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 (www.snare.org.uk) who has sampled his own SY85.

Tim's samples are impeccable throughout, capturing the character and quality of this pioneering workstation.