Yamaha FS1R

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Manufactured byYamaha
Dates1998 - 2000
PriceList US$1,000 Retail US$400
Technical specifications
Polyphony32 voices
Oscillator16 (8 pitched, 8 unpitched)
Synthesis typeDigital Frequency modulation,
Formant synthesis
Attenuator16 envelope generators
Velocity sensitiveYes
Memory1408 factory patches
Effects1 insert, 2 send
External controlMIDI

The Yamaha FS1R was a synthesizer manufactured by the Yamaha Corporation from 1998 to 2000, based on Formant synthesis - it also had FM synthesis capabilities similar to the DX range.

The editing capabilities were phenomenally powerful, offering 2,000+ parameters to control in any one 'performance' (made up of up to 4 parts or voices), which detracted from the programmability of the unit, often leaving users bewildered and overwhelmed.

A free, cutdown version of Emagic's SoundDiver utility for Windows and Mac OS, could be obtained by calling Yamaha and requesting a copy. The software was buggy, a resource-hog and unreliable, prompting the creation of a number of lightweight freeware applications by various disgruntled users, eager to utilise the full potential of the unit.

Formant Sequencing

One of the major innovations of the FS1R was its ability to use 'formant sequences'. A formant sequence is a series (128 or 512, user-definable) of frames which defined the level and frequency of each of up to 8 'voiced' (pitched) and 8 'unvoiced' (un-pitched) formant generators over time. The number of frames limits the typical length of a sequence to a few seconds, however this length (and the pitch) can then be varied in real-time over a huge range, with little or no artefacts. Applying a formant sequence to a suitable pre-selected sound patch in the FS1R would allow a complex, evolving sound to be arrived at in a relatively short time. Initially, 90 formant sequences were supplied with the FS1R, all fairly unimaginative in their design - seemingly chosen only for the 'Wow" factor at the point of sale. A comprehensive MIDI data format booklet was included with the FS1R and within a few years of its release, a third-party software application had been written to allow the production of formant sequences from a sound chosen by the user.

Problems and shortcomings

The FS1R, due to the power required for formant shaping is, at first glance, light on capabilities. A 4 part synth with 32 voices was viewed as inadequate by 1998's standards, although this was not necessarily a fair judgement, as the FS1R was never designed as an all-in-one workstation, for producing entire songs, but to add original, complex tones that could not be produced by other synthesis methods.

The synth was never successful, probably in part due to its complexity (particularly the formant sequencing), poor front-panel-controls and brief manual. It was discontinued after 2 years.

Rumours abounded of a 'FS2R' successor, with a USB port to connect to a Windows PC/Macintosh equipped with suitable editing software, but no such machine was forthcoming.

The overall opinion of users, as prevalent on the various third-party forums, was frustration towards Yamaha, as they had produced a very powerful unit like no other in production, at a (for the possibilities contained within) bargain price, and then hobbled its use with poor documentation and no way of accessing its most innovative feature.

Knowledge of a piece of software, developed by Yamaha to convert samples to formant sequences, was well known within the community, but the company would not release a version for general use. Eventually, a programmer (Wouter van Nifterick, see FS1R utilities below) produced a freeware alternative and users could finally access all the unit's power, a number of years after its initial release.

User community

A number of forums centred on programming the FS1R exist, although these currently have very low traffic.

Notable Users

  • Autechre
  • Plaid
  • Enigma
  • Squarepusher

External links