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Yamaha reface Synthesizer

Published: Mon July 28, 2014  News Feed
After much teasing, the news many synthesizer fans were waiting for: Yamaha is finally returning to its glorious analogue past with the new Yamaha reface Synthesizer range! For the uninitiated we've compiled a little history of great Yamaha synths to point out why you just might want to get one of these new keyboards!

Yamaha reface keyboard

Few brands have a more illustrious catalogue of legendary synths under their name than Yamaha. From analogue synths in the Seventies to their groundbreaking FM synths, pretty much every big name in music has used Yamaha synths at some point in their careers, from Depeche Mode and Jean Michael Jarre, to Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Daft Punk.

Given the renaissance in full blooded analogue hardware it didn't surprise us that the new reface range turned out to be inspired by classics like the CS-80 polyphonic analogue synth, which was featured in some of the most iconic music made in the past 40 years, such as Vangelis' score for Blade Runner:

The History Of Yamaha Synths

Before we introduce to you the new reface keyboards, here's a quick look at Yamaha's past synth, to give you an idea of just how exciting the new release is. We are going to celebrate this by delving behind the scenes at Yamaha, taking a look at how they become revolutionary in the synth market and discovering what they achieved during the past 40 years.

The first prototypes for electronic instruments date back as far as 1885. Yamaha's first release was the Electone (Yamaha's trademark electric organs) back in 1959 - by no means a synthesizer and by no means one of the first in the market. At the time, the president of Yamaha referred to it as a mere "musical toy" due to it's lack of expression compared to acoustic instruments. It was obvious that a lot more research and experimentation was required to get to where they wanted to be, but the Electone was a positive stepping stone in modern sound synthesis.

It was not until 1973 when Yamaha completed work on a prototype that looked like the Electone but was more expressive and versatile than before. It weighed 300kg and was not very practical, but the tone generators did sound fantastic. The president of Yamaha was said to tell his team to "spend whatever you want, but give me something that can be the best in the world." And thus the first Yamaha synthesizer was born - the SY-1 analog synth:

yamaha SY-1 vintage synth
After that, Yamaha was unstopabble and released some of the best and most successful synthesizers ever. The GX-1, for instance, was a top-of-the-range polyphonic analog synth that was used by Keith Emmerson, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder, who called it his "dream machine":

Yamaha GX1

Yamaha have been revolutionary in the last 40 years. Some functionalities found on modern synthesizers may not exist if Yamaha weren't as passionate about creating great synths as they were, so we have a lot to thank them for. One thing is for - the 80's would have been completely different!


Here are a few of the ways Yamaha influenced the sound of the 80's with their synth research:

Early 70s

Expressive tone generators - better sound

Introduced Presets (a big breakthrough!)

Mid 70s

Huge weight reductions (no more 300kg!)

Late 70s

Much cheaper and affordable

More compact

Early 80s

Battery powered!

Build in Speaker
Mini Keyboard
Shoudler straps (for transport and playing live)

The FM Era

While Yamaha made some pioneering analogue synths that have been used by generations of musicians and producers it's through their development of Frequency Modulation synthesis that they gained the status of synth legends. Their DX7 keyboard synth remains the top selling hardware synth of all time, used by everyone from progressive producers like Brian Eno to pub cover bands who could suddenly get squelchy filter bass sounds and electric piano sounds in one keyboard!

The classic Yamaha DX7

Plus of course there was the famous 'helicopter sound effect', it's hard to appreciate in the age of plugins but all this stuff coming in a light keyboard for under £1000 was simply mind blowing back in the 80's.

What the DX7 lacked in programmability it made up for with some of the finest presets in the business. For the bold sonic pioneer there was always the programmable TX81Z module, offering a more diverse range of waveforms and gaining popularity with early dance music producers. Fiddly to program by todays standards but still capable of belting out smooth liquid bass tones.

The Modern Era

Yamaha are a major player in modern music and they're always developing new forms of expression as well as pushing the boundaries of existing formats. Hence ingenious gadgets like the Tenori On grid instrument and their Motif synth series, which pack in a mind boggliing array of sounds and styles. It all points some potentially very exciting developments going forward.

Meet the new reface range!

And here we are, in 2015, and Yamaha innovates once again! Yamaha, of course, were a brand conspicuously absent during the recent analogue synth revival from the past couple of years. Some synth fanatics were left baffled, if not disappointed, by this. How could Yamaha, of all brands, be missing the boat? As it turns out... they were planning something truly special - the reface keyboards!

Yamaha reface

These keyboards perfectly mix modern features with classic, analogue tones. With the reface Mobile Mini Keyboards, Yamaha introduces a small revolution. Based on legendary synthesizer models like the DX7 or CS series, the company presents four compact instruments, which play to their strengths on the road, on stage or even in the studio.

reface is perfect for songwriters, sound designers, live performers and those looking for access to an instrument which allows them to react when inspiration strikes. The online collaboration with musicians around the globe via Yamaha’s ‘Soundmondo’ sound community and the easy connection to notebook, Apple iPhone and iPad are making the four models ideal for being creative together. Battery power and integrated stereo-speakers make the reface quartet ready to play at all times.

There are four of them:

reface CS: analogue Synthesizer 

reface CS

With the legendary Yamaha Control Synthesizer series, introduced in 1976, music history was written by artists like Vangelis, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. In keeping with tradition the reface CS unites simple handling and creative sounds with a massive dynamic. But the concept was not to clone a monophonic synthesizer: The polyphonic tone generator with 8 voices and 5 oscillator types (multi saw, pulse, oscillator sync, ring modulation, frequency modulation) offers a rich bandwidth of exciting sounds from analogue to digital. All parameters are changeable intuitively using sliders.

reface DX: FM Synthesizer

Yamaha reface DX

The Yamaha FM synthesizers shaped the sound of the 80’s like no other electronic instrument. With the reface DX, all these legendary sounds are back in the 21st century – ready for the new generation of FM sound fans. A carefully developed user interface offers intuitive access to the FM tone generators even for starters. A capacitive multi touch controller allows dynamic modifications of a sound. The reface DX is also polyphonic with 8 voices and features 7 effects.

reface CP: Electric Piano

Yamaha reface CP

Its design is living proof: The reface CP is a spiritual successor of the unique Stage Keyboards of the 70s. It brings emotional and powerful vintage sounds into today’s mobile world without any compromise regarding sound, playability or polyphony. As a Combo Piano, the reface CP offers six classical keyboard sounds with excellent quality thanks to SCM (Spectral Component Modeling) and AWM2 sound generation. Carefully selected vintage effects increase the authenticity of the sounds even further, instantly evoking memories of legendary songs throughout the history of rock and pop – for example by Keane, U2, Genesis and Billy Joel.

reface YC: Electric Combo Organ

Yamaha reface YC

Rich, punchy sounds are its area of expertise: The reface YC offers additive synthesis paired with a unique power of expression using nine drawbars and virtual rotary speakers. The instrument combines five different models of organs, the sound is created using a special “Organ Flutes Tone Generator”. In addition to the possibility to carry around five organs in a single piece of hardware without breaking your back, the reface YC delivers the authentic spirit of playing an organ using the smallest user interface possible.

Most importantly is the question: How do the new Yamaha reface keyboards sound? Well... pretty amazing, of course! Did you really think they could've been anything other than brilliant? After all, it's Yamaha we're talking about!

The Yamaha reface keyboards will be available in September 2015.

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