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Yamaha QY100 Music Sequencer
Published October 2001


For 10 years, Yamaha's compact QY 'walkstations' have offered an impressive set of tools for the mobile MIDI musician. Nicholas Rowland checks out the latest, which adds guitar and vocal processing.

Amazingly, Yamaha's QY range of portable sequencers has been a familiar sight on music store inventories for over 10 years. Essentially a songwriting tool for musicians and composers of no fixed abode, these diminutive, battery‑powered boxes combine a sequencer, MIDI sound source and a keyboard‑style arrangement of miniature pads with which to play and input notes.

The QY100 is the latest addition to the range, and follows these same principles, although as you'd expect, the ongoing march of civilisation means that its feature‑set is rather more comprehensive than the original version launched all those years ago. A glance at the 'Vital Statistics' box on the next page gives you the overall picture: 768 auto‑accompaniment Patterns based around 4285 individual Phrases, a fully featured 16‑track hardware sequencer, and Yamaha's XG sound chip, with its excellent collection of 547 editable voices, 22 drum kits and 65 effects types.

The most significant alteration is the provision of a guitar/mic input with a selection of what Yamaha call 'Amp Simulations'. Before anyone gets confused, these are not the same as modelled versions of famous amps or microphones, but rather settings that use various elements of the main effects chip to create generic guitar‑ and amp‑type settings. In other words, we're talking settings like 'StackLead' as opposed to 'that dodgy Vox AC30 (serial number 3456) my brother borrowed in 1984 off that mate who went on to play with Whitesnake'.

Not that this information should be cause for any disappointment. While recent modules of this ilk have frequently offered a way of mixing in a line or guitar input with the main output, you don't normally gain access to the effects block at all. Which leaves you needing an external effects unit to get that crucial overdrive blues guitar, or even just to put a touch of reverb on your vocals. So busking musicians not able to take advantage of the natural ambience of their surroundings — such as foot tunnels or the labyrinths of the London Undergound — will be able to use the QY100 as a one‑box solution for both backing tracks and their guitars or vocals. The guitar/mic facility also extends the QY100's usefulness as a recording tool, particularly if your only option is a hi‑fi or portable Minidisc.

Fingering The Goods

The QY100 fits in plenty of connectors on its compact rear panel. From left to right: the To Host serial port and associated selector switch, MIDI In and Out sockets, Footswitch jack, the LCD contrast control, Guitar/Mic input and Gain control, power inlet, and combined stereo Line Out and headphone mini‑jack.The QY100 fits in plenty of connectors on its compact rear panel. From left to right: the To Host serial port and associated selector switch, MIDI In and Out sockets, Footswitch jack, the LCD contrast control, Guitar/Mic input and Gain control, power inlet, and combined stereo Line Out and headphone mini‑jack.

About the size of a video cassette, the main panel is dominated by a (necessarily) large LCD, which also has a dedicated contrast control. To the left and right of this are various cursor and function controls, and tape‑style transport controls for the sequencer. A two‑octave, transposable micro‑keyboard runs along the bottom edge, acting as both a way of playing melodies and inputting chords. The miniature pads are not velocity sensitive (although the unit is velocity and aftertouch sensitive over MIDI), but you can tweak velocity information through the extensive editing facilities.

A Volume slider and power switch are found on the left‑hand edge of the unit, with the main connections round the back. The audio connections comprise a combined Line Out and headphone socket on stereo mini‑jack, and a mono quarter‑inch jack input for guitar or microphone, with associated Gain control and Peak LED for setting sensible levels. I'd rather have seen quarter‑inch jacks for the outputs too, plus a separate headphone output to allow you to monitor mixes while recording.

The next socket along is for a footswitch which can be assigned to a variety of tasks, i ncluding starting and stopping Patterns and sequences, switching between various style sections and switching the various effects blocks associated with the vocal and guitar amp simulations.

Along with MIDI In and Out, there's a To Host port which allows direct connection to the serial port of a PC or Mac (drivers for both are included on an accompanying CD‑ROM, although you'll need to buy an appropriate cable — and the serial connection is not much use to owners of more recent Macs...).

The QY100 doesn't function as a computer audio interface, but you can at least take advantage of its guitar and mic preamp to obtain a decent signal level, which can then be fed into your soundcard input. Juice is supplied by a wall‑wart power supply (not included) or six 1.5V AA‑size batteries, which Yamaha say will keep the QY100 running for about three hours of continuous use.

Finally, on the right‑hand edge, there is a slot for a SmartMedia card. The QY100 ships with data‑filer software which allows you to transfer data to and from your PC for backup. As the QY100 can both generate and understand standard MIDI files, you'll also be able to transfer all your essential backing tracks and then store them on SmartMedia.

Going For A Song

The SmartMedia card slot on the right‑hand edge of the QY100. SmartMedia backup software is bundled with the unit, but cards are extra.The SmartMedia card slot on the right‑hand edge of the QY100. SmartMedia backup software is bundled with the unit, but cards are extra.

In terms of operation, the QY100 is designed to be as simple or as complex as you need. The easiest way to get results is to use auto‑accompaniments: just chain a few together, apply a chord sequence a nd off you go. There are 128 different Styles on offer, each of which comes in six variations, namely Intro, Main A, Main B, FillAB, Fill BA and Ending. The Styles cover the usual bases — rock, pop, disco, hip‑hop, country, reggae, jazz, latin, old‑time dance and so on. While interpretations of such genres as glam rock and gangsta rap might seem a bit cheesy if your heart is close to the real thing, the programming is generally good. If you're looking for basic inspiration, there's nothing to fault here.

The QY100 also offers 99 preset chord templates covering everything from typical blues progressions to more esoteric modes, and you can also record your own on the fly. The QY100 offers 26 chord types in all, which can either be entered by name via the keyboard buttons, or fingered properly using the onboard key pads or a connected MIDI keyboard.

Even working at this basic auto‑accompaniment level, though, there's much you can do to customise the results. For example, each individual Pattern consists of up to eight 'Phrases' — three drum Phrases, a bass line and four melodic Phrases. In practice, though, there's no restriction on what types of Phrase you can use in a Pattern — you don't have to have drums or bass, you could have eight melodic lines, for example. Overall, the QY100 has a library of 4285 preset Phrases, and you can create new Patterns simply by mixing and matching any of these. You can also create your own Styles and Phrases too (up to 48 Phrases for each of the 64 user‑definable Styles) and add these to the mix. Furthermore, you have complete control over volume, pan and the effects send levels of each part.

Things shift up a gear in Song Mode, where you can complement auto‑accompaniment Patterns with linear programming using the onboard sequencer. Essentially a Song can consist of up to 19 different elements: a Pattern track, a chord sequence track, a programmable tempo track and any or all of the 16 MIDI sequencer tracks. The only limitations here are polyphony, which is restricted to 32 notes for internal voices, and the overall ceiling of around 32,000 notes for the sequencer. As with Patterns, voice assignments, volume, panning, mute/solo and effects selection and send levels are handled from a graphic mixer screen.

It's when you get down to the detailed editing that the QY100 really impresses. The various menus and sub‑menus of job lists and utilities are accessed via the soft keys to the immediate right of the LCD, giving you the ability to quickly reach the individual element you want to tweak. I won't bore you with the full details (nearly half the manual is devoted to this element of the QY100's operation), but let's just say that if manipulating MIDI data is your thing, the QY100 will enable you to do the business, be it editing velocity, gate time, note position, or quantise values. There are even facilities for MIDI time‑stretching, normalising, thinning out or smoothing controller data and applying automatic crescendos, together with an extensive range of housekeeping functions for copying, deleting and merging tracks, measures or parts thereof.

Turn Up The Amp

Making the best use of available space is crucial on a small piece of kit like the QY100. The On/Off switch and master volume control are sensibly tucked away on the left‑hand edge of the unit.Making the best use of available space is crucial on a small piece of kit like the QY100. The On/Off switch and master volume control are sensibly tucked away on the left‑hand edge of the unit.

Adding a guitar or vocal to the mix is as simple as plugging the relevant device into the jack socket on the back panel and then adjusting the gain control to suit. There are 18 guitar amp settings and five mic amp settings, which, as I've already said, draw on the main effects block. The guitar amp simulations are composed of three sections: a preamp, a chorus and a reverb (in that order). As you can see from the list above, there's a broad range of tones on offer — from clean jazzy vibes to heavy rock distortion. Overall, they sound pretty good, particularly when playing along with a full‑blown MIDI accompaniment, where they really help the guitar cut through. Turned right up or in isolation , you become aware of their limitations — including a certain amount of noise — but I don't think you can complain too much. If they are not quite to your taste, the presets can also be edited, though the number of available parameters varies according to precisely which effects have been used to make them up. For example, EQ settings are only available on presets where the amp block is made up of either distortion or overdrive. On power‑down, the QY100 will retain your tweaks in memory, although an Initialise function will restore the original preset if you wish.

The vocal amp simulations are also made up of three blocks, although this time it's a delay, a chorus/flanger and a reverb. There are just five presets on offer, which may seem a bit mean compared to the number of available guitar amp presets. However, it's a sensible selection, and I'm sure most users will find something to suit even from such a limited selection, particularly as all parameters are fully editable. Again, as with the guitar amps, the settings work to their best advantage when used in the context of a full mix, for which purpose they have obviously been optimised.


The original QY concept provided a way for musicians on the move to get down their ideas via MIDI sequences before their inspiration evaporated. The QY100 offers the same convenient sketchpad, although as I hope I've shown here, it can be a whole lot more if you so wish. My only possible quibble is that the sheer breadth of its functionality has made it slightly fiddly to use, though Yamaha have clearly done their best to try and keep those menu trees short. Nevertheless, it's a testament to the marvels of miniaturisation, as well as the QY100's fundamental sophistication, that the accompanying manuals are bigger than and weigh nearly as much as the device itself. My advice is to keep these guides handy for the first couple of weeks, as certain aspects of the QY100 are not entirely intuitive.

But once its inner secrets are mastered, the QY100 will prove to be a great friend, as both a practice and performance device. It's no slouch in the studio either — as I've said, it would make a good companion for a hard disk and MIDI recording setup, particularly if you're using a bog‑standard soundcard. The only conceivable way in which Yamaha could further develop the QY series, it seems, would be to provide some form of onboard digital recording, or to allow you to connect directly to a computer to provide an audio interface for hard disk recording. No doubt Yamaha's designers are cooking something up even as I write...

The QY100's Vital Statistics

  • Sequencer capacity: 20 Songs to a maximum of around 32,000 notes.
  • Note resolution: 480 pulses per quarter note.
  • Polyphony: 32 notes.
  • Record modes: Real‑time replace, real‑time overdub, step‑time record.
  • Song construction: One Pattern track, one chord track, one tempo track, 16 sequencer tracks.
  • Pattern construction: up to eight Phrases per Pattern.
  • Patterns: 768 preset Patterns (128 preset Styles in each of six sections) 384 user Patterns (64 user Styles in each of six sections).
  • Sections: Intro, Main A, Main B, Fill AB, Fill BA, Ending.
  • Phrases: 4285 preset Phrases plus 48 user Phrases per user Style.
  • Chord types: 26 types.
  • Chord templates: 99 preset chord templates, plus one user chord progression per Song.
  • Preset voices: 547 normal voices, 22 drum voices.
  • Multitimbral capability: 24 parts.
  • Effects types: reverb (11 types); chorus (11 types, variation (43 types).
  • Amp simulator setups: 23 setups (18 guitar setups and five microphone setups).
  • Effects blocks: preamp block (for guitar) or delay block (for microphone), plus chorus block and reverb block.
  • Micro keyboard: 25 keys (two octaves).
  • Connections: MIDI In/Out, To Host computer connection, stereo out, mono in, footswitch.

Onboard Effects


  • 'MultiDrive': A heavy, driving sound that's good for power chords.
  • 'LightCrunch': Provides a slightly overdriven tube amp type sound.
  • 'StudioLead': Heavy overdrive with a stage‑sized reverb plus a touch of chorus.
  • 'CleanLead': A highly useful smooth and clean sound.
  • 'HardBlues': Solid distortion, man — eat your heart out, Bo Diddley.
  • 'JetFlange': The name says it all... distortion, flange plus a stage reverb.
  • 'PopRhythm': A clean, well‑defined sound with a slightly compressed feel. Good for chiming chords.
  • 'HeavyRock': You will not play 'Smoke on the Water'... You will not play 'Smoke on the Water'...
  • 'StackLead': Overdrive, chorus and a room reverb preset for those about to rock.
  • 'FunkyCut': Distortion and flange make this one good for funky chord work.
  • 'TradBlues': Designed for "heartfelt blues pickin'"... says the blurb. Hmm.
  • 'StageLead': Big... no, really big, with massive sustain. Proceed with caution.
  • 'AirDrive': Slightly overdriven, but essentially clean tone that's good for indie‑type guitar.
  • 'CityLead': Distortion and reverb make for an aggressive fusion guitar sound here.
  • 'PopChorus': Produces a clean, ringing, close‑miked type of sound.
  • 'FuzzyMod': A raging beast fuelled on fuzz. Lock up your daughters.
  • 'JazzyNight': Light and airy Charlie Christian‑style jazzy tone.
  • 'Ghost': Makes each note ring like a sound effect from Doctor Who... for my money, probably the least useful sound!


  • 'PopVocal': Offers slap echo and a touch of modulation, plus tunnel reverb. Helps vocals cut through full MIDI backing tracks.
  • 'RockVocal': Uses the delay block only to give a tight ambience — this works particularly well for Elvis impressions.
  • 'DelayVocal': Multiple long delays and a plate reverb give a big open feel.
  • 'RoomVocal': Provides a room ambience that is warm and fairly tight. A good general preset.
  • 'Rap': Using tight, early reflections, plus a flanger, and no reverb, this preset helps keep the emphasis on the vocal rhythm.


  • Great XG sequencer and sound module spec for the price.
  • Usable guitar and vocal preamps.
  • Included SmartMedia slot and backup software.


  • Fitting so many functions into this small package has made editing a bit fiddly.
  • Editing of amp setups relatively limited.
  • No guitar tuner.


Combining portability, power and, of course, a preamp, the QY100 is a great buy for the travelling MIDI singer/songwriter. And it's no slouch in the studio either, thanks to its XG soundset and extensive editability.