The RY8 is tiny -- not much bigger in surface area than a couple of 3.5-inch disks, in fact -- but with 128 AWM (Advanced Wave Memory) drum sounds, 50 'normal' AWM sounds (such as piano, strings, brass, guitar, synth lead, etc), 250 patterns, and 100 songs under its command, this is a small fellow with big ideas. Power comes courtesy of batteries, or an external 9-Volt power supply (not supplied), and sound can be tapped from two standard quarter-inch jack outputs, or the walkman-style headphone output.
The 12 non-velocity-sensitive pads (drum sounds do respond to velocity over MIDI) can be switched between two Pad Banks to cover the 24 sounds available in a kit. Twelve preset kits are provided, covering a range of basic types including Rock, Analogue, Techno, Brush and Latin, and a further four kits can be defined by the user, where level, accent level, pan and pitch are all programmable.
Fifty rhythm patterns are available for programming, either from scratch, or by making use of the 200 preset patterns as starting points. The presets are organised into 50 musical styles, with A, B, C and D sections representing main and fill type patterns, and alongside each pattern are a set of Bass, Chord 1 and Chord 2 accompaniment tracks. These accompaniments are non-programmable, but can be superimposed over other rhythms, including user-programmed patterns. Each track of the accompaniment is fully adjustable in volume, or, alternatively, the entire backing can be switched off. Both step and real-time methods of rhythm programming are catered for.
Yamaha provide 50 user-programmable songs and 50 pre-programmed songs, and it is here that you really get a feel for what the RY8 is all about. By careful use of the accompaniment tracks, and some careful programming of chord progressions, the RY8 would happily stand in for an entire backing band. Admittedly, some of the instrument sounds are a little on the cheesy side, but the bass is particularly full, and some of the electric pianos would not be shamed in the company of considerably more expensive sound modules.
For anyone who is considering replacing an entire backing band, even more good news is on the way! By plugging a guitar into the RY8 you can jam along before anyone can say "is there another spare channel on the desk?". The input level is adjustable, and the RY8 can even be programmed to start a song on receipt of an audio trigger, which more than makes up for the lack of a start/stop footswitch socket. A guitar tuner is only a couple of button pushes away, making this a home from home for the guitarist on the move. But the fun doesn't stop there. The RY8 also features a built-in guitar synthesizer, but let's not get carried away -- it's monophonic lines only, I'm afraid. You also have to be careful with your playing style -- bends are handled, but lack the smooth glide of a more sophisticated unit. Let's not carp too much though -- the thing is limited, but it works. Any of the 50 'normal' AWM instrument voices can be played, and the result can either be mixed back in with the normal audio, or used on its own. Further options allow the addition of octaves and harmonies to the guitar synth line, or for triggering full chords based on the accompaniment.
The RY8 will happily synchronise to incoming MIDI clocks, as well as generating its own, although there is no support for MTC, which is a shame. System exclusive is well catered for, allowing for the archiving of important data to a computer or MIDI-filer, and the notes generated by the guitar synthesiser can be transmitted on their own MIDI channel. The generated harmony parts can be output on their own MIDI channel too -- brilliant! For those whose digits find it difficult to make the transition from strings to ivory, this provides a handy way of getting basic ideas into an external sequencer.
The RY8 is fun -- there, I said it! Two hours after switching on, I was still having a whale of a 12-bar time. Anyone looking for sophisticated levels of editing, quantising, and oodles of MIDI-controllable parameters should look elsewhere, but for anyone requiring a cost-effective way of generating rhythmic and chordal backing for semi-pro use, or on-the-move song writing, this could be just the ticket!
Portability. The battery option, headphone socket, and guitar input jack truly make this a 'band in your pocket'.
Excellent 'mini' guitar synth that transmits over MIDI.
The physical size may put some people off.
Some of the backing sounds and styles are probably a bit cheesy for some tastes.
Some operations can be fiddly.
An excellent little machine that enables you to make music anywhere the mood takes you. I can see this being a big hit with the busking fraternity.
£ £239 inc VAT.
A Yamaha-Kemble Music (UK), Sherbourne Drive, Tilbrook, Milton Keynes, Bucks, MK7 8BL.
T 01908 366700.
F 01908 368872.