Yamaha RX5

Yamaha RX5 Image

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.

Yamaha RX5 Image

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.

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32 Visitor comments
November 27, 2010 @ 7:47 pm
Used by The Sisters of Mercy, Cocteau Twins, and Kinman Brothers “industrial cow punk” project BLACKBIRD.
RX5 ruff 12bit samples and extensive sound editing maybe has more in common with Sequential Circuits DrumTraks, or Kawai XD-5 then the Alesis HR or Roland R series that ended up dominating the era with their larger libraries of clean “realistic” 16 bit samples.
Yamaha offered a rack mount trigger brain with the same synth engine the PTX8
November 27, 2010 @ 8:40 am
@Silverfish: Cameo used an Akai XR10 or at least Akai sounds. I'm not sure if the XR10 got new samples or if those were just taken from the S1000 library.

There are some RX5 sounds (among others) used by Roxette in "The Look". The song "Red paint" on Neneh Cherry's "Homebrew"album is complete RX5 with an externally processed bassdrum.
November 27, 2010 @ 2:54 am
I find I quite like this drum machine. No, it's not the most "real" sounding, but what do you expect from a mid 80s ROM-based machine. Some say this machine has no character to it, and that is wrong. The machine has lots of character, and has a very unique sound. It won't replace your x0x machines, but it can create some really great noisy, digital drum hits. The individual output mixer is really handy, and it can sequence in almost any time signature you can think of, if you're into that sort of thing.
Like other Yamaha machines, it does things in very "Yamaha" way. In short, this machine could be a great drum sequencer, drum trigger, etc, and is fantastic for Industrial, IDM, and other digital-heavy genres. Bonus points if you circuit bend it!

I dunno if it's true or not, but supposedly the RX5 was used for almost every sound in Cameo's "Word Up". Instant classic!
November 26, 2010 @ 7:22 am
This has been my first drummachine in the 80s but I sold it and swapped it for a D4. A few years ago I bought one again for close to nothing.
It's true that a R8 or SR16 might sound more natural, but if you use the synth features of this machine, you'll get some unique sounds.
For more lively patterns, there are some very nice features in the sequencer, like pitch and/or volume modulation for each step per instrument. Takes a bit of time, but sounds much better than just to record buttonhits.
For weird broken sounds, exchange a sampleROMcard without initializing the RX. It'll try to find the right waveform but doesn't, more funny sounds..
November 26, 2010 @ 5:42 am
Horrible machine, as are all Yamaha drum machines. The sounds lack character, the user interface is unintuitive, and the features lacking (two levels of accent on a machine on a machine from 1986 that was supposed to be top of the line is a joke).

If you're after 1980s drum machine sounds with character, or a machine with a decent programming interface, then look elsewhere.
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Rated 4.01 (184 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 - 16 voices
  • Waveforms - 24 internal 12-bit PCM samples (Bass, Snare, Rimshot, Tom Toms, Electric Toms, Hi Hats, Ride Cymbal, Crash Cymbal, Chinese Cymbal, Claps, Tambourine, Cowbell, Shaker). Additional 28 voices from ROM and 12 voices from RAM.
  • LFO - Basic pitch modulation
  • Filter - None
  • Envelope - Attack / Decay
  • Effects - Reverse, Damp, Pitch Bend, Accent
  • Sequencer - Real Time and Step Time Drum Sequencer.
  • Patterns - 100 Patterns (99 measures)
  • Songs - 20 Songs (999 patterns)
  • Keyboard - 24 Pads (no velocity)
  • Memory - 100 Patterns, 20 Songs, 3 Chains. Accepts RAM4 to store sequence & voice data
  • Control - MIDI In/Out/Thru; Clock In/Out
  • Date Produced - 1986

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