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
June 22, 2014 @ 11:30 am
Managed to get some amazing sounds out if it without the floppy discs, but you have to spend hours on it to get them. Also a sequencer where you can program tracks on it. It's very heavy and is fairly ugly which is a pity, if it was half the size and looked like a DX7 it would be more sought after, but the sounds are great with some programming not the usual bleepy sounds but quite ethereal and organic sounding.
Svenn Balle
June 10, 2014 @ 6:40 am
This is a great synth with a very nice "lofi"-sound to it, especially when internal effects are on,
I just love it!
May 16, 2014 @ 11:19 pm
@maestro I must have lucked out, neither of my two 85's have weighted keys. It actually is one of the things I love about the action on them; most responsive, sensitive keys I have ever played. Sound wise, the 85 still fits in just about anywhere I place it. I will never sell them.
April 9, 2014 @ 10:33 pm
"Throughout the '90s..."? Still, you mean. The latest MOXF keyboard still uses AWM2, with some small refinements. Yamaha have been coasting on the same synth engine for 22 years. Of course, they're diversified. Once you make a reliable bulldozer you keep making the same bulldozer as long as people need bulldozers. And Yamaha also make bulldozers. And satellite systems. And ship components and motorcycles and grand pianos. It's what people want, or they would be trying out all sorts of new little gadgets like Roland and Korg. But Yamaha don't have to. They just give people what they expect.
March 22, 2014 @ 9:19 am
@ looneytoonmusic Actually it does have weighted keys.

Personally I think the keyboard mech is awful. Very rigid mechanical feel, due to the use of sprung steel strips instead of using normal springs, like on the DX27 or Ensoniq SQ2. I've had to respring my SY85 because the keys get very clanky/unsmooth.

The synth sound hardware is brilliant though!
VSE Rating


User Rating

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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