Yamaha SY-1 (1974)
The SY-1 and SY-2 are the first compact/portable analog synthesizers produced by Yamaha. They are single-VCO synthesizers (derived from the GX-1) with preset sounds and basic synthesis capabilities. As was the trend during the mid-seventies, the SY-1 and SY-2 were designed as accessories to the larger organs and pianos of the time—compact and light enough to sit atop an organ (or piano) and adorned with controls and switches that imitated those found on organs. One listen to the SY-1 or SY-2 and you'll hear the signature classic synth sound that defined Yamaha throughout their more famous CS-series.
There are 28 preset sounds which include woodwind and brass instruments on the red switches, piano and stringed instruments on the yellow switches, and stranger synthesized sounds (such as "Growlpet") on the green switches. These preset sounds can not be combined but they can be freely edited using the sliders and knobs to the left of the compact 37-note keyboard. To facilitate that, there's a great-sounding analog low pass resonant filter, analog VCA envelope and an attack/pitch-bend effect. Additional control switches allow for some more tweaks, such as pulse-width modulation, vibrato, portamento and keyboard transposition. A Touch Control feature allows for expressive aftertouch control from the keyboard to be sent to the VCO, VCA or VCF for achieving vibrato, wah-wah or volume effects, repsectively.
While there is obviously no sign of MIDI control (it hadn't been invented yet), there is also a lack of CV and Gate controls that would have allowed it to work with other analog equipment. But the compact and vintage wood road-case design make this a synth for the road, which also means some units could show signs of decades worth of abuse—an important consideration when looking at second hand units. Nevertheless, it is a unique alternative to CS-series Yamaha's that are a fun synth to play around with and an historic synth to own! The SY-1 has been used by Royksopp.
Yamaha SY-2 (1975)
The SY-2 has all the same preset sounds as the SY-1, and adds enhanced synthesis controls. A resonant high pass filter has been added alongside the resonant low pass and the VCA envelope controls have been expanded to full ADSR by adding Decay and Release sliders. The SY-2 also adds Foot Control (via external input) of Wah-Wah and Volume to expand expressive control beyond that of the keyboard's Touch Control feature (the SY-1 had Foot Control for volume only). And lastly, the SY-2 was built in a more rugged flight-case style enclosure. The SY-2 has been used by Add N To (X) and BBC Radiophonic Workshop and even made an appearance in Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".
Demos & Media
SY-1: 1974 - 1979
SY-2: 1975 - 1979
Images from Synthfind.
Review updated January, 2013.