Digital Programmable Algorithm Synthesiser
Nick Graham takes a closer look at one of the latest additions to the DX family.
The DX100 is the latest and smallest in Yamaha's long line of DX synthesisers, and — if appearances were anything to go by — it could be dismissed as a 'toy' version. Measuring only 24" long, 8½" wide and less than 3" deep with a miniature 4-octave keyboard, it could at first glance be mistaken for one of those 'fun' portables which lose their appeal a couple of weeks after Christmas. However, don't be deceived! This is no toy — the DX100 is a fully fledged musical instrument, built to a high degree of precision in the best DX tradition. What's more, it's capable of producing many of the quality sounds which have come to be associated with these machines.
Portability has obviously been a key factor in the design of the DX100, and the smart black all-plastic construction makes it extremely light to carry around. On each end of the synth there's a metal toggle, indicating that Yamaha expect this model to be worn using a strap, and to this end the Pitch Bend and Modulation controls are cylindrical wheels, strategically placed at the top left hand comer of the instrument. The DX100 is battery powered (6 x C size/LR14s), making it usable anywhere, but the mains adaptor (12v DC) is an optional extra that's really essential! By the way, don't get the wrong impression — this isn't a keyboard controller, although it could easily be used as one. For that matter, it could be quite a handy expander as well!
Like all the DX series, the DX100 produces sound using the FM synthesis method. Now, this system has never been the easiest to programme, but the sounds have always been superb and the DX100 is no exception, although in some respects it's a much simplified version of previous models. For a start it only have 4 operators, arranged in eight algorithms, and the envelope generator has been trimmed down to a format which closely resembles a standard ADSR envelope with an adjustable slope on the sustain part. This means that, while the more complex and rich sounds of a DX7 are not available on this synthesiser, it still is capable of some pretty stunning effects — in fact there are features on it which actually outclass the DX7!
Obviously, if you want to programme the DX100 from scratch you still have to be pretty keen, despite the excellent manual which very clearly explains FM synthesis (a manual of this calibre would have been invaluable to early DX7 owners, myself included!). If, however, programming turns you off, never fear, because Yamaha have equipped this synth with a staggering 192 pre-set sounds, all of which can be edited in any way but are stored permanently in ROM. There are also 24 user programmable memories in RAM and a further 96 'Bank' memories allowing both RAM and ROM sounds to be arranged in an accessible order (perhaps for a particular set or group of songs). Storage is on cassette, but sounds can be transferred to another DX100 or to a DX27, using the MIDI system exclusive mode.
It must be said that each pre-set sound has been skilfully constructed to make the most of the four operators available, and the selection is extremely impressive. Everywhere I took this synth people were very surprised by the vast range of sounds possible from such a small package. Earlier, I mentioned that some features of the DX100 outclass those on the DX7, so perhaps I should clarify this. Of course the DX7, with its full size velocity/aftertouch sensitive keyboard, is still a far more sophisticated machine, but nevertheless there are several interesting features on the DX100 which would be very welcome on the DX7. Firstly, three pitch bend modes are available on the 100 — 'Low', where only the lowest note of a chord is affected; 'High' (yes, you've guessed it — only the highest note is affected), and 'Kon' (Keyon) where, like the DX7, all notes are affected. The Master Time Function has also been improved — it now gives a readout of 00 for A440Hz and is adjustable within ±75 cents. There's also a programmable preset for instant transposition within ±2 octaves. Most significant, however, are the improvements in the MIDI specifications, where not only is it possible to transmit/receive all the usual control, parameter and programme data, but this can now be done on any of 16 channels. This makes it possible to receive on any channel and simultaneously transmit on any other; something we've always wanted from the DX7.
Finally, I must say a few words about the playability of this instrument, because although the control facilities are excellent, the fact that it has a miniature keyboard which is not touch sensitive will naturally restrict its scope. Luckily, this isn't a real disadvantage, as when the DX100 is played via MIDI from a 'mother' keyboard it will become velocity sensitive, providing, of course, that the mother keyboard transmits velocity data. This means that the DX100 really only comes into its own when used as an expander unit, and from this point of view it has much in common with the Roland Alpha Juno 1 I've reviewed elsewhere in this issue.
So there you have it; at £349 RRP the DX100 is an excellent buy, with many hours of enjoyment ahead. No worries about built-in obsolescence either, because if this is your first synth it will always remain a useful addition to your keyboard set-up, no matter how sophisticated it eventually becomes. And here's another thought — what better and more convenient instrument could you have to practise on or programme in the van on the way to the gig, or in that boring hotel room after it!
RRP £349 inc. VAT
More details from Yamaha Musical Instruments Ltd., (Contact Details)
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