Yamaha RY10 Drum Machine
Take your beat to the streets.
Once the sole preserve of so-called 'electronic' musicians - and detested by just about every one else - the humble beatbox has suddenly become the friendly face of technology for technophobic musicians everywhere. Leaving the more technologically-inclined to turn to MIDI sequencers and samplers or drum modules for their rhythm programming, Yamaha appear to be aiming their new budget drum machine at that most notorious of technophobes - the guitarist.
With the emphasis on ease of use, transportability and affordability, the RY10 should certainly appeal to the novice. The fully-fledged techno-freak, on the other hand, will doubtless be interested in the machine's 211 drum and percussion Voices, 30 sound effects Voices and nine bass Voices (...yes, you can program basslines to go with the beats), 28-voice polyphony, 16 preset and 16 user-programmable Pad Banks, 50 preset and 50 user-programmable patterns (each of which has an associated fill pattern), and 36 user-programmable songs with real-time song programming a la Alesis' SR16 - all for £249.
What makes Yamaha's budget machine especially enticing, however, is its ability to run off six AA batteries - the Duracells I used for this review gave around 14 hours running time - so that, as with the company's QY10 'walkstation', it really can be used any place, any time. And, seeing as it weighs a mere 1lb 12oz (with batteries fitted) and measures just 7.5" square and 1.5" deep, you shouldn't have much difficulty carrying it around.
The RY10 is one of the easiest pieces of gear to use that I've come across. All its functions are listed on the front panel in a 3 x 16 matrix layout, and selected by pressing and holding one of three buttons - Pattern, Song or Util - to the left of the list and then pressing one of 16 buttons in the row below it. You then scroll through any LCD pages and change parameter values using the 1-16 buttons and/or the +/- buttons. Operation can be a bit fiddly owing to the small size and close proximity of the buttons, but you can't really expect anything else on an instrument as compact as the RY10.
Unfortunately, LCD backlighting has been omitted; presumably this was a cost-saving measure, but its omission does at least mean there's less power drain on the batteries. Programming in low lighting conditions is made more difficult but not impossible, because the RY10 doesn't place all the burden of operation on the LCD. On a practical note, there are always some pinpoint LEDs lit while the machine is working, making it easier for you to spot when you've left it turned on - a useful feature given that the RY10 has no 'auto power off' function to prevent accidental battery rundown. Of course, if you're within a cable's length of a mains supply, the RY10 can be powered via an external adaptor (not supplied with the machine), so you don't always need to be at the mercy of battery power.
The 12 fingertip-size rubber playing pads are laid out like a C-C octave on a keyboard (hence the gap above the E and F pads where there could have been another pad) in order to facilitate the playing of basslines. The RY10's size and the positioning of its pads allow you to hold the drum machine in both hands and play the pads with your thumbs, Gameboy-style. The Accent/Octave buttons to each side of the pads allow you to switch the 'keyboard' between three octaves for bass playing, and to add accents to individual Patterns steps for the drum and percussion Voices. The RY10's pads aren't velocity-sensitive, nor will the drum machine record the velocity data of incoming MIDI notes, so the Accent function is the only way of getting some dynamics into your Patterns.
The RY10's stereo headphones output is louder and punchier than that of the QY10, and consequently it's more effective at masking out surrounding noise. Output is via a mini-jack socket on the right-hand side of the machine's casing, where there's also a volume slider which controls the output level to an internal speaker, the standard Left/Mono and Right quarter-inch jack sockets and also the headphones.
The speaker can be useful in certain circumstances, but it's no substitute for an external amp - we're not talking ghettoblasters here. There's also a rear-panel on/off switch for the speaker, but you can't embarrass yourself in public by accidentally knocking the switch to the 'on' position while you're working on headphones, because the speaker output is disabled while you have headphones plugged in.
If you're going to get funky while travelling second-class to suburbia, be prepared for some curious stares from your fellow passengers as they try to figure out what you're doing and whether it should be allowed in public. Still, the playing pads are virtually silent in operation, and don't have to be bashed, so it's possible to play them without irritating those around you - but you'll probably find yourself bashing them anyway!
Rear-panel connections include footswitch and audio inputs on quarter-inch jacks, a tape in/out mini-jack socket (for cassette storage of user Pattern, Song and Pad Bank data) and a MIDI In socket. The audio input has two uses: it allows you to plug in a guitar and take advantage of the RY10's in-built guitar tuner function, and it allows any external signal to be fed into the RY10 and mixed into the machine's output signal along with the drums and bass. A footswitch connected to the RY10 can be used to start and stop the selected Pattern or Song, trigger the Fill Pattern for the currently-selected Main Pattern, or select the next Pattern or Song.
All the RY10's sounds have character and plenty of grit to them - especially the kicks and snares, which very ably reflect the nature and diversity of these instruments in today's music - I can certainly see the RY10 appealing to the dance fraternity. In fact, all things considered, the RY10 would be at home in most contemporary music environments.
With today's drum machines including ever more onboard sounds, some means of making them all readily accessible across a limited number of playing pads is, clearly, essential. In answer to this, manufacturers have adopted the concept of the 'virtual drumkit' - or Pad Bank to use the term commonly employed. Pad Banks are multiple sets of sound-to-pad assignments which are stored in memory, from where they can be assigned to the physical pads one set at a time.
The RY10's 16 preset Pad Banks group sounds according to various musical categories: ambient, dry, analog, sound effects, dance, heavy rock, light rock, reggae, jazz, rap, funk, ballad, latin, eurobeat, techno and r'n'b. In practice, these are best looked on as convenient generalisations. Each Pad Bank in fact consists of three sets of sound assignments - namely Drum, Percussion and Bass - giving you 25 sounds per Pad Bank. Successive presses of the Pad button cycle around the three sets within each Pad Bank, so one moment you can be programming a kick and snare pattern, the next moment a conga pattern, and the next a bassline.
Each Pattern can be assigned one of the 32 Pad Banks, and triggers only the sounds assigned to it. In some ways this can be seen as more restricting than the approach used by Cheetah's MD16, Roland's R70 and Yamaha's own RY30, which allows any sound from any Pad Bank to be used within each Pattern, but it does have a couple of advantages. For one, you can instantly try out a rhythm with a completely different set of sounds simply by changing the Pad Bank assigned to the Pattern, and for another it makes deleting an instrument part from a Pattern much easier.
Yamaha have standardised the drum set's Voice assignments across all the preset Pad Banks, with, for example, pad A always triggering a bass drum, pad C a snare drum, and pad I an open hi-hat. This has allowed them to label each pad with the type of instrument it triggers, so you don't have to remember what pad triggers what; also, if you change a Pattern's Pad Bank assignment you get each instrument part triggering the same type of instrument. Of course, when you create your own user Pad Banks you can assign sounds in whatever way you want to the Drum and Percussion sets - but there are advantages to consistency.
As well as a Voice assignment, each pad within a Pad Bank can be given its own level, pan position, tuning and accent amount settings. Like Alesis' SR16, the RY10 provides only a narrow tuning range, the reason, presumably, being that some Voices share the same sample but replay it at different pitches, so the programmable tuning is restricted to operating between these different pitches. Other Voices are created by layering different samples, using different envelope settings and adding reverb to samples; effectively there are 250 different sounds or instruments on the RY10, created from a smaller collection of samples (but still a great deal more than drum machines used to provide).
Both real-time and step-time pattern recording are implemented on the RY10. As with the preset patterns, each user pattern (Main or Fill) can be at most one 4/4 bar long, and you're limited to no more than 16 steps per Pattern, with a maximum record resolution of a 1/32nd note. You can select from 34 time signature and resolution combinations, with plenty of scope for using odd time signatures within the limits I've just described. The limit of 16 steps per pattern means that 4/4 time can't go above 16th-note resolution, though there is a rather inflexible playback-only Swing function which can be used to advance all odd-numbered 8th or 16th notes in a Pattern by, respectively, 1-8 and 1-5 1/96th notes.
So, there are a fair number of restrictions, but also one neat new feature which it has in common with Roland's more expensive R70 drum machine - namely pattern-specific tempo settings. And there's also an advantage to having only 16 steps per Pattern, namely that the RY10 can give you a visual representation of the pad hits recorded for each pad within the selected Pattern. When you select Pattern Record mode, each one of the numbered buttons (1-16) represents one step in the Pattern, and its associated LED lights if there's a pad hit recorded at that step for the selected pad/Voice. To look at the rhythm for a different pad, all you have to do is hit that pad. To either add or delete a pad hit, you just press the relevant numbered button.
To record in real-time, simply press the Start/Go button and the RY10 loops round the Pattern, allowing you to build up parts on successive passes in familiar fashion. You can also delete individual pad hits in real-time by selecting the Delete function and holding down the relevant pad as the notes play. Accents can be programmed into a Pattern in both real- and step-time. Unfortunately, they apply to all the pad hits on a step, so you have to use the pad-specific Accent Amount parameter to determine how each Voice is affected. For this you can set no change, or a positive or negative value (+7 to -7) which is added to or subtracted from the programmed level.
Fill Pattern memories can be selected for recording by pressing the Fill button while in Pattern Record mode. You can also copy Patterns between the Main and Fill memories, and then add or remove parts. The RY10 lets you treat Fill Patterns as Patterns in their own right, rather than just extensions of the Main Pattern. This is because if you press the Fill button immediately before the end of the main pattern the RY10 will play the fill pattern in its entirety; similarly, if you press the Fill button immediately before the end of the fill pattern, the drum machine will play the fill again.
"The RY10 is one of the easiest pieces of gear to use that I've come across. All its functions are listed on the front panel and selected by pressing and holding one of three buttons"
You can create up to 36 Songs on the RY10 - which should be enough for any set. Each Song can consist of up to 199 parts, with each part comprising an individual preset or user pattern. Bearing in mind that each pattern is only one bar long, 199 is not as excessive a number of parts as it might at first seem. If you need more parts, you can chain consecutive songs together, using a blank song to signal the end of your actual song.
If you simply want the RY10 to loop round a series of patterns rather than the single pattern of Pattern mode, all you have to do is program that series of patterns into a song, engage the Song Repeat function for that song, and hit Start/Go. In this way you could create, say, an eight-bar pattern by programming eight one-bar patterns separately in Pattern mode and then chaining them together in Song mode; in fact, given the one-bar limitation on patterns, it's a shame that you can't program across a series of consecutive patterns.
Dividing different sections of a song across several RY10 songs can be a more flexible way of working than programming them all as one song. For instance, because you can give each song its own tempo, you can program different tempi for each of its different sections. Also, if you have one section of a song where you want to stretch out with a solo, you can effectively make it open-ended in length by setting it to repeat and using the RY10's footswitch Next function to move onto the next song in the chain, when you feel the time is right. If you programmed, say, an eight-bar song for this section, your solo could last for multiples of eight bars.
In addition to the traditional step-time method of song creation, where you scroll through the part numbers in the LCD window and select a pattern number for each part, the RY10 allows you to make your pattern selections in realtime while listening to the patterns playing. In this mode, as soon as you tap in a pattern number, the RY10 starts playing the pattern, and continues until you select a different pattern - and so on.
So, for instance, if you let user-pattern 32 play eight times, the RY10 records this pattern as your choice for eight consecutive song parts. While the pattern is playing for the eighth time, you tap in the number of the next pattern you want, and at the end of the pass the RY10 moves on to this pattern and records it as your choice for the next part in the song.
Fills can be programmed into a song in step-time by specifying which 16th-note step you want the main pattern's fill to come in on. In real-time this is accomplished by pressing the Fill button at the appropriate points as the song plays in record mode. Remember that a fill pattern can play in its entirety if you press the Fill button immediately before its Main Pattern finishes playing.
Each Song part can be given a transpose value (+12 to -12 semitones) for the selected Pattern's bassline, so you can get the RY10 to follow chord changes even though it's playing the same Pattern. However, as the drum machine has no way of knowing what key you're playing in, it can't adjust the bassline's notes accordingly when it transposes them, so this function is of limited usefulness in practice.
Another way of getting more flexibility from the combination of rhythm and bassline without taking up any more memory is through the use of the Replace function, which allows you to replace the bassline of any part with that from any user or preset pattern.
The RY10's MIDI input allows you to slave the drum machine to an external sequencer, select its songs remotely, and trigger the drum, percussion and bass sounds of the currently-selected Pad Bank from a MIDI controller. You can globally program a MIDI receive channel and note assignments for the drum and percussion sounds and also for the bass sound. RY10 patterns can be recorded from a MIDI source, but minus velocity data - although the sounds respond dynamically via MIDI, so the RY10 is also worth considering purely as a sound source for live work or for use with a sequencer. Pad Banks can be called up independently of the patterns by sending patch changes 1-32 on a third programmable MIDI receive channel, so you can call up a different set of 24 drum and percussion sounds and a different bass sound at any time.
The omission of a MIDI Out on the RY10 is a bit of a blow, and surely a missed marketing opportunity for Yamaha. With no MIDI Out, you can't play your RY10 patterns into a sequencer, nor can you save them as a SysEx dump into a remote storage device such as Yamaha's own MDF2 MIDI Data Filer.
Maybe the company reasoned that a cassette was more guitarist-friendly than a floppy disk, but MIDI storage - especially with a dedicated unit like the MDF2 rather than a computer and software - is a whole lot friendlier than tape storage, and a damn sight more convenient.
In the RY10, Yamaha have come up with a drum machine which is user-friendly, inexpensive and provides a sizeable and versatile collection of sounds well suited to contemporary usage. It also has the considerable advantage of battery-powered portable use. With its single-bar, 16-step Pattern limit and inability to record dynamics, the RY10 isn't perhaps the most flexible or responsive of machines for pattern programming and it won't satisfy anyone who likes to get their rhythms sounding as if they're being played by a real drummer.
On the other hand, its 250 sounds and velocity responsiveness via MIDI make it a very good value drum module for live and sequenced use, while its use-anywhere portability also makes it a great rhythm 'notepad' for programming ideas whenever inspiration strikes - though its lack of a MIDI Out socket means you won't be able to transfer your rhythms across to a MIDI sequencer at a later time.
The RY10 compares well with Roland's DR550 and new DR550 MkII drum machines, though both of these are cheaper. Alesis' SR16 (reviewed MT February '91) is somewhat more flexible yet it has the same sort of operational and conceptual straightforwardness as the RY10 and is just as portable, though it can't be used away from a mains supply and it costs £100 more. Cheetah's MD16 (reviewed MT March '91) costs around £50 more than the RY10 and is a great deal more sophisticated and versatile, but not as straightforward and immediate in use, and it's not battery-powered.
The lower end of the drum machine market is a crowded place at the moment, but Yamaha have done a good job of providing the RY10 with its own identity, and more than a degree of desirability. Not least, it represents a worthwhile furthering of Yamaha's mission to equip the musician on the move.
Price : RY10 £249; YKBA2 carrying case £10.99. Both prices include VAT.
More from : Yamaha-Kemble Music (UK) Ltd. (Contact Details).
Review by Simon Trask
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