Yamaha RX21L Drum Machine
Trevor Gilchrist takes a look at Yamaha's Latin adaptation of their RX21. Is it as usable as its more conventional brother?
Some things are, I suppose, inevitable. The Yamaha family has been added to once more and grows in the same, logical manner to which we're all becoming accustomed. Yamaha are now so adept at supplying the right, natty little product at the right, natty little price that it's almost possible to set your watch by the company's frequent product launches.
The RX21L is their latest offering and is basically an RX21 with 16 latin voices in place of the nine traditional 'kit' sounds. All its functions, displays and little 'ins and outs' (for want of a better collective term) are identical in almost every way to its sister machine, and owners of same can expect to take just a couple of minutes to become familiar with the few, mainly 'instrument select' functions, that are different.
With the 21L, Yamaha have chosen to allocate more of the machine's memory to providing these 16 voices than to pattern storage. As a result, whilst seven extra voices make the machine that much more useful, its pattern storage is reduced to 50% of that of the RX21; from 100 patterns to (yes, you guessed it), 50.
Of these, 29 are pre-programmed in the factory, though they can obviously be preserved on cassette - which takes 15 seconds - before your eager fingers begin rewriting and editing everything. As for the usefulness of the presets, well, no danger of any hit records, but great as building blocks for more personalised rhythmical adventures.
String all these adventures together and you have a 'song'. The 21L has a separate song memory which will accommodate a total of 256 patterns in four songs, ie. 64 patterns per song (or any other combination you want to use, up to a total of 256). Considering the fact that the RX21 boasts an impressive capacity of 512 patterns per song you begin to wonder where all that memory has in fact been syphoned off to, but in practice, 64 measures is still a pretty usable amount and if you really do need more then you've simply gotta expect to pay more.
Anyway, take it as read that all but these features are repeats of those on the RX21 (reviewed back in last September's issue) and let's get on to the voices.
All sixteen of the instruments provided are of absolutely exceptional quality, with a slight reservation about the tambourine and, oddly enough, the cowbell which are both somewhat less convincing than their companions. All are digitally-encoded morsels of the real McCoy and list as follows; two bright little bongos, pitched rather high but at their bouncing best when supported by the rest of a mix; two crisp, powerful timbales; three hearty conga voices, one of which is muted (as if played with one hand damping the skin); claves; a cowbell and a tambourine - and then the three pairs of instruments which, for me, really make this machine come alive.
Firstly, there are high and low agogos which bring a little 'tunefulness' to the overall proceedings, sounding as they do like a cross between a high-pitched, miniature cowbell and a lightly-struck milk bottle. Secondly, high and low cuicas (pronounced cuicas) add a little fun and authentic variety to the proceedings. The cuica sound is somewhat difficult to describe - but imagine a pair of mating geese rubbing two balloons together... Lastly, a short whistle and, yes, a longer whistle, the sounds of which, thankfully, I shouldn't need to describe to anyone.
So, put the whole lot together and what have you got? Well, considering none of its voices are repeats from other Yammy boxes, it could make an excellent (though obviously less flexible) companion for any MIDI drum machine. Listening to the 21L completely dry and flat, the colour and immediacy of the sounds is still very striking, and when you consider that an attempt to recreate (with Real People) the sound that this unassuming little box is capable of producing on its tod, would mean recruiting a competent six or seven-piece rhythm section...
At a suggested retail price of £229, Yamaha have managed to produce a bite-sized, MIDI equipped, and simple-to-use Latin percussion machine. The manual is superb and the sounds are unnervingly 'real'. Apart, perhaps from a shaker and a backlit LCD display, what more could you want?
Price RRP £269 including VAT
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Review by Trevor Gilchrist
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