Iconic synthesisers: Yamaha DX-7

With the rise of the synthesisers, history of musical instruments have seen a steep and robust change. Moving on from a traditional acoustic instrument to a modern instrument comprised of a bunch of electric circuits and components, brought wonder and painted a new kind of soundscape on the horizon.

Since the 1970s until now, synthesiser has been one of the indispensable musical instruments that every one of the pioneers of electronic music artists to various bands had and still have. One of the most prominent synthesisers of the time was the Yamaha DX-7 and this article will show you what was so special about this musical instrument.

What is Yamaha DX-7?

DX-7 is what the sound of 1980s is all about. There were already pretty top-notch synthesisers available such as Fairlight CMI. What DX-7 could not afford was such a feature as a steep sampling synthesis. Despite of this, DX-7’s most valuable feature of the FM synthesis made it stand apart from the crowd and defined a whole new kind of sound. DX-7 used a method called ‘Key scaling’ which made it possible to detect the distortion and step past it soundwise. This is primarily due to its capability of sampling at the rate of 57khz. FM synthesis is a concept of frequency modulation. To be precise, the sound would be generated via a frequency modulation algorithm. This gave the DX-7 a discreet quality of producing brighter tonal quality to the sound which is usually found in the sound of bell, glass, brass etc.

DX-7 was absolutely crazy to program due to its complex internal patching system and lack of traditional knob system that was prevalent in analogue synthesisers. Despite of this inconvenience, there were 128 built-in presets which were already outstanding enough to perform on the go. Of course, there were people like Brian Eno and other synthesiser enthusiasts who went deep with DX-7 and learned about the whole FM mechanism all so well.

The design of Yamaha DX-7

DX-7 is based on the 16-notes polyphony which gives us the capability to produce a rich and multi-transitional tonal quality that was impossible with its predecessor analogue technology. DX-7 has 32 magnificent algorithms that generates sound.

The keyboard layout is a maximum of five octaves. Each of the key has various keyboard expressions such as velocity, sensitivity and aftertouch. Velocity and sensitivity are the features depending on the amplitude of the sound which varies based on how hard or softly you press the key. Aftertouch is the function with which you can set your sound to have certain characteristics upon keying up. For instance, you wanted the sound have a wiggly characteristic the moment you get your finger up from the key. The patch was done by visual aspects which rely on the abstraction on the LC display.

DX-7 was the first to brought in the liquid-crystal-display on the market for synthesisers and let the users set their presets via the display. This was kind of a heavy work around to get used to the patching via a display, especially for the folks who were analogue synthesisers users.

The impact of Yamaha DX-7 on the music industry

These features were a massive hit which brought the absolute viability to the Yamaha DX-7! A lot of its competitors could not keep up with DX-7 due to its such expressive features with a price range so affordable! This was one of the synthesisers that were commercially available for an affordable price. This made Yamaha DX-7 become one of the highest selling synthesiser of all time!

As for the sound, a lot of iconic sounds and tunes that we all grew up listening to were made by DX-7. The most prominent was the DX-7’s bass sound that shaped the sound of 1980s. The sound can be heard in one of top-notch Hollywood films such as ‘Top gun’. The song “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins composed by Gergio Moroder has this iconic bass sound. Others would be A-ha’s “Take on me”, “Fresh” by Kool and the Gang. Other prominent sound of DX-7 was the bell sound, brass, Rhodes piano and many other easter eggs.

The mighty thing about Yamaha DX-7 is you will never know what kind of rich sound you accidentally create just by poking around with it!