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Yamaha RS7000


Yamaha's RS7000 is a groovebox with a difference. Incorporating a sequencer, sampler and a synth, it claims to offer everything you might need for modern music production. 

The 'groovebox' category of instrument is pretty much an invention of the last five years or so. So popular has it proved that more and more manufacturers have produced their own take on the idea, and at the moment you can hardly move for dinky boxes — from Roland, Korg, Boss, Yamaha themselves, and soon Emu — plastered with knobs and promising to produce the last word in hip sounds and effects. Yet with all the choice of groove synth/sequencers and groove sampler/sequencers on the market, there's no single box that will provide a sequencer, synth engine, and sampler, plus the essential knob‑driven real‑time controllability. Until now, that is. Because Yamaha have taken the logical step of combining those elements, creating an impressive‑looking console‑style instrument called the RS7000 Music Production Studio.

Look & Feel

The RS7000 comes hot on the heels of Yamaha's Motif workstation synth (see last month's SOS), and you would be forgiven for thinking that it might be a module version of that instrument. However, though it incorporates some elements from the Motif, the RS is not a Motif in a box. Its sequencer has things in common with the sequencer on the RM1x dance workstation (see SOS February 1999), and will even load RM1x Patterns. As for the integrated sampler, this doesn't offer the same functionality as the Motif's — as in fully‑fledged multisampling, key grouping and velocity splitting — but is rather best described as a deluxe phrase sampler.

The reasonably sized LCD and soft knobs further add to the RS7000's user‑friendly feel.The reasonably sized LCD and soft knobs further add to the RS7000's user‑friendly feel.Understandably for an instrument aiming to provide everything required for music production, the RS is lavishly supplied with knobs and switches. Its 64 x 240 backlit display works in conjunction with a set of labelled menu‑selection buttons (to access such modes as Voice Edit, Effect, Save/Load and Mixer — see pic below) and a system of four 'soft knobs' and accompanying buttons which allow fairly easy navigation of the pages under each mode heading. Soft‑knob and button functions are always clearly indicated in the display, and a button's accompanying LED lights when that button has a job in the display. A nice touch is that each menu‑selection button has a row of small linked dots screened next to it, the number of dots telling you how many display pages that button accesses (see below). It's just a shame that the front panel isn't raked steeply enough for ideal display readability. It would have been great if Yamaha could have angled the display, or (even better) given it Akai‑like hinged mobility.

Other front‑panel furniture includes a set of conventional sequencer transport controls, and 26 rectangular grey, white and black keys laid out like a keyboard (two octaves, E‑F), and used for a variety of tasks including note input and track selection, muting, and soloing. Finally, there are two rectangular, touch‑sensitive trigger pads whose most obvious use is programming drum parts two drums at a time (for example, kick/snare or open/closed hi‑hat).

What Hands Are For

One thing that's very immediate about the RS is the use of knobs for key sound parameters. There's a group of knobs for quick tweaking of LFO, Filter, Amplitude/Filter/Pitch EGs, Portamento and Pitch‑bend that make it easy to rapidly change a sound beyond all recognition, plus four 'mixer' knobs that let you quickly alter track volume and sends to the three effects processors. Sadly, there's no hands‑on Pan control; this is accessible only via the display. Three further knobs apply innovative 'Sequence Play Effects', and the so‑called Master Effects (eight interesting ways of messing up your sound, in a good way) also have dedicated knobs for altering key parameters instantly.

It seems odd to think that it was Yamaha who ushered in the era of parameter‑access interfaces with the DX7; the RS7000 offers plenty of real‑time control via its many knobs. Controls are provided for all the main synth sections (envelopes, filter, pitch‑bend and LFO), and even the effects and sequencer play effects can be tweaked in real time.It seems odd to think that it was Yamaha who ushered in the era of parameter‑access interfaces with the DX7; the RS7000 offers plenty of real‑time control via its many knobs. Controls are provided for all the main synth sections (envelopes, filter, pitch‑bend and LFO), and even the effects and sequencer play effects can be tweaked in real time.

This really is a machine that makes light work of track creation: if you have the ideas, the RS7000, for the most part, will aid your endeavours. We were gratified to be producing tracks in 10 minutes or less, with a surprising amount of real‑time variation and extrapolation available courtesy of the voice‑tweaking controls, the funky Master Effects, Sequence Play Effects, MIDI Effects and Yamaha's Grid Groove 'feel alteration' system. The simplest material becomes complex and interesting with very little work. There are OS quirks that occasionally leave critical parameters a few button‑pushes out of reach, but most important controls are there in front of you, accessible by knob or button.

The downside is that not all spontaneous front‑panel knob tweaks can be recorded by the RS7000 itself. Movements of many of the knobs are recorded into onboard sequencer tracks as MIDI Controller information alongside note data, but the Sequence Play Effect and Master Effect knobs don't appear to transmit Controllers, so their movements aren't recorded (the Master Effect knobs transmit SysEx, so their movements can be transmitted externally). There's a slight reprieve in the form of the sequencer's Scene memories: Sequence Play Effect settings can be included in a Scene, but Master Effects cannot. Yamaha could perhaps have implemented a 'knob track' in the sequencer, as on the Quasimidi Rave‑O‑Lution, for recording control movements. As it is, to preserve all the fruits of those spontaneous sound‑mixing jams, you'll have to connect the RS to a recorder of some kind.

Making Tracks

Anyone used to sequencers should feel pretty comfortable programming parts with the RS7000. Users of other Yamaha sequencers, especially the RM1x, should be particularly at home.

The mode selector buttons, with the handy text panel to the right, which lists all the functions and shows the number of LCD pages accessed by each button.The mode selector buttons, with the handy text panel to the right, which lists all the functions and shows the number of LCD pages accessed by each button.

The 16‑track sequencer has two facets: the Pattern sequencer, and the linear Song mode. The Pattern sequencer allows you to create music in chunks and chain them to create a composition, a method that fits well with the way many people work. It seems that this part of the sequencer has been derived from an auto‑accompaniment instrument, as it arranges Patterns as 'Styles' — sets of 16 sub‑Patterns (designated by letters A‑P) that would be verses, choruses, bridges, and so on in an auto‑accompaniment instrument. Each Pattern has 16 'tracks', and each track can have its own length, making Pattern creation even easier. Shorter tracks simply loop until longer tracks play out and then themselves loop. It's not a problem for us personally, but you can't switch between sequencer tracks while in Record mode.

Every time you record a Pattern track it automatically becomes a Phrase, available to any other Pattern. The RS has lots of preset dance‑oriented Phrases, including individual drum Phrases (solo kick, solo snare, solo percussion instruments, and so on), bass lines, synth chord sequences, and 'guitar' phrases. As for their quality — well, the demos on the supplied CD are made from preset Phrases, and they sound like release‑quality records. Obviously, you could make compositions just from preset Phrases (if you're that sad!), or use any of them in your own tracks. A better way of auditioning Phrase presets would be welcome. As it is, you have to put each into a Pattern track before you can listen to it.

Returning to Patterns, these are chained in one of two ways. Firstly, in real time, where a Style is chosen with a soft knob and 10 of the Patterns within it selected on the fly, as the music plays, via the black 'keyboard' keys (the same kind of on‑the‑fly Pattern selection can be done during live performance, but arguably 10 Patterns is not enough, and you can't trigger individual Phrases in the same way). The second way of chaining Patterns is via an edit list. Unfortunately, we found that Patterns chained in this list jumped and hesitated at changeover points. However, when the chain with the problems was converted into a Song, the timing anomaly disappeared.

The mini‑keys also act as track mutes and note input buttons for analogue‑style step sequencing. The two pads on the right are ideal for drum programming.The mini‑keys also act as track mutes and note input buttons for analogue‑style step sequencing. The two pads on the right are ideal for drum programming.

Song mode is suited to long‑form composition, where you may feel limited by having to break your work down into sections. It is possible to copy and paste sections to fill out a Song, but Pattern mode is better at this job. The fact that Pattern chains can be converted into linear Songs gives certain advantages (such as the ability to overdub for the length of the piece) when it comes to further development. Many users will probably create basic backings — drum parts and bass lines, for example — in Pattern mode, then convert a Pattern Chain into a Song, adding parts best suited to linear recording afterwards.

Take Notes...

A similar range of recording and editing options is available for both sequence modes. For example, you can record in step or real time, with true step and grid options for the former, and overdub and replace options (with flexible input quantising), for the latter. Step‑time recording allows you to input notes at the current quantise level, while Grid offers an interface similar to classic drum machines. You choose a note and, using the bottom row of 16 'keyboard' keys, turn on or off an event that triggers that note. LEDs indicate whether a step is active. This mode is ideal for drum patterns, but interesting results are also possible with melodic lines. So while the RS's sequencer doesn't present itself overtly as one of the newly‑fashionable analogue‑style step sequencers, you can program it in a similar fashion.

Data can be copied, erased, moved, and even extracted to another Pattern or Song. Post‑quantising is available, as are playback 'groove' facilities, transposition, and velocity/gate time control. Chord manipulation tools let you create, for example, rather convincing guitar‑like strums (which are especially effective using the RS's pleasing 12‑string patch). As an example of the depth of the editing features, for the strum feature there's a Chord Sort page, where notes are arranged in the order that they'd be played on a guitar and a strum direction is selected, and a Chord Separate page, where full control, down to single clock pulses, is available over the gaps between note‑strikes in the strum.

Before leaving the sequencer, we should explain the Scene facility mentioned earlier. There are two types of Scene, one recording the position of nearly all the knobs, plus mutes, and the other simply recording mutes. Scenes usefully let you capture and automate complex Pattern or Song changes, for recall manually, or via a special sequencer track. It's just a pity you can only store five of each type per Pattern or Song — 25 would be more like it!

Sound Engine

As we said earlier, the RS's synthesis section isn't as powerful as the Motif's, but it's pretty capable nonetheless. Yamaha have specified a fairly typical AWM2‑based samples + synthesis affair, with Voices based on one or two 'elements' (the latter use double the polyphony of single‑element Voices). Though Yamaha plainly see the RS7000 as becoming a dominant force in dance music, they've hedged their bets somewhat on the sound front, providing both an average General MIDI bank of presets and some stabs at orchestral and other real‑world sounds. We wouldn't go out of our way for some of these, but the pure 'synth' side of the RS is good, with lots of variety, from subtle and a iry to industrial and hard. There's no 'bass boost' control, as on Roland's MC505, but similar results can be achieved with the four‑band Master EQ.

Backup of Patterns and Songs is possible to SmartMedia cards via the built‑in slot. An 8Mb card is bundled with the RS7000.Backup of Patterns and Songs is possible to SmartMedia cards via the built‑in slot. An 8Mb card is bundled with the RS7000.There are over 1000 voices and 64 drum kits, organised into banks according to type and easy to scroll through in the display. If you can't find quite the voice you're after, you can customise your own, but starting a voice from scratch is impossible — you have to edit a preset, offsetting its preset parameter values. This might vex the hardened programmer, but not as much as discovering that there are no user voice memories. If you want to change a preset Voice, you must assign it to a sequencer track, make tweaks, then save the whole Pattern or Song to SmartMedia card or SCSI drive. If you don't save it, you'll lose it on power‑down, because the RS7000 appears to have no non‑volatile memory. This seems an odd decision on Yamaha's part; it was the same with the RM1x, but the RS is surely a more upmarket instrument.

Voices are editable with standard subtractive synthesis facilities, although the elements in two‑element Voices aren't editable separately; changes are applied to the whole Voice, which reduces flexibility but does allow rapid sound‑shaping. You have access to a well‑specified resonant filter offering six filter characteristics, separate ADSR (Attack, Decay Sustain, Release) envelope generators for Amplitude, Pitch and Filter, and a Portamento control. There's also a multi‑waveform LFO which can be assigned to modulate each or all three Envelope generators, with Speed control and a choice of five waveforms, plus a user‑programmable wave option with its own graphic display. The last is worth exploring for creating custom timbral patterns or weird melodic offsets. Nearly all the parameters listed here are accessible immediately from the front‑panel knobs.


Anyone spending a few days with the RS7000 would have to conclude that it's a powerful tool for composition, remixing, creative phrase sampling and live performance. And if you need a single, portable, compact box that will do it all (sans keyboard), there's really no competition.

The RS can be addressed on several levels: courtesy of its vast preset Phrase library and large number of synth voices it could be used with little or no original input, but on the other hand we think it has the depth to satisfy even the technically and musically sophisticated user. The sequencer is versatile, the tone generator competent, good‑sounding and tweakable, and the sampler fast and clever. In terms of sheer impressiveness and fun, though, the RS's real‑time controllability steals the show. And don't think for a moment that it will only suit dance artists; pretty much any electronic musician or songwriter could use what it's got.

The main aspects of the RS that we'd change are the lack of dedicated voice memories and the fact that you can't create a new voice from scratch, the fact that there's no non‑volatile RAM on board, and that movements of the Master Effects knobs can't be recorded into Patterns. The ability to add synth expansion boards, as you can with the Motif, would be great, and an optional internal drive wouldn't go amiss. Still, SmartMedia cards are quite convenient, and there is that SCSI connector... The OS has its baffling quirks, and the manual is problematic (though at least it's on paper!), but the desirability of what the RS offers is such that we would largely overlook or get around these things.

The bottom line is that the RS7000 has set out to cover all the groovebox bases and, in our opinion, has largely succeeded, at the same time making itself potentially appealing to a larger audience than a groovebox tag would suggest. People are going to do great things with it.


The simple but effective arpeggiator seems to be derived from that on the RM1x. It offers up, down, random and two versions of up/down arpeggiation, over a range of up to four octaves, with a hold control. Arpeggiated notes can be sorted in terms of absolute pitch order, or in the sequence in which they were played.

RS7000 Features


  • 16 tracks.
  • 259,000‑note capacity.
  • 480ppqn resolution.
  • 1‑300bpm tempo range.
  • 1/16‑8/4 time signatures.
  • Input and post quantising (32nd‑note to quarter‑note including triplets).
  • Velocity modification.
  • Gate‑time modification.
  • Crescendo/decrescendo.
  • Roll creator.
  • Chord sort/Chord separate.
  • Shift clock (moves track in time to change feel).
  • Event‑list/copy and paste editing.
  • Imports/exports Standard MIDI Files.
  • Imports RM1x files.
  • Playback effects: MIDI delay, Beat stretch (expands or compresses MIDI data), Clock shift, Swing, Velocity and Note offset.

Pattern Mode

• 64 Styles, 16 sections each.

  • 256‑bar max Pattern length.
  • 5980 preset Phrases in 16 categories.
  • 256 User Phrases per Style.
  • 20 Pattern chains.
  • Real‑time/list Pattern chain.
  • Convert Pattern chain to Song.

Song Mode

• Linear 16‑track recording.

  • 20 Song locations.
  • Tempo track.
  • Scene/Mute track (records mutes and Scene changes).


• AWM2 subtractive synthesis.

  • 62‑note polyphonic.
  • 16‑part multitimbral.
  • 1054 preset voices.
  • Voice Categories: GM, Synth Bass & Lead 1&2, Synth Pad and Synth FX 1&2, Synth Material, Band Instrument, Classical Instrument & Wind, Ethnic & Percussion SFX 1&2, 63 preset drum kits.

• 12 reverb types.

  • 25 delay types.
  • 100 variation effects.
  • Eight Master effects.
  • Master EQ.
  • Five types of track EQ.
  • Three send effects plus one Master effect at one time.


• 16‑bit.

  • Mono/stereo.
  • 44.1, 22.05, 11.025, 5.5kHz sampling via analogue ins.
  • 48, 44.1 and 32kHz sampling via digital in.
  • 4Mb RAM, expandable to 64Mb (two SIMM slots).
  • Maximum sample size 64Mb stereo, 32Mb mono.
  • Maximum sample duration: 380 seconds at 44.1kHz.
  • Imports WAV, AIFF, A‑series, SU700 samples.
  • Editing Functions: Trim, Loop, Normalise, Time‑stretch with original pitch, Pitch‑shift with original length, Reverse, Frequency‑convert (halves sample frequency), Fade in/out, Loop Remix, Slice.


  • Comprehensive MIDI spec.
  • 18 knobs control 31 onboard parameters and can transmit any MIDI controller data.
  • Most parameters respond to SysEx and can be set to transmit changes.
  • Can be used as a 16‑part multitimbral synth module.
  • Sequencer/arpeggiator sync to MIDI Clock or MTC.
  • MMC compatible.
  • Can be MIDI clock master.
  • Sequence tracks can address external MIDI gear.


• Stereo jack inputs with access to effects engine.

  • Stereo jack outputs.
  • Headphone socket.
  • Footswitch socket.
  • SCSI‑2 connector.
  • MIDI In.
  • Two MIDI Outs.
  • AC mains power connector.
  • SmartMedia card slot.
  • AIEB2 option slot — adds six assignable jack outs plus optical/co‑axial S/PDIF I/O.

The RS7000 As Phrase Sampler

Programming Patterns and Songs with the sequencer and synth engine isn't the only way to create tracks with the RS7000. Courtesy of the built‑in sampler you can produce entirely sample‑based material or use instrumental or drum loops as a frame for programmed parts.

The sampler is very well integrated and doesn't feel in the least like a bolted‑on part of the instrument. There's only 4Mb of RAM to start with, which is not much use if you want to work with 44.1kHz stereo loops and apply any of the RS's more sophisticated processes. For example, after using the tool which slices up samples to allow them to be changed in tempo, a sample occupies 1.5 times its original space in RAM, and requires that in addition to the original sample during processing. Fortunately, RAM is expandable to a respectable 64Mb, though expanding to the max disables the base 4Mb. Still, RAM is cheap at the moment, so if we owned an RS7000 our first move would be to fill it to capacity. SmartMedia cards and connected SCSI drives can be set to auto‑load samples, or indeed whole sets (including Song, synth voice and sample data), making the RS a very handy solution for gig backing tracks.

Actually sampling is very straightforward, via analogue inputs, optional digital in, or from the mix of the RS7000 itself. The last is great for creating sampled loops from your own material, which you can then further embellish and manipulate. Sampled audio goes direct into a sample memory slot, or can be linked to a sequencer track (the sample still goes into the memory slot, but a MIDI event is created, on the designated sequencer track, which triggers that sample). It's all very neat. It's simple to import samples into the RS, too: it reads WAVs, AIFFs, Yamaha A‑series samples or SU700 samples from SCSI media, and can extract native samples from RS7000 Pattern or Song files. WAVs can also be taken from SmartMedia cards. We tried WAV and AIFF import from a SCSI Zip drive, which worked fine too.

Rather less convenient is Yamaha's division of sample slots into Local and Common types (128 slots each). The former are married to the sequencer track they were recorded into and can't be used by other Patterns or Songs. The latter can be used freely by any Pattern or Song. Obviously, if you might want to use the same sample repeatedly it's best to record it as a Common sample, but you have to really dig around to find out how to do this (by default the RS records samples as Local; when the 128 Local slots are full, it swaps to 'Common' sampling). The only way we found to make the choice was by entering Record Standby mode and selecting the Mixer menu. The first entry in this menu is for Voice Selection, and there in the Bank list are the 'SmpLocal' and 'SmpCmn' options. We can't see any reason for this arbitrary division.

Because of how the RS's sequencer and sampler are integrated, you can treat the sampler almost as an audio recorder (like the similar feature on the Motif), even recording live vocals into it, but the same caveats apply as with the Motif: record in small chunks if you're doing live audio, as it will be fiddly to try to remove silent bits in a performance and line up the remaining audio correctly with the rest of your track.

A good range of facilities is available for editing and corrective treatment of samples (see the 'Features' box for list). The quality of time‑stretching and pitch‑shifting is generally good, but best with small‑to‑moderate changes and speeding up rather than slowing down of samples. One interesting thing is that the RS won't let you 'munchkinise', or pitch‑shift without maintaining length. Serious sample editing can be undertaken, if you have a Mac or PC, with the supplied Tiny Wave Editor. You'll need a SCSI connector on your computer to use this.

So much for the standard stuff: it's when you want to get clever that this sampler really shines. The amazing Slice feature automatically cuts a sample into equally sized bits and assigns each to a MIDI key, at the same time placing MIDI events on a sequence track to trigger each sample. The net result is that 'Sliced' loops respond to changes in sequence tempo and alter speed without you having to do a thing. The excellent Loop Remix, derived from other Yamaha samplers, also dices a sample, in order to re‑assemble it with added weirdness (and it works on MIDI data too!).

As a phrase and loop sampler, the RS7000 can hold its head up high, but don't expect the 'instrument' sampling facilities, such as multisampling and keymapping, that you get from studio samplers like Yamaha's A‑series and larger Akais and Emus. You can create 'kits' of samples, where a different sample is played by each key (up to 128), and this facility could be turned to melodic use, but it's probably intended for drum‑kit construction.

Reverb, Delay/Chorus, Variation & Master Effects

The main send effects are configured as three processors, accessed by aux sends in the RS's mixer. The Reverb processor provides 12 spaces, including two halls, three rooms, two stages, a plate, tunnel, and a canyon. Twenty‑five effects are offered by the Delay/Chorus processor, including chorus, symphonic, flange and phase, plus various delays. Lastly, the Variation processor offers all the above, plus more standard fare (rotary speaker, amp simulation, multi‑compressor, distortion), various unusual processes (such as digital turntable and talking modulator), and some two‑ and three‑way combination effects. Generally, the effects quality is fine; the reverbs can be a bit cheap‑sounding, but the delays, modulation and off‑the‑wall effects are impressive.

The global Master Effects (Slice, Lo‑Fi, V‑Distortion, Ring Mod, Multi Comp, Control Delay, Dynamic Filter and Isolation) aren't 'mastering effects' as the manual implies, but offer serious (and very fashionable) sound manipulation. They're permanently patched into the RS7000's output; you simply switch them on or off, and tweak their four parameters.


  • Sounds, sequencing, sampling and effects in one box.
  • Comprehensive real‑time control.
  • Inspiring performance/remix tools.
  • Sampler well integrated and upgradable to 64Mb.
  • Free 8Mb SmartMedia card and wave editor.
  • Built‑in SCSI.


  • No dedicated Voice memories.
  • Edits lost on power‑down unless saved externally.
  • Only 4Mb base RAM (disabled when full 64Mb is installed).
  • Not all knob movements recorded by internal sequencer.


Yamaha really have done their research to create this powerful and currently unique presentation of sampling, synthesis, sequencing and real‑time control.