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
Rob Parker
December 8, 2010 @ 7:32 pm
I love this synth BECAUSE it's not analog, nor was it meant to sound that way. With some time and effort in programming (or downloading banks) you can get some fantastic sounds out of it that no analog synth can create. Want analog sound? Get an analog synth, not this. Want digital sounds? DX7 should be your first consideration. And to the people that hate the programming: Boo-hoo, I'm so sorry it doesn't have enough knobs for you to mess with. You might like it if you take the time to realize that it is different and actually TRY to learn how to program it. The DX7 is an icon in synthesizer history.
Jostein Chr. Andersen
November 8, 2010 @ 9:22 am
Sorry, I might have used a big mouth here: -It's JX-3p according to www.midi.org but several other sources on the 'Net suggests that it was Jupiter-6 that was hocked up with the Prophet in 1983.
October 31, 2010 @ 6:25 pm
What about Howard Jones? I think he bought the first one.
October 22, 2010 @ 11:17 pm
I also hated it when I first heard it-all cheesy rhodes electric pianos-and the presets ARE naff. So I could never figure out why Brian Eno used it as his main synth. Years later I got one for free and it made the weirdest, longest sounds I'd ever heard. The envelope generators can go on for an infinity, and it has either a subliminal sound like Eno's "Thursday Afternoon" or a nasty guitar distortion sound. Very Japanese "Onkyo", to go between these two extremes. It also sounds really "analog" now, ironically. PCM sample based, it ain't. It wasnt that hard to program intuitively-at least each parameter has its own button. And you could use the data slider to alter each parameter in performance, like a modulator. Years later I released a sampling CD of the weird alien sounds it could make-ironically it sold at Yamaha music stores! I think people just got turned off by overkill; every school kid in Japan learning the piano or organ would have one, and just use the cheesy presets.
September 22, 2010 @ 11:08 am
Just found this recording of Sun Ra jamming out on a DX7 from 1986. From "John Cage Meets Sun Ra"

http ://www.johncage.info/cdlabels/meltdown1.html
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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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