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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18 Visitor comments
noisecomm
March 16, 2013 @ 1:33 am
xander: mentioned that you can modify the preset without turning the Synth section on. this makes this synth a usable and rare wave table fm. Yamaha also released the psr-36/41 with midi. Dirty fantastic synths for the thrift store set!
danalogue
February 28, 2013 @ 9:29 am
I bought a circuit bent one of these on ebay. Its amazing!! can now adjust the pitch with a pot, completely scramble the drums and in fact all the sounds plus its now got a built in phase shifter, and speed/depth adjustment for the stereo chorus which is very handy. Its pretty amazing and now extremely flexible. It now also has this randomness and surprise element that dare I say it is on a par with my Arp Odyssey. Look around for one as they occasionally come up. You won't be disappointed
hardrockstar
September 22, 2012 @ 9:40 pm
I found the pss-470 at goodwill. I'd never seen a "toy" with adjustable filters before. The stock defaults are mostly cheese but there are exceptions. I like cosmic, funk synth, slap synth, Jazz organ, music box, electric piano, koto and jazz guitar. Well these are cheese too, but in a good way. I will share with you one cool possibility that I've been experimenting with: While in filter mode, play pad chords while rhythmically sliding various filter settings. You can't get this effect on pro gear that uses pots instead of detented sliders. Cheers
chris
August 29, 2012 @ 7:19 am
how much would you pay for a 2nd hand one pls in good cond
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.
 
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  • Check Prices on eBay
  • The link above will take you to a 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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