John Renwick puts this sequencer/sound module through its paces
If you want to get into computer music but want to free up your micro for other uses the Yamaha TQ-5 module may be the answer - John Renwick reports
Not all of us want to spend thousands of pounds on musical equipment, and end up with a spare room looking like Houston Mission Control. If you don't want to be the Pet Shop Boys, but just like to make micro music without letting the whole business take over your life, you want a single product which does as much as possible in one go.
Roland's MT-32, featuring LA sound synthesis, sampled drums and digital effects, created a real stir in the pro market, though it was intended for home users. Now Yamaha has come up with the TQ-5, an FM synth module which has even more features than the MT-32 at an equally attractive price.
The TQ-5 is stylishly designed with a sloping front-panel layout which makes it ideal for operating while sitting on top of your master keyboard (the TQ-5, dummy, not you). The electronics are basically similar to those of the TX-81Z, a 19-inch rack-mounting FM module which has become very popular with home studios. The TQ-5, though, features additional multi-mode digital effects and an onboard sequencer, so all you need to add is a MIDI control keyboard to be ready to create complete compositions.
MIDI IN, OUT and THRU, left and right audio outputs, headphone socket and power supply socket are around the back. The main panel is dominated by a a large amber LCD display, beneath which are four sets of plus/minus buttons which are used for editing parameters. There are three other groups of control buttons, to change mode, activate the sequencer and enter numeric data, and on the left is the memory card slot which you can use to store edited sounds and sequences. The TQ-5 is compatible with RAM/ROM cards designed for the YS-100, 200 and B-200 synths, but it's a pretty expensive business considering the price of RAM cards. Since the TQ-5 is TX-81Z patch compatible, you should be able to edit and save sounds using any suitable software patch editor/librarian program.
The sounds themselves are excellent; 100 editable presets including plucky strings, tinkly pianos, powerful leads, funky basses and whizzy synth sounds, plus another bank of 100 user memories for your own creations.
If the presets sound better to you than any previous four-operator FM patches, it's probably because of the built-in digital effects. You can think of the effects unit as being a simplified version of the REX-50 guitar effects box; there are ten basic effects, Hall Reverb, Room Reverb, Plate Reverb, Delay, Delay L/R (one repeat on each output channel), Stereo Echo (alternating repeats), Distortion with Reverb, Distortion with Echo, Gate Reverb (up to 3.2 seconds gate time), and Reverse Gate. The reverbs can be up to ten seconds long, the delays up to 300 milliseconds.
With such a variety of high-quality digital effects to enhance your sounds, it's easy to see why the TQ-5 sounds so good. But there's nothing to stop you editing the basic sounds, using the "Easy-Edit" FM method pioneered on the YS series keyboards. Instead of having to worry about algorithms, operators and eight-stage envelopes, your life is made easy by simplifying the parameters.
Using options such as Brilliance, Tone, Envelope and Wave, you can very quickly change the overall shape, tone quality and wave-shapes for the sound. The TQ-5 also responds to velocity, mod wheel, aftertouch, breath control and pitch bend information from suitably-equipped MIDI keyboards. Vibrato, tremolo, tone control and volume response are all available; so by now you should get the idea that the TQ-5 has all the facilities of a professional synth module hidden under its "home keyboard" exterior. Of course, a TX-81Z patch editor will give you complete control over each FM parameter if that's what you want!
Edited sounds can be stored in memory, to a patch editor or to RAM cards. It's also possible to save sequences to RAM cards. The TQ-5's sequencer is surprisingly powerful, as you can hear from the three jazzy built-in demo tunes; in fact it has a capacity of about 10,000 notes, arranged in eight songs, each of eight tracks up to 999 measures long. In Sequencer mode, the eight Edit buttons on the left function as track on/off switches.
Using the TQ-5's internal voices, and/or those of an external module, you can create pleasingly complex sequences quickly and easily. The TQ-5 has a full MIDI implementation, allowing you to set it to OMNI mode or any MIDI channel IN or OUT, to set up keyboard splits or to operate multi-timbrally, using as many voices as you have available on any MIDI channel.
The sequencer lets you record in real-time or step time, and there's an amazing selection of editing features including punch-in record with programmable punch-in and -out point, overdubbing, track merging, data filtering, quantisation of up to 1/48 note, patch change, insert and delete measure and so on. If you aren't familiar with sequencers, a helpful graphic display lets you actually see the notes you've entered for each track, and edit them using the cursors. Bear in mind though that the TQ-5 only allows you to assign one Effect type to each song - like the Roland MT-32.
All you really need to turn the TQ-5 into a complete MIDI workstation is a controller keyboard and a drum machine. With the addition of a computer sequencer and patch editor, it becomes a really impressive beast, and at the price it looks set to do well in both amateur and pro markets.
Product: Yamaha TQ-5 FM module
Supplier: Yamaha/Kemble, (Contact Details)
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Review by John Renwick