Yamaha RX Digital Rhythm Machines
Rumours have been rife, for some time that Yamaha had finally taken up the gauntlet thrown down by other manufacturers and begun work on a programmable digital drum machine of their own. The outcome of this development manifests itself in the form of not one, but two digital drum machines, competitively priced and designed to appeal to a wide-ranging audience.
The two machines, the RX11 and RX15, both come in a slimline black case approximately 14" x 8" x 2", that is a refreshing departure from the wooden end cheeks of competing models. A 16 character alphanumeric LCD readout (similar to the DX keyboard's display) provides rhythm information on both units, and a further LED readout is available on the RX11 for bar data etc.
The overall layout of controls appears excellent with soft touch selector buttons for the individual drum voices and a nice line in colour coding.
The two machines are unlikely to be available until June (RX15) and August (RX11) of this year, but here is a rundown on their features and capabilities just to wet your appetite!
Both drum machines utilise 8-bit pulse code modulation (PCM) sampling techniques to capture the sounds of natural percussion instruments which are stored in the 256K memory. Tape dump of all program data is possible via mini-jacks on both models, but the more sophisticated (and thus expensive) RX11 permits the complete exchange/storage of self-programmed rhythms via the RAM cartridge as on the DX7 synth.
Memory capacity of both machines is similar — 100 patterns, 10 songs, 255 steps per song. The essential differences between the two drum units are in the onboard facilities: the RX11 features 16 different sounds as opposed to the 13 of the RX15, but with no great surprises in the chosen instruments — 2 x bass drum, 2 x snare, rimshot, 2 x hi-hat, 4 x toms, 2 x cymbals, clap, cowbell and shaker.
Programming of rhythms can be in step or real-time from the unit itself or an external keyboard (eg. DX7), with complete control over rhythm and song construction. Six variations in note resolution are on offer; whilst tempo changes can be programmed using a vertical fader and LCD readout and stored for instant recall.
Both models have a stereo operation with separate Left and Right output jacks on the rear panel, whilst individual instrument volume levels and accent can also be set and remembered.
In addition, the RX11 features a programmable Pan facility for each individual voice, which is a fairly novel inclusion on a drum machine and should help reduce drum tracks on recordings, as well as separate output jacks for ten of the drum sounds.
Footswitch start/stop and headphone monitoring are included on both devices, but the major feature has to be the inclusion of MIDI In and Out DIN connections. These replace the usual trigger connections of the older drum machines and permit programming, remote control (via your DX or MIDI keyboard) and synchronisation with all MIDI-equipped sequencers etc.
Although MIDI compatible systems are certainly going to play a large part in tomorrow's music, it would still have been nice for the RX models to have retained conventional trigger/gate connections, as without them it's impossible to sync your drum machine to non-MIDI devices, without incurring the expense of an add-on interface box. However, the MIDI bus does make both units compatible with other manufacturers' products - which is always a good sign.
Linked to a DX7 synthesiser, dynamic volume control of all drum sounds is also made possible, using the pressure/velocity sensitivity functions of the keyboard.
An appraisal of the drum sounds found on the machines would be foolhardy, having only heard the devices in action a couple of times at exhibitions, so you'll have to await the full reviews later in the year. What I can say though, is that the fast attack of the instruments creates a bright edge to the sounds, especially on the four tom toms, which are separately sampled with very authentic results.
On brief acquaintance my only qualm must be the lack of any instrument tuning facility — a vital omission and maybe a hazardous one too. Generally speaking, Yamaha have produced two good variations on a theme, with some original flavouring thrown in for good measure, but I suggest that they consider advancing the respective release dates of the two products, or else they may find that other units have beaten them to the punch.
Prices of the RX15 and RX11 are expected to fall around the £650 and £800 mark, but these are yet to be finalised.
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Review by Ian Gilby
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