Saturday, January 3, 2009

Yamaha SY35

This is a farewell review! I’ve just sold, with a fair measure of nostalgia, my good old SY35. I owned it for fifteen years but now is the time when there just isn’t room enough for all the instruments…
(As usual, the pics link to hi-res versions of the photographs)

The SY35 is a budget synth, with enough power to provide for very interesting sound design. It wasn’t very expensive at the time, and it’s laughably cheap these days. The construction is good. It may come in a plastic case but I’ve never encountered a single bug, all the buttons still function properly and the 61 keys keyboard works quite good after being used as master keyboard for all these years.

Of course, there’s the interface issue… the SY35 is the reason why I’m tolerant of the shortcomings, interface-wise, of most synths. Some may have a lousy interface, but the SY35 is the less practical instrument to program I’ve ever played.

The SY35 is sixteen voices polyphonic and multimbral (eight parts). There are 128 sounds. 64 are factory presets that you can’t erase, mostly acoustic (most notably, some good electric pianos, excellent vintage strings and a lovely choir patch). The other 64 are user presets, for storing your own creations.

Sounds are built around no less than four oscillators, two FM and two AWM (that is, basically acoustic samples). Each FM oscillator has its dedicated tone control, which is Yamaha's way to allow for low-pass-filter-ish effect on the timbre. Real filters are implemented on the SY55 and upwards. Add four LFOs and sixteen (decent but not great) effects, and that’s pretty much it.

What brings this rather straightforward architecture to life is probably the vector synthesis joystick, which allows you to move the focus between the four basic elements. That, and the possibility of mixing purely electronical tones with good quality samples, provides for sophisticated sounds. You may even record a particular joystick movement and loop it. What at first could look like a gimmick is actually an asset of the SY35, even more so considering the rarity of vector synthesis.

How does it sound? Be warned, this is a truly, unashamedly digital instrument. It can sound cold, industrial and harsh, and given good programming it can also sound mellow, rich and lush. The SY35 excels at dense, complex sound design, and is a good addition to any experimental setup.

Here's a little improvisation I did yesterday while I still had my beloved SY35.
Everything is SY35 except drums.


Damien B said...

Putain, quinze ans.

khoral said...

On se fait vieux

dr.wolzow said...

re: "Each FM oscillator has its dedicated low-pass filter."

hmmm.. where did you get this idea? although my observations are based on SY22 and not SY35 they should be almost identical. as far as i know there is nothing even close to a filter in SY22/35. the manual does not mention 'filter' anywhere, and even the service manual does not have anything filter-related. SY22/35 is fully digital, no filters whatsoever.

khoral said...

That's a wrong choice of my part, yes, I'll correct that
I meant to say that there were filter-ish controls to affect the tone, I agree it's not a real filter

Anonymous said...

c'est dommage, c'est un super synthé.

des bises et a la prochaine