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
June 6, 2011 @ 4:24 am
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Forget the presets and get to work programming! Really solidly built synth and for what they go for, I'd surely get another one if mine fails me down the road.
Totally SOLIDLY built synth used more recently by MGMT and stamped all over the 80s too of course! If you loathed top 40 like I did back then, this was a sound you learned to dislike... But then again Eno and the This Mortal Coil Records leaned quite heavily on it too, yet programmed it accordingly! Maybe I like the ESQ-1s a bit more, but you could do a lot worse than a DX7 believe me!
June 4, 2011 @ 3:47 pm
Kraftwerk used heavily the DX-7 on the Electric Café album. The main theme of Musique Non Stop is played via several of the presets. I suppose that the string sounds in Telephone Call comes also from the DX-7.

For the popularity: If i was given a cent for each song the DX-7 was used in, i'd be a millionaire...
May 11, 2011 @ 11:23 pm
Kraftwerk used Yamaha DX7? In which album they used it?
March 29, 2011 @ 5:39 pm
Bill said: "...the fact the keyboard/battery is likely to be mashed after 30 years."

Is that so? Mine is still on the original battery (and keybed :) - oh well it isn't quite 30 yrs straight just yet, is it? Better keep an eye on that battery - still, 27 years (25 with me) is not bad at all... I know Ensoniqs and Polysixes are notorious for draining the battery and sometimes dying in the process (been there...) - apparently not so with the DX.
March 28, 2011 @ 3:05 pm
Get SY77 over this, it may not have the name but it's way more the FM synth and then some! I had a MK2 DX7 and really liked it, didn't think I'd 'need' an SY77 until I had one and realised that all the shortcommings of my DX7 2 had been addressed in the SY77, one of the most powerful synths ever made.

That said the DX7 is a legend, one for the collectors - SY77 is 100x the instrument (and cheaper!)
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Rated 4.12 (1433 Votes)

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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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