Whilst it's possible that you've not heard of this mid-'70s analogue preset monosynth from Yamaha, you will almost certainly have seen one. Do you remember the scene in the classic film "Close encounters of the third kind" where the French professor explains and plays the famous tune to a handful of other scientists in a lecture theatre for the first time - he used an SY2!

Whether or not it was the sound of the actual SY2 that was used for the scene is another matter - it could have been dubbed later in post-production using any synth of the time - but the SY2 was immortalised in that scene.

Of course, this is not to be confused with the huge synth used in the film's finale - that was a mammoth ARP 2500 modular. If you're interested in film trivia, the 2500 was actually operated by an ARP engineer, Phil Dodds, not an actor. Dodds was on-set to oversee the 2500's installation for the scene and it was felt that given his experience with the thing, he could operate it more convincingly than the actor originally recruited for the job!

Dodds was duly kitted out in the uniform and took his place behind the 2500 for the scene when the cameras rolled. The irony, of course, was that this monster 2500 wasn't actually used for the famous musical dialogue between us and the visiting spacecraft - that all came from John Williams' magnificent orchestra. But we digress.....

The SY2 was Yamaha's second foray into the emerging world of synthesisers in the mid-'70s, a world that had previously been dominated (mostly) by American companies Moog and ARP but which was now facing infiltration by Japanese manufacturers such as Korg, Roland and, of course, Yamaha.

Yamaha's first offering, the SY1, was aimed fair and square at the organ market, a market that Yamaha were very successful in, and it came with a wooden case designed to match the organs they were intended to be placed upon. The SY2, however, was far more 'rock n roll' and came in it's own Tolex 'flightcase' - flip the lid off the top and screw in the chrome legs that were retained underneath and you were ready to go. Of course, most people threw away the legs and sat their SY2 atop their Fender Rhodes, organ or Mellotron - whatever.

The SY2 was, of course, monophonic and came with a variety of presets, selectable from a series of coloured 'tab' switches above the keyboard. However, it had enough variable controls to the left of the keyboard to allow extensive modification of the presets. Other 'tabs' could be used to further customise the sound. Apart from the change to the casework, the SY2 also offered slightly more functionality in this area than the SY1 making it more versatile than its predecessor.

The SY2 had a single oscillator that fed separate resonant lowpass and highpass filters with a simple envelope generator. An LFO rounded off the synth's capabilities and this could be used for vibrato or filter modulation (quaintly referred to in those times as 'wow' or 'growl'!). But within this simple voice architecture lies a puzzle. Some of the presets offered on the SY2 sound decidedly like they employ TWO oscillators with a prominent 'detune' or 'chorus' effect. Closer inspection inside reveals only a single oscillator so what's going on?

Without an in-depth study of the synth's circuit diagrams, it is my belief that Yamaha achieved a faux chorus effect using Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) and given that the left-hand control panel features a PW control confirms my suspicions. Whatever, the SY2 was capable of some beefy sounds that bely its humble origins.

The SY2 also featured aftertouch. Although rare in its day, it wasn't unique - the ARP Pro-Soloist had this some years earlier - but it did provide a level of expression not possible on most other synths of the time.

The SY2 is certainly not a 'classic' synth in the strict sense of the word but it is certainly an interesting glimpse into the early history of Yamaha in this market. It might also be of interest that the filters used in the SY2 were also used in Yamaha's behemoth GX1 (though strangely, not in the CS80).

I remember quite liking the SY2 when it was released in 1976. I was fresh out of school, I had a job (and hence some money!) and it was a genuine contender on my shopping list. It was quick and easy to use - flick a preset but then tweak it as required - and it sounded good. In the end, I settled on an ARP Axxe which offered more 'serious' synth flexibility for the same price. I was delighted, therefore, to receive this donation - it really took me back a bit!

I am therefore extremely grateful to John from Inverse Room for providing a selection of some of the more representative presets from this rare (and underrated) little synth. John has carefully multii-sampled and looped the samples and whilst you may think they sound a tad cheesy in this day and age of thousands of impressive 'film-score' presets, these sounds are typical of what manufacturers offered in the mid-'70s! Maybe not to everyone's taste but not without their charm.