Today I have been lucky enough to spend time with perhaps the most highly anticipated new keyboard for over a decade, the Yamaha Genos, and it has certainly been worth the wait!
The predecessors, the Yamaha Tyros (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5), have always been at the forefront of portable keyboards and there has been plenty of chat around the impossibility of improving upon them and a wonder about what would replace them. The Genos has very much moved us on to a new era, one with a new and easier operating system and new and better sounds, in fact, new and better everything!
The good news though, is that it has been made to also deliver everything the Tyros could do, so if you have your favourite registrations for special arrangements on your Tyros 2, 3, 4 or 5, you can transfer them straight into your new Genos using a USB memory stick.The Genos is completely new. That said, naturally, there are popular elements which have been retained and improved from earlier Yamaha instruments and all owners of earlier Yamahas will, I think, be instantly comfortable with it.
The new case is slightly more compact and slightly lighter than the Tyros 5, which you will remember was available with either 61-note or 76-note keyboards. The sales of the 76-note model so greatly outweighed those of the 61 that the Genos is only available as a 76-note instrument. The good news is that, because of the new design, including a nice smart black case with a modelled white underside to make it look smarter from behind, especially when on stage, it isn’t as wide as the Tyros 76- note, coming in half way between the old 61 and 76-note Tyros’ at 1,234mm wide, 456mm deep and 138mm high. It weighs 13kg.
Like the Tyros, it uses separate speakers, two small ones which mount on either end of the keyboard and a bass speaker you are likely to pop on the floor. Their new more efficient design delivers both greater depth and clarity than the earlier models and very much helps to make everything sound even nicer and more impressive than before.
Besides instantly noticing the colour change, and personally I much prefer the sleek black finish with the easy to read light writing, the most obvious thing visually is that it now has a huge 9″ colour touch screen in the centre of the control panel. Many of us would say this is a long overdue element from Yamaha, but they’ve gone better than just installing a touch screen, as they’ve created a new operating system which really works with it to make the whole instrument quicker and easier to use.
This huge improvement has also allowed for the removal of many buttons that we had to have before, giving a neater and simpler panel layout. You’ll also see it now has some proper knobs, but we’ll come back to those a bit later!
When playing, more or less everything you’ll want to select is in the screen. It is beautifully clear to see and simple to use. There are four main voice sections, three for the Right and one for the Left, and the voices in them are clearly named on screen with very good representational pictures as well. If you want to change one, you can just touch it and you have the option to change the voice to any of the 1,652 voices available!
The voices themselves have undergone big improvements using upgraded sample memory to create new, more detailed voices, and this, coupled with the new processing and speakers, means the instrument as a whole now has a better sound than we’ve heard before. It is always hard to describe sound itself, as we all hear it and perceive it differently, but as well as being much fuller, I would say it is a far more transparent sound than before, I suppose you’d say it’s a more open sound. There are so many wonderful voices that there is no point in listing them all but I must mention that the legacy sounds cover everything from the Tyros, so we haven’t lost anything! This includes all the sounds from the popular Organ World section of Tyros 5, though they are now just amongst the organ voices rather than in the separate section.
Whilst it’s probably true to say that everything seems to have improved, I think the most noticeable improvement, and the one we were probably all waiting for, is to the strings, for which there are now some far more lush options available. Apparently the new string samples were made in the way strings are now often recorded for film scores, hence their name, Kino Strings, with the instruments (violins, violas, cellos and basses) intermixed for the recording sessions rather than kept together in their instrumental sections. The result here is very good and a significant improvement on earlier models, with a far warmer, more lush sound, especially when various of the string voices are mixed together.
Another area of improvement is the drawbar organ. Having the touch screen means that, as well as still being able to use the panel sliders to control the drawbars, which themselves now have longer travel, you can now also manipulate them by just touching their image on screen, perhaps drawing the shape you’d like them in to bring a quick result. They seem fuller sounding than before and there is also now the option to add ‘leakage,’ that slight distortion that was popular on many of the most famous Hammond organ recordings.
There are new Guitar samples and some incorporate the truly different sound of when the guitar string is played with a thumb rather than a finger, giving the lower notes a less pronounced sound and adding to the realism of the sound. There is a beautiful new Flugelhorn, which gives a chromatic slide when you play legato.
There are big improvements to the backing Styles as well, and some new categories for them. They generally sound far more alive than ones I’ve heard before. This is, I am sure, in no small part thanks to the new Revo! Drums, as these give a far greater impression that you are hearing a live player rather than an automaton. As it was explained to me, besides travelling the world to sample the best drums, each drum sound has been sampled more than twenty times, so that each sample will capture the fractionally different nuances that occur in live play and then, when those Revo! Drums kits are used in Styles, you never hear the same sample used consecutively, so the sounds are always varying slightly, just as they inevitably do with a live player.
The end result is very effective. There are 550 Styles, including 10 Free play Styles, where you just have a held sound with bass but no drum rhythm that you have to keep time to. These are sometimes very useful for just gently playing nice tunes without feeling you are being pushed along, and also work very well for some liturgical playing and some orchestral playing.
Whilst some Styles will be familiar to Tyros owners by name, they have all been reworked to make use of the new facilities. I mentioned the six rotary knobs on the panel, I think officially known as ‘Live Controls.’ Along with the Live Sliders, these can be set to do various tasks of your choice, including such things as live volume control for the various sections, but the use I really liked for them is to adjust the Styles.
The Styles themselves have many parts, including lovely held sounds, rhythmic voices, melodic voices, bass, the drum kits and so on. Live Controls can be used to mute the parts out, so as to leave a very basic accompaniment, and then you can gradually add them back in as your piece builds, all just by turning the knob. They do the same sort of thing for the drums, gradually going from perhaps just bass drum through to full kit as you rotate the knob.
Back to the Styles, they all have the usual mix of long and short Intros and Endings, Fill In and Variations. One nice little change here is that Intro 2 now always plays a four bar Introduction, so if you ever play for ballroom dancing this is just the ticket. On that front, the Ballroom Dance Styles have all benefitted from an upgrade, including the Quickstep, Cha Cha, and so on; even the popular English Waltz from the Tyros has been improved with the new sounds.
Each Style has One Touch Settings (OTS) to instantly set the whole instrument up for you. Again, these are all brand new settings. There are far, far too many Styles and OTS to cover but I thought I’d mention just a few of the many I enjoyed.
Boxing Legend gives us the sounds for the theme from the film Rocky. TV Blockbuster is set up for the popular series Game of Thrones, though I wonder if I’m the only person who has never watched it! Much more my sort of programme, Cult Kids TV gives the fun sounds for Roobarb and Custard. Do you remember them, the adventures of the green dog and pink cat narrated by Richard Briers in the 70s? The second you hear the Style you’ll be transported back in time!
Orchestral Pop Classics is ideal for the Hooked On Classics hits that were so popular years ago and gives Intro options including the Marriage of Figaro and the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto, really magnificent. Still in classical vein, Russian Waltz transports us to the world of Andre Rieu and the Second Waltz.
The Easy Listening family gives probably the best James Last settings I’ve heard, and the Carpenters are also well represented. There are plenty of Big Band and Jazz Styles, some of them wonderfully open and understated, perhaps just giving a gentle piano or guitar backing. Actually, that’s something throughout the Styles in general, there are many, many more of them here that are less busy than before and they are consequently far more useful, as they leave you free to play a wider range of music options to each of them. There are also more of the sort of live and unplugged Styles that are now so popular with singer songwriters, people like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, perhaps literally just providing a Guitar strumming in the early variations.
On the Guitar front, the new Shadows guitars are great, and when we move to the 1980s, there is a plethora of fabulous Styles and settings for everything from Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Just Called to Say I Love you’, through the ‘Love Shack’ to plenty of Abba.
It is worth noting that Yamaha have dispensed with the old Music Finder in favour of a Playlist that you will probably use more, as it can load up the Style, the Registration Memories, the OTS and even the song Lyrics or Score. As usual, there are things I don’t have time to cover here but that will be useful to many players. The ‘Voice Gateway’ gives quick access to things like DSP, Octave Shift, Mono/Poly options and so on. It has a very easy system to Record your playing and, of course, can playback all sorts of Files for you to play along with.
There is an Arpeggiator with 216 variations, sometimes straightforward arpeggios but, more revolutionary, some wonderfully real strumming guitar effects that, again, very much help the end result to appear more live. Oh, and don’t forget the Harmony and Synth Vocoder sections, which can help you to sing in tune, or to sound like someone else, or turn you in to many voices, to be a big choir or perhaps a singing quartet.
All in all, the new Yamaha Genos is a major leap forward, with amazing improvements beyond anything we would have imagined and way beyond the superb voices and styles we’ve heard before. I think the most relevant thing is the big improvement to the overall sound quality, which is immense, and to the ease of use, which has been hugely improved with the big touch screen.