Andy Jones looks through each new product in the Yamaha Reface range, beginning with the DX…
Let’s start with the reface DX keyboard – an easy FM synth is what Yamaha is promising here, if such a thing is possible… FM (Frequency Modulation) synthesis is based on a fundamental waveform modulated by other waveforms to produce new sounds.
Both types of waveform are generated by operators, the fundamental by a ‘carrier’ operator, the modulating ones by ‘modulators’. Easy! reface DX has four operators each of which can be a carrier or modulator. There are 12 possible combinations and you can easily change each preset’s algorithm and this will usually result in something dramatic – a great starting point to your FM synthesis adventure and done using the touch strips in the centre of the unit.
You get four touch strips which act as the main parameter changes for pretty much everything on DX. They will adjust up to four parameters within the FM menus to the right of the screen: Algo for the operator algorithms; Freq (four sliders adjust the frequency of each); Level (adjusts each operator level); and FB (for feedback).
So the main parameters of FM synthesis can be accessed easily, but press the Edit button and you can access even more operator parameters including envelope waveforms and LFO, and adjust these with the touch strips as well. So using these strips is also key but after reading the manual they are actually very easy to use. Tap up or down for a small increment change in value. Hold for this value to repeat. Swipe for bigger changes either up or down. The strips are used further on a global scale for adjusting System, MIDI and note playing parameters and also effects.
a: Main Controls – The pitch bend, Volume and Octave Up/Down sliders do as you’d imagine with the Octave slider graduated for accuracy.
b: Touch Strips – The heart of controlling DX. Read the instructions using them. They are easy, and using them will become second nature (and essential).
c: FM – The main menus for editing with the touch strips include frequency, level and the 12 algorithms for the four FM operators.
d: Voice Select/Edit – Select the presets from the four banks and more operator parameters, again tweakable via the touch strips.
e: Looper & Effects – Plug your mini jacks in here from the SQ1 and then the jack outs into the Patch Panel. You can also process external signals here.
Think bells, think pads and think pianos. Percussive sounds? Yes. Great atmospheres. Yep. Dubstep? Er, I’ll come to that…
Back in the 80s the DX7 really set the scene for music; if there was an electronic keyboard that shaped music making this was it. Those bell sounds were made for the Cocteau Twins and the dark, atmospheric pads were the backdrop to many a student goth night. Stepping through the 32 presets on reface DX is like stepping back to this time… to a point, anyway.
The electric piano types are superb, the pads are amazing too. I can’t say – and I really don’t want to sound like my dad here – that I’m that enamoured by the more up to date and in your face presets though.
You find yourself lost in a wonderful pad like GlassHarp and then step to the next one up, the aptly called Chopper, only for a searing electric saw sound to rip through your speakers. There’s a bit of drum n bass swelling here, a bit of dubstep growling there… all the sounds I really don’t remember the DX being good for back in 1988.
Luckily the touch strips make creating something else from these easy and quick. Anyway just a quick finish on the DX and there are a couple of other features worth noting. The Phrase Looper lets you record up to 2,000 notes or 10 minutes worth of notes. It really is incredibly easy to use, again with the touch strips, but you do lose your looped phrases on power down.
Finally you also get a couple of effect banks with eight effects each to chain together, again by using the strips. These really are excellent, the Wah and Distortion options being dramatic and personal favourites and you can easily shape a sound as much, if not more, as you can by delving into the (not so many) layers of FM on offer. These are, along with the Looper, great additional features for DX.
Of the four, features wise DX has it nailed. You can save on board, do loads with the screens and program FM. I said program FM! In real time! There is therefore much to admire here, but check the end of these reface reviews for overall conclusions…