The Yamaha Reface DX is a recreation of the classic DX7 digital synth. The DX 7 basically obliterated all synth analog. Sort of… Or maybe so.
The story goes something like “One of the more notable technologies made commercially viable[in the 1908’s]was the digital frequency-modulation (FM) tone generator. This sound creation method was originally developed at Stanford University in the United States, and Yamaha—the first company to recognize its true potential—signed an exclusive licensing contract with the university in 1973.”
The new lighter, more portable DX has a 4 Operators and 12 Algorithms FM sound engine similar to past DXs but with added continuously variable feedback on every operator. The 8 voice polyphony of the Reface DX definitely puts this mighty mini keys synth in the upper class of the current lot of hardware digital synth recreations.
Seeing as though I’ve never used an actual DX7, or the like, I can’t say that I have a reference point for what the Reface DX should be. However, I found myself asking what’s an operator? Well, the answer is simple. Or is it? An operator, of which the DX has four, is in simplified terms what we know as an oscillator, sort of. It’s the voice. It’s the component in this synth that makes waves and subsequent sound that can then be modified.
Speaking of modifiers or modulators, each of the operators can also be used as modulation sources as well. So, yeah that is dope! Conversely, using the ALGO feature you can arrange the 4 operators in various configurations. This allows you to drastically and/or subtly change the sound to your liking. There in lies the magic of the DX. There are massive sound shaping possibilities with the operators and algorithms long before you even get to the effects
There are two effects blocks. Both are programmable with 7 types of effects per block. The effects are; VCM Touch Wah, VCM Flanger, VCM Phaser, Chorus, Delay, Reverb and Distortion.
One of the stand out features is the multi-touch surface to the left of the screen. Why would this be a stand out feature for me? Well, maybe I’m overstating it a bit but the multi-touch surface plays so closely to what we are use to with touch screen of smart phones and such that it just feels natural in use. The problem is that I often tent to touch the screen expecting the values to change. No such luck! Still, its nice to be able to touch the parameters via the multi-touch surface.
On the far left of the top panel there is the pitch bend switch, volume slider and octave slider. To the right of the screen there are the FM synthesis control access buttons (Freq, Level, Algo and FB).
Next there is the Voice Select / Edit section. This is where you can switch thru the 8 banks of 8 sounds. This is also where you can edit Op1-4, EG parameters such as level and rate. This is also where you would edit the LFO and Pitch EG.
Further right there are 4 buttons (Function, Effect, Store & Looper).
Function allows for more global type of changes to the system and midi set up etc.
The looper is a simple phrase looper that makes it easy to play / record simple melodies and synth lines. It’s metronome is a time synched synth hit. This was sort of odd sounding to me at first but it helps you keep time just as well. Use of the looper requires interaction with the multi-touch surface for controls (record, play, tempo and clear). As for the tempo, you’ll have to use the multi-touch surface to interact with the tempo slider to take the tempo up or down. I feel there is a missing piece there as the center of the slider should allow for tap tempo. But as I said this is a simple looper that is good at what it does. It allows you to capture your ideas and melodies easily and quickly.
Similar to the other Refaces it has the typical build. The plastic body with mini keys is flanked to the left and right with small “2W 3cm stereo speaker system.” The DX’s flat matte dark gray color distinguishes it from the pack.
The keybed of 37 mini-keys is said to be “Based on the FS action found on the flagship Motif XF, HQ (High Quality) Mini Keys provide premium feel and response for fast, accurate and natural playing.” I can attest to the comfortably keybed action. Its not a bad keyboard by far. It’s certainly one of the better smaller form factor keybeds. I’d even say that of all the keyboards I’ve used the Reface mini keys are the best bar none.
As with the other Refaces, the DX allows MIDI interaction via an included mini MIDI break out cable and the USB connection.
Other features include;
Uses six “AA” batteries with five hours of life
Dual 1/4″ unbalanced line outputs provide connection to mixers, audio interfaces, DI boxes and more
A 3.5mm aux line input lets you connect and hear mobile devices, tablets and more through the instrument
As with all of the Refaces, the price drop from approximately $600 to $399 makes it a much better value than I’d previously thought. The build is plastic but sturdy and attractive. It’s an 8 voice synth which blows away similar priced analog modeled digital recreations. Also, the keys a dope in terms of the action. Yes, they are mini keys and that may not appeal to some but the fact is that these are mini keys with great action and quality. Still not a fan of mini-keys, no problem! Midi controller to the rescue as the Reface line has midi over USB as well as traditional Midi via mini break out cable.
All in all, the DX is a good buy for anyone wanting the vintage DX sound with how the vintage worries and after market prices that come along with it. Not to mention, each operator has something that the vintage models don’t and that is the “continuously variable feedback on every operator!”
For more info, head over to the Yamaha Reface DX product page.
For more info on the history of the DX head over to http://usa.yamaha.com/products/music-production/synthesizers/synth_40th/history/chapter02/