Yamaha FS1r : what a strange trick.


OK so having spat the dummy at a $4000 synthesiser and pointed out how you could make a substitute for a lot less, the real thing arrived in my lap for about the ‘lot less’. Few of my toys are wildly sought after, so I feel responsible for a clear description of what you get for too much money.


Executive overview.


The Formant synthesis aspect of the FS1r is the least interesting part of it, unless you are interested in Vocaloid lyrics, in which case just get a Vocaloid. The built in phrases are 99% shit (including Chinese “ching chong” sounds?), and you may only store 6 of your own by giving up half your patch memory.


So you are really looking at an FM synthesiser, and the decision is on how much you think things have changed since the previous batch.


There are 8 operators in each algorithm, which are for some reason listed in reverse. When you import a DX7 patch it is placed on operators 8 and down, leaving 1 and 2 spare. There are many DX7 patches pre-installed in the FS1r ROM and that along with the square circuit board and the display, point to this being one of the MU series which has been opened up to editing late in the development. This was a cheap machine like the MU’s and it sounds it. The quality of the sound is less than the TG77, which was once expensive. Not as bad as the TX81z, but a reminder.


The terrible manual shows signs of this late change of design – it’s the least helpful manual I’ve seen from Yamaha, mostly internal notes with little elaboration.


Now you might think you’re going to do a lot more with 8 operators, but the FS1r is 4 FM synthesisers in a stack. It’s much easier to just layer two or more FM voices than to do anything with the extra ops.


The ops have extra waveforms, like the TG77. There is the sine, two kinds of saw waves, wide and thin pulse width, two kinds of square waves, wide and thin pulse width, resonant waves which are very quickly shrill, and the formant wave which I’ll come back to. Unlike the TG77 you can adjust the ‘skirt’ of the each which rounds it back to a sine. When I say saw and square I mean the approximations that Yamaha makes out of harmonics.


The formant waves are simply band limited waveforms, with adjustable filtration by frequency, width and skirt. They’re not that uncommon (you can find them on the Radias) but in the context of FM synthesis they become complex. They’re designed for Formant Sequencing to make voice sounds (which is the real reason for 8 of them), but when modulated some nasty results some about, which is finally the interest of the FS1r.


Not as interesting are the 8 ‘unvoiced’ operators, which are just white noise sources through formant filters, and really crap digital white noise at that. You will not be excited by the various whooshes you can make.


For the first time you have pitch envelopes for each operator, and so you can go all Chowning on it.


There’s a subtractive filter that can be whacked over the whole lot, but beware it halves the voice count. It sound very similar to the DX200 filter. Like that box the FS1r has knobs which can tweak the FM system in real time. Even though one is labelled FM and the other is Formant, you can patch them how you like. All the DX7 patches have been set up so that one controls the timbre and the other the midpoint of the voice – vaguely the vocal range.


I’m going to come back to this, but let’s sum it up for now – I can get better FM sounds out of the TG77, although there might be some surprises in store. It generally sounds like the DX7 with some new tricks. It compares to the DX200, but with the extra layered voices. Formant synthesis has moved on since 1998 and there’s not much here to inspire. It’s good but the price is about collecting, and not music making.

Something very familiar here...








It was either this or a red car and I think I chose wisely.