Another member of Yamaha's world-beating FM family; Howard Massey finds this powerful rack-mount right up his digital street.
Second generation FM synthesis - multitimbrality, six-operator voices and individual audio outputs suggest Yamaha's latest synth is a winner.
IN MEDIEVAL TIMES, the rack was an instrument of torture. Today, much the same can be said of various synthesisers squeezed into a 19" rack space with convoluted or even non-existent programming capabilities. But here's the good news: the TX802 is one rack-mounted synth that takes us out of the days of the Spanish Inquisition and Cardinal Fang.
Essentially, the TX802 is a rack-mounted DX7IID - not DX7IIFD since there is a cartridge slot but no onboard disk drive. Like the DX7IID (but unlike the TX802's predecessor, the TX816) there are full editing facilities onboard. The TX802 is also capable of generating up to eight timbres (or "instruments") simultaneously - unlike the DX7IID, which only generates two. And each of the eight tone generators has its own audio output (like the TX816) and, in addition, there is a stereo audio output. Now make a cup of tea and read that again.
LETS START OUR guided tour with a close-up look of the front panel. Like the DX7II, a back-lit, 2X40 character LCD predominates. It shows not only numeric information, but in selected editing operations, actually shows bar-graph displays of data. Immediately below the LCD is a series of eight LED switches. These serve dual functions: in Performance or Voice Select mode, they allow you to turn various tone generators on or off. When a tone generator is left on, the LED in the switch blinks whenever a MIDI Note On signal is received. Happily, these switches do not blink when a note off is received, making a less distracting display when you are actually playing notes. In Edit mode, the LED switches allow you to choose various menus of parameters. And, when you press an Edit mode switch, the LCD line immediately above these eight LED switches shows the function of each one, so no memorising is required.
To the left of the LCD is the power on/off switch and - hallelujah! - a headphone jack. Immediately to the right of the LCD are a series of eight mode select switches. The top four bring you into any of the four main modes: Performance Select, Voice Select, System Setup, or Utility. Beneath these are three switches enabling you to edit performance parameters or voice parameters (these are split into Voice Edit I and Voice Edit II so that each parameter has sufficient display space - the Voice Edit II parameters are what used to be function controls in the DX7), and a "Store" switch for writing data to either internal or cartridge memory.
Below these mode switches is the ubiquitous cartridge slot. It holds the same ROM and RAM4 cartridges used in the DX7II and can also hold original DX7 ROMs and RAMs with the use of the ADP1 adapter. The TX802 can access voices created in either the DX7 or DX7II but cannot access performance memories created in the II. Its own formatting procedure sets up the cartridge to hold either 64 voices plus 64 performances (as opposed to the 64 voices plus only 32 performances of the DX7II) or the usual 64 fractional scalings or 63 micro tunings. The addition of a cartridge slot alone gives the TX802 an edge over the TX816, where voices could only be transferred via MIDI - and, if you've ever tried it, you'll know that it's much easier to call up voices by plugging a cartridge in.
Finally, to the right of the mode switches and cartridge slot is the keypad. This not only contains the usual increment-decrement (Yes/No) and Internal-Cartridge Select (doubling as cursor) switches, but also has ten dedicated number keys (doubling as letter keys when naming voices). And for the first time on any Yamaha synthesiser there's an Enter key. These little beasties, found in almost every other manufacturer's design, have been conspicuously absent from Yamaha synths until now. Now, there are two schools of thought regarding the existence of such a switch on a synth. One maintains that it adds another annoying step to the editing process, while the other views it as a safety switch. Whichever school you belong to, you'll probably be glad it's there the first time you type the wrong numbers into the correct parameter or the right numbers into the wrong parameter. Until you press the Enter switch, they won't be registered and you won't hear any change in the sound.
As a visual aid, whenever you see a number blinking in the display (as opposed to staying lit), you must press Enter in order to send the data change to the microprocessor - at which time the number in the display stops blinking. There's no data entry slider on the TX802, since its function is efficiently replaced by the ability to directly enter in numbers from the keypad. Those of you who have been editing DX voices with the use of an external patch editor are probably already used to direct number entry, and those of you who haven't will just have to take my word that it really does speed things up.
In contrast to all this, the rear panel is very straightforward: MIDI In, Out, and Thru, two stereo output jacks, and eight individual audio outputs. All audio outs are ¼" jacks, as opposed to the XLR connectors used by the TX816. While the individual outs make the TX802 an instrument worth a double rack space in any studio, the stereo outs also make it useful in a home or live performance setup - the best of both worlds.
NORMALLY, THE TX802 would be played in Performance Select mode. Each of the eight tone generators is capable of only two-note polyphony, but you can link "instruments" together to get up to 16 notes at a time. You could have, for example, one instrument with two-voice polyphony, another with two tone generators linked together for four-voice polyphony, and a third one with five tone generators linked together for ten-note polyphony. Or, in fact, any combination of even-numbered polyphony up to the maximum 16 voices.
"Multitimbrality: The TX802 is capable of generating up to eight timbres simultaneously - unlike the DX7IID, which only generates two."
When you're in Performance Select mode, all you can really do is call up different performance memories with the keypad or remotely over MIDI, or turn instruments on or off.
By pressing Perform Edit you can edit the performance parameters. At this time, the LCD changes to show the functions of the eight menu select switches (the instrument LED on-off switches) immediately below. The first of these allows you to set the MIDI receive channel for the individual instruments, each of which can listen to any of the 16 MIDI channels or to all in Omni mode. When adjacent instruments are set to receive on the same MIDI channel, they can also be "alternately assigned" by pressing and holding Enter while pressing the On switch. Doing this will cause a short arrow to appear to the left of the voice number in the display. Now, each incoming note will rotate between the alternately assigned instruments in ascending order - rather like voice assignment modes used in Sequential and Oberheim instruments. The difference, of course, is that you can have radically different timbres for each instrument or, for more subtle effects, you can set up an alternate assignment between instruments that are only slightly different. The TX802 even has a simple procedure that will "confuse" its microprocessor so that the assignments won't always alternate in ascending order giving a pseudo-random effect.
Other editing operations here allow you to: turn EG forced damping on and off (like choosing single or multiple triggering in an analogue synth); independently set the volume of each instrument in a performance memory; set the low and high note limit of each instrument (thus allowing keyboard splits and layerings to be set from your master keyboard while transmitting on a single MIDI channel - particularly useful when using a DX as your master keyboard); shift the incoming note data in semitones over a range of plus or minus two octaves; select a micro tuning table (each instrument in the TX802 can access a different micro-tuning table); slightly detune an instrument; and name the performance memory.
You can also store a performance memory to any of 64 internal or cartridge slots. This is achieved by pressing the Store switch and then selecting the destination number with the keypad. Although the factory performance presets are not stored permanently in ROM (though voices are), a booklet enclosed with the owner's manual shows the performance edit parameters for each of the 64 factory presets, so you can always reconstruct them afterward if need be.
The TX802 also has a parameter here that allows you to assign each instrument to either or both of the stereo outputs. This is particularly useful with alternately assigned voices, since you can have repeated key depressions call up the same or radically different timbres which can then appear at different points in the stereo image. This is no substitute for the true stereo panning on the DX7II but at least you can get some movement in the sound without having to resort to outboard signal processing. It's worth noting that assignment and volume changes made in edit mode will not alter the output from that instrument's individual audio output, which is always sent full blast under any circumstances.
Voice Select mode enables you to select individual voices for use within a performance memory. The TX802 contains two banks of 64 permanently stored ROM voices - banks A and B - along with another bank of 64 RAM voices - labelled as bank I, for "internal". Additionally, you can access another 64 voices from a cartridge, called bank C. You specify a particular voice to be viewed or changed by using the keypad cursor keys and, not only is the selected voice name displayed on the top line of the LCD, but the MIDI receive channel for that voice is displayed as well. You cannot alter this here - Receive Channel Select is a performance edit parameter - but it's nice to be able to move the cursor along the different voices and instantly see which channel each is listening to.
From this display you can also link instruments together to create polyphonies of greater than two voices. You accomplish this by positioning the cursor over the tone generator you want to link, and pressing and holding Enter while pressing Off. Instruments that are linked or in alternate assign mode will turn on and off together when using the eight LED on-off switches. From Voice Select mode, you can also store a specific voice to an internal or cartridge memory slot by using Store. It's also worth noting that, like the DX7II, if you call up a voice written with either fractional scaling or micro tuning data and the appropriate cartridge is not in the slot, a visual indicator in the LCD - in this case, a blinking T or "t" - will remind you of that fact.
"Displays: Alternative displays for the operator EG settings and operator output level take the form of bar graphs."
AS MENTIONED EARLIER, there are two voice edit modes, Voice Edit I and Voice Edit II. Voice Edit I contains all of the basic FM voicing parameters, including algorithm number, feedback level, oscillator key sync, transpose, voice name, oscillator frequency (coarse, fine, and detune), operator and pitch EG values (the same four levels and rates used in the DX instruments), output level and level scaling (including both normal and fractional modes), operator sensitivity (to keyboard velocity, pitch modulation, or amplitude modulation/EG bias modulation), and LFO settings.
Worthy of special mention is the fact that the TX802 offers three unique displays in addition to the standard numeric displays which are identical to those of the DX7II. The first of these is an alternative frequency display that not only shows the mode (ratio or fixed) and coarse and fine frequencies for all six operators in the one display, but also indicates which operators are carriers and which are modulators in the algorithm you're currently using. Unfortunately, there's no visual indication as to which operators are modulating which other operators. This information still has to come from the algorithm diagrams, provided on a pull-out sheet attached beneath the unit. The currently selected operator is indicated with a blinking operator number.
Alternative displays are also available for both the operator EG settings and operator output level. Both of these take the form of bar graphs in the EG display; the four EG levels for all six operators are shown at once - with no indication of rate values - while in the alternative output level display, the bar graph represents the output of the chosen operator over an 87-note range - that is, 29 three-semitone groups - of the keyboard. This clearly shows the effect of any keyboard level scaling being used, and is really useful when working in the relatively new area of fractional scaling.
For example, when changing the offset value in the fractional display, you see all the bars change at once. When working in fractional scaling mode, the currently selected note group is indicated with a blinking bar. True, these are relatively low-resolution bars and no useful numeric data can be derived from them - you get the numbers themselves by pressing the parameter switch again to return to the numeric display - but it's useful to have some kind of graphic representation of what is actually being accomplished when changing edit data. Now why can't these same displays be included in the DX7II?
It's probably worth mentioning at this point that all TX802 editing operations can be carried out either from the unit's own keypad, or directly from a DX7II MIDI'd to the 802. In fact, you don't need to even look at the 802 display while using this latter method - though you'd probably want to use the bar graph displays - since calling up and making a change to a parameter with the data entry slider or Yes/No switches of the DX7II will cause that same parameter to be called up and changed in the 802. Isn't compatibility a wonderful thing?
Voice Edit II allows you to program several of the parameters offered by DX7II edit switches 23-26. Setting the key mode is one of these functions, but it's a little different to the DX7II because only poly and mono are offered here: there is no unison poly or mono. Don't forget, though, that you can detune tone generators in Performance Edit mode. Another display lets you determine the range and step of the pitch-bend wheel - but the alternative high, low, and key on modes offered by the DX7II are not supported. Remember, however, that each individual TX802 instrument can have different pitch-bend wheel settings. Like the DX7II, the TX802 allows you to determine the depth of a random pitch effect, and to set various portamento modes, steps, and times. Last, but by no means least, are the routings for the modulation wheel, foot controller, breath controller, and keyboard aftertouch.
Naturally enough, these controller routings presume that you are using a Yamaha keyboard as the master controller. You're not? Never fear - MIDI's here. The TX802 System Setup menu allows you to reassign any incoming controller data to take on the functions of the mod wheel, breath controller or foot controller, or to directly control volume or portamento time, or to act as a sustain or portamento switch. In other words, you can adapt any controller to suit the TX802. But it would have been nice to see even more options offered - for example, allowing incoming controller data to take on the aftertouch or direct EG bias functions.
"Voices: The TX802 allows you to hear all eight instruments while editing one, so you could approach it as a 48-operator synth."
THE SYSTEM SETUP menu allows you to specify how incoming MIDI control change, program change, aftertouch or pitch-bend messages are dealt with by the TX802. Each of these can be selectively filtered, or can be received by each instrument on its own channel (ideal for sequence control) or over an assignable global MIDI channel (ideal for live performance with a single keyboard controller). Like the DX7II, the TX802 can respond to all incoming note messages, or to just odd or even numbered notes - a clever trick that enables up to 32-note polyphony when two TX802s or an 802 and a DX7II are used together with the same voices in memory and one set to receive even notes and the other to receive odd ones.
Another option in this menu lets you reassign incoming program change messages if desired. And last, but not least, is the micro tuning edit display - similar in every respect to the equivalent display in the DX7II - and the master tuning and internal memory protection controls. Interestingly enough, there is no software cartridge memory protection switch in the TX802, only the hard switch on the cartridge itself.
Finally, the Utility menu allows you to selectively transmit system exclusive data. Like the DX7II, any area of memory - voices, performances, micro tunings or system setup - can be transmitted, and so too can the contents of memory - voices, performances, micro tunings or system setup - can be transmitted, and so too can the contents of the edit buffer, meaning you don't have to store data before you can transmit it. The Utility menu also contains options to save to or load from cartridge, as well as the cartridge formatting procedure. Here you can also initialise the voice or performance edit buffer or the incoming program change or controller reassignments. A Recall Edit function - for either voice or performance data - is also available, as is a copy function. It's worth taking a minute to describe this because it's substantially better than any copy function available on previous X-series machines, and nearly as good as that available on most patch editing software. Three options are offered: you can copy EG and scaling data (both rate and level scaling, plus output level) from operator to operator; you can copy the oscillator mode, frequency (coarse and fine) and detune or you can copy all of the above, plus velocity and amplitude modulation sensitivity. A good start, but it would be useful to have even more options, because there are times when you want to copy output level only or EG data without the other parameters tagging along for the ride.
Like other DX instruments, there is an instantly accessible Compare mode from any of the editing menus, and this, combined with the Recall Edit function and the keypad makes editing on the TX802 a simple and painless procedure. The DX7II instruments allow you to hear both voices at once while editing, thus allowing you to approach them as true 12-operator synthesisers. The TX802 takes things a step further and allows you to hear all eight instruments while editing just one - allowing those of you with a pioneering or masochistic streak to approach it as a 48-operator synth.
And, in the Don't These Clever Nippon-Gakki Engineers Think Of Everything Department, try this for size: you buy a TX802, but you don't have a rack to mount it in. No problem, there's a little tilt-stand mounted underneath to make table-top use simpler.
WITH EIGHT INDIVIDUAL outputs and an easy-to-use and understand multitimbral operation, the TX802 distinguishes itself as the FM synth to own - particularly for sequencing work. And unlike almost any other rack version of a keyboard synth, the TX802 offers improved editing displays and simpler programming operations.
Frankly it's hard to find too many things to moan about, but I'll try. There's no stereo panning - even though there are stereo outs - and there is a total of only 16 voices available as opposed to the 128 available on the TX816. Giving names to voices and performance memories is even more of a pain here than on the DX, but then how often do you have to name voices? Apart from these minor points, this really is a hell of a synthesiser.
All in all, the advanced programming features of the TX802 - not to mention its excellent sound quality - make it worthy of inclusion in setups of all sizes and sophistications. Tie me to the rack.
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