Jez Ford takes a look the EMT-10 sister unit, the EMT-1
Following on from last months review of Yamaha's EMT-10 - Jez Ford looks at its sister unit the EMT-1
The EMT-1 is part of Yamaha's range of synthesiser expanders designed primarily for use with its Clavinova, PortaTone and PortaSound keyboards. It is, in other words, targeted away from the professional musician. But do not be fooled. I have already been thoroughly gob-smacked by one of these 1U half-rack beauties, the EMT-10. This contains ten sets of samples in its little metal memory and the piano, strings and choir (read Mellotron) sounds caused my woven woolly footwear to violently part company with my impeccably manicured pedal extremities. It was hot! So I was delighted to review its slightly cheaper sister unit, the EMT-1.
Here we have a selection of sounds produced by Yamaha's FM synthesis, neatly packaged to produce a budget unit with maximum versatility but more-or-less foolproof operation. Since Yamaha has aimed the unit at the portable keyboard market it has removed all aspects of programmability so that the sounds are straight presets - like them or lump them.
There are 32 sounds to choose from. Yamaha has opted to mimic orchestral instruments rather than supply 'synth' voices. The problem here is that FM synthesis really needs six operators before you can construct a voice that properly resembles the genuine article. The limited synthesis in the EMT-1 means that most sounds lack just a small but vital element of realism. There is also the incidental point that realistic programming rarely produces sounds with any real 'ooomphh' to them, but perhaps portable keyboard owners are happy with weedy strings, a thin trumpet and the least sitar-like sitar I have yet heard. Personally I would consign 17 of the 32 presets with greatest haste unto the realm of the great plastic bin liner.
I have this quandary you see. There are a handful of sounds on the EMT-1 which are nothing short of excellent. The jazz organ, vibes, marimba and pipe organ have a richness and depth that I would have described as strictly six operator synthesis, and well programmed at that. In the time I have been playing with the EMT-1 I have kept these sounds permanently on hand as basics, freeing other synths for more complicated stuff. But do I recommend this unit to you, the great Micro Music public, on the strength of these few sounds alone? Well yes, I suppose I do. I've bought one after all. Those few sounds have become so indispensable that Yamaha has subtly found the secret passage into my credit card wallet yet again. Besides it looks great under my EMT-10. The two units clip together with connectors (you get two free with each unit) and they can even share a power supply using a little jump lead (also free). How cosy!
The EMT-1 uses Yamaha's Voice Variator system to let you play with the presets. There are five possible settings for attack speed (slow to fast) and five for timbre (mellow to bright). This system is no substitute for genuine editing, nor is it as effective as the quick programming available on the YSS and newer DX synths, but it does give you a grand total of 768 variations from the 32 originals. It also produces some interesting (and I would warrant accidental) side effects. Changing the brightness of the pipe organ, for example, introduces a rogue frequency either a major third or fifth above the fundamental (shout if you get lost), making it sound pretty unpleasant unless you harness its harmony thoughtfully.
The reason this occurs is down to the algorithmic programming of FM synthesis. The normal way of brightening up any voice that uses a serial algorithm is to lift the base frequency of the modulating operator. However, organ sounds usually use a parallel algorithm (straight additive synthesis) and have no modulating operator. If you apply the same technique, as Yamaha has done here, you will hear the lifted frequency - hence the rising tone on the pipe organ. Hands up, all those who are completely lost. Shame on you!, fetch hither your dusty copy of How To Be An FM Programmer Without Going Bonkers and start researching this instant.
Happily, to use the EMT-1 you need know nothing about such things. There are, mind you, some quite sophisticated performance options available. These are accessed by holding the green MIDI button down and pushing another. Press Sax and you disable the reaction to MIDI Program Changes (hoorah!). Press Wah and you can choose between four types of microtuning, including Werckmeister and Kirnberger (should you be desperate to recreate those Bach and Chopin pieces with true authenticity).
You can also transpose, fine-tune and octave-shift. The changing state of these variables is indicated by the Voice Variator LEDs, although interpretation takes a little practice. Multitimbral moans as on the EMT10, it is possible to select one of the bass voices together with any one other sound. The split point is fixed at F below middle C. On the EMT-1, however, it is possible to go further and have four separate sounds available on four separate MIDI channels. Note that you cannot trigger them from a single keyboard unless you have a master capable of sending keyboard zones out on different MIDI channels.
For computer sequencing, then, this multitimbrality should be a positive boon. But it isn't, for the simple reason that Yamaha doesn't let you choose which sounds you want. It has selected just four groups of four to choose from and unfortunately these are, in my humble opinion, all the worst sounds on the expander. Getting my brain into probability mode, I can tell you that there are a possible 35960 different combinations of four sounds from the 32 presets available, so the chances of the ones you want being in Yamaha's four selections are slim to say the least! Since the only people that will be using this multitimbral option are likely to be reasonably smart (this means you), it would have been easy enough to get some MIDI system exclusive messages written that could work this problem out. Ah well, nice idea but no coconut for Yamaha.
The manual for the EMT-1 does list some system exclusive messages that can be dumped to or from the unit via MIDI. Some of these allow versatility beyond that which is normally available. The 8-note polyphony can be spread over eight MIDI channels and each voice can have reaction to pitch and amplitude modulation individually set. You can also play with the LFO itself. In addition most of the options available through the front panel can be accessed via MIDI.
Although the preset voices on the EMT-1 are hardly revolutionary, the unit fulfils its role as an easy-to-use budget expander. If you are short of basic sounds and the money-piggy is rattling the way that only empty moneypiggies do, then a quick jog to your friendly neighbourhood Yamaha showroom could be shoe leather well spent.
Product: EMT-1 Sound Expander
Price: £179.99 inc VAT
Supplier: (Contact Details)
Review by Jez Ford
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