Jez Ford raps his bits round this excellent budget price sound expander from Yamaha
Jez Ford becomes betrothed to Yamaha's EMT10 sound expander
Get your hands on a flexible friend and race for your nearest Yamaha dealer. Irresponsible advice? Perhaps, but in the EMT-10, Yamaha has produced the most desirable slice of musical bliss that I have seen for years at anything close to the price. It is everything for which my heart has yearned, packed into a simple box 1U high and barely seven inches across. Miracles can happen, and Yamaha can perform them.
Allow me to calm down for a moment. The EMT-10 is one of a range of modular units designed to fit together to form comprehensive sound expansion system. For instance, the EMT-1 provides a range of FM voices and the R-100 is a matching digital reverb unit, and the EMT-10 is a selection of carefully chosen samples. Wonderful samples. Dreamy samples (calm down Jez - Ed).
Each of these sound expanders is accessed via MIDI sockets on the rear of the unit (IN, OUT and THRU) and provides stereo outputs from a pair of phono sockets. Phono IN sockets are also featured so that the signals from several units can be cascaded from one to another, cutting down the quantity of final outputs. Pointless in the studio but a positive boon out on the road.
The samples on the EMT-10 use Yamaha's Advanced Wave Memory (AWM) reproduction system. Exactly what the difference between this and any other sampling method may be is not entirely clear, but the quality of the samples indicates a high sampling rate and so a most respectable bandwidth. Background noise is hardly noticeable.
It should be noted at this point that the EMT-10 is not actually a sampler. You cannot record your own samples, nor can you do much editing on those that are on-board. But frankly my dear, you need do neither. Yamaha has taken an inspired set of samples and blown them permanently into memory. This is why I rave so lucidly. They are little short of perfect.
Allow me to tell you how I first met the EMT-10. It was a freezing London afternoon, storm clouds heavy, black and pendulous on the horizon. I pulled my Burberry's tartan chin-warmer tighter around, my puce balaclava helmet and stumbled from the Conduit Street pavement into the doorway of Yamaha's Pulse showroom. I tinkled briefly on one of the YSS pinball machines before settling in front of a standard lightweight home-organ. Mounted above this was the hero of our tale, the EMT-10 unit.
Now don't tell anyone, but I've always wanted a Mellotron. You know, those tape-based samplers beloved by Genesis and Yes that go "Aaaaaahh" in heavenly choir type tones. So whenever I see a synth voice called "Voice" or "Choir" I try it out to remind myself how much better the antiquated Mellotron technology remains. So I selected the EMT-10 "choir" patch, my nimble fingers forming a casual Ebm7/13 chord.
The resulting sound stopped me dead in my complacent tracks. This was a proper "Aaaaaahh", the "Aaaaaahh" I had been waiting for. I was hooked. I was in love. Never before has my cheque book hit the cash register so quickly.
Back home I was astounded to find that the piano patch is just as accurate, if not more so. The choir suffers slightly since the samples only sound true over the two octaves above middle C. Beyond that they become over stretched, more the sort of voice patch you might find on a DX-7 or K-1 say.
The piano, on the other hand, has samples stretched over the whole eight octaves (you heard me, eight octaves!) of the EMT-10's range. It is accurate from bottom to top, beating nearly all other piano samples I've heard, short of the Yamaha Electric Grand. Samples are so well matched that it is extremely difficult to spot where the split points are and it is only with some uncertainty that I say there is a fresh sample every four or five tones. That's a lot of samples but it does show what can be achieved when you dump the concept of user versatility in favour of dedicated manufacturer ROMs.
The total list of sounds is as follows: piano 1, piano 2, electric piano 1, electric piano 2, harpsichord, guitar, strings, brass, choir (hooray!), upright bass, electric bass and slap bass. I would call piano 2 and electric piano 2 both somewhat redundant, just rather muffled versions of their mononumeric counterparts.
The harpsichord is excellent, the guitar for once actually does sound like a guitar (Spanish acoustic), and the strings have a good rich Mellotron 'Watcher of the Skies' consistency.
The brass is an interesting selection of samples since it is not an easy task to get a clean sweep through eight octaves of brass instruments. Yamaha has managed the matching quite well but the main use I found for the result was delighting my friends with impressions of Noggin the Nog and Pippin Fort.
It is a shame that the EMT-10 is not strictly multitimbral, you can access only one of the sounds at once. This limits its use in software recording, though at the price you could always buy a couple. There is a limited form of multitimbral performance however — a bass sound can be allocated to notes up to F# below middle C and another sound for the notes above that. Operation on two different MIDI channels is not possible, nor can the split point be changed.
The bass sounds are well recorded and they can go an octave lower than the main sounds, right down to four octaves below middle C (that's very low, more than an octave below a real bass). It is, however, a little difficult to play the bass sounds to their full potential because there is no response to either pitchbend or modulation.
This is a real shame. Although there is little need to pitch bend or modulation on a piano sample, it could be used to add even more joy to the choir, brass, strings and bass sounds. Obviously rocker switches would add to the hardware cost but I doubt much would have been spent outside of development in getting the MIDI software on board.
Although the basic samples are not available for editing, there is a certain amount of fiddling you can do. Yamaha's "Voice Variator" system offers nine variations on each patch by altering the brightness (bright, normal or mellow) and attack (fast, slow or normal).
Various other operations are achieved by pressing several buttons at once. You can key transpose, octave transpose or finely pitch adjust (50 cents in 3 cent steps). You can alter the touch sensitivity curve for clavinovas and the like. You can switch from eight to four note polyphony which gives a chorus effect, although not a particularly useful one to be honest.
Interestingly, you can instruct the EMT-10 to react only to even or odd keys, so that a second EMT-10 can take the others to provide effective 16-note polyphony instead of the eight otherwise possible.
Power for the EMT-10 is taken from the standard Yamaha 12V mains adapter, renowned among keyboard users as the chunkiest of all known transformers. Recognising that the power consumption of midget expanders like these is only a fraction of what the adapters can produce, Yamaha has also made provision for cascading the mains power to other expanders. A link lead is provided with each unit, helpfully minimising the power sockets needed and keeping the living room floor relatively clear of those chunky mains units.
The MIDI specs are surprisingly detailed. Although as I said it won't take pitchbend or modulation, it is velocity sensitive and it recognises sustain, sustenuto and soft pedal. Send and receive channels can be individually set. Hang on, you say, why is there a send channel? For all the System Exclusives you can serve up if you wish, I reply. Just about everything mentioned so far (panel data, voice variators etc) can be sent or received, therefore your favourite combinations can be saved onto a generic patch librarian.
I've taken the EMT-10 out on the road and it has performed impeccably, with total reliability and simplicity of use. The voices sound as good at earbashing levels as they do going down in the studio, and there's nothing like a good piano sound to impress an audience. And as for the "Aaaaaahh"... What more can I say. We get married in July. Buy buy buy. At this price it gets a whole sack of Micro Music gold stars.
Review by Jez Ford
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