Yamaha CX5M II-128 music computer
Eighteen months ago, the original CX5 was going to be the keyboard player's answer to every question — a cheap FM synth, a sequencer, a computer, and what's more it would all use the wonderful MSX system hailed as the long awaited universal language for software. Computers finally would talk to each other.
Well they still don't. MSX, like that other universal language Esperanto, is a really fab idea, it's just that nobody else wants to learn it. Hardly Yamaha's fault, it wasn't their's and they had high hopes of it as well. But at least in the time being they've produced their own budget FM synths (DX21, DX27 etc. When the CX5 came out, there was only the DX7). And the CX5 was a success in its own way.
So how do we get to the improved, enlarged and extra powered CX5M II! Firstly 128K of Ram instead of 32K... that means longer sequences and I'd say, slightly faster reactions to your commands. Certainly fewer of the 'I'm thinking about it' pauses found on the CX5. The computer keyboard is sturdier and — thank the Buddha - faster (you can now type as quickly as you like and the CX5M won't miss letters).
Otherwise we still have an eight voice FM module (SFG11) on-board which can now be controlled far more easily by outside MIDI gear, playing up to four different sounds at once. A basic music program is included to run it, or there's an external mini-keyboard which connects via a multi-way socket at the side. There are now two slots to take plug in cartridges for higher flying software such as the Music Composer II.
We'll skip the office accounts and the programs for drawing circles and get straight to "Call Music'' which thankfully ditches the log tables of the CX5 in favour of a coloured keyboard at the bottom of the screen (yes a TV will do). From it rises four, blue menus simply expressing the various functions and showing their values on a bar graph.
There's Poly which lets you call up voices, split them, layer them, detune, transpose, play with sustain, and so on. Solo, where you'll find the auto bass chord and rhythm machine (marginal improvements in sounds from the CX5 but still far from the high standards of FM), Voice which lists your 48 sounds, and File looking after the tape dump, routing of information and other housekeeping tasks.
At any time you can employ the CX5M's sequencer, recording in real time what you tackle on the keyboard, and assisting with purple blobs that light up on the corresponding keys on the screen's keyboard.
From there we go to the Composing cartridge which - old readers will remember — puts up a thing with five lines called a score, offers various methods of writing notes upon it, then plays back up to four separate parts to you simultaneously.
Sounds can be changed after the recording has been completed, and deletions or insertions to the score are made by using the cursor keys to shift a cross-hair target across the screen. Of course, if you want to be substantially hip, you'll buy a "mouse", one of those boxes that rolls around on a flat surface causing the target to mimic its movements on the screen.
As the II after the name suggests, this should be seen as an update not a brand new model. It does everything the original 5 did but more simply, more logically and faster. Both programs were friendlier, and that wasn't just because I'd spent time familiarising myself with Yamaha's first machine. However, apart from a few 'adjustments' — the better MIDI, quicker keyboard and onboard power supply, etc — the son doesn't do anything radically different from the father. He just gets there without running out of breath.
Review by Paul Colbert
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