection of frequencies. that equals practically any sound you can think of.

  6. Everyone who leaves a comment complaining about how the synth doesn’t do this or that is so annoying. Why don’t you get a job at Yamaha and build a better synth or keep the negative comments to yourself. It gets so old. There isn’t one piece of gear on here that somebody doesn’t have a problem with.

    1. Right there with you. I’ve stopped reading the comments on Synthtopia for the most part for this very reason. I’m not sure why some presume everyone else cares or would find the complaint that is usually out of left field useful. The negativity is very tiresome.

  7. Someone remember the Yamaha SY99 from 1991? Why Yamaha avoid to remember the SY99 AFM technology and jumps back to 1983 to compare the MONTAGE with the most basic and oldest DX7 model?

    In 1991 we had that amazing synth with multitimbral FM synth with, resonant filters, effects AWM2 and sequencer, and yes we can mix AFM and AWM2 in the same sound and have many modulation sources and multiple controllers, pedas, wheels, etc.

    We need to see the editing interface they have for the X-FM synthesis…. its the more importan part of the sound design process.

    1. “Someone remember the Yamaha SY99 from 1991? Why Yamaha avoid to remember the SY99 AFM technology and jumps back to 1983 to compare the MONTAGE with the most basic and oldest DX7 model?”

      Ummm – because hundreds of thousands of people have used a DX7 – it’s the iconic FM synth to compare a new FM synth to – and just about nobody has used a SY99?

    2. The SY99 lets you also load your own samples into the RAM, those and the ROM samples could be used as Operators.
      Actually I didnt read anything about this feature in the Montage Specs. Does the Montage do that?

      1. I bought an SY99 in 1992 and I still use it every day as my main controller. It has the best feel of any keyboard I have since tried for unweighted actions, and the thing was built like a tank. Sounds are great too.

  8. Sounds interesting for sure. Hopefully they’ll consider releasing the FM-X bit as stand-along product without the monster workstation wrapper at some point.

    1. Yes, I’d really love to see the FM-X synth as a separate product designed for synth programmer-players, rather than workstation market. It would need to have lots of high-quality controls on it to get people really digging deep into FM like they are doing with analogue.

  9. I am really looking forward to being able to get a good look at this synth. I looks like a true synthesists powerhouse with deep program capability and copious DSP processing/calculating power. I looked at the Motifs over the years and they just didn’t do a lot for me; all of the focus was on recreating acoustic instruments/playing back samples and little thought put into being an actual synthesizer. This one, though, seems to be offering both – extensive, powerful, ROMpler synthesis with a very deep and powerful FM synthesizer. Personally, I would love to see Yamaha break out the FM-X synth into its own box.

    1. So you would like to see the FM portion as a stand-alone unit? I would like to see a piano with these great CFX and Bosendorfer samples and the electric piano samples as well.

  10. Glad to see Yamaha continue on with FM synthesis. Hopefully they spin off the “FM-X” technology into a smaller, less expensive, more user friendly package with a knobby interface. I think this synth looks fantastic, but the last thing I need (or have space for) is a huge workstation keyboard.

  11. I want that FM engine minus the drums and accompaniment. Just barebones synth without the wedding singer muzak bullshit. it cheapens the synth.

  12. Why on earth are they comparing this with a model 30 years ago?
    Probably because there is not much difference besides polyphony with the fs1r, a 15year old synth…

  13. please Yamaha, detach the Motif part and create a new synth with FM-X only with analog inputs to modulate some parameters with the latest analog modular devices.
    We have tons of sample based keyboards or plugins.
    The FM-X is the only interesting thing of this new keyboard.

    1. Only the DX7 MkII could do microtuning, and they kept the feature on the SY series. Would be great to see that on a new FM synth too; quarter-tone FM sounds really wild!

  14. sounds fantastic!

    but it is so ugly and unispiring looking.

    please make a desktop with macro based UI plus deeper editing possibilities like Volca FM.

    1. Totally agree about the looks.

      but if you are actually suggesting that Volca FM has deeper editing possibilities than this…… I don’t even…

      Volca FM is just a 3 voice DX7 with almost no editing from front panel. Near all parameters are accessed by scrolling through a menu. Actually a giant step backward from the DX7.

  15. As well as having nice sounds, the ability to easily CREATE and EDIT sounds would be nice as well. Logically I see 8 sliders and 8 associated knobs. Logically (to me) the sliders would be for the AMPLITUDE of each wave and the knobs should be for the pitch of each wave. They should be able to over ride the preset and saved with the push of a button.


  16. I hope //wish that Yamaha will break ‘FS-X’ out of Montage and make it as a stand-alone rack/desktop module with knobs & sliders… and/or a new evolution of the DX legacy.

  17. The trouble is, if i’m going to go drop $3k on a synthesizer, this is not the synthesizer I’m going to drop it on… and I can’t even understand under what circumstances I would think putting $3k on one of these, versus something else, might be the best option for me.

  18. Well, I bet Yamaha shit their pants when Korg unveiled the dirt cheap Volca FM, which sounds stellar and will load any DX7 patch, with lots of knobs and realtime controls to edit. I’m sure sales of Yamaha’s new expensive workstation will be greatly diminished due to that. I do feel sorry for Yamaha, they fucked up with the overpriced/underfeatured Refaces, and now the Volca FM comes to kick sand in their faces.

    1. Not sure why you think a cheap three-voice DX7 clone competes with this, they’re really entirely different beasts.

      The Volcas are cheap for a reason – everything about them is designed to be cheap, which means that the sound, interface and capabilities all are compromised.

      The Montage is targeting the other end – musicians that want a pro keyboard.

  19. CP1…..are you kidding?

    cp1 is a stage piano with scm technology (spectral component modeling) that makes transitions between samples smooth and very natural…and has an fm modeled engine only for electric pianos.

    you can’t compare cp1 with montage, surely montage has great piano sounds (and expandable using also the flash memory) but cp1 is faster and more classical in terms of feeling, the keybed of cp also is different with real woody keys….control of hammer action or sustain damper resonance…is similar to sgx2 engine in kronos.

  20. …way more powerful than an old dx synth doesn’t mean better in terms of sounding.

    for example roland jv2080 is way more powerful than jd800 but a
    sounds more cheap and digital….fantom g also is more than jd990 but in terms of lushness smoothness character deepness there’s no game.

    i am curious about this next gen “sy99ish” synth, but for the moment listening various demos with headphones and different expensive studio monitors from neumann adam yamaha also behringer….i’m not impressed in terms of sound power and fullness….sound is not deep and lushious as i expected…maybe is a matter of preset programming but so far there’s nothing you can’t do with vsynth or kurzweil pc3k or nord lead3.

  21. Yamaha, please pull out the FM-X from this synth and re-package as a new keyboard instrument with LOTS of parameter controls on the panel, *not just assignable performance controls*. I really want to program using as close to 1-knob-per-function as is possible with FM to re-program sounds on the fly, as with analogue.

  22. i think it’s quite utopic gettin’ a 1knob x function with fmx-

    fmx stands in the same league as kurzweil vast or kawai k5xxx, they are complex synthesis interfaces with tons of parameters ala sy99/k2000 etc
    immagine 8 operator everyone with an envelope multistage….now think about lfos, filters….requires a very very deep panel keyboard, i don’t think would be easly accomplished.

    for me would be ok a good software interface with touch screen and easy navigation, kurzweil k/pc are very good programmable without knobs, only a matter of well structured navigation system and parameters logicness.

    fmx is not an analogue emulator, so it has tons of parameters that’s the problem.

  23. My SY77 has a just as powerful a FM engine: although only 6 operators, each has multiple waveforms (saw, squ etc) and the AWM waveforms can act as an operator. The signal path includes some very nice multi mode resonant filters too. It seems unfair to compare this to a DX7 when the SY77 and 99 were and still are amazing FM machines.

    1. montage is quite similar to sy99….two separate sound engines awm and fm with separate polyphony (128 stereo +128 fm VS 16+16), fmx is similar to afm but both have pros and cons….fmx doesnt allow user algorithm programming but has 88 algos and 8 operators versus only 6…..and can easily stack up to 64 operators in 8 parts stored embedded in a performance where sy99 can’t….and you still have 16 voices of fm with 64 operators…..more than tx816 48 operators.

      sy99 can have operators acting like va osc capable of square, saw etc….and fmx can too and more advanced with skirt parameter some complex waves can be generated at operator level….and all is controllable with motion engine creating moving sounds driven also by rxternal audio signal complety in sync, a sort of wavestation.

      rcm can modulate fm operators with samples…..fmx maybe not….but using pcm to modulate fm is complicated and tricky not for everyone.

      montage is way more powerful even than a sy77/99 if we consider acoustic and pcm side (awm2) there is no game! you have tons of samples inside ato higher resolution like new pianos, strings etc etc….and a room up to 2 giga flash (no loading time no samples lost when you turn off keyboard) for storing your custom samples….sy99 max 8/16 megabytes of flash…..here we have little less than 2 gigabytes.

      the effects are more more powerful, every part has two insert effects….and equaliser.

      but it’s a matter of sound….if my sy99 sounds good and my music with sy still sound good there is no reason to get montage….it’s all about personal taste…surely montage is a great platform to develop new inspiring sounds and to play great gigs (on stage is fabulous)

  24. I would love Yamaha to pull out the FM-X engine into a new synth product line with lots of parameter controls for designing sounds intuitively. Obviously not one-knob-per-function (!), but a good range of perhaps 30 or so controls on the panel for the most common parameters.

  25. Monster synth. Although Yamaha could sell it in a better price. Anyway, this synth is for a life.
    (imagine batw that the….”new”Minimoog” is more expensive…. :-P)

  26. @Thor Z (i know this is nearly 2 years old, but thank you very much for that FM guide. Just bought a Modx7 and with the nice touchscreen, it’s even easier to edit FM Elements and experiment. Can’t wait to get my beloved SY99 voices in this new lightweight FM beast! Cheers! 🙂

  27. FM-X is incredibly complicated to program. You MUST know what you’re doing. I respect Yamaha for not pretending to provide an “anyone can program” approach to this board. The payoff? Rich, complex, dynamic sound. I love boards targeted at professionals.

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