FM Tone Generator
It's small, grey and made by Yamaha - it must be an FM MIDI expander. Ian Waugh checks out
the latest application of Yamaha's favourite synthesiser technology.
YAMAHA SEEM TO have forsaken the 'X' in their instrument names of late. Either that or the boffins have run out of prefixes to put in front of it or numbers to put after it. So, by way of a change, meet the TQ5.
On first acquaintance it looks rather different from your average expander - in fact it looks as though the fascia was dropped onto the box and given a ten degree twist to the left before being fixed into place. On more intimate examination, however, you get a sense of deja vu. What have we here? Why, it's our old friend the YS200 - in a box.
The TQ5 seems to be aimed firmly at the home market - otherwise, I assume it would have been housed in the more familiar rackmount box (is a TQ5R likely?). The TQ5 is a four-operator, eight-algorithm, eight-note polyphonic and multitimbral instrument, not totally unlike the TX81Z and DX11, but the TQ5 has ten built-in effects including reverb, delay and distortion, which beef up the thinnest FM voices. It doesn't result in quite the same breathy quality as the current crop of "warm" digital instruments, but it beats the hell out of straight FM sounds.
The TQ5 has 100 presets, room for another 100 in RAM (user memory) and provision for 100 more in an optional RAM card. For four-operator DX synthesis the presets are impressive - thanks largely to the effects section.
There's a fair range of preset sounds with perhaps a surfeit of "Syn Basses". The pianos are still FM thin but the effects work well on strings and brasses. The percussive sounds at which FM excels benefit, too. The sounds are velocity sensitive and respond to aftertouch.
Further evidence of the TQ5's "home appeal" can be found in its Easy Edit system. This revolves around a large LCD and five buttons labelled EG, Tone, LFO, Name and Effects. Most parameters can be altered by plus or minus ten values - there's not an operator or algorithm in sight. It's a doddle to tweak a sound, although you don't have as much control over the sound as you do on an 'X' machine.
The design of the TQ5 is such that you can't really get lost in a edit function. But should you manage the impossible, the Exit button will take you back to the last voice.
Multi Mode is the TQ5's multitimbral mode, which lets you play eight different sounds at the same time. It's equivalent to the TX81Z's Performance Mode and the FB01's Configurations but unlike these instruments, the TQ5 only has one such setting. This is its most significant limitation and will probably deter many semi-pros especially if they do much sequencing.
Speaking of which, the TQ5 has a built-in sequencer capable of storing 999 bars of music (about 10,000 notes). You can record in real time or step time from a Master keyboard. It's quite a powerful sequencer but operation is a little fiddly and it's not quite as friendly as voice editing. Perhaps I've been hanging around software sequencers too long. Seven Part Types (Multi Mode settings) are supplied preset to help you with multitimbral sequencing.
The major differences between the TQ5 and the YS200 are minor, if you see what I mean. The TQ5 has a clock and calendar function which displays the current time (in 24-hour format), date and day of the week (this had not been set on the review model). It pops up if you don't touch the machine for a minute - reminds me a little of the White Rabbit. This would have been doubly useful if it could have been extended to tell you how long a sequence had been playing.
The only other major/minor difference lies in the naming of voices. With the YS200 each key on the keyboard represents a letter - like a giant typewriter. As the TQ5 has no keyboard you have to step through the letters one by one in usual expander fashion.
The sound quality of the TQ5 is squeaky clean - I'd have no hesitation in recommending it for recording and there's really no reason why it couldn't be used by the pro or semi-pro (apart from the restrictive Multi Mode).
The manual is quite thorough and all its 130 pages are in English (sic) although 30 pages are given over to its MIDI data format.
As a method of sound synthesis, FM has its own distinctive strengths and weaknesses, and the effects section of the TQ5 go some way to covering for these weaknesses.
Yamaha see the TQ5 as an add-on to an electric piano, and I have no hesitation in saying that it would compliment such an instrument well, especially if you want to experiment with sequencing. And not a mention of the word "workstation" in sight.
For more details check out the YS200 review in MT, November '88.
Price £450 including VAT