Duophonic "Programmable Memory Synthesizer" - Released in 1980

I replaced my CS-15D with a CS-40M and the first thing that struck me was its size. It's much bigger than what I expected from the pictures. But of course, it's full of analog technology being not only monophonic but a duophonic synth. The CS-40 offers 2 VCOs per voice and all the needed sound shaping functions are there. Especially good are the modulation capabilities of this synth, and it excels on sound effect type patches. Throw in the really nice built in ring modulator and you'll go outer space in no time.

The CS-40M has an unusual structure of how the sound is built up. The VCOs are actually quite thin sounding and they lack the low end. Then in the final stage in the VCA section you can mix in sine wave to boost the bottom end. While this makes up the lack of low end, making the synth very bassy and boomy, I never preferred the CS-40M for bass sounds. I think a solid and strong basic VCO just sounds better for basses. This is where I still missed my old CS-15D after selling it away. With the CS-40M you can turn off the oscillators and play only with the VCA's sine waves.

I don't know why Yamaha chose this kind of structure to "build up" the sound from different elements in the signal chain. But I guess the "thinner" sound of the VCO behaves better in the modulation routings and with the ring mod, resulting in better levels and clearer sound. In the end the final output of my CS-40M is quite loud!
However, the VCOs are wonderful for many kinds of lead sounds and you can make really convincing poor man's Blade Runner leads if you wish. And since the synth is duophonic you can have a bit of release time and the previous note is not cut off when you play the next note.

I have to mention the excellent sounding multimode filter since I really like to have bandpass and hipass modes in the filter. Yamaha wrote the words "Programmable Memory Synthesizer" on the front panel of the synth since there's a very early implementation of a patch memory system. But once you write your patch to any of the 20 locations you can't continue to program the patch anymore later. Only the very few lighter colored knobs will affect the stored patches (basically just pitch and volume control).

KORG EX-8000

KORG EX-8000

Programmable Polyphonic Synthe Module - Released in 1985
(EX-8000 on bottom and DVP-1 on top)

Korg moved from analog to digital in steps in the 80's. The Poly-800 series synths were still analog with their digitally controlled oscillators (DCOs) and the annoying digital user interface. But the DW-series synths were already real hybrids. Analog oscillators were completely replaced by the DWGS oscs (Digital Waveform Generator System). The good news is that besides the DW generators the signal goes through all analog VCF and VCAs.
In the DW-8000 and its rackmount version, the EX-8000, there's also a digital delay onboard that provides you with modulation effects such as flanging and stereo chorus.

The DWGS waves offer a wider pallette of sounds than what can be achieved by conventional analog oscillators. All in all there are 16 different digital sampled waveforms. You get your basic sawtooths out from the synth, but there are more complex waveforms also. And the wonderful thing is that this thing still sounds very warm, analog and organic!

Programming the EX-8000 is not really difficult, but slow and thus frustrating. It has six stage envelopes (ADBSSR) that I always find unnecessarily complex. I'd always prefer executing that kind of movement in the sound by realtime controllers than having it fixed in the parameters.

Korg released first the DW-6000 which had 6 voices of polyphony and only 8 digital waveforms. But soon came the DW-8000 / EX-8000 with 8 voices of polyphony and 16 waveforms.



Music Synthesizer - Released in 1998
The Yamaha EX5 is a very nice synthesizer. Actually its "Extended Synthesis" engine offers several synthesis methods; AWM2 (rompler), VL (virtual acoustic) AN (analog modeling) and FDSP which stands for "Formulated Digital Signal Processing". The FDSP is a note-dependent effect processor that is more sophisticated and musical than any traditional effect processor, and that's why it is considered as one of the tone generator sytems in the EX5. On top of this there's also a sampler onboard, making this synth sonically very versatile.

I first bought the rack version, EX5R, and did that because of the sounds. I knew that the EX5 had a reputation of being slow and buggy as a music production system. But purely as a synth and a sound source that doesn't matter.
Soon I traded my EX5R for a keyboard version which works very well as a master keyboard also. It has good amount of realtime controllers and a quality 76-key keyboard. The aftertouch is a bit too sensitive though, but I usually filter aftertouch data off in my DAW anyway.

My EX5 is the rarer silver version whereas the ordinary color is blue. Vintagesynth.com says that the silver versions could be limited edition "Millennium Editions" or they just marked the end of the production line with a different color scheme. If that's the case, I find it weird that the firmware of my unit is very early. To update the (buggy) firmware you need to change the actual hardware ROM chips.

Being a nice synth and all I haven't used my EX5 that much and I don't like programming it. The AWM system has enough polyphony but the AN-synthesis has only 2 voices of polyphony and the VL is monophonic. I'm still not familiar how the EX5 shares its processing power when you combine the different tone generators and I don't really care.

Yamaha made a smaller EX7 also with 61 keys. It has less polyphony and the virtual acoustic VL engine is absent.

Six endless rotary knobs for sound tweaking and parameter editing.

Pitch bend wheel and two modulation wheels and a ribbon controller!

Flash ROM for your samples.

The EX5 is a heavy and big synth.


YAMAHA CS-15D - Dual Channel Synthesizer

Monophonic 2 VCO analog synth - Released in 1979
Don't ignore the CS-15D as another preset synth. It's a very nice and good sounding analog monosynth. Yes, it has presets, and it's a pity that the channel 1 can only use the 15 presets, but the channel 2 is completely yours with manual sound shaping controls (also 14 more presets if you wish). So you can use it as a 1 VCO monosynth with complete control over the sound. But I strongly suggest that you experiment with layering the channels to make some beautiful 2 oscillator lead sounds for example. The brilliance slider on the left acts as another "master filter cutoff", so you can totally control the timbre of the presets too. One thing to mention is the ultra fast LFO that makes it possible to create very nice sound effect type patches.

The Yamaha CS-15D is a nice looking, compact and capable analog monosynth. It sounds truly great and has strong bottom end. You can control it through MIDI if you have an appropriate MIDI/CV converter. Both channels have their own CV-input, so I just used a split adapter to feed both channels with the same signal.

I sold my CS-15D to fund the much bigger CS-40M. I thought I wouldn't need both of them and they probably have the same basic sound character. I was wrong! I totally missed the CS-15D later. In my opinion it's much better for basic bass sounds for example. The CS-40M is much deeper synth that can do way more complex sounds. They're both fantastic intstruments but different.

CS-15D and SK-20 on bottom.



Digital Voice Processor - Released in 1986
The name DVP-1 comes from the words Digital Voice Processor, so it's more than just a vocoder that you might first think it is. There's also harmonizer, pitch shifter and internal wave modes.

The internal waves are very nice vocal/choral waves that you can use as a standalone voice synthesizer. The waves are probably produced by a same kind of DWGS technology as in the DW-series synths. You have a complete control over the formants of the waves and you can even modulate the formants with the pitch bender in realtime. There's 5 voices of polyphony which is reduced to 4 if you toggle on the onboard chorus. Run the internal wave synth through a nice analog ensemble effect and you have some excellent choir sounds! This is how I used my DVP-1 on the album Subtle Moves.

DVP-1 takes 2 units of space from your rack.

The vocoder might be the most attractive feature of the DVP-1. But being a digital unit it really doesn't deliver that classic analog Cylon-vocoder sound. You're also stuck with the internal waves as carrier signals. so no external input for your own carrier sound. It gives you some decent vocoder sounds, but I only tried it and never used it musically. I'd rather have a simple analog vocoder like the MAM VF-11 for example.
The harmonizer and pitch shifting are most probably better done with modern plugins than this machine from the 80's.

DVP-1 and EX-8000 (DW-8000 rack) share the same visual design.


ROLAND MKS-70 - Super JX

Analog DCO Polyphonic Synthesizer - Released in 1986

The Roland MKS-70 is a rackmount version of the biggest JX-synth, the JX-10. It has the synth engine of two JX-8Ps and has the best MIDI implementation of them all. The Super JX was the last analogue synth made by Roland in the 80's.

I bought it to replace my JX-8P as it takes less space. My first impression of the Super JX was that it’s actually a bit different from a JX-8P. Although the basic sound is somewhat the same, the bi-timbral nature of the patches makes it a bit deeper. So, now a patch is made of two "tones", (same as patches in the older JX-8P). When playing these single "tones" with the Super JX in whole-mode you can have all the polyphony of 12 notes. Normally you would play the patches that are in dual- or split-modes and the polyphony is then six notes which usually is still enough.

All the gorgeous analogue sounds, warm pads and fat brasses are there with that fabulous stereo chorus too. Of course I kept the PG-800 programmer to make things easier because without it I probably wouldn’t have the patience to program this. You can read more of my thoughts about the JX-synth in the JX-8P page.

But in the end of the day replacing my JX-8P with the MKS-70 was a mistake. I hated the dual structure of a patch from the beginning. Maybe I'm just simple and want to keep things simple, but the Super JX killed the JX-fun for me. I like to layer sounds musically within a composition, not necessarily inside one patch. Basically you can make more advanced patches with the Super JX, but that is just more complex engineering also. And it's annoying when you modify a "tone", then all the other patches that might be using that tone are screwed up...
I was unhappy with the lost inspiration and sold the synth away.