There is no denying the impact that Yamaha's FM synthesis had on the music community in the '80s and their DX series of synths were bought and used by everyone from top league chart toppers to solo piano bar acts and everyone in between.

In fact, it's fair to say that FM dominated the synthesis arena during these years (augmented by the emerging sampling technology of the era). However, all things come an end and Yamaha's dominance of the synthesiser market was ultimately usurped by the Roland D50 and (later) by the Korg M1, both of which offered (yet another) new form of synthesis known as 'S+S' (or sample and synthesiser), products where samples formed the basis of the sound which was then 'shaped' using traditional synthesis techniques of filters and envelopes. Even Yamaha eventually relented to this trend with the release of their SY85 S+S keyboard and module derivatives. To all intents and purposes, FM synthesis was dead.

It was a surprise then when, in 1998, Yamaha released their FS1R - a new, 32-voice FM synth module with not a sample in sight!

But this was no ordinary FM synth! 8 operators instead of the usual 6 (or 4) and plenty more algorithms (combinations of operators) to choose from. Also, each operator offered more waveforms than the originals' sine wave for greater tonal complexity. The FS1R also offered 'formant' operators and filters and multi-effects and more, all of which were designed to elevate FM synthesis to a new level.

The FS1R came with the best part of 1,500 preset sounds and sounded fantastic. But that was not enough to save it.

As you can probably tell from the photo above, the user interface lived up to Yamaha's reputation of providing arcane and obtuse screens and menus and it was difficult to use. Even with the bundled editing software, serious programming was not a task for the faint-hearted with so many parameters to adjust. Even a simple tweak was a chore for most people.

Multi-timbrality on the FS1R was also limited to a mere four parts and there were other 'restrictions' (for example, if the filters were used, polyphony was halved!). In fairness to Yamaha, they never proclaimed the FS1R to be an 'all-singing, all-dancing' workstation - they saw it more as an adjunct to an existing setup - but, in a market dominated by 'all-singing, all-dancing' workstations, the FS1R was not the success that Yamaha had (presumably) hoped for and the product pretty much died although it reains a popular item on eBay where it can still fetch a good price.

The FS1R samples in Nostalgia have been kindly provided in close association with Martijn Buiter.