Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

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Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby TysonC » Mon Sep 03, 2012 1:31 am

Hey, all. Ever since I found out about FM synthesis and the Yamaha DX7 line of keyboards, I've wanted one. Well, here soon I will have saved up enough dough to actually go out and buy one.

I'm down to a DX7 mkII or a SY77. From what I can tell, the SY77 seems to be much more capable than the DX7, but I've seen them going for cheaper than the DX7 on ebay. What gives? If the SY77 has the same 6-op engine, plus ROM samples and a load of other cool bits and bobs, why would it be going for less? Is it because it's less "classic"? How does the sound stack up?

If I could hear some opinions on each synth, it'd really help to inform my decision! Thanks much, fellas!
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby robotunes » Mon Sep 03, 2012 4:51 am

longtime fm fan here. just sold my dx7mkII but will never sell my sy77.

they are both 6-op synths, but use a different modulation index (no need to explain it here), so dx7 patches sound different on an sy77. there is software that can convert dx patches to sy patches, but they sound just a shade different.

what does that mean for you? if you want to take advantage of the thousands and thousands of dx patches found for free on the web (but how many versions of dx e-pianos does anyone need? lol), dx7 is your man. if you want a complex synth with more features than you'll ever use but with some (i believe) can't-live-without tricks, sy is your guy.

to give you an idea, if the dx7 were a jupiter 8, the sy77 would be a huge modular system.

why are sy77 prices falling? these days people put a premium on smaller units. sy77 is a big, heavy 61-key board that most people don't have the time, patience or studio space to suss out.

several key features make the sy77 my fm synth of choice.

1) unlike most fm synths, its operators go down to 0Hz (as opposed to the 0.500Hz of all the others). when a sound-making operator (as opposed to a modulating carrier), is set at 0Hz, that turns it into a waveshaper for adding some serious sound-mangling distortion that all the other fm synths can't produce.

2) also, the sy77 uses sine waves just like the other fm synths but includes 15 others, which opens WAY more variety in sounds.

3) the samples also add immensely to the versatility. you can use the samples as modulators (but if they're too loud or not filtered carefully, they'll turn everything they touch into noise).

4) in each dx7 algorithm (of which there are 32), only one operator can feed sound back to itself and thereby generate really interesting sonic textures for the overall voice. in each sy algorithm (of which there are 45), there are THREE feedback operators that can be routed just about however you want.

5) the onboard effects suck, but when used sparingly they color the sound pleasantly before reaching your (much-needed) outboard effects.

6) the sy77 has two multimode filters per fm patch (the dx7 has none), which shapes the sound further.

7) the sy77 has two modulation wheels, versus the dx7's one.

8) one thing the sy lacks that i wish it had borrowed from the dx7 is the ability to assign any parameter to a slider so you can alter the sound in real time. so much fun and expressivity, riding the slider while playing the dx7mkII.

9) the sy is 16-parts multitimbral, the dx7 only 2-part. so lots of room for stacking three fm sounds to make crazy, sublime sounds. this eats up polyphony, however, which is why i also have the sy77's rackmount sibling, the tg77, for 32 voices of fm and 32 voices of rompler goodness.

10) the sy has a 16-track sequencer. not so for the dx7.

11) the sy's envelopes have extra parameters (hold, for one, which delays the start of an operator's envelope. also, you can choose to loop your envelopes).

there are many, many other differences between the two, but these are the essential ones that pop to mind.

how do the sounds compare? the sy77 can sound like a fat analogue synth, and i do not exaggerate. feeding just one operator into itself generates a heavy sound that the dx7 can reach only via unison mode (which halves the polyphony to 8 voices). i love feeding a familiar sound --a piano, say -- from the rompler side into the fm engine and twisting it into something vaguely familiar but haunting or menacing.

but all of this comes with a steep price. the learning curve is daunting because there are sooooo many parameters and so much menu-diving. on more than several occasions i became so frustrated that i gave up on the sy. but once i memorized how the system is ordered and figured out a few tricks to get what i wanted quickly, it has become my co-favorite synth (along with my vsynth gt) for sound design. when i want to get lost for a couple of hours, i will light this baby up and go on a sound exploration journey that can be thrilling.

just because the sy gives you all of these tools, however, you don't have to use every single one of them on every sound. i've built complex sounds using just two operators.

my advice: if you have an ipad, buy the 4-op app DXi for $1.99 and teach yourself fm programming. at the same time, buy an sy77 before the prices go back up. expect the backlight to be out, so prepare to buy and install the cool blue lcd (search the web for "sy77 cool blue"). expect the disk drive to be busted, so prepare to buy and install a new disk drive (search for "route 66 studios sy77 disk drive"). together these will set you back about $110 but will add value to your sy77 if you choose to resell it. also, the blue lcd (or any other color you can find on ebay) makes editing SOOOOOOOO much easier than with the dead lcd backlight.

if you can't get DXi or some other cheap fm synth for learning fm programming, then i say get the dx7mkII and hope sy77 prices remain in reach when you're ready to buy in a year or two.

if the sy77 is your first fm synth, you will feel overwhelmed and will give up before the magic of fm programming seduces you. a dx7, while daunting for the uninitiated, will help you learn the fundamentals without feeling crushed.

the term "beast" is thrown about loosely on this site when talking about synths. the sy77 is a true beast, but it's not unconquerable. you just have to do it in baby steps. happy to offer you any advice or help i can.
Last edited by robotunes on Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby b3groover » Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:11 am

robotunes summed it up nicely. The SY77 is a total beast. I will never sell mine. If you can find one, try to get an SY99. The effects section is better and you can load samples (albeit with extreme memory limitations).
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby robotunes » Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:40 am

the 99 is definitely a better-sounding machine, albeit with the exact same engine as the 77 (the operating systems are different). really dug it. the effects are miles better. but loading samples into it took forever, and i often ran out of polyphony. it's also 76 keys big, and i'm more of a 61-key guy, since i'm not a gigging musician.

made a strategic decision to go with the sy77 + tg77 for more polyphony at the expense of better effects and nicer sounding samples. sadly, the operating systems of the sy99 and tg77 are just different enough that you can't fully program a tg77 with a sy99. plus, the 99's samples are of a higher resolution than the 77's, i think, so even if you paired the two, they wouldn't sound exactly the same.

b3groover touched on the 99's sample memory constrictions. there are memory modules that add more storage to the 99 so you can load bigger, better-sounding samples. there's an sy99 on ebay right now with 3 such modules already loaded. but it's $999, twice the price of some of the other sy99s on sale now (however, it's a dealer i've bought from and trust). if you're interested:

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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby b3groover » Mon Sep 03, 2012 6:42 am

BTW, 99% of disk drive problems with the SY77 are broken or degraded belts. You can replace the belt with a rubber band and the drive will work just fine.

I've had my SY77 for 20 years. It still surprises. It's an amazing synth, a real programmers machine.
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby TysonC » Mon Sep 03, 2012 8:45 am

robotunes, my man! You've given me exactly what I was looking for! Incredibly useful! Thanks for all the advice, everybody.

I had decided to buy a cheap 4-op synth to keep me busy until I could "graduate" to a bigger and better one after I got my feet wet. I ordered a Yamaha FB-01 maybe a week ago and it's in the mail. It should let me play around in the kiddie end of the pool until I can save up to the SY that is now at the top of my gotta-have-ASAP list.

This will be my first ever synth! I'm very excited for the day when even my simple little FB-01 gets here, but when I get my hands on an SY I'll finally be able to sculpt sounds from scratch (and in great detail, apparently) like I've always wanted. I hope that prices stay steady over the next couple of months so I can get my hands on one nice and cheap. The downsides of "size" and "weight" translate for me, a purely-studio musician, into the upsides of "a playable range" and "a sturdy machine", but let's hope I don't eat these words when it comes time to travel around with it :D

I was going to grab a piano module and pair it up with a DX synth for when I needed some non-electronic sounds, but I think a lot of the SY samples (piano included) sound pretty great. All around, even with the cost of a new LCD and floppy drive, it still offers a lot of features for the price. I've even found an ebay seller or two who tout "new LCD & drive", so fingers crossed that those synths will still be around come payday.

If you guys have any more praises to sing about the SYs or the DXes or of FM in general, I'd love to hear them. I'm brand-spanking-new to the world of hardware synthesis, and all of my research has lead me to FM as being the most interesting, intense, and unique kind of synthesis! I'll just have to sit down and figure the math before I can claim mastery over it :D
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby iProg » Mon Sep 03, 2012 9:47 am

SY-77 or Native Instruments FM8 with a good MIDI controller.
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby nathanscribe » Mon Sep 03, 2012 9:50 am

b3groover wrote:BTW, 99% of disk drive problems with the SY77 are broken or degraded belts. You can replace the belt with a rubber band and the drive will work just fine.


Better to get a correctly proportioned drive belt. I got mine from eBay for pocket money. They're not too hard to swap, but it does require a bit of patience and an eye for dropped screws... when I opened my SY up, someone had used a normal rubber band to fix the drive, and it had started to perish. Not good.

I can't add much to what's been said above. They SY77 is a great machine. I sold mine recently in favour of a DX7s, but only because I knew I simply would never have the time to work it all out. It sounded epic. There are things about it I miss, like the separate pitch-envelopw control of individual operators rather than the whole patch, and the multiple waveforms (a couple of other earlier FM units had 8 waveforms - the DX11 and TX81Z, and maybe I think the TQ5 and V50 - but they're simpler machines overall). I never really liked the display, despite its size. There's a lot of synth to work through, even on what was, for the time, a big screen.

I didn't see it mentioned above, but the SY also has two simultaneous FM engines and two simultaneous sample-based engines available together for each patch. The FM is more highly-specced than the DX7 but if you're familiar with the DX way of working, the SY structure is not going to be too hard to grasp.
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby robotunes » Mon Sep 03, 2012 4:34 pm

the fb01 can't be edited without software. here's a free editor: http://sourceforge.net/projects/fb01editor/

the basics of fm programming are very easy to grasp. imagine the beatles on a stage. john, paul, george and ringo represent the four operators of your fb01.

john sings a note and holds it. in fm-speak he is the carrier (carrying a tune, if you like). now paul grabs johns throat and begins shaking it gently, making john's voice warble a little as he holds his note. paul is acting like an fm modulator. if you make paul shake john's voice faster, the sound john makes will change. in fm-speak, you've just changed the frequency of the modulator. if you make paul squeeze john's neck harder while he's shaking, john's voice will grow more alarmed and sound brighter (while still singing the same pitch). in fm-speak, you've just changed the volume of the modulator. while paul is modulating, you can tell him to squeeze john's throat gently, then give give it a quick tight squeeze, then slowly relax his grip. this will make john's voice sound dull, then quickly brighten then gradually recede back to the sound he makes when paul is just modulating his voice, without squeezing it. in fm, you've used the modulator's output envelope generator (or EG) to vary the carrier's brightness over time.

you now have the basics of fm. a modulator's frequency and volume will change a carrier's tone. the higher the frquency or the louder the modulator, the more drastically the carrier's tone is changed. you can change the modulator's volume over time, but not its frequency.

this is where george and ringo come in. while paul shakes john's throat, george shakes paul's arms. poor john's voice is warbling like crazy now! and if you make ringo shake george's arms while george is shaking pauls arms while paul is shaking john's throat, you can only imagine the sound that's coming out. so in fm-speak, modulatos can modulate other modulators.

but that's not all. let's replace ringo with pete best. well, this guy is just shaking with rage at not being a real beatle. so when he shakes george's arms, he does it super fast, which ultimately changes how fast paul shakes john's throat. pete is an fm feedback operator and he can change the sound more drastically than any of the other beatles (maybe i should have used george martin? lol). if you want, you can have pete screaming in another beatle's ear, giving that beatle feedback about what it's like to not have all that fortune and fame.

but john isn't the only beatle who can sing. you can have john and paul sing while ringo and george shake paul. the result is john's voice will blend with paul's to make one harmonically rich sound. by deciding who will be shaking whom and whom the feedback operator will affect, you are setting the fm algorithm, which will determine what sounds you can make.

so that's your 4-op synth. add george martin and billy preston and you have a dx7.
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby nathanscribe » Mon Sep 03, 2012 4:56 pm

If only Yamaha had used that description in their manuals...
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby TysonC » Mon Sep 03, 2012 6:43 pm

This metaphor started out on shaky ground, what with various Beatles gently having their throats caressed, but I like where it ultimately ended up. Now I really can't wait to get my little 4-op so I can do some Beatle-shaking of my own (side note -- if I ever construct an FM synth, I'm going to name it the Beatle Shaker) :D

Well, guys, I've gotta go for a few days (can't come back to read this thread until friday), but I still have one last question: is it worth saving up and spending the extra hundred bucks on an SY99 instead of an SY77? The main thing I want is the extra octave of keys, but I've heard the operating system is different and it has a different sample set. Are they better samples? Worse? I'd like to hear your opinions.

I'm not going to be travelling around with it, and my "studio" (see: bedroom) has plenty of room, so the larger size doesn't quite impact my decision. My bigger worry would be important features that were stripped out from the 77 to the 99, or that were added.

Thanks again, all. See you on Friday!
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby b3groover » Mon Sep 03, 2012 8:23 pm

The SY99 is the better buy if you can afford one. The FX are better, the outputs are cleaner (there's a weird phase thing in the SY77 outputs that can be endearing but also frustrating), there are more samples and they are cleaner, and yes the extra keys are nice. I have both. I love my SY77 for sentimental reasons but the SY99 is superior.
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby nathanscribe » Mon Sep 03, 2012 8:47 pm

The 99's a fair bit of real-estate though. Don't buy one unseen if you're short on space.
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby robotunes » Mon Sep 03, 2012 9:14 pm

it's worth the extra dough. the OS differences are small housekeeping details that don't affect fm programming. the synth engines are the same. the 99 just have a few more conveniences.
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Re: Yamaha DX7 line VS Yamaha SY77

Postby robotunes » Tue Sep 04, 2012 5:04 pm

forgot to mention sym3, a pc-only editor for the 77s and the 99.

http://www.fm-alive.com/Pages/SYM3.aspx

30-day trial, only $20 to buy (i think it was $30 when i bought it).

the author plans to add a way to edit the synth's 46th, hidden, algorithm, which lets you arrange the operators and feedback loops any way you want. you can't do this from the front panel, only via sysex. as of now, only one editor can do this, either MidiQuest or UniSyn --i don't remember which -- but each can be downloaded for free trial.

that said, i find the sy's 45 algorithms quite sufficient.

i used sym3 for a while, but i'm more of a hardware guy than a software guy. most ppl, however ,probably would greatly prefer editing in software.
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