Yamaha SY85

Yamaha SY85 Image

In the early 1990's most synth manufacturer's quest to use digital forms of synthesis to re-create acoustic sounds (as well as analog sounds) led to an onslaught of rather boring instruments. Among the mob of digital synths some stood out such as Korg's M1, Roland's D-50, and Yamaha's SY85. Fading away were the days of Yamaha's FM-synthesis, replaced by Advanced Wave Memory (AWM2). Throughout the 1990's Yamaha used AWM2 in many of their successful products because of its high sonic quality and advanced synth-like editing features. The SY85 was a powerful workstation keyboard capable of some great sounds and full arrangements.

It's a 16-part multitimbral MIDI synth with a nice 61-note keyboard designed to be the main keyboard in your MIDI studio, with tons of sounds and sequencing features built-in. It has a long but narrow 40 character x 2 line LCD display and a 5x5 mode selection matrix which enhances operation by allowing fast easy access to any of the SY85's modes. In addition to pitch & modulation wheels and dual output level controls, the SY85 has eight slide controls that can be used to control a range of parameters while performing for expressive real-time power. Best of all it's got multi-mode filters and a dual-effects processor with chorus, flange, reverb, delay, exciter, parametric EQ, echo, ring modulation, leslie, distortion, etc. The effects can be used in series or parallel, and there are 4 busses to route sounds through them. Other features include a 3.5" floppy disk drive, external memory card slots and two assignable stereo outputs.

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59 Visitor comments
March 3, 2013 @ 1:29 am
Gary, Karma is a completely different beast then anything else you will probably ever play. If you can get one get it and never let it go. I have been looking for one for just about forever.....
March 1, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

I would take the $400 KARMA, provided it's sound mechanically. The JW-50's soundset isn't thought very highly of, and its sound-editing features are said to be pretty basic. Plus the SY85 has weighted keys, which are always nice. I would take the Karma and use it for analogue-ish sounds and also keep the SY85. Although I'm assuming you're the same one who posted about being able to get an SY77 for the same price too. The KARMA and the SY77 are both great keyboards (I have the latter and have heard great things about the former), but for the same price I'd take KARMA.
February 22, 2013 @ 1:43 am
I have always thought of the SY-85 as more of a early prototype Motif then a followup to the 77 and 99... The realtime faders are great, and the keybed is the best I have ever played. Velocity and aftertouch response are still rock solid even after 20 years... I will never let mine go...
February 15, 2013 @ 5:05 pm
Would I like a Roland JW-50 for $100 better than my SY85? I noticed both boards came out the same year - 1992 Does a Roland (JW-50) sound better? I noticed it has a 16-track sequencer instead of 8, but less polyphony 24? How does that workout? Talk about voice-stealing. Or I can get a Korg Karma (2001) for $400. I know that would be cool right? Thanks for all the input everyone! I appreciate your help!
February 15, 2013 @ 12:08 pm
I'd say so. The SY77 is a powerful FM synth with built-in samples, and you can mix the 2 engines together.

Some people may prefer the 85, but I can't think of any reasons & don't feel like looking for any on someone else's behalf. I /guess/ 85 would appeal to people who don't want to do even a slight bit of work with FM & want more samples. Don't know. If SY85 were GM-compatible, I might understand the fuss.

But why take my uneducated word for it? You can compare them yourself, you know. They both have pages here, & there's plenty info on Google. Checking for yourself isn't difficult
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Rated 3.93 (321 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 - 32 voices
  • Oscillators - AWM2 (2nd-generation Advanced Wave Memory)
  • Filter - Digital LPF, HPF, BPF, BEF (Band Elimination Filter)
  • Sequencer - 9 tracks (8 normal+1 rhythm) 20,000 note capacity, 100 patterns, 10 Songs
  • Effects - 2 Discrete FX units, each with 90 effect types (Chorus, flange, reverb, delay, exciter, EQ, ring modulation, leslie, distortion, etc.)
  • Keyboard - 61 keys (w/ velocity and aftertouch)
  • Memory - Wave ROM: 6 MB.
    Wave RAM 0.5 MB.
    Expandable to 3.5 MB
  • Control - MIDI (16-part multitimbral)
  • Date Produced - 1992
  • Resources & Credits
  • Images from

    Thanks to Robert Uhlmann for contributing.

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