DX7 - The Legend Lives On


Photo of a Yamaha DX7 MODX7 keyboards

The DX7 Lives On

Back at the start of the ‘80s, when analogue ruled the synth world, a revolution happened. The mighty Yamaha DX7 arrived. There are few keyboards to match both the popularity and legacy of this giant. Dusting off my old MkI a few days ago, it got me thinking about how the classic DX sound still commands the utmost respect even now, and how it continues to be an essential element of Yamaha’s sound today.

Based on FM technology (Frequency Modulation) of using one wave to modulate another, FM Synthesis was able to produce a punchier, cleaner sound than analogue, was great for percussive sounds, and offered endless new sonic possibilities. It quickly became the sound of the era, used on classic tracks by bands and artists like Brian Eno, Aha, Queen, Whitney Houston, and, of course, that famous track by Rick Astley (check out the bass and electric piano.) Although FM had been used on Yamaha instruments prior, like the GS1 & 2, the DX7 brought the technology to a more portable and affordable level and it became one of the best-selling synthesizers of all time.

FM synthesis was complex stuff to get your head around, but the DX7 presets gave us some classic bass, synth, brass, and percussive sounds, but none more enduring than E. Piano 1. This iconic sound made it onto all the big power ballads of its day and can still be found on all of our digital pianos and keyboards. Try using it on something like our Genos workstation or Clavinova pianos and you’ll find it faithfully reproduces those rich, percussive dynamics.

The legacy still continues. Our latest Music Production line up brings FM right back to the foreground in our flagship Montage synthesiser range, and the younger sibling, the MODX (the DX still lives in the name!) Alongside the AWM2 sound engine, sits FM-X. This is true FM at its best, and with the aid of FM Converter, you can even load up your native DX7 sounds. As someone who spent months tapping away at membrane keys, learning the complexities of FM on my old DX7, it’s fantastic to see this powerful technology married up with the ease of editing that the Montage gives you with the knobs and sliders. Thankfully, the new generation of FM allows me to layer DX7 sounds to my heart’s content (DX7 wasn’t multi-timbral!) and I no longer need to invest in lots of outboard effects units to add reverb and depth.

For ultra-portability, the Reface DX gives you FM on the move, and is great for sitting back in the studio chair and playing them on your lap.

I was impressed that my old DX7 remains in top condition and is still running off the original memory backup battery after 37 years! Although this is testament to the longevity and durability of Yamaha synths, the true test of time is the legacy that the DX7 has left behind, not just in those classic sounds, but the FM technology that once again takes centre-stage in Montage and Reface. The classic synth is now part of Yamaha’s DNA and will forever continue to be the legend that it is.