music accompaniment player
Auto-accompaniments, yes - but it's a recordable sequencer too. And you can fiddle with it on the train...
If there's a hi-tech heaven, this may well be the harp you find yourself playing. Ian Masterson is on cloud nine...
I hope this review isn't going to take too long. Writing is something of a distraction for me at the moment, engrossed as I am in Yamaha's latest portable offering, the QR10. For more than a week now it's been hard to tear myself away from the thing - something I didn't anticipate when I unpacked it. We synth 'n' sampler types can be a mite snobbish about anything resembling a home keyboard. One sniff of an auto-accompaniment button, and the cynicism clicks up several notches.
But auto-accompaniment is now a force to be reckoned with, particularly the intelligent, interactive, multi-tracked, sample-sourced kind packed into the QR10. Yamaha have badged this unit as a 'music accompaniment player'; but as I found out, the QR10 is much more than simply a home keyboard with the keyboard bit left out.
For example: 50 preset accompaniment patterns (each with intro, ending, variation and two fills) playing bass, rhythm and two orchestra-style chord parts; 69 normal melody voices and 60 percussion voices; a built-in 8-bit sampler (up to 3.2 seconds sampling time); and sequencer for recording your own patterns, chord progressions and even whole songs. Nifty stuff.
But the real attraction of the QR10, for both amateur and professional users, lies in its portability. If you're looking for something to fiddle with in your lap while you're on the train, this has to be the toy for you. Yamaha's QY10 and QY20 'walkstations' have been something of a soaraway success amongst music buffs for that very reason; the QR10 differs in having a slant towards desktop music and auto-accompaniment.
The best feature as far as I'm concerned has to the unique chord-entry keypad. Alongside the main squidgy keypad that represents an octave on a normal keyboard, there's a cluster of multi-function purple buttons. These carry a host of hidden functions, such as MIDI dumping, transposition and programming. But their principal role is to designate which type of chord the auto-accompaniment system plays along to when you create your own patterns and songs.
For example, you might select the note G as being the root of your chord. You could then go on, simply by pressing one of the purple buttons, to transform it into G minor, minor 7th, diminished, minor 6th, sustained fourth... any one of 24 possible types. And, since the fingering for these chords is shown on the LCD screen, you can use the QR10 to work out complex and innovative note formations instantly, before transferring them onto a larger MIDI keyboard.
The standard of the preset auto-accompaniment patterns and songs is, on the whole, pretty high. Sure, there are several rather naff Come Dancing-style psuedo-samba rhythms, but Yamaha really have improved their preset dance, pop, funk and soul material. In some instances this seems to have involved 'interpreting' certain production styles to suit: the disco rhythms, for example, are instant Pet Shop Boys; the dance styles ape Madonna's 'Vogue' in parts, and there's even a touch of Enigma in there. Of the four instrumental parts in the accompaniments, the rhythm and bass sections are by far the strongest. The QR10 boasts a seriously impressive set of drum kit voicings, and neatly-programmed rhythm parts let down only by the tinklings of a dodgy vibraphone sound (or similar cheesy riff).
As for the main melodic sounds... well, it all gets a bit schizophrenic at this point. The instruments are a real mixed bag; the superb sampled pianos and strings, thumping basses and interesting ethnic noises are set against sounds which I remember appearing on the earliest generations of PSS home keyboards - bell-like electric pianos and strange plucking noises which everyone assumed went out with the demise of FM synthesis. For the most part, though, the sounds are more than adequate for sketching out rough melodic ideas and riffs, and some are even inspiring. That said, I was a little surprised that Yamaha didn't see fit to make the QR10 General MIDI compatible - I thought that's what everyone was doing now.
Learning to operate all the functions of the QR10 - particularly those beyond basic pattern, voice and song selection - is something which calls for close consultation with the instruction manual. Interestingly, Yamaha have printed this on amazingly thin paper - presumably to make it appear thinner and therefore less intimidating. This may seem a little underhanded, but it does reveal just how many features are crammed in behind those buttons.
The sampling side of things is relatively basic, and isn't of high enough quality for any really serious work. But again, it could be of value as a means of quickly checking the viability of a particular sound as a sample within the context of piece of music - something which can be very time consuming using conventional gear. If a sound does work, it can, of course, then be resampled on a dedicated sampler in the normal way.
The chord and melody sequencing functions are useful too, but in a more conventional, musical way. I won't go into the nitty-gritty of button pressing here, but once you find your way around the functions, you'll discover the QR10 to be an extremely accessible way of recording those all-important moments of inspiration.
Which is where I came in, I think. My own urge to 'doodle' around on those funky purple chord buttons is proving irrepressible; I shall leave you now to return to my latest masterpiece. In the meantime, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Yamaha QR10: a machine with moments of fluffy-dice-in-the-windscreen naffness, but with considerable hidden potential lying not too far below the surface. Good fun has never been this serious.
|Ease of use||You'll go blind if you keep playing with it (probably)|
|Originality||Innovative application of existing technology|
|Value for money||It should have been cheaper|
|Star Quality||Highly addictive|
|Price||£299 inc VAT|
|More from||Yamaha-Kemble Music (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details)|
Review by Ian Masterson
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