Reviewed as the TG55 expander last month, one of Yamaha's new children has grown a keyboard and sequencer and become an instrument in its own right. Ian Waugh gives a SY of relief.
WELL, AS HINTED in our TG55 review (March '90), here comes the SY55 - a TG55 with keyboard attached. It has a built-in sequencer and there are a few changes in sockets but otherwise the gubbins of the two beasties are identical.
The idly curious can peruse this In Brief at a leisurely pace, although if you think the SY55 is for you - and I can think of no earthly or unearthly reason why it should not be - then more info is available in the aforementioned in-depth review.
The tone generation system is based on Yamaha's custom 16-bit sampling technology, AWM2 (Advanced Wave Modulation, second generation). The SY55 has 74 sampled waveforms in 2 megabytes of ROM. These have been sampled at 32kHz or 48kHz and with 24-bit internal processing and 22-bit digital-to-analogue converters the output is exceedingly clean.
There are two modes of operation - Voice and Multi. Voice simply plays a single sound, the one you select. Multi mode is used to create multitimbral setups for use with the sequencer.
Like the TG55, there are 64 Voices in ROM, room for 64 programmable ones in RAM plus another 64 or 128 on an optional memory card. There are 16 Multis in ROM and 16 programmable ones in RAM and more can be stored on memory cards, too.
A Voice can be made from one, two, or four Elements which, basically, consist of one of the waveforms plus a number of parameters such as volume, tuning, keyboard zones and so on. Each Element has two filters with resonance for further sonic shaping, and there are 34 digital effects. Two of the Voices are dedicated drum sections, each key playing a different drum sound. You can create your own kits, too. All the sounds are identical to the TG55 as are the excellent demos.
Cosmetically, the SY55 is obviously from the same stable as the SY77 although it has fewer controls. The keyboard is light, but firm to the touch. It's not the same as the keyboard on the SY77 and the travel seems shorter (every synth keyboard seems a little different these days). It's velocity and aftertouch sensitive and pitchbend and modulation wheels are situated on the left of the panel just above the keys.
The SY55 has the same two-line LCD as the TG55 plus two card slots, one for waveforms, the other for data, which includes voice and sequencer info. Buttons below the LCD select Voice and Multi modes, the, sequencer, edit, copy store and utility operations. Buttons on the right are used to step through edit pages and change parameter values (this can also be done with a data entry slider).
Further to the right are more buttons - a numeric keypad (another way to enter data) which doubles as a track selector for the sequencer, a duration selector for step-time input and Element selector for voice creation.
The sequencer has eight tracks (the SY77's sequencer has 16) and can hold eight songs (the SY77 can only hold one) with a memory capacity of 8,000 notes (the SY77 can hold 16,000 notes). There's a card song directory (similar to the SY77's song directory on disk) and songs can be loaded, saved and deleted individually.
In Multi mode, a Voice is assigned to a MIDI channel (as opposed to assigning a MIDI channel to a Voice), which means two Voices can't play using the note info on one channel, a miss when playing live perhaps. However, this arrangement simplifies voice/channel assignments when using a sequencer. The internal sequencer's tracks can be assigned a transmission channel, too.
The SY55 is 16-note polyphonic, but voices are assigned dynamically during playback so you don't have to reserve voices for a part in the way of the TX81Z, for example. But you can do so if you wish.
You can record in replace, overdub, step-time and punch-in modes. You can filter out aftertouch and/or velocity information during recording (aftertouch eats up sequencer memory) and there are measure insert, copy and erase operations. You can remove pitchbend from a track and there's a track mixdown function (although the combined track will be transmitted on one MIDI channel). Quantise options run from 1/4 to l/48th notes which, to some, may seem a little coarse.
The SY55 has only one set of stereo outputs (the TG55 has an additional pair of Individual outs), headphone, volume and sustain jack sockets plus a socket for a breath controller.
The TG55 calls itself a Tone Generator and the SY55 calls itself a Music Synthesiser. No mention of workstation or even sample playback whatsit anywhere. Yamaha obviously see the two instruments as synthesisers and the fact that they use sampled waveforms seems to be incidental to their function of creating sounds. Just another form of synthesis. And why not?
The difference in price between the TG55 and SY55 is £350, and the SY seems well priced for the extra facilities it offers. It's also one of the cheapest "workstations" around, and if you're in the market for a piece of all-in-one kit, you'll find it very attractive indeed. Well worth a trip to your local, friendly Yamaha dealer.
Price £1099 including VAT.