Yamaha DX7

Yamaha DX7 Image

One of the most popular digital synths ever was the DX7 from Yamaha, released in 1983. It featured a whole new type of synthesis called FM (Frequency Modulation). It certainly is not analog and it is difficult to program but can result in some excellent sounds! It is difficult because it is non-analog and thus, a whole new set of parameters are available for tweaking, many of which seemed counter-intuitive and unfamiliar. And programming had to be accomplished via membrane buttons, one data slider and a small LCD screen.

Still the sounds it shipped with and that many users did manage to create were more complex and unique than anything before it. Percussive and metallic but thick as analog at times, the DX7 was known for generating unique sounds still popular to this day. The DX7 was also a truly affordable programmable synth when it was first released. Almost every keyboardist bought one at the time making the DX7 one of the best selling synths of all time! It also came with MIDI which was brand new at the time - Sequential had already released the first MIDI synth, the Prophet 600. Roland had just released the JX-3P with very basic MIDI implementation, and wouldn't get around to adding full MIDI for another year with the Juno-106, and it would be three years before Roland can counter the popularity of the DX7 with a digital synth of their own, the D-50.

Yamaha DX7 Image

The DX7 has been used by the Crystal Method, Kraftwerk, Underworld, Orbital, BT, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Tony Banks, Mike Lindup of Level 42, Jan Hammer, Roger Hodgson, Teddy Riley, Brian Eno, T Lavitz of the Dregs, Sir George Martin, Supertramp, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Daryl Hall, Steve Winwood, Scritti Politti, Babyface, Peter-John Vettese, Depeche Mode, D:Ream, Les Rhytmes Digital, Front 242, U2, A-Ha, Enya, The Cure, Astral Projection, Fluke, Kitaro, Vangelis, Elton John, James Horner, Toto, Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, Chick Corea, Level 42, Queen, Yes, Michael Boddicker, Julian Lennon, Jean-Michel Jarre, Sneaker Pimps, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Greg Phillanganes, Jerry Goldsmith, Jimmy Edgar, Beastie Boys, Stabbing Westward and Herbie Hancock. Pretty impressive for just a partial listing!

Following the monaural DX7 came the stereo DX7 mkII - just as popular and much more advanced. Its unique sounds are very popular for industrial techno type music as well as ambient and electro. The TX-7 is essentially a desktop module form of the DX7 but is even harder to edit or program since it requires external editors or software. The monolithic DX1 and DX5 models which packed two DX7 synth engines into one instrument were the epitome of the DX line of synths created by Yamaha. There have also been a few budget spin-offs like the DX9, DX100, DX21 and DX27. FM synthesis has also made its way into the TX-81Z & TX-802 and software synthesizers like Native Instruments FM7.

Still the DX7 has remained the all around best and most popular DX synth due to its affordable price, professional features for studio and live performance and its excellent range of sonic possibilities and extensive programmability. In fact the reason the DX7 is always so affordable (usually under $500 second-hand) is because there are so many of them out there, still being used and traded! And they are reliable, still functioning well over 20 years later unlike older analog gear.

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137 Visitor comments
Tim Cracknell
June 24, 2014 @ 6:34 am
A relatively common issue with the DX7 is keys dropping. My DX7 recently had a semitone key drop. Under inspection it was caused by the key-return spring dislodging and a very small pivot lip on the rear end of the key snapping also causing the spring support to snap completely off. Removing keys is not as hard as it looks though be warned, the removal of a semitone key requires the removal of a full tone key or often both surrounding the broken key. Repairs to failed keys can be performed by reinforcing the broken parts under heat with a strip of metal such as brass. Glue doesn't work!
Jimbo Jones
June 7, 2014 @ 9:25 am
quote Synth_Master: I've never much cared for the sound of FM synthesis. I think it sounds too much like a Sega Genesis game console.
I think you're missing the point here..... Of course It will do, if you use the factory presets. but the DX7 is capable of so much more. It doesn't have to sound like a SEGA Genesis. It can do more than most everybody imagines, once you understand how the synthesis engine works. But it does take some time to get your head round programming it, simply because it works in exactly the opposite way to Subtractive Synthesis. Can't post examples in here or I would.
June 2, 2014 @ 6:30 pm
Though I don't completely hate it, I've never much cared for the sound of FM synthesis. I think it sounds too much like a Sega Genesis game console. (Sega used Yamaha sound chips in the Genesis) But I do like FM/DX-7 for it's classic electric pianos, bells & strings/pads. (it is awesome for that & has a very unique sound) I love how my Korg Kronos X can import DX-7 SysEx data, directly to it's MOD-7 engine. MOD-7 is = to about 6 operator FM, & you can have to MOD-7 per patch. It doesn't sound exactly like a DX-7, especially not the bells/EPs, but it make some nice pads.
Jimbo Jones
May 28, 2014 @ 11:57 am
Let me qualify that last post.... The DX7 is without doubt one of the greatest synths of all time. Not because the presets on it were over used in the 80's.. because they were....
But because it can do things that no other synth can do. It simply sounds different to anything else and can produce patches that are spectacular. Add Stereo Chorus and Reverb to it and and it's a complete monster! Very cool. And not difficult to program once you actually understand how it's working.
Jimbo Jones
May 28, 2014 @ 11:46 am
You got to love "Thomas Dolby" when he says further down this page "Anybody out there who wants to trade an Elka Synthex, a Memorymoog or Prophet 5 etc for my DX7. The answer is an emphatic NO!!! Go away and leave me alone to my F.M Synthesis PARADISE!!!!" ROFLMAO... If anybody wants to trade an Elka Synthex or Prophet 5 for my DX7 Please get in touch now! I'll trade it straight away, given that I can pick up another DX7 for about £150 at the moment.
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  • The link above will take you to an eBay search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - 16 Voices
  • Oscillators - 16 bit Digital 6 operator FM.
  • #Instruments - (1) Monotimbral
  • LFO - Sine/Square/Tri/SAW up/SAW Down/Random
  • VCA - 6 Envelope generators 8 parameters each
  • Keyboard - 61 keys (w/ velocity and aftertouch)
  • Memory - 32 Patches
  • Control - MIDI
  • Date Produced - 1983-87
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