Yamaha SY-77 (1989)

Yamaha SY-77

Inside Yamaha SY-77

Inside Yamaha SY-77

Inside Yamaha SY-77

Inside Yamaha SY-77

Inside Yamaha SY-77

Inside Yamaha SY-77

Inside Yamaha SY-77

Inside Yamaha SY-77


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Where conventional synthesizers usually offer one kind of synthesis engine (subtractive, pcm, fm, modeling, …), the SY-77 proposes two (or even three) synthesis engines :
  1. First of all it is a synth capable of using the FM synthesis, a synthesis renamed AFM (Advanced Frequency Modulation) in that very case. It’s a super sum of DX-7, closer to the DX7Mk2 for that matter. The SY-77 offers 45 algorithms based on 6 operators and 3 feedback loops (the DX7 offers only one). Then the conventional operators of the FM synthesis produce only a sinusoidal signa, but the SY-77 allows to choose 16 types of waveforms, which are derivatives of sinusoids sometimes quite complex, to say the least. There are dozens of possibilities to vary the behavior of the six operators (modulation envelope, pitch, …) much more complex than on conventional DX7s.
  2. Then, the SY-77 allows to use sampled sounds, this is the AWM synthesis. There are the usual acoustic instruments (piano, bass, saxophone, …) but also very successful samples of various effects and choirs / voice, as well as a range of primitive waveforms like sawtooth, pulse , … The SY-77 also has a « drumset » mode consisting of dozens of sampled drum sound.

Where it becomes very interesting is that one can mix all its synthesis together to produce a sound.
A sound is composed up to 4 of what Yamaha calls « elements ». These elements can be of the AFM or AWM type. We can therefore have a sound composed of 1, 2 or 4 elements of type AFM or AWM, or a combination of two, such as :
– 1 AFM + 1 AWM or
– 2 AFM + 2 AWM.

Just after these « combinations » of synthesis we have two filters (LPF or HPF) 12dB / oct resonant and each of them having a complex envelope. There is, therefore, a « filter1 » and a « filter2 » as well as a resonance parameter. And these filters are simply stunning …

So, to summarize: I could create a sound composed of 2 AFM elements and 2 AWM elements, and the result goes into 2 resonant filters … That’s far deep enough to spend years and years in sound research.

That’s not all !!! I was talking about a 3rd kind of potential synthesis … One can use a mode called RCM and which allows to use an AWM sample and to provide it to an AFM source in place of the 16 waveforms used by the 6 Operators. And vice versa: the output of an AFM element can replace one of the 127 samples AWM. There too, unlimited areas of sound research can be obtained…

To make it short, combinations and groupings are endless. So we are far, very far from a Korg M1 which proposes a synthesis based exclusively on samples (pcm), and able to generate a sound composed only of two samples …

These sounds which, you will have understood, can be extremely sophisticated and may go into a multi-effect composed up to four effects. Two are of the « modulation » category (to be chosen from: chorus, flanger). The other two are of the Reverb / Delay / Distortion / Equalizer category. We can put these 4 blocks in series, in parallel, or various combinations. Each effect is adjustable in a fairly simple way, but nevertheless it will be enough, most of the time. I just regret that the delay effect does not exceed 300ms … Which is a pretty short range. Some effects generate some unwanted noise (some combinations of reverb + delay grouped together in a single effect) which is a pity.

Then, all the sound goes out according to a panoramic scheme. Either static in the stereo field (left / right at different levels) or using a ping-pong mode, or other modes (Left to Right fast or slow, and vice versa), or even follow a specific envelope that can be used to design the panoramic amplitude.

I must say that the sounds coming from this machine are really incredible! Analog sounds sound 10x better than what comes out of some true analog synths. But in addition you can play very successful choirs, or FM sounds combined with the samples, and which give sounds very complex and extremely varied.

The synthesizer has a very large graphic screen allowing to directly access several options, well grouped and very simple to modify. The interface is well thought out and we access very quickly and simply to the main pages. You can also see graphically all the envelope shapes, which makes it easier to program.

Finally, the SY-77 allows to play sounds in « multi » mode, because it is multi-timbral using up to 16 parts. Each part is assigned a MIDI channel number. We can thus play  up to 16 different sounds at the same time, or superimpose … Which also makes it possible to generate immensely complex sounds.

The user memory where to store our sounds is quite limited: only 64 slots can be used (divided into 4 banks). Fortunately the SY-77 has a floppy drive (720kb) where you can save its sounds, synth settings, sequences … Yes, the SY-77 also has a sophisticated sequencer (which I don’t use because I always preferred to use a sequencer running on computer to distribute the sequences to some synths or samplers choosen).

The SY-77 is indeed a true « beast », built like a tank (it weighs besides not far from 17kg), one feels that at that time one constructed synthesizers made to last. Inside the « beast » reveals an incredible number of electronic components, a lot of dedicated DSPs and other CPUs. In 1989, DSPs were very far from today’s performances, and the simple fact to allow 16 notes of polyphony using samples (16bits / 48khz) stored in memory was already a very advanced technological development. The internal construction and the care of the realization are typical of Yamaha -> irreproachable.

Although I am refractory to the FM synthesis (which does not allow to represent concretely the waveform, and therefore the harmonics, during its programming -> we program in a blind mode), I confess that the sounds coming from the SY-77 are really amazing …. Some analog sounds are built using two AFM elements and sound much more « analog » than some sounds coming from my Juno-6. It had been a reference synth for Wendy Carlos (also used by Vangelis and many others).