Yamaha DX7

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Yamaha DX7

Yamaha DX7
Manufactured byYamaha
Dates1983 - 1986; 1987 - 1989 price = Approx. US$ 2000
Technical specifications
Polyphony16 voices
Oscillator6 operators
Synthesis typeDigital Frequency modulation
Attenuator6 envelope generators
Velocity sensitiveYes
Memory32 patches
Keyboard61-note with velocity
and aftertouch sensitivity
Left-hand controlpitch-bend and modulation wheels
External controlMIDI

The Yamaha DX7 was a synthesizer manufactured by the Yamaha Corporation from 1983 to 1986, based on FM synthesis developed by John Chowning. It was the first commercially successful digital synthesizer, and its sounds can be heard on many recordings from the 1980s. The DX7 was the moderately priced model of the DX series of FM keyboards that included the smaller DX9, DX100, DX11, DX21 and the larger DX5 and DX1.Over 160000 DX7s were made

One major reason for the success of the DX7 was the precision and flexibility of its bright, digital sounds, which were much clearer than those of the analog synthesizers that preceded it. Yamaha claimed that the DX7 used FM, but it actually implemented phase modulation synthesis. The DX7 is well-known for its electric piano, bells, and other "metal striking metal" sounds. It was monotimbral and capable of 16-note polyphony. It had thirty-two algorithms, each being a different arrangement allowing the user to combine its 6 sound operators together dependently and/or independently.

Voices could be programmed by a user, and stored into a 32-voice ROM internal memory, or corresponding DX7 ROM cartridge. Several computer applications exist (mainly for Atari and Mac OS, and now Mac OS X) that can enable a user to load different presets into the keyboard from a computer via MIDI; the user can also store the keyboard's voices onto the harddrive to free up memory. The most prominent of these programs is Takashi Suzuki's DX7 Librarian 2.1.

The synthesizer included MIDI ports, but was released shortly before the specification was completed, and had incomplete support for the standard: It only transmitted information on MIDI channel 1. It could receive information on any one of the sixteen MIDI channels at a time, but lacked the OMNI feature that enabled later DXs in the series to receive on all MIDI channels simultaneously. Very early DX7s manufactured in 1983 were distinctive for not having "MIDI Channel" inscribed next to the button that opens this function. This lack of marking was corrected by 1984.

An additional DX7 MIDI oddity was that the keyboard could not send velocity data beyond value 100, whereas the maximum value permitted in MIDI is 127. The implication of this was that a user recording an expressive piano passage (or one consisting of a similar expressive voice) into a sequencer from the DX7 was not able to achieve true fortissimo dynamics; most other MIDI keyboards could achieve this easily. The DX7 would, however, respond appropriately to these high velocity values when sent from an outside MIDI source.

Three improved "DX7 II" models were released between 1987 and 1989, all of which featured updated internal circuitry and a new style case. These were the DX7 IID, which improved sound quality from 12 bit to 16 bit, and allowed bi-timbrality; the DX7 IIFD, which was identical to the DX7 IID except that it also had a floppy disk drive; and the DX7s, which had improved sound quality and the updated case, but otherwise had the same essential functionality of the original DX7. Third-party products for the DX7 also flourished in the 1980s, including Grey Matter Response's E! expansion board, which added sequencer functions to the keyboard. DX7 IIs could transmit and receive on any one of 16 MIDI channels at a time. The DX7 family remains popular to this day with many recording and performing artists.

Rackmount versions of the DX7 were also produced, ranging from the TX7 (a simple desktop DX7 unit, with limited editing abilities) to the TX802 (a DX7II in a 2-unit rack mount machine, with 8 outputs) and even the TX816 (eight DX7s in a large rack unit, with individual MIDI ports and balanced outputs for each module, via an XLR connector, which gave the musician a massive 128 notes of polyphony).

In 1988, in celebration of the company's 100-year anniversary, Yamaha released the DX7 II Centennial. It was a DX7 II FD with a silver case, gold painted buttons and sliders, and 76 glow-in-the-dark keys. Only 100 were made and they were priced at US$3995.

Software Emulation

Native Instruments have developed a popular software synthesizer, FM8 (2006) (previously FM7 (2001-2006)), that emulates the DX7's digital circuitry and can load original DX7 patches.

Program piracy

Since the DX7 allows users to program different tones, it is possible to "steal" someone else's synthetic sound for use in your own piece. Skilled programmers would go to great lengths to protect their sounds. "Various DX7 programmers have told me that they "bury" useless data in their sounds so that they can prove ownership later. Sometimes the data is obvious, like weird keyboard scalings on inaudible operators, and sometimes it's not, like nonsense characters in a program name."[1]

Notable users

  • Beastie Boys
  • Bill O'Connell
  • Brian Eno
  • Casiopea
  • Chicago - Hard Habit to Break - Chicago 17
  • Chris Holland of Squeeze
  • Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac
  • Chick Corea Elektric Band
  • David Paich
  • Depeche Mode
  • Devo
  • Diane Warren[2].
  • Elmer Bernstein, most notably on his score for the film Ghostbusters
  • Enya
  • Les Fradkin
  • Front 242
  • Geddy Lee of Rush
  • Harold Faltermeyer - Axel F
  • Herbie Hancock
  • Icehouse
  • Jan Hammer used the DX7 extensively while scoring Miami Vice
  • Jean Michel Jarre used the DX7 on his 1984 album Zoolook
  • Jerry Goldsmith
  • John Lawry of Petra
  • Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater
  • Kavinsky made his first EP ([[1]]), with a DX7.
  • Kim Wilde
  • Kool & The Gang
  • Kraftwerk
  • Les Misérables (musical)
  • Madonna
  • Magne Furuholmen of A-ha
  • Mike Post
  • Nine Inch Nails used the DX7 both in the studio and on stage
  • Observe & Control
  • Patrick Moraz of The Moody Blues
  • Paul Young and Adrian Lee of Mike and the Mechanics
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Pete Bardens used the DX7 on his album Seen One Earth
  • Phil Collins
  • Philip Glass calls for a DX7 in the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th movements of Glassworks
  • Queen
  • Richard Tandy of Electric Light Orchestra
  • Robert Rich
  • Scooter
  • Sting
  • Stock Aitken Waterman
  • Stratovarius
  • Sun Ra
  • Talking Heads
  • Tangerine Dream
  • The Alan Parsons Project
  • The Crystal Method
  • The Cure
  • Thompson Twins
  • Tony Banks of Genesis
  • Tony Kaye of Yes
  • Toto
  • Vangelis
  • U2
  • Underworld
  • BBC Radiophonic Workshop
  • Startled Insects

See also

  • DX7 Rhodes


  1. Cox, C and D Warner. (2006). Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. New York: The Continuum Publishing Group Inc. ISBN 0-8264-1615-2
  2. http://www.songwritertoolbox.com/interviews/diane-warren/

External links

  • Roundsquare - The home of DX7 Librarian, the ultimate DX7 interface for Mac OS X.