The recent discontinuation of the Korg Kronus, and the difficulty that people have already reported in getting repair parts has gotten me thinking about what I would do in the event that I had to replace my Kronos 2 61 for my live performance rig. Would I buy a used Kronos 2? Would I do a computer-based setup? Would I simply bag the whole thing?
A lot of factors would come into play. One is age. As of this writing, I’m pushing 60. How much longer do I expect to be dragging my gear and my weary ass around to places to play cover tunes for not a lot of money a night? And, if I do intend to keep on truckin’ the cover band scene, how much weight am I going to be interested in lugging around? What do I really need to play rock-and-roll, because if I’m honest, the Kronos is kinda overkill. And, finally, what would I be willing to spend?
I still don’t think that I’d want to go with a computer-based live rig. To do it right would require a rugged high-end computer, preferably with a touch screen, a keyboard controller with 61-keys, 9 faders for drawbars, and good controller mapping. And, a low-latency audio/MIDI interface would be required. On the controller, waterfall keys would be preferable for organ playing, and I don’t know of any MIDI controllers that offer them.
Realistically, I’d most likely go with a two-keyboard setup, one being a “master” keyboard that acted as the primary sound source and controller, and would be the keyboard that saw the most playing action. The second keyboard would be my Korg Wavestate. I’ll be talking a lot more about the Wavestate in the future, but the spoiler is that I think it could well be the perfect synth.
Back to the main event, so to speak, I’m still leery of a computer-based setup in this context. I just prefer hardware for the live cover band scenario. And the likely contender, if I had to replace the Kronos today would be a Yamaha YC61. It really does tick a whole lot of boxes.
First, it sounds fantastic, especially after the most recent firmware updates. The keyboard feel is amazing (for organs and synths — it’s a semi-weighted-ish waterfall action keybed). It’s got as proper a drawbar setup as anything out there. It can mix/pass-thru stereo audio from another keyboard, or two mono audio sources. It has great connectivity options, including being able to act as a fully-fledged audio/MIDI interface. And, it only weighs about fifteen-and-a-half pounds — less than half the weight of the Kronos 2!
So, where does the YC61 “fall down?” From the standpoint of a performance keyboard, there aren’t a lot of areas for me. There are Kronos features that I would miss, particularly the super-intuitive set list feature. It’s not that the YC keyboards don’t have any kind of set list function, it’s just not as immediate as on the Kronos — you can save your setups (which Yamaha call “Live Sets”), you can scroll through them, and there are some rudimentary tools for organizing them, but it’s all pretty basic. There’s also no after-touch, which I do use regularly. Some of the underlying technology is really old. Like, 1989 old. Like 33 years old! And really, FM is freakin’ ancient, even if Yamaha has added a couple of additional operators, bringing the total to 8.
Everyone (well, just a bunch of people, really) on Facebook knows that I hate on Yamaha for the age of the tech in their flagships, though the reality is that what I grouse about is Yamaha allowing or even promoting the perception that every new AWM2-based keyboard they release is somehow an earth-shatteringly new instrument — it isn’t. But the reality is that AWM2 sounds really good. And FM synthesis sounds really good. Really, Yamaha, go ahead: rest on your laurels and brag that you made some things way back when that have stood the test of time, and oh-by-the-way, did quite possibly revolutionize the way organ sounds are emulated for your newer models. But don’t try to tell us that AWM2 is something miraculous and new. These gripes about Yamaha’s marketing do not in any way diminish the viability or desirability of the YC61 as a live performance keyboard (same goes for the MODX or Montage).
So, why not Nautilus? Or Fantom, which I’ve talked about before? Or something from Nord or Kurzweil? I mean, they’re all good keyboards, right? Yes, they are all good, but every one of them misses the mark enough to take them out of contention; Roland can’t seem to put the proper number of sliders on all of their Fantoms, and they want to suck you into an expensive subscription deal for their sound expansions; Nautilus lacks real time control that I need altogether and is heavy; Nord costs too much, and weighs too much; Kurzweils I’ve just never been able to gel with much as I like the sound.