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Yamaha RY30 Rhythm Programmer

The Feel Factor

Martin Russ rydes with the rhythm as he explores Yamaha's latest percussive product.

The last seven years have seen a gradual evolution of the drum machine, from simple sounds produced by analogue circuits, via 8 and 12-bit digital samples of increasing length, to the current CD quality 16-bit samples. Our ideas of what constitute 'drum' and 'rhythm' sounds have also expanded to cover a wide range of percussive and pitched sounds, with the result that the description 'drum machine' often seems rather inadequate. You have to be very confident to call a product by a title like 'Rhythm Programmer', which suggests complete competence at producing programmed rhythms; so does the RY30 succeed?

The RY30 is a rhythm programmer in the widest sense. A full set of conventional drum sounds is complemented by additional percussive/effect sounds and a sprinkling of pitched sounds, and more raw samples can be added via a card slot. You can edit all of these sounds, to make them uniquely your own, and you can make further modifications to sounds whilst entering rhythm patterns in real time. Control over the timing of the sounds comes from a sophisticated dedicated pattern/song sequencer which allows interaction from other MIDI devices — again in real time.


The RY30 has the traditional drum machine lines — wide and low, with a sloping top surface — and the graceful curves and matt grey finish recall the appearance of the SY22 and TG33. The 24-character 2-line green backlit LCD display occupies the upper third of the working surface, whilst the lower third is devoted to 12 light grey velocity sensitive instrument pads and six additional control buttons. The strip in the middle is in three parts: the left side has the Real-time Parameter Wheel and three slider controls for parameter selection, master volume and data entry; the middle section holds the 12 function buttons and 12-button numeric keypad; and the right side has the large Start, Continue/Stop and Record buttons.

The rear panel carries all the input and output connectors, with clear white text on the top surface to make plugging in easier from the front. The 15v external power supply inlet is not very rugged and the plug could easily be pulled out of the socket — I would have preferred some sort of locking connector, which might also ensure that you only use the supplied mains adaptor. Audio output is via a stereo master pair of jacks and two individual outs. There is a standard footswitch socket for starting, stopping and continuing under foot control. Cassette storage of patterns is provided for by a miniature stereo jack socket rather than the more usual DIN socket — so using it means finding a Y-lead suitable for a data recorder, although these days MIDI bulk dumps will be a more popular way of storing the RY30's memory contents.

As far as MIDI goes, there are only In and Out sockets, which I suppose helps to prevent problems with people expecting MIDI clocks to come out of a Thru. This will also encourage the greater use of Thru boxes and 'starred' MIDI networks, which must be good news. The final back panel socket is for a credit card sized pattern, sound and sample ROM card (this does not allow additional pattern or song storage in a RAM card).


Although the top surface is all plastic, the underside is black folded steel and inside are two PCBs, one in the top half for the rubber buttons and pads while the lower half holds all the digital and analogue circuitry. Yamaha custom ASICs provide the majority of the digital components, as usual. The Operating System is held in a 1 Megabit Intel 27C010 EPROM. A Burr-Brown PCM56P 16-bit DAC is closely coupled to a YM3029 Yamaha chip and active reconstruction filtering to provide the high-quality audio outputs.

The interior is neat and tidy, with short ribbon cables and SIL connectors used between the two boards. The layout and construction is to a high standard. With the 1992 Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI) regulations due to come into force next year, it was interesting to note the large amount of metal foil used for shielding purposes. The MIDI sockets are RF filtered and securely fixed to the casing and the PCB — full marks!


ROM-based samples have traditionally determined the characteristic sound of a drum machine — which means that you can tell a Kawai R50 from an Alesis HR16 just by listening. The RY30, however, is different. All the sounds can be comprehensively edited (with parameters for pitch, pitch EG, filter, filter EG, decay, pan, and level) and you can add additional sounds via plug-in ROM waveform cards.

12 Pad Banks provide rapid access to internal sounds, of which there are 96. An extra Pad Bank is provided for assigning the same sound at different pitches to several pads, which is handy for programming instrument parts — bass lines for example. The 96 sounds themselves are not just the raw internal samples — most of them exploit at least some of the pitch or enveloping functions, and about half use two layers to form a composite sound. To some extent, this means that describing the sounds is meaningless, since you really can alter them quite radically.

The pads can be used in either fixed velocity or velocity sensing mode, but the Real-time Parameter Wheel is the RY30's main interactive feature. It looks and behaves like a small modulation wheel on a synthesizer, and allows you to change the pitch, decay, pan, filtering and balance (between the two layers of a sound) in real time whilst hitting the pads. Fast, fun and expressive — I guarantee you'll be hooked!

Parts of any two waves can be mixed together to produce composite sounds, which can be synthetic or realistic in character. All 96 named internal sounds (Voices in Yamaha-speak) are permanently in edit-ready mode, and you can reload the preset sounds from the on-board ROM if you need to. The 32 extra ROM card sounds behave in much the same way — internal RAM lets you make changes, although you cannot store the revised sounds on the ROM card.


There are 100 preset patterns (100-199) and 100 user patterns (0-99), with 32 more available on card. The preset patterns mostly have Verse, Chorus and Fill variations (indicated by V, C or F at the end of the name), and cover a wide range of contemporary styles with give-away names like Funk, Hous, NuAge, Zydec, Jazz and Fusio. They are mostly in 4/4 time with a few excursions into other time signatures.

Pressing Record takes you to the record setup page where you can set the record mode, initial tempo, time signature and quantisation; pressing the Start button sets things going. There are real-time and step-time recording modes, and you can add or edit the real-time parameters whilst entering the pattern first time around, or add them later. The LCD display shows the usual graphical 'blobs and crosses' display for step time editing and parameter modifications, and you can change quantisation, pad banks etc. during record by using the function or page buttons and then exiting back to record mode. You can drop in and out of some other operations in this way — the tempo can be altered by pressing the tempo button and moving the data slider, and then pressing the Exit button returns you to whatever you were doing. Pad bank selection works in exactly the same way.

The function and page buttons allow you to select specific areas of operation, and then flip through the various pages relating to it. So, pressing the Pattern button takes you to the main pattern playing page, and pressing the Page+ button will take you through the other pattern pages: Clear; Copy; Append; Divide (copy individual measures to other patterns); Merge two patterns; Clear; Memory; and a series of Jobs which provide more precise editing functions for individual instruments. Several buttons on the numeric keypad double-up as short cuts for various functions, which can make editing much faster. An even more powerful short-cut facility is provided by the Macro function, which allows you to record sequences of key strokes and assign them to the ten numeric keys.

After recording a pattern, you can fine tune it by editing sound and pattern parameters, and move sounds back or forwards in time relative to other sounds. I estimated the basic note event capacity at about 7,000 notes, which drops to about 4,000 notes with heavy use of the real-time parameter wheel. 97 of the 100 preset patterns will fit into the pattern memory, which gives a good idea of the true capacity. Interestingly, the pattern and song memories are separate, so using fewer patterns does not increase the space available for songs.


Songs are assembled by chaining together patterns, using the increment and decrement keys to select the next pattern to be played and then pressing the Enter button. An audible click confirms the entry, and you can append patterns faster than real time, so roughing out a song can be very fast. Each pattern you enter increments a 'part' count, and the measures display goes up accordingly. Simply chaining patterns together eats up memory and parts, but through the song edit functions you can enter repeat marks and add tempo or velocity changes. For example, 1,800 measures using 999 parts (the maximum) used 84% of the song memory, whilst 1,800 measures incorporating lots of repeats of 25 parts only used 6%. You can only repeat a pattern or group of patterns up to 99 times, so I needed several repeats to get 1,800 measures-worth.


The RY30 has depth. At its simplest level it provides the MIDI clock syncing capability and mapped drum sounds you would expect, whilst at its most complex, when used as an expander in Multi mode, you can map sounds to all 128 notes on each MIDI channel; each channel can either map different sounds to different note numbers, or assign a single sound, pitched, across a 6-octave range. The unit is 15-note polyphonic with single layer sounds, but you can only actually program eight simultaneous sounds on any one beat — since many sounds use more than one layer this is not normally a limitation. There is also a facility to switch patterns remotely with Note On messages.

The pitched sounds respond to MIDI volume (the first time I have seen this on a drum machine) and the parameters for decay, filter, pan and balance are mapped to MIDI Controllers 17, 16, 10 and 8 respectively, although you can filter out these messages if you want to. The RY30 will recognise Song Position pointers and transmit Song Select messages.

When pitch is assigned to the parameter wheel, you have the option to send pitch bend data via MIDI. However, note that if you use an external pitch bend wheel to control pitched sounds on the RY30 (perhaps instrument sounds from a ROM card), the sounds do not respond in the usual way to the controller data. The RY30 takes 'snapshots' of the pitch wheel position at the start of each note, and subsequent pitch wheel movements will not affect the note's pitch — they will only affect the pitch of later notes, and only as they are triggered. When you think about it, this is actually very sensible, because in the context of a rhythm track the control wheel is used to set a parameter only at the start of a sound. This does slightly limit the RY30's use as a 'conventional' expander, but at least you can plug in and use TG/SY wave cards.


The RY30 offers you far more potential to alter its sounds than most other drum machines. The nearest equivalent unit is the Kawai XD5, which is more expensive and has no sequencing or convenient real-time modulation control, but most importantly, it lacks any way to add to the internal samples.

The organisation of the RY30 seems to be designed to encourage you to edit the sounds to your own taste and then leave them like that, much as you would tweak a drum kit to your own tuning and personal preferences. The end result is a rhythm programmer which has the flexibility to express your own personal sound and style, and a neat, fast and intuitive method of controlling parameters which are normally left to experts instead of mere mortals.

As a complete rhythm machine, the RY30 succeeds brilliantly. As an expander for a workstation with limited drum sounds (or a computer-based sequencer), it is almost a perfect add-on solution. And as the focus of a complete rhythm programming section, interacting with other MIDI devices using its Multi mode, it offers great possibilities. It seems Yamaha make good drums of all sorts.


£459 inc VAT.

Yamaha-Kemble Music, Professional Music Division, (Contact Details).


- 174 16-bit AWM2 mono samples, sampled at 48 kHz.
- 15-note polyphony.
- 12 velocity-sensitive pads.
- 100 Preset and 100 User Patterns.
- Time Signatures: 1/4 to 8/4
1/8 to 16/8
1/16 to 32/16
(up to 4 measures per pattern)
- 20 Songs, up to 999 parts per song.
- 1/96 note resolution.
- 40 to 250bpm.
- 96 Internal RAM sounds.
- 32 Card sounds.
- 12 Internal Pad Banks (Drum Kits).
- 4 Card Pad Banks.
- 1 Pitch Multi MIDI setup.
- 4 MIDI Note Tables (maps for Note numbers).
- Real-time Parameter Wheel.
- Backlit 24 x 2 line LCD.
- 2 pairs of stereo audio output sockets.
- MIDI Clock In (Sync) or Out (Master), but no FSK.


The AWM2 synthesis scheme used in the RY30 is similar to that of the SY and TG series synthesizers and tone generators, although it is simplified to suit a rhythm oriented application. Sounds can be made up of either one or two layers (called Elements in other Yamaha equipment) each consisting of a sound source and a filter which can be programmed independently.

In each layer: the sound source plays back the AWM2 sample (or Wave in Yamaha-speak), and pitch is variable over a six octave range. You can alter the pitch in with a 1 cent resolution. You can program a volume envelope for a sound, and assign it to one of 32 pan positions. The digital filter has cut-off and resonance parameters, and it can be configured as a low or high pass filter with either 12 or 24dB cut-off slopes. The filter envelope is a simple rate and level 'decay or rise' type. Finally, you can set a volume level, and the sensitivity of level, pitch, envelope and filter cut-off to the pad dynamics (or velocity from an external MIDI source).

In the sound: you can set the overall output level of the final 1 or 2-layer sound, as well as the level at the individual outputs. The pitch envelope (with rate and level parameters) affects both layers, and gives just simple rising or falling pitch. A sound can be set to Poly (allowing phasing effects) or Mono (to cut off the tails of previous beats). Seven Alternate groups allow you to determine sets of sounds which will not voice at the same time, the classic example of which is the open and closed hi-hat (although if you have two hi-hats...). The final sound can be assigned to the stereo outputs, or one or both of the individual outputs.


By using the two layers, and taking advantage of the editing facilities, a surprising amount of variation can be coaxed out of the AWM2 synthesis system used in the RY30. Here are a few ideas:

Use two layers to detune the same or similar sounds a few tens of cents apart. This can give wonderful analogue-style bass lines, especially if used with a decaying resonant filter sound on a waveform like SawWave.

Use the reversed version of a sound in a different pan position to provide stereo movement in a sound as it decays. Some of the preset sounds use this trick.

Use fast decay on one layer to get just the attack sound, and use a different sound with a longer decay time to produce a composite sound that has elements of both. It often sounds best if the attack sound has almost no velocity sensitivity, whilst the longer contrasting sound has lots.

Low tunings (-3600 cents) of sounds can be interesting, especially with heavy use of the pitch envelope. If misused, the pitch envelope can produce typical mid-70s drum synth sounds...

Combining a reverberant sound with a short decay and a dry sound with longer decay can create a gated sound without any gate.

Using the high pass filter to remove all the low frequency part of a sample and then adding it to a lower pitched sample can add roughness to an otherwise uninteresting sound.

Never be afraid to try using a 'wrong' sample — one of the presets uses a Woodblock as part of a snare sound.


12 Bass Drums
19 Snare Drums 8 Hi-Hats
5 Cymbals 8 Toms
20 Percussion sounds
12 Special Effect sounds
6 Synthesizer waveforms

(All apart from the synth waveforms are also available reversed)

174 waves in total, including reversed versions.

Most wave types have dry, reverberant, processed, and analog variants. Some, like the guiro, seem to have built-in velocity crossfades. I could not hear any evidence of multi-sampling over a pitch range.


Standard Rhythm Cards:
Percussion RSC3001
New Percussion RSC3002
Dance & Soul RSC3003
House & Rap RSC3004
Artist Signature Rhythm Cards:
Dave Weckl (Chick Corea Elektric Band) RSC3071
Matt Sorum (Guns 'n' Roses) RSC3072
Tommy Aldridge (Whitesnake) RSC4073
Peter Erskine RSC3074

Any SY/TG 77 or SY/TG 55 wave card:
Sax 1 4 waves S7701/S5501
Drums 1 12 waves S7702/S5502
Rock & Pop 30 waves S7703/S5551
Brass 6 waves S7704/S5504
String Section S7705/S5505
Syn Wave 16 waves S7731/S5531
House & Latin S7752/S5552

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

Tascam M2524

Next article in this issue

Making A Video Demo

Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Jun 1991

Donated by: Rob Hodder

Gear in this article:

Drum Machine > Yamaha > RY30

Gear Tags:

Digital Drums

Review by Martin Russ

Previous article in this issue:

> Tascam M2524

Next article in this issue:

> Making A Video Demo

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