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!

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19 Visitor comments
John B
July 24, 2012 @ 12:57 pm
I had one of these in the 80s, back in my 4 track analogue cassette days. I also had 2 Casiotone keyboards with 49 full sized keys. This was a bit more sophisticated than the Casios in that using the 6 synth sliders, you could actually craft a custom sound. Not to the degree as it's big brother, the DX7, but for under $100.00 I've known a few pro musicians who got some use out of this. You couldn't store patches on floppy discs like you could w/ the DX line, but I would write down the slider settings and use them. Great little machine. Wish I wouldn't have given it away.
July 5, 2012 @ 9:41 am
love this one. it has a nice shimmering sound and symphonic mode really makes up the sound :)
if you get one for cheap you can't go wrong if you are casio mt/ yamaha pss lover...
June 22, 2012 @ 7:57 am
Hello there, I being the creator of this article do have to say, that in this article, meant to say that it was a toy in a more detailed structure. By the first statement I was refeering to the price point. seeming to how cheap it is it seems more likely to be developed for the younger ages.
I did not mean to say that this synth was trash. It is trashy at first play but deep into it there is some quite weird sort of sounds. Maybe I was being a little too negative, after all I am more used to a cheap digital synth being the microKORG. I guess vintage synths arent my thing.
May 22, 2012 @ 3:26 am
"the PSS-470 seems like a pretty advanced synth-toy, but still one that no real musician would consider using."
This is untrue, a little trick is that you can wiggle the sliders with the digital synthesizer section "off", this modifies the currently selected preset,as opposed to starting with minimum values,making the amount of available sounds increase by 100s.
I'm a real musician, but sometimes this baby can come up with something i can use in a track.It's not a lead instrument, but can cheaply add some nice, cold FM sounds to your production.great sweeps!
May 17, 2012 @ 11:09 am
i got just one, for 25€ ... and wauw what a creative inspiring machine. limited and toy-ish, ok. but it makes such exotic sounds ... instant weird stuff without complex programming ... there are some nice effects on too. the rhythm and drums aren't worth mentioning, but the soundengine is so nice. immediate sounds like autechre, aphex twin, and other soundsmagicians ... get one (nobody wants them and this easy FM-syntesis on the fly)! LOFI-weird-SOUND-machine!
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User Rating

Rated 3.38 (86 Votes)

  • 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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