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
July 15, 2012 @ 2:37 am
Just bought a near mint DX7 today (from the writer/director or Friday the 13th part IIIV: Jason takes Manhattan.) He was the original owner and used this exact synth to score the movie...pretty cool. Anyways, it has annoyingly loud hum/hiss out put noise. Is this common? I'm starting to find out on internet that it is quite common in the original DX7's. Is there anyway to fix this? I've tried using TS and TRS cables and still hissing at me :( I'm running the DX7 direct through an Apogee Ensemble to Yamaha HS80 monitors.
June 25, 2012 @ 8:49 am
Great synth but putting FX after it really does bring it alive and kicking. I think I've found a weird reason why the DX line was called "DX". As they all used FM to generate sounds and FM itself is heavily associated to radio, and the term DX is shorthand in radio/telegraphy for distance. So perhaps Yamaha called the line "DX" in reference to FM radio, seems a long shot as the also had the GX and TX series but perhaps they derived those from DX that so they seemed similar, kinda like Roland with their Juno/JP lines.
April 26, 2012 @ 1:26 am
An excellent synthesizer! It took me many months of playing with the settings for the whole FM thing to "click" in my mind, but I finally got it!

There are 2 alternative ways of programming the DX7 that I use:
1) iDX7 for iPad (each parameter is programmed on the iPad's touch screen in real-time, but you also need a MIDI interface for i devices, like Line 6's Midi Mobilizer II or the iRig MIDI), and
2) DX Manager (for PC).
March 27, 2012 @ 6:32 pm
The DX 7 is still an amazing synth. If it were released today the presets would all be amazing VA like analog imitations, and we'd all be blown away. What made it hard to program at the time was the jump from 40ish parameters per patch, all with dedicated knobs/sliders/buttons, to around 150ish, with only two buttons and a slider - it really was a quantum leap.
February 2, 2012 @ 8:28 pm
Brian Wilson has at least toyed around with one; there's a pic of him lounging in a hammock with it in this vid:

VSE Rating


User Rating

Rated 4.12 (1431 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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