General MIDI sound module
Is there more to CM than meets the ear?
A more expensive cousin to their budget TG100, Yamaha's newest TG is a General MIDI module in name - but as Simon Trask discovers, it also adopts many features of Roland's more sophisticated GS format spec...
The General MIDI standard was introduced to provide a certain degree of, well, standardisation between hi-tech instruments. The idea was that a multitimbral MIDI sequence created using one GM instrument would automatically be playable on any other, with (broadly) the correct sounds and the correct number of voices and parts.
In essence, GM provides a lowest common denominator: one bank of 128 predefined patches, one 'drum kit' consisting of 47 drum and percussion sounds, 16-part multitimbrality with dynamic voice allocation across the parts, minimum 24-voice polyphony, and response to certain MIDI controllers. The actual sounds might be different - each manufacturer is free to use their own samples and their own synthesis system - but the instrument types are engraved in stone - or, rather, silicon.
So, when you see the GM logo on the front panel of Yamaha's TG300 module, you have some idea of what lies within its smart black casing. You also know that any sequences which you compose using the 300 will play back intelligibly on any other GM instrument - and equally, that you can draw on the many libraries of GM-compatible MIDI songfiles which exist today.
But with all this equality in GM-world, how come the TG300 will set you back £649 while the company's budget TG100 GM module costs a more modest £399? Part of the answer lies in the physical presentation of the two instruments: the TG300 is twice the height of its cheaper cousin, a fact which allows it to sport a much bigger LCD - and provide an altogether friendlier user interface. The 300 adopts some of the GUI (Graphical User Interface)-type features which Yamaha introduced on their QY20 walkstation, including an onscreen 'mixing desk' for the multitimbral parts.
Start playing with the module's patches and it becomes apparent that the extra pennies also buy you a cleaner sound and improved samples. Dig a little deeper and you discover 128 user-programmable patch memories, in-depth sound and drumkit programming, and extensive System- and Part-programming capabilities. Indeed, it soon becomes apparent that the TG300 is more than 'just' a General MIDI instrument, and benefits from the professional features you might expect from an instrument in this price bracket.
Crucially, there are other ways in which the TG300 extends its capabilities beyond straight GM. For one thing, it has a C/M multitimbral mode (selectable via Multi/Single in the Utility menu) which sort of turns it into a Roland MT32 with Yamaha sounds (ie. it adopts the MT32's patch mapping plus, on MIDI channel 10, the MT32's 'drum kit' with added CM64 sfx sounds). The 300 also has a Single mode which allows you to play a single patch at a time, limited to MIDI channel 1 only; in this mode, each of the programmable patches has its own effects settings - the multitimbral modes, in contrast, employ a single effects patch for all 16 parts, with individual send levels for each part.
Select GM-A or GM-B mode and you can access a lot more preset patches by using MIDI Bank Select commands. The TG300 effectively becomes a GS Format instrument once it's in GM-B mode, so Yamaha are rather doing it down by only labelling it a General MIDI instrument. Like the TG100 (and just about every other GM instrument), the 300 also includes all the GS Format-specified 'drum kits', which, in addition to the Standard kit, include Analogue, Power, Electronic and Brush. See the box-out Why GM-A and GM-B modes? for a lot more detail on the GM/GS aspect of the TG300 and its use of MIDI Bank Select commands.
Programming on the new TG provides access to all the oscillator, filter (including resonance), amplifier, LFO and envelope parameters you could want; despite the 300's sizeable LCD window, editing is still parameter-list-based rather than graphic - but at least you can take in more parameters at once. Any patch can be used as a basis for programming, but you have to copy preset patches into the user (RAM) patch memory before you can start editing them.
Yamaha's drum and percussion sounds have a punchy, gritty quality which makes them very effective at imparting energy and attitude to a rhythm track. You can assign a TG300 'drum kit' to any of the 16 available parts/channels, not just to MIDI channel 10. An assigned kit can also be edited, including note-specific coarse and fine tuning, filtering (with resonance), effects send levels and attack/decay settings; you can also alter the sound assigned to each note. However, you lose these edits as soon as you select a different drum kit for the relevant part.
Effects processing is well provided for on the TG300, and is of a reasonable quality. The module can provide up to three digital effects simultaneously, namely reverb, chorus and variation (the latter including distortion, compressor, flanger and exciter). The chorus and variation sections can use two effects, feeding the first into the second; in addition, the variation output can be fed into the reverb and/or chorus section(s).
The character of the TG300's sounds will be familiar to anyone who has used a TG100 or one of the QYs. There is an overall warmth and vibrancy to the sounds when they're used in ensemble which is very satisfying. Atmospheres and pads (including ensemble strings) are among the most effective sounds on the 300, often with a wonderfully rich, enveloping quality to them - check out, for instance, 'Soundtrack', 'Warm Pad' and 'Halo Pad'.
Many of the solo instrumental sounds are a little lacking in body and realism - but do tend to work very well in an ensemble context, which is after all what the TG300 as an instrument is intended for. On the whole, I find Roland's Sound Canvas/GS sounds support solo performance much more effectively - Acoustic Piano 1 and Jazz Guitar being cases in point.
The TG300 scores over its cheaper cousin, the TG100, in quality, versatility and accessibility. Yamaha have done a good job of expanding on the capabilities set out by the General MIDI spec, not least in the 300's programmability (something which is allowed for within GS, incidentally). But at £649 the TG300 is priced quite highly for the GM/GS market; at the same time, this market is more crowded than it used to be, and the competition tougher. Korg's slightly cheaper 05R/W, for instance, is well worth checking out, not least because it draws on the excellent sonic capabilities of the company's much more expensive 01/W-series synths. And, if you're looking in the TG300's sort of price area, then at around £150 more Roland's new SC88 Super Sound Canvas XP is worth checking out for the extra capabilities it offers (such as 64-voice polyphony), as is the company's forthcoming MT120, which combines GS, sequencer and MIDIfile playback capabilities in one unit.
The TG300 is a very capable all-rounder with an appealing full and warm ensemble sound and a useful element of sonic expandability. All in all it's a good starter instrument for anyone working in music or multimedia who isn't on too tight a budget.
|Ease of use||Very good - a well-presented instrument|
|Originality||General MIDI and GS Format are about consistency and familiarity, not originality|
|Value for money||Reasonable|
|Star Quality||Competent enough, but no shining star|
|Price||£649 inc VAT|
|More from||Yamaha-Kemble Music (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details)|
Review by Simon Trask
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