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
July 8, 2009 @ 5:48 pm
Ah, it was the 77 that was cool! Now i remember (thanks to this site). I never played the 99.
July 8, 2009 @ 5:46 pm
I bought mine years ago, don't remember the date. Got it brand new and my buddy picked up the Korg O1W or whatever it's called. I thought the Korg sounded TONS better. I loved my 85, but still had synth envy. Ironically it's still sitting in the corner right now. I'm about to toss the [beep] er onto Craigslist, since I've long made the conversion to computer synths. I still cry when I think about dropping $1300 bones for a synth--now I can spend $200 and get twice the machine on my laptop.

I remember thinking the 99 was better too, but I don't have one in front of me to compare, and it's been almost twenty years. The one thing I can say about the 85 is that it was solid. I performed live with it many times and never had any issues. [beep] er was rock solid, and the sequencer worked a hell of a lot better than my old SQ1--which died finally.
April 27, 2009 @ 10:40 pm
Replying to the guy 2 posts below, I still disagree with you. i didn't say the 85 is not usable, actually it has some good sounds, But still the SY99 has better ones, Strings, Organs and Pianos, not mentioning the great Glassy and still usable bell Rhodes from the DX7 era. It has 2 really great organs, called "Deep" and "Purple" (you can imagine the type of organs), and the the semi-weighted keys are really great in the 99. The 99 was produced about a year earlier than this one, is/was quite more expensive, and weights a ton, but it has a larger screen, a better sequencer ( I remember carrying my whole live shows sequenced on those, running a T3, EPS, and Proteus), and I insist, better quality sounds. I still recommend the 99 over any other SY.
Glyn Jones
April 27, 2009 @ 7:23 pm
I just brought a immaculate SY85 from ebay for £133 and I got to grips with the editing side, once I worked out how to use the sequencer I be estatic lol. Im almost 43yrs old, started playing at the age of 3. i been wanting this Synth for years, Im amazed at the sounds.
April 26, 2009 @ 7:46 am
Replying to the guy 2 posts below, i'll say no, the SY85 IS as good as they say, for the year 1992 and for under $ 2000. The SY99 was older (at least 3 years older!), WAY more difficult to program, with no realtime controls and based prominently on FM sounds, which means a lot of useless bell-and-whistles that were only used in late 1980's funky crap. It didn't have neither as many nor as good acoustic/classic sounds.
Also, the 2 instruments are geared toward totally different target customers: the SY85 serves someone who need a good amount of READILY USABLE piano, organ, strings sounds, a very good keybed with semiweighted action, and some realtime live interaction possibilities. The SY99 is geared toward the studio engineer who has a lot of time in his hands to dig up sounds and has no need to carry the gear around. While the 85 is not a feather, the SY99, incidentally, weights a ton , plus tax.
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  • 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

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