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Yamaha TX7 expander/QX7 sequencer

Article from One Two Testing, May 1985

FM for everyone

A SYNTH EXPANDER with the FM of a DX7, and a polyphonic, touch sensitive, two-track sequencer for around the £700 and £500 marks.

I suppose the Government could pass a law forcing you to buy a £1,000 licence to use any Japanese product beginning with Y. It would be one of their more rational statutory introductions. But apart from that, I can't see much to stop either of these being quiveringly popular.

The expander first

It's a full-sized DX7 in terms of FM tone generation — six operators, all the touch/breath response facilities, etc. What's missing is the programming section. The TX7 will obviously be excessively attractive to existing DX owners wanting to double up their FM sounds, and players of MIDI-ed analogue synths looking for a digital sideline. However, only the former will be able to reprogram the 32 factory-loaded TX sounds via his DX. It is possible to edit the performance functions (mod wheel settings, portamento, after touch, etc) from the TX front panel, but nowt to do with t'operators.

That 32 is the limit of instantly accessible memories. Yamaha have included cassette dumping but not a RAM cartridge slot. The voices bequeathed by the factory are sensibly chosen to be not only a comprehensive cross section of FM abilities — horns, cellos, bells, bass guitars, electronic pianos, etc — but are different and advanced enough from standard DX7 production line set-ups to supply a host of new noises to the '7 owner terrified of touching the data slider. Good acoustic piano; beautiful, clangy 'A. Mallet', and a convincing, feedbacky electric guitar are three of the notables.

Both the TX and QX are in slick lightweight boxes that slot together — the rubber feet of one sinking into location holes on the top surface of the other. All controls are on a steeply-sloped front strip, one panel continuing the ascent from the other when the boxes are piggy backed.

A 16-character LCD display shows either the memory number and name, or the function you've called up using the 12 narrow, turquoise buttons to the right. The first four are just for volume — full off, full on, up and down, programmable for each voice and shown as a moving horizontal bar across the LCD screen. The first pair are essential for comparisons when you're layering up synths, the others can be unnecessarily fiddly.

You can change memories in tandem from your mother synth, or you can select TX7 voices independently, stepping through the list using the NO/-1 and YES/+1 keys at the far right.

Apart from remembering its own library of performance details, the TX7 has 32 spaces spare to superimpose new performance info on those patches already in the MIDI linked DX7. It sounds convoluted but means, in practice, that if you want your favourite harp/violin combination to have more portamento, less second touch, and more depth on the mod wheel for just two bars in the song, all these alterations can be stored in one performance memory, and applied instantly.

Tacked to the end of the TX's performance function list are three useful tricks to have up your bit-code — limit lowest key, highest key, and attenuation. The first two determine what area of the keyboard the TX will operate over, say just the bottom octave, five notes in the middle, etc. Highly effective. The second knocks back the volume to one of eight levels to complement the other half of your layered sound.

More than that there is little to say — FM sound generation speaks for itself. The MIDI spec is broad, and accessible. Each patch can be told what channel to receive on, and whether it should obey or ignore performance data (mod wheel, velocity sens, etc), editing data from a DX, even volume info from the DX7's slider. It can dump one or all of its voices to a DX7, and take them back again. A very fine box, will sell in shiploads, and deservedly.

The sequencer second

About 8,100 notes, without key velocity, 6,000 notes with. Records in real time (with optional quantisation) or step time. Will remember two distinct sequences and voice changes (if you want to use it that way), but is alluring largely because of its overdub function. One sequence can contain the notes and info for 16 separate lines, by giving each its own MIDI channel. If you've got 16 synths, you can have 16 independent tracks, though once bounced down, none of those lines can be taken out of the mix and rewritten. You still have a wealth of control and capability at your fingertips, however.

In principle, the QX7 is ironically similar to the two-cassette-deck system of the Casio CK-500, reviewed elsewhere this ish. There are two tracks: number 1 records and plays back, number 2 is playback only. You compose sequences or build layers by bouncing between the pair.

For example, you've recorded a bass line on track 1. The next task is to carry out an 'exchange' — the data in 1 moves to 2, and 1 becomes clear. You record the chords on 1 while listening to the playback of 2. Now there are two options, you can 'track down' which will blend chord and bass line on track 2, or you can 'chain' which will deposit the chord sequence at the end of the bass sequence. When you track down, track 1 is automatically wiped clean (it's no longer needed). When you chain, the track 1 material survives in case you want to drop it in again somewhere else.

If you want the chords to be played on the same keyboard as the bass line, set them to the same MIDI channel (a task that has to be carried out before recording). Choose an alternative if they're destined for separate synths. (If they're the same, make sure your overdub doesn't have any new pitch, mod or second touch expression in it. Once tracked down, it will also effect any material with a matching MIDI ident, even if there was no expression in the original recording.)

These tasks and many others are executed by two 'Job' buttons. Each engages in a list of six operations enscribed on a square plastic plate below the QX's two-figure red LED display. Generally, A jobs set up the recording — determining the beat and measure, metronome, number of repeats, clock and MIDI. B jobs work with the recorded material — exchange, chain, track down, erase, insert and delete. In two 'secret' modes (catalogued by strange hieroglyphics in the LED box) the QX7 can be encouraged to accept or reject aftertouch, pitch bend, and key velocity info (classed as C jobs) or quantise material, slot it into a temporary buffer, and converse with a cassette (classed as D jobs). At first the QX7's ping-pong recording seems long winded. The main delay is that if you've recorded one bar (successfully) but want it to repeat 16 times in your song, there's no simple way of saying 'play it 16 times'. You drop it into track 2, then chain (so you've got a pair), do an exchange, chain once more, another chain, and so on. Though you can specify anywhere from 2 to 99 repeats, these are only to tell the QX7 to play what's in its memory that number of times. It won't commit a specified repetition of bars to memory and treat that as a new, complete sequence.

The other minor irritant is in bar deletion. If mistakes are made (surely not), you could erase, say, bar 35, or bar 35 plus everything after it. What you can't do is wipe bars 35 to 46 leaving 47 onwards intact. It's one bar at a time, and with the above example, you'd have to go through the job call/delete operation 12 times — and that is repetitious.

Those two grizzles aside, real time programming is simple, becomes efficient with experience and, more than anything else, there's plenty of it. You can keep overdubbing, up to the limit of the linked keyboards' polyphony, and before consigning any overdub to track 2, you can check how it will fit by playing tracks 1 and 2 together.

Back among the D jobs is a goodie titled 'temporary buffer'. This is a time saver, and a lifebelt. You can dump the contents of track 1 in here, carry out some work on the original track, and, if you don't like it, recall the virgin version from the buffer and start afresh. Also handy for storing often-used phrases, choruses, etc, so they can be called out, slugged into the track, and restored to the larder.

Next to the buffer is quantise which will correct your playing to fall in line with 1/4, 1/6, 1/8, 1/12, 1/16 or 1/24th notes. These may sound a touch coarse, but then the QX7's own internal clock (for normal, unquantised stuff) is 1/384th notes. That's fine detail, by anyone's definition. (It drops to 1/96 when the QX is run by an external MIDI clock, but that's the average figure for some sequencers.)

The QX has battery backup to keep your sequences intact, though my review sample became forgetful occasionally, probably from me accidentally nudging the two pin mains plug in its adaptor. Moral. Put on a proper three pinner.

Step time, should you be that way inclined, is performed by entering the pitch from the keyboard (you have to have one), and the note length from the QX front panel.

It's all possible, but in truth, the QX7 has the flavour of a player's sequencer, rather than a tool for music (numbers + music). You can't reach back into the sequence and perfect a single, errant note, but you can play your DX7, react to a backing track, punch in some expression and have the QX remember your performance, not just your notes and the spaces in between!

YAMAHA TX7 expander: £699 QX7 sequencer: £499

CONTACT: Yamaha/Kemble, (Contact Details).

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When Is A Piano

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Ludwig Rocker 2

Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - May 1985

Donated by: Colin Potter

Review by Paul Colbert

Previous article in this issue:

> When Is A Piano

Next article in this issue:

> Ludwig Rocker 2

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