Yamaha PortaSound PSS-470

Yamaha PortaSound PSS-470 Image

The PSS-470 was released by Yamaha in 1987, and was clearly aimed at non-professionals. This is the type of keyboard that would not be surprising to find in the musical instrument section of a major toy store. It's a simple synth built in a plastic case, with built-in stereo speakers, stereo outputs and 49 mini-sized keys. It's designed to be lightweight and portable. Yet at its heart it has inherited Yamaha's DX series digital FM synthesis, which is enough to garner this synth some attention.

There are 21 preset sounds, all of which sound pretty silly. Fortunately, Yamaha included a section called "Digital Synthesizer" which is essentially a manual editing mode. In this mode, six sliders at the top right of the instrument allow you to shape DX/FM sounds. It is a very limited and simplified means of FM synthesis, but for many users this freedom from the complexity of having to attempt to craft FM sounds could be quite fun! The WAVE slider steps through a few very basic waveforms. The SPECTRUM slider is akin to a DX's frequency setting. The MODULATION is more of a timbre/brightness control that renders the sound from dull to bright, which is almost like filtering. The ATTACK and DECAY sliders both control the characteristics of the envelope. There is also a VOLUME slider which controls the output level of the synthesizer section.

Typical of this style of all-in-one synthesizer for casual consumers, is the built-in rhythm and accompaniment sections. The rhythm section offers 12 drum patterns which are comparable to Casio synths like the VL-Tone VL-1, with patterns like Bossa Nova, Rock, Disco and March/Waltz. They are pretty silly. But once again Yamaha did go one step further by adding the "Custom Drummer" which allows you to add some additional drum hits to the current pattern, to give it a little extra flavor of your own. There are only five of these drum sounds - the basics - kick, snare, tom, cymbal and hi-hat.

There is also the "Auto-Bass-Chord" accompaniment section which will play a chord and bass line appropriate to the selected rhythm pattern. Chords are selected from the lower octave-and-a-half of the keyboard, so you can play the melody/lead in the upper octave. The rhythm section also offers "Fill-In" and "Variation" buttons to keep your rhythm pattern from getting too boring. Another nice feature Yamaha added was individual volume controls for the "Auto-Bass-Chord" and Drum sections.

At the end of the day, the PSS-470 seems like a pretty advanced synth-toy, but still one that no real musician would consider using. However, the PSS-470 is so cheap that not only does it provide DX sounds at a bargain price, but circuit-bending these things has become quite common. That means some pretty wacky and unique things can be done, or have already been done to this synth. And with just enough quality touches added by Yamaha that make it a little more flexible than its Casio contemporaries, the PSS-470 could actually prove quite useful and exciting!

Lookup Yamaha PortaSound PSS-470 Prices

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19 Visitor comments
aaron
April 12, 2012 @ 10:45 am
got the pss680 - my first synth in the late 80s.
arsenal has grown to about 15 machines by not, the pss being by far the cheapo in that collection. but you know what? it holds its own. of course it is out of the question for a lot of things, but its got something electrifying/sick/synthetic/outrageous about it.

on the market it won't be 100€, fine by me, I'll keep it. in-built drum machine btw is not sooo shabby...that is if you couple it to an fx-processor.
danalogue
February 6, 2012 @ 6:43 am
There are some nice pure fm tones in this synth. I just took a gamble and bought a highly modified circuit bent one on ebay - have to say, it transforms this synth into one of the most interesting in my collection. Now you can modify the pitch, the chorus section and crash it in certain ways that provides some amazing, unique sounds - full of character.
Paul FitzZaland
January 22, 2012 @ 4:16 pm
I have a PSS-480, the next in the series I guess, and it's a great source for punchy FM bass sounds. Unlike the PSS-470 the various parameters are edited using the display and a couple buttons allowing you to adjust the sound in fine detail. You can also tweak all the settings in real-time for some interesting effects.

I also have the larger PSR-36 with which has a 5-slider "digital synthesizer" section allowing you to adjust the sound of one of the 32 preset voices.

Both of these are home keyboards that look like junk but actually produce very usable and unique sounds.
Paul FitzZaland
January 22, 2012 @ 4:15 pm
The PSS-480 and PSR-36 also have the built-in "custom drummer", MIDI in/out, and simple sequencers. The 480 has patch & song storage. There's even a hidden mono mode that sounds great when using the portamento feature.

None of the PSS or PSR keyboards seem to be desirable these days (2012) and as a result you can find them for next to nothing. In reality, some of these instruments have incredible sound and decent editing features making them perfect additions to any set-up.

I think Vintage Synth should add some of these underrated synths to their archive.
 
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  • Check Price
  • 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 - 8 voices + 1 Drum kit (5 drum sounds)
  • Oscillators - 2 FM Operators
  • Filter - Spectrum and Modulation sliders
  • Envelope - Attack and Decay sliders
  • Effects - Sustain, Vibrato, and Duet
  • Sequencer - Auto-Bass-Chord: Automatic bassline and chord accompaniment feature. Chords are selected using the lower octaves of the keyboard.
    Custom Drummer: Add any of the 5 drum sounds to the selected rhythm pattern in real-time.
  • Patterns - 12 Rhythm patterns for the Drum kit and Auto Bass Chord: Pops, Disco, 16 Beat, Rock n Roll, Country, Latin, Bossa Nova, Reggae, Big Band, Slow Rock, March/Polka, Waltz
  • Arpeggiator - None
  • Keyboard - 49 mini-keys
  • Memory - 21 Preset synth sounds. 12 Drum kit rhythm patterns.
  • Control - None
  • Date Produced - 1987
  • Resources & Credits
  • Information provided by Xces

    Original image from Ethan Callender

    Reviewed January 2011

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