Out of the eighties comes this hugely underrated drum machine—in 1986, the RX5 was Yamaha's flagship drum machine. Although its vintage appeal may be diminished by the Roland R-8 (as well as the resurgence of the TR-808 and TR-909 machines), if you're on a budget, this one could be for you.
The RX5 has many features that other drum machines simply do not have. Aside from all of the basics, such as pitch adjustment, level control, etc., this machine also features "Attack" and "Decay" envelope controls and two levels of "Accent" for each sound, allowing you to really change the character of any of its 24 built-in sounds. The sounds range from surprisingly real and punchy kicks and snares, to gunshots, door slams, even guitar and bass samples.
The RX5 features a RAM/ROM cartridge slot for storing custom edited sounds and loading in new sounds as well (adding an additional 28 sounds to the 24 built-in). Any sound can be assigned along the top row of pads (the bottom row are preset to the usual suspects—kick, snare, toms, hats, etc.), allowing you to customize your drum kit. Make an orchestra of handclaps, bass drums, or guitars! You can create and store up to three custom drum kits.
Another interesting feature of the RX5 is its pitch envelope. There are two simple parameters: "Bend Amount" and "Bend Rate". With this feature, you can make any sound pitch-bend downwards or upwards, across several octaves. This effect can be stored as part of your custom edited sound at the touch of a few buttons.
Also overlooked but extremely useful are the "Reverse" and "Damp" functions. You can record a reverse crash cymbal at one point in a drum pattern, and switch back to a regular crash cymbal elsewhere in the same pattern. The "Damp" function emulates the dampening of a drum head or a cymbal choke. Many drum machines overlook these useful functions, which can really help add a touch more authenticity and nuance to your drum patterns.
The sequencer section can record up to 100 patterns with time signatures ranging from 01/32 to 99/2 in either Real Time or Step Time record modes. Real Time recorded patterns can be quantized to the nearest 1/2 to 1/48 note. Patterns can be arranged in up to 30 Songs. And Songs can be chained together to form complete performance sets. All sequence data can also be offloaded to external RAM cartridge or cassette tape interface.
It is also worth mentioning that the RX5 has a 12 channel mixer with stereo out plus 12 individual outputs. Along with full MIDI Implementation, it's a snap to integrate into your studio. Use it as a stand-alone desktop drum machine, or hook it up to your MIDI keyboard or DAW system like a sound module for some serious drums! Sounds can be arranged for a MIDI keyboard however you please, and the RX5 will save the keyboard mapping—even if the sounds are coming from an external sound cartridge.
The RX5 was shipped by Yamaha with one additional cartridge of sounds—the "RX5 ROM". Three additional Waveform ROM Cartridges were made to suit various genres: WRC-02 "Jazz/Fusion," WRC-03 "Heavy Metal," and WRC-04 "Effects." There were also a few third-party cartridges made, containing TR-808 and TR-909 samples, but they are rather rare. If you're looking for an RX5, try to find one with all the ROM cartridges, and maybe a "RAM4" cartridge too, as they may come in handy.
Overall, a very unique and in-depth machine, capable of a huge variety of sounds. From the nostalgic sounds that defined 80's drum beats, to rock, metal, and electronic music. Programming a beat may not be as easy as a Roland TR machine, but it's still intuitive tap-based recording. You will have no problem finding a place for this beast in your studio.