Yamaha FB01 FM Module
Hard to imagine that such an unassuming black box, so unimaginatively titled, could become the FM voice module to be found at the heart of every home MIDI studio — the people's TX816.
Advertised at a fraction under 300 quid, the FB-01 is a four-operator, eight-note polyphonic sound generator equipped with a comprehensive note separator/zone definer. The multi-channel capabilities of the unit along with the degree of MIDI control will no doubt upset Casio and Akai who, until now, have had a large slice of the budget multi-timbral expander and MIDI signal processor markets.
There are three immediately obvious uses for the unit. Firstly, it will allow any connected MIDI keyboard to become a DX21 soundalike with those split and dual facilities that have been the envy of even DX7 owners.
Secondly, by defining eight MIDI zones which are one note wide and assigning each to a different sound, the FB-01 can be used to re-voice a drum machine. Thirdly, the multi MIDI channel and multi-timbral abilities of the machine really come into their own when the unit is driven from a sequencer. If you're into playing orchestras part by part into a sequencer then this is the expander for you.
But the FB-01 isn't truly an expander; that term implies it's a keyboard-less version of an integrated synth, and as far as I'm aware it doesn't have a big brother. OK, so what's in a name? But how do you program the voices? You use a computer — a CX5 no less. Oh!
To many people the fact that the FB-01 has no standalone voice editing facilities will mean that the box is effectively non-programmable. Yamaha know that to many people FM synthesis is so obscure that editing facilities, even when present, are seldom used. Presets seem to be what the punters want and the FB-01 delivers no fewer than 240 arranged as five banks of 48. There are two further RAM banks but these are factory-set equal to the first ROM bank. The value of these RAM banks is in receiving bulk voice data dumps from a computer, and in setting up selections from the ROM banks so that you can access them from your keyboard controller.
The sounds are typical of what we have come to expect of four-operator FM synthesis. Firm favourites from the DX21 such as Cheeky, Panfloot and Percopiano are present under various psuedonyms and I suspect DX27/DX100 owners will probably recognise many more. The choice is staggering - a feeling which changes to numbness after the third bank is explored. For example; 16 electric pianos, 19 organs, 21 strings, every orchestral and tuned percussion instrument generally in duplicate, and so on. It will certainly stretch the minds of those boring preset-spotters. Given this much variety, one can ponder whether the selection defines the limits of the algorithms used.
But the sonic possibilities do not stop here - the eight voices can be stacked to any depth. Further, the same sound can be stacked but each voice can be assigned a different de-tune value (-64 to +63) to create rich chorusing. Every voice tested was found to be velocity sensitive - even the organs!
The FB-01 introduces two terms of special significance: 'instrument' is a grouping of several notes (eight maximum) of one sound only (tone-colour); 'configuration' is a defined collection of instruments. There appears to be no restrictions as to how the available resources may be used.
It has eight pushbuttons and a 7x5 pixel 16 character luminescent display, the buttons necessarily multi-function. Starting with the most familiar, two buttons are for data entry: -1/no and +1/yes. The instrument select does just that and is analogous to the operator select function for DX editing.
The instrument assign function allows you to select how many notes of polyphony are required, the MIDI channel it will respond to and, as on the TX-7, the upper and lower key limits. Having defined the 'instrument' in broad terms, the instrument function button enables output level, octave transpose, detune, stereo position (L, LR or R), and LFO to be specified.
Voice functions are found on another button where the pitchbender range, portamento time, mono/poly modes and pitch modulation device (PMD) may be set. This last feature allows either the wheel, breath controller, foot controller or aftertouch to trigger modulation. Another button selects voices and their storage position in the two RAM banks which appear as one big 96 slot memory.
With all these parameters to choose from it is essential that the settings can be stored and recalled. Similar in concept to the performance memory of the DX21, the FB-01 stores up to 16 'configurations' which may be selected through the system set-up button. Further functions available allow overall tuning, MIDI dumps and memory protection.
It is possible to separate voice function settings from a recalled voice so that, for example, you would not have to change the pitch modulation device each time you changed voice. A nifty feature allows the FB-01 to respond to odd or even note numbers only, so that two units can be slaved.
The MIDI system exclusive feature has been used in some very interesting ways to build a whole new set of commands. In addition to seven types of dump, the FB-01 can receive note-on with fraction instructions which allow untempered tunings. Lots more weird stuff too like ACK, NAK and cancel protocols; the FB-01 could be Yamaha's Trojan horse introducing another level of MIDI standardisation.
Very much a second-generation MIDI product, the FB-01 offers unrivalled features in any price range. Ironically, those that stand to gain the most from getting one are those 'flat-earthers' without DX synths.
Gear in this article:
Review by Andy Honeybone
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