You could easily argue that the Tenori-on is not suitable for professional music production. It has no filters, LFOs, envelope generators, nor any of the user-programmable parameters you’d expect in a real synthesizer. It has only one oscillator per voice, and it provides no access to its sound engine other than the ability to import user samples. In some ways, its sequencing capabilities are rudimentary; in most Modes, you can’t even vary individual note length or Velocity. On the other hand, the Tenori-on offers sequencing techniques you won’t find anywhere else.
Would I consider buying a Tenori-on? Despite its limitations and some aggravating quirks, the answer is absolutely yes. It’s a great catalyst for creativity that forces me to work outside of my usual compositional framework. It has a very strong personality that suggests musical directions I would never explore on my own. And its portable nature makes it a pleasant traveling companion: I’d be grateful to have one while killing time in an airport, relaxing on a beach, or even waiting out a rainstorm in my tent.
I have no doubt that soon you’ll be hearing the Tenori-on in television commercials, movie soundtracks, and the music of a wide range of artists — not to mention in parks, schools, and other public places. It simplifies and democratizes composition in new and exciting ways, and most of the time, it sounds quite good. It also points the way toward future, more-sophisticated instruments based on its design, which I hope Yamaha continues to develop with pro musicians in mind. In the meantime, if the company can bring down the cost of the Tenori-on and its future offspring, it may have produced its biggest hit since the DX7.
I’ve long been skeptical of the Tenori-On, because of its limited capabilities as both a synth and a sequencer. Yelton makes the case, though, that the Tenori-On’s limited capabilities are a feature, rather than a liability.