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Yamaha YS200

The Friendly Face of FM

Yamaha’s FM-based synths have incorporated more and more ‘easy editing' features of late in an attempt to make FM synthesis accessible to a broader spectrum of potential users. Yamaha's latest synth, the YS200, takes this approach even further with the inclusion of onboard digital effects, an 8-track sequencer, and large controls! Martin Russ looks at FM in a different guise.


Yamaha's FM-based synths have incorporated more and more 'easy editing' features of late in an attempt to make FM synthesis accessible to a broader spectrum of potential users. The YS200 takes this approach even further with the inclusion of onboard digital effects, an 8-track sequencer, and large controls! Martin Russ looks at FM in a different guise.


The YS200 and YS100 are instantly memorable - once seen, never forgotten. When the review sample arrived I showed it to my wife, whose first words were something like: "Why is the volume control so large?", followed by "Is this calculator removable?" as she tried to prise away the keypad. Futuristic and a designer's design is certainly how it appeared to me at first, but I have to report that the shape, layout and ergonomics actually grow on you. I am actually very impressed, both with the sounds and the feel. Let's have a look at why...

The YS200 and YS100 have identical voice generation circuitry, though the YS200 has the added benefit of aftertouch sensitivity and a built-in sequencer. For the purposes of this review, I shall refer to the YS200 only.

The centre of the YS200 top panel is dominated by a large backlit 80-character LCD display (arranged as two rows of 40 characters each) with the sequencer control buttons above it, and eight yellow arrow buttons below it. The YS series uses a 'paged' control system, where you interact with parameter pages displayed on the LCD to control all the functions. The 'arrows' are assigned different functions depending upon which page you are on - the action they have is clearly displayed on the LCD above the relevant arrow. All the buttons have a positive click to them.

This assignable button system is one of the major reasons why there are so few buttons in total (and so few printed legends on the top panel), since it makes it both easy to use, simple and cheap to manufacture, and also allows the functions to be changed just by revising the software. (If you have used a D50 or ESQ1/SQ80 then the system of assignable buttons will be very familiar.) To the left of the display is the volume control (it really is as large as it appears in the photo!). This serves only the volume function - it is not assignable to other parameters! If you have mostly used parameter access synths before then you may have some habits to break here! To the right of the display are two rows of five buttons used to select pages on the display. Beyond these is a numeric keypad which also incorporates the +/- incrementors. Recessed out of harm's way on the far right are the Exit and Store buttons - used to exit pages or store user sounds, respectively.

The top left of the front panel has a distinctive wedge leading to a memory card slot. The memory card provides preset voices in its ROM form, or RAM-based storage for user voices and sequence data. Only three other objects protrude from the front panel - the Pitch Bend and Modulation wheels (much wider and chunkier than on previous Yamaha synths) and the keyboard: five octaves, C-C, and slightly spongier, lighter and springier than I prefer - very much like a DX100 keyboard in feel. Once acclimatised though, my fingers had no problems pressing the keys (only the usual problem of playing the right ones at the right time!).

The rear panel is even sparser - there are A and B jack outputs for the stereo audio signals, and two more jacks for a volume pedal and sustain switch. The usual MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets are present. The only other items are a fixed mains lead (not a very good idea) and a push on/push off mains switch. The front of the YS has the headphone socket and breath controller socket just located below the wheels. That concludes the external examination. Everything else happens on the display pages.

POWER-UP



When you power up the YS200, it beeps, displays its name for a few seconds, then reverts to the main Play page shown below:

PLAY) PRESET VOICE Tuning Note Shift
No.00 Elegant +00 +00

This is the layout which all subsequent pages follow: the page name is shown in the top left-hand corner. The top row then gives information about parameters, and the lower line has the editable values or selectable options. For the Play page, the leftmost two arrows select voices with an increment/decrement function, or the keypad can be used to quickly select any of the 100 (00-99) voices. Notice that the Tuning and Note Shift parameters on this page are global - affecting all voices. We will see the individual controls later.

Three of the buttons to the right of the display are dedicated to voice selection - Preset, User and Card select from the three available sources of sounds. There are 100 preset and user memories - no memory card was available with the review model and so I assume that there will be at least 100 in there also. The whole of the user memory is battery-backed, so the voices, effect set-ups, split and multi settings, songs and sequences wiH stay securely inside when you power down. For those of you who are counting, this means that there are 300 sounds (or voices in Yamaha-speak) which are instantly available.

EDITING



The left row of buttons is also dedicated to a single purpose - voice editing. The new Quick Edit function, first introduced on the DX11, is presented in a different and very effective form in the YS synths. From the top, the buttons are concerned with the Envelope, the Tone, the LFO, and the Voice Name. The final button controls the Effect setting. Even though you can edit the presets 'live', all changes disappear unless you save them in user memory. Unlike DX synths, which have separate Performance memories for dealing with things like effects and modulation, all these editing functions are tied to the voice - in other words, it behaves as you would expect; store any changed voice in user memory and it will reappear the next time you call up that voice, complete with effects and modulation settings.

As you press each button, a red LED illuminates as an indication. Pressing another button changes to that editing function, with the Exit button returning you to the Play page. The EG button lets you alter the Attack, Decay and Release for three elements of the sounds separately: Volume, Tone and Volume & Tone. The control range is from -10 to +10, with 0 as the initial position. Tone offers control over Brilliance, Wave (which controls the fine frequency of the modulators, I think), and the strange 'Input 4 Numbers' - which lets you select one of the eight special FM waveforms. The LFO button lets you edit the Speed, Vibrato and Tremolo Depth of LFO modulation.

The Voice Name button lets you modify the name of a voice with a rather novel way of entering characters - you use the keyboard! C2 selects the letter 'C', D2 selects 'D', E2 'E', etc - all the way up to E5 for 'Z'. C1 toggles between upper and lower case letters, and the rest of the keyboard is allocated to other symbols. Numbers are entered with the keypad. All the available characters are shown on the top line of the LCD and the arrow keys are used to advance between the 10 available character slots. This system is quick to use, once you get over the initial shock of idle playing producing silly names!

The Effect button gives control over the built-in reverb (similar to a restricted function R100). It has only 10 editable memories and 10 effects: three reverbs, two delays, one stereo echo, two distortion and reverb/echoes, and two gated reverbs with the last one reversed. You can change the time or room size, as appropriate, and the balance between effect and original. The reverb sound is exactly the same high quality as the SPX and REX units - 12kHz bandwidth, 16-bit linear conversion giving 74dB signal-to-noise and 0.1% distortion at 1kHz.

There are only two buttons left - Save/Load needs almost no explanation except to say that it deals with transfers to and from the memory card, not MIDI. Everything else is hidden beneath the Job button. Pressing this produces six options in a Job Menu above the arrow keys: Edit, Control, Bulk, MIDI, Split and Multi. Pressing the arrow beneath the Edit display provides further control over the voice parameters - Feedback, to control the roughness of the sound; Transpose, to set the key or octave; Touch Sensitivity; and Poly/Mono.

Pressing the Job button again returns to the Job Menu. The Control option enables the Pitch Bend Range and Modulation Wheel, Breath Control and Aftertouch to be assigned to vibrato, tone, tremolo, wow or off. The Bulk option controls MIDI output of the voice in the edit buffer, all 100 user voices, or just System information. The MIDI option lets you set the transmit and receive channel to 1-16, off or Omni (Omni is for receive only, of course), so the YS could be used as a master keyboard as well.

SPLIT & MULTI MODES



You only get one memory each for Split mode and Multi mode. The Split option lets you choose only the upper and lower voice, together with the split point. In contrast, choosing Multi mode produces another set of options - the Multi menu. The options let you set the maximum number of notes which will be played by the eight available sound generators or parts (Yamaha do not seem to be very keen on dynamic assignment of voices, unlike Roland and Kawai), the receive channels for each of the parts, the voice number for each part, the volume, pan position (L, L&R, R), detune, note limit (to restrict the range to a specific part of the keyboard) and, finally, the LFO assignment - off, LFOa, LFOb and vibrato.

Interestingly, if you are in Multi mode and you look at the MIDI job, you will find that the MIDI receive is fixed at 'multi' - a nice touch showing that a lot of thought has gone into the software. I also discovered that if you press the Effect button whilst in Multi mode, then you get an effect specific to just the Multi mode - and it is stored in the battery-backed RAM. So I set up a detuned string sound with two sets of 4-note assignments, and used the stereo echo to widen out the sound.

That describes the main features of the Play mode. The remarkable thing about the YS synths is that their ergonomic design really does seem to work. I was able to find my way around without any major problems, even without a manual!

CONCLUSION



The YS200 looks very different, sounds great, and includes a sophisticated sequencer with relatively simple to use controls. You would have to buy a DX11 synth, QX5 sequencer and R100 budget reverb to obtain the same functionality, and you would need MIDI cables and some know-how to be able to use them (as well as about £1000). In contrast, the YS200 is deceptively easy to operate and comes as a self-contained, ready-to-use package - at the price, it must be a bargain!

I could find only a couple of points to criticise: the memory card might be seen as an expensive external storage medium - there is no provision for cassette storage of voices or sequencer data. MIDI Bulk Dumps may provide a low cost alternative, but this rather goes against the single unit 'workstation' concept - perhaps a disk drive will appear on the next generation of YS keyboards, as on the latest Roland LA synths. Also, the division of the voice editing between a button and a Job is rather strange in view of the careful thought devoted to the other aspects of the design - but this could easily be fixed by a software revision (hint, hint!).

Criticisms aside, this could be the synth that takes FM to the masses! I have a sneaking suspicion it is a trial model aimed at a wide audience which will lead to a new generation of professional instruments. It tries extraordinarily hard to take away the complexities and mystique of FM synthesis. Like most people I initially thought the design was peculiar, but once you start working with it you quickly realise that your old DX7 is beginning to look very difficult to use and very old fashioned in design. The YS200 shows that Yamaha have not been resting while the DX7 took over the world, and the YS synths could be the future of FM as we know it - I eagerly await the 6-operator version!

Price YS200 £699, YS100 £619.

Contact Yamaha-Kemble UK Ltd, (Contact Details).

THE YS SOUNDS

The YS synths use the new, higher resolution, lower noise, 4-Operator FM circuitry, very much in the TX81Z or DX11 vein. But there is an added bonus - Yamaha have finally given way and included an onboard digital reverb unit, which really improves the sound of the FM.

As you might expect, Yamaha's 4-Operator programmers have been steadily improving their sounds since the TX81Z first came out, and the 100 preset voices in the YS synths reflect this. There is the usual selection of orchestral, conventional instruments, rather more usable synth sounds than is usual, drum sounds and special effects, of which some deserve special mention:

00 Elegant - a very nice glassy chime sound, very D50-ish.

02 WideString - a synthetic string sound, very Jarre 'Rendezvous'.

06 FolkGuitar - perhaps a shade too twangy, but a wonderful sound.

09 DistGuitar - at last, a decent distorted guitar sound!

25 FloatChime - chimes with delayed strings-dreamy!

36 FluteVoice - a fluid, flutey sound improved out of all recognition by just the right amount of reverb.

91 Shwap! - a nice solid onomatopeaic sound. Most of the voices make careful use of velocity sensitivity, and the aftertouch is smooth and relatively light to the touch, making vibrato and tone changes easy to produce without too much strain. For a keyboard in this price range, I was impressed.


YS200 SEQUENCER

Adding a sequencer to multitimbral synths seems to be the rage at present. The resulting instrument is often called a workstation, since it is then implied that it will form the central focus of your composition work. You can then develop ideas and produce reasonably polished performances without ever leaving the one unit. This use hangs on the competence of the sequencer, since unless it is powerful enough to be useful for real tasks, then it will only ever be used as a musical 'notepad'.

Luckily, the YS200's 8-track sequencer is more than just an add-on notepad. It has a capacity of 10,000 notes (more than the Korg M1), though I understand that this is only possible if you do not record velocity information. If the rest of the synth is easy to use, what have Yamaha managed to do with the sequencer? Normally, if something is easy to use, it is inflexible and limited, and being without a manual is probably the perfect test of how understandable it is.

The four buttons above the LCD display, Seq/Play, Record, Stop/Cont and Play, lead you to believe that this is a very simple, single track, real-time recorder. Actually, the re-use of the buttons to the right of the display and a new Job menu for the sequencer mode mean that there are actually 22 or more buttons dedicated to the sequencer, not counting the keypad. The YS is placed into Sequencer mode by pressing the leftmost button, Seq/Play. The LCD changes to the first Sequencer page and the red LED in the button illuminates. The opening page looks like this:

PLAY SONG) Voice Measure Tempo
1: P00:Elegant 001 120

Up to eight songs are available, but there are no facilities for chaining them together. This opening page lets you choose the song, voice, the measure from which to start playback, and set the tempo in bpm. If there is any song data in the tracks of the displayed song then the appropriate green LEDs will light up in the track buttons to the right of the display, whereas if the tracks are empty then all the track LEDs will be off.

The block of 10 buttons to the right of the LCD is assigned to the eight available tracks, with the Save/Load button now cycling through voice set-ups and the Job button accessing the new Sequencer menu: Song, Quantise, Command, Edit, Mix, Card, Record and Effect.

SONG - pressing the Song option arrow takes you to the Song page, where playing anything on the keyboard has the unfortunate effect of changing your song title! You can also set the tempo from here as well. The Store function enables you to save any configuration of voices, maximum number of notes per track, etc, and is very important - if you forget to use it you can lose the instrumentation in a song. The final option clears the song data by pressing the appropriate arrow twice (this activates the usual Yamaha 'Sure?' query).

QUANTISE - organised on a track basis, with 1/4 note to 1/48 note range.

COMMAND - allows choice of Sync from internal and MIDI, whether or not to record Aftertouch or Velocity data (or both), and controls the accented metronome setting so that it ticks when recording, when recording and playing, always, or never! The red LED in the Seq/Play button flashes in time with the metronome whilst the sequencer is running.

EDIT - you can Erase a specified range of measures of any of the tracks; Copy any number of measures from one track to another, at any measure position; Delete a specified range of measures, but this works on all of the tracks; or Insert a number of measures into all tracks at the specified place. The smallest element you can work with in all of these functions is a single bar.

MIX - lets you merge tracks into one composite track. Tracks are each allocated to a specified MIDI channel, and so this merging also replaces the sounds in the two tracks with one!

CARD - lets you save and load sequences to the memory card but also accesses the MIDI Bulk page, which allows you to load and save sequences via MIDI System Exclusive.

RECORD - shows the percentage of available memory left, and controls the record mode: overdub (called 'normal'); step or punch-in. You can choose whether to use the YS keyboard or an external MIDI source for the master keyboard.

EFFECT - sets an overall 'global' reverb or delay in exactly the same way as with the normal Effect button, which has now been re-assigned to select track 5.

To return to the Play Song page, you press the Seq/Play button. If you press the Record button once the LED goes red, and the time signature can then be set to any of 1/4 to 4/4 or 1/8 to 8/8. You get a second chance to set the recording tempo to anywhere between 60 and 180 bpm here. If you press the Record button again the LED will turn green and the display will then show the Parts page. There are seven different preset parts, each specific to a particular style of music, and they are made up of a set of values for the voices, number of notes, etc. For example. Part 1 is an 8-note, single track, Piano format designed for recording piano solos.

Preset orchestrations like that sound a little too 'auto-play' for my taste, but you can create your own custom parts quite easily. Pressing the Voice button once enters the Voice Select page, which enables voices for each track to be chosen from the presets, user and card memories. This button next cycles through the Max Notes page, where you set the maximum number of notes which you can play on each track - the LCD display shows all eight tracks (from left-to-right) and you select the tracks you wish to alter with the yellow arrow buttons.

Voices are not allocated dynamically on the YS200, and so the Max Notes page settings determine the maximum polyphony of each track. There are only eight note generators available in the YS200, and so the note numbers must not add up to more than eight in total - the YS200 operating system will not allow you to enter numbers which exceed the available maximum.

Pressing the Voice button again enters the Transmit Channel page, where the MIDI output channel for each track can be set. A nice extra is that all the sequencer track outputs also appear at the MIDI Out, which allows you to control external MIDI equipment (but with only 8-note polyphony). The next press of the Voice Select button turns the red LED off and takes you back to the Play Song page. Now is a good time to store the part information (voices, max notes and channels) using the Song Store function mentioned earlier.

When recording, the Record button LED illuminates red when you press it, as does Track 1's button unless you select a different track. Tracks that contain information have a green LED illuminated, and they will play whilst you are recording unless you deselect them before pressing the Record button. You will already have chosen the record mode on the Record page, and so pressing the Start button sets the two-bar countdown into action - the measure display shows this as well.

If you are recording in the normal or punch-in modes, then the sequencer behaves as if it is a tape recorder. In step mode, you choose a note from crotchet, quaver, semiquaver to demisemi-quaver in length, which you can dot or make a triplet, with normal, staccato or sustain lengths. Playing the note on the keyboard then enters the pitch (and velocity if you are recording it). Rests are inserted with an arrow button. The LCD shows a very useful time ruler, which indicates how many notes you have played so far in the bar by displaying diamond symbols.

The Stop/Continue button terminates the recording and also transfers the MIDI data from the record buffer into the song buffer (display reads 'Executing'), at the end of which the display will show 'Completed'. If you fill the available memory then it is at this point that the display will show 'MemoryFull!' - and because the record buffer is erased as it is read, you will have lost your recording!

With 10,000 fixed velocity notes available, you should be able to compose at least one reasonable length song, or perhaps fill all eight songs with quick sketches. (If you activate the aftertouch and velocity filters on the Command page, memory is used up at a much slower rate - so allocate expression only when you need to!) To play back the sequenced song requires just a press of the Start button. As in record mode, you can select or mute tracks by pressing the track buttons.


Also featuring gear in this article



Previous Article in this issue

Hybrid Technology Music 2000 System

Next article in this issue

Steinberg Software Page


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 - Oct 1988

Review by Martin Russ

Previous article in this issue:

> Hybrid Technology Music 2000...

Next article in this issue:

> Steinberg Software Page


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