With the advent of the Roland
D50 and later the Korg M1, the late 80s saw Yamaha's dominant FM
synths losing their stranglehold on the market - the new order of
the day was 'S+S' (or 'samples + synthesis') synths and workstations.
Yamaha persevered with FM in the form of the SY77 and SY99 which
added some samples to their FM synth engine but, apart from a few
die-hard fans, neither of them captured the wider imagination of
the market as they were not one thing or the other - were they FM
synths or S+S or both or what? They were also expensive and complicated.
That said, both were very 'deep' synths and much loved by serious
programmers (and many still swear by them today) but they could
not compete with the tempting offerings from Korg and Roland.
In 1992, then, Yamaha finally abandoned FM in favour of a true
S+S synth workstation when they released their SY85.
The SY85 was a fabulous synth and an excellent debut. Hundreds
of high quality sounds on-board and capable of everything from natural
acoustic sounds through to hardcore synth noises thanks to its resonant
multi-mode filters and comprehensive modulation facilities. It had
a dual-bus effects system (with four sends to it) and the effects
were of Yamaha's typical high quality. It also had a highly competent
16-track sequencer on-board which was more than capable of producing
complete and dense multi-track/channel productions with a wide range
of very quality drum and percussion samples for rhythmic accompaniment.
It had 6Mb of Wave ROM but it also (uniquely at the time) featured
user sampling with memory expandable to 4Mb. In this day and age,
those figures are nothing too spectacular but in 1992, such functionality
was a revelation! Sounds/samples could be imported using the on-board
floppy disk drive and there were also two card slots to add further
new sounds. Such facilities are considered as 'standard' today but
Yamaha were setting this standard over twelve years ago when such
things were pretty much unheard of.
The SY85 also had a very nice keyboard with an action suitable
for many different levels of proficiency and one that could certainly
work as a main keyboard in a MIDI setup. It also had eight sliders
beneath the 2x16 LCD that could be used for programming but also
as 'quick tweak' controls when performing.
The user interface was typical of Yamaha - a bit obtuse and arcane
but not too bad once you got used to it.
The best thing about the SY85, however, was its sounds. They had
a depth and clarity not always present in competing synth workstations
of the time and the sheer number and range of them made the SY85
suitable for almost almost any musical application.
We have some of them from Hollow Sun contributor Tim Callaghan
who has sampled his own SY85.
Tim's samples are impeccable throughout, capturing the character
and quality of this pioneering workstation.