Yamaha SY77 Synthesizer

This is an audio demo of the Yamaha SY77 Synthesizer.

The Yamaha SY77 is a 16 voice multitimbral music workstation, introduced in 1990.

At the SY77’s introduction, a Yamaha spokesman said:

“The SY77’s sound quality is one which allows the accuracy and realism of samples to be combined with the expression of FM. The sound is stunning and eminently playable,” states a Yamaha spokesman. “The interactive hybrid voicing technique produces voices that easily surpass those which are currently available, in terms of accuracy, nuance and expression. They are so musical, that one will never want to play purely sampled instruments again!”

The SY77 uses AFM (advanced frequency modulation) synthesis, AWM (advanced wave memory) ROM based sample synthesis, and Realtime Convolution and Modulation Synthesis (RC&M).

The AFM synthesis of the SY77 is effectively a superset of the 6 operator FM synthesis available on the Yamaha DX7 and DX7II series of synthesizers. With a few minor exceptions, it is capable of all of the sounds that can be produced by those earlier keyboards and more.

Among the advantages of AFM synthesis over FM synthesis are a larger choice of algorithms and the flexible routing of feedback paths. Additionally, the RC&M synthesis it offers is a form of FM synthesis where samples in ROM are used as modulators for FM operators instead of elementary signals like sine and sawtooth waves.

The SY77 is equipped with a 61-key keyboard with velocity and aftertouch, has a large backlit LCD display, expansion slots, floppy-drive, on-board effects, and a 16,000 note sequencer. Programming is performed through a keypad on the front panel. It can generate rich, layered, multi-timbral sounds and there are large libraries of patches available for it.

The SY77 and SY99 were the last Yamaha “flagship” workstations to be natively capable of full-fledged FM synthesis that had been introduced with the DX line.

If you’ve used the Yamaha SY77, leave a comment with your thoughts/ratings!

Features:

  • Advanced Wave Memory – Second-generation Advanced Wave Memory (AWM2) offers unmatched sample playback quality.
  • Advanced Frequency Modulation – Advanced Frequency Modulation (AFM) provides a dramatic boost in FM sound quality and programming versatility.
  • Realtime Convolution & Modulation – Realtime Convolution & Modulation (RCM) achieves a new fusion of sample realism and the expressive power of FM.
  • Extensive Sample Layering – SY77’s versatile 1, 2, or 4-element voice architecture and complex envelope generators provide extensive sample layering capabilities.
  • Advanced Digital Filters – Advanced digital filters provide dynamic timbre control.
  • Programmable Envelope Generators – Multiple complex programmable envelope generators are featured.
  • Dynamic Panning – Dynamic Panning for sonic animation.
  • Programmable Aftertouch and Assignable Controllers – Key velocity and after-touch pressure can be assigned to control pitch, filtering, AWM2 modulation level and/or a range of AFM parameters. Assigned parameters can be controlled in a positive or negative direction. There’s also an extra assignable center-detented wheel and several assignable controllers in addition to the pitch and modulation wheels.
  • Internal Digital Signal Processors – Four internal digital signal processors provide essential ambience, two for reverb effects and two for modulation.
  • Display and Data Entry Controls – Intuitive programming is provided through a user interface consisting of a 240 x 64 dot backlit liquid crystal control panel that makes several parameters visible at the same time. Flow diagrams and bar graphs displayed in graphic form provide instant recognition. A directory helps you locate functions and a unique “jump” number system allows direct switching between related functions. “Smart” function keys makes it easier to move around the programming environment.
  • Multi-timbre Mode and 16-track Sequencer – Multi-timbre Mode in which 16 different voices can be assinged to 16 different MIDI channels. A sophisticated internal 16-track sequencer makes external equipment unnecessary. 16 memory locations are provided for complete “MULTI” setups including voice-to-channel assignments, individual voice volume, not shif, tuning, panning and effects. A wide variety of built-in drums makes the SY77 a powerful production tool.
  • Dual Assignable Stereo Outputs – Two pairs of stereo outputs – GROUP 1 and GROUP2 – each with its own front panel group fader provides versatile mixing and real-time control. Elements can be assigned by either or both groups. By using the output assignments parameters in combination with panning it is possible to have each element in a four-element voice to appear separately at a different output.
  • External Storage – A built-in 3.5″ floppy disk drive can be used to store both synthesizer and sequencer data.
  • Complete MIDI Implementation – A complete set of MIDI parameters has been provided for maximum compatiblity and versatility. Receive and transmit channels are independently programmable, a program change assignment table maximizes voice selection versatility, and a range of bulk dump functions make data transfers to bulk storage devices quick and easy.

Resources:

27 thoughts on “Yamaha SY77 Synthesizer

  1. I used to have one of these. Way back in 2001. I got it for 100$ at a band sale. It was cheap and heavy. The same way I like my women 😛

    I had tried it WAY back in 1991 in a local music store but the $2900.00 price tag was way beyond my crappy pay at the time.

    It was not that much fun to program. I used to use it only once and a while.
    I moved it to my cabin I have up north and used to use it when I was on vacation. I had some good times late at night with it. I made some very sad and lonley songs.

    And then a few years later FM7 came out and I put it on eBay.
    Nobody was bidding and the lucky guy got if got less than it cost to ship it!
    Dang.

  2. I’ve owned one for the last year and a half (though I wanted one far longer), and I love it. The combination of the FM with the later Yamaha digital filters sounds fantastic (best digital filters for 1990?). As mentioned, the last of the FM beasts… there was a slightly more advanced implementation in the FS1R rack unit (8 voiced operators, plus 8 unvoiced operators), but didn’t include the capability to modulate FM operators with AWM2 samples.

    Yes, it is huge and heavy… about 45 pounds. Its also built like a small tank. If you hit a car with this keyboard, the car would be more damaged. The interior is very tightly packed, and the usual high Yamaha construction quality. For the most part, its built to last. It’s a pain to replace the LCD backlight, though, because you have to pretty much take out all of the synth’s guts before you get to the LCD. And just about all of the SY77s need their diskette drive replaced after a while (low quality belt on the original belt-driven model… uncommon pin-out on the drive, too).

    And it feels so good. Of course, I’m heavily biased, as I made do with a Casio CZ-101 for years. But, bias, aside, it is a really sweet key-bed.

    Yes, its still as easy to program as earlier Yamaha FM synths (not very). One big pain is having no reference for the algorithms: they’re not diagrammed in the manual for the SY77 (although they are for the SY99), and they aren’t printed on the front of the synth like the older DX. You can see one algorithm at a time on the synth’s LCD, but switching algorithms resets all the operator parameters to defaults.

    1. Totally agree about the keybed…the best on a synth that I’ve ever played. Puts same-era Roland aftertouch to shame,

  3. Not a bad sounding synth for it’s time. Quite warm, a little muddy thou in the bottom end. I loved these old synths, my first one was a casio CZ-1000, hell of a thing to program, but it made some pretty nifty sounds!

    Thanks for the review,

    Tony.

  4. I had one of the first DX7’s in the UK and along with a SCI Pro One gigged and recorded for years with this set up. As I was strapped for cash I invested a lot of work into programming and found that with effort quite analogue/warmish pads with a sense of movement were possible. So when the SY-77 came along I had to have one. A very interesting synth because of the complexity of wavforms attainable with RCM – and a lot easier to programme than the DX7. I traded my 77 for a SY-99 which I still own (along with the DX7) and still regularly use that synth to record. The SY-77 sequencer was also capable of recording useful demo’s and even finished projects and my only regret is that when I upgraded to the 99, they did not provide a better emulation of the effects layout from the 77, as several of the sounds are more difficult to exactly replicate. As these monsters are still around, they offer a lot of bang for buck for those interested in getting a unique take on the whole FM experience as long as you are prepared to get your hands dirty programming, and as usual with Yamaha are definitely built to last – snap them up for pocket money prices!

  5. Oh yea I forgot to say they show up on eBay all the time for cheap. Sometimes as low as $200!
    Well worth it since FM is back in style once again 🙂

  6. SY77 was my first top synth, after a bunch of cheaper ones. It is so memorable for me because it was my primary keyboard when I moved into my first own flat and it got a place in the centre of my bedroom.

    I was very, very productive with this dream machine, producing lots of TV spot soundtracks and advertisements. Anyway, soundwise the gear was easily beaten by contemporary competitors like D50 or M1, SY77 was rather a programmer’s choice because of the unique PCM-FM combinations.

    And yes, it was very easy to program, thru an excellent interface.

    Yamaha surely recognised their shortcomings in sound, and quickly replaced the synth with the much better-sounding SY99. That means I lose a lot of money with your investment into SY77, but it didn’t hurt me too much as I can recall.

    My next workstation replacement was Korg’s O1/W Pro – a very clear sound if you compare to SY77, with more keys, and more programming possibilities than on M1 which was unacceptable for me previously.

  7. In 1991 I bought an SY99, the slightly improved sibling of the SY77. Although it’s too heavy to drag around, I still use it as my main keyboard for playing at home. It’s a pig to program but the 76 key keyboard has a great feel. It sits on a stand in our living room next to a small Yamaha acoustic grand that my wife plays. It’s a great set up for piano and synth duets.

  8. I bought an SY77 in 1989 when they first came out, it was (and still is) a powerful synth/workstation, it has been my primary keyboard for a lot of years. I always regretted not upgrading to the SY99 when it came ot, several years ago I bought one with all five SYEMB05 ram slots filled, it too is an awesome keyboard with better effects than the SY77 and the ability to load user samples, the SY99 sequencer is virtually identical to the very good one on the SY77. Contrary to other posted info here, the SY77 owner’s manual did come with a couple of supplemental sheets (printed on thick card stock), one of which was diagrams of all the algorithms, these could be missing if you bought one used, but they originally came with the SY77. I still do 95% of my work on the SY77/99, the only other parts I add are from my Hammond C3 and Steinway L.
    Clyde

  9. Ah… yes, I bought mine used, and thus didn’t get the thick card stock supplemental sheets. And unfortunately, those are several of the documentation elements that Yamaha have neglected to include in their online document archive (along with the “Applications” book), so I didn’t even know they existed until now.

    Sorry… but the comment still stands, for those exploring them used (since that’s the only way you’ll meet them these days). If they don’t come with the reference card, have to resort to hunting down the SY99 manual online instead for diagrams.

  10. I bought my SY77 when it hit the store. I had originally wanted the DX7 (with gray matter!), but by the time I could afford it, the SY77 was the new kid on the block.

    I have been happily using it all of these years. It's terribly heavy, and yes, the disk drive has needed to be replaced and the backlight is beginning to go dim on me now. But it's coming up on 20 years of use. Not bad.

    Although I have added 3 Korgs in the past year, I use my SY77 daily as a controller, and still occasionally use it as a workstation. As my first piece of professional synthesized equipment, it holds a special place in the studio and in the music I write and record today. Much like any other musician and their first pro level instrument. The Korgs of today certainly surpass it, but it still has something to contribute.

  11. I got my sy77 in exchangue for a yamaha psr 6300 i had before. This was around ´93 or ´94 and i have it yet and althought the disk drive dont work anymore i use it with a computer, besides i had to update it with the gm standard ( ok, something close)
    I think it´s very good keyboard for it´s age and althught the basic sounds for my music today
    are from computer soundfonts and another keyboard, the sy77 gives the extra touch to the music i play mostly in synth and other electronic sounds, Well I have to say that there are
    really good and great sounds that get people amazed yet, i just would like it to be easier to program,

  12. Hello
    Im trying to get the original sounds from the sy99 and up load it to my sy77 will that work?
    Could any one help me to find out hot to do that, and if some one knows how to do that and provide me with a disk of the sounds from the sy99 im willing to pay.

    thank you

  13. I would simply like to know how to TUNE the SY77! I have access to the owner /operators manual but I could not find any clear (in layman's terms anyway…) direction/procedures for what ought to be a fairly easy application. HELP PLEASE!!! Thanks

  14. I would simply like to know how to TUNE the SY77! I have access to the owner /operators manual but I could not find any clear (in layman's terms anyway…) direction/procedures for what ought to be a fairly easy application. HELP PLEASE!!! Thanks

  15. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO USE ANOTHER DISK HE STANDARD ONE 720KB OR THE 1.4 MB THOSE ARE IMPOSIBLE TO FORMAT IS IR POSSIBLE TO USE THEM???? AND IS IT POSIBLE TO SET THE SENSIBILITY AND VELOCITY OF EACH KEY? OR IS IT ALL TOGHERTER?

  16. The SY77 is a classic it can do so much and they're ridculously cheap compared to the likes of used M1's / D50's which to be honest it easily surpasses in terms of sonic potential. There are also huge amounts of patches available on the net for this instrument so you don't even have to get your hands dirty with programming if you don't want to. Though I highly recommend dipping your toe in the sound creation water with this synth – the results can be amazingly rewarding!

  17. It's built like a war tank, it has the best keyboard feel ever (not weighted) and sounds wonderful. Even today, next to my other synths, it has a dynamic range waaay higher than all my other gear. I think i read somewhere that it has 22bit converters, i'm not sure, but it does sound huge! And the TG77 (rack) has 12 audio outputs! Polyphony varies between 8 and 32 notes, depending on what structure you use. What i miss terribly is that i had all my (many) patches in a hard disk that crashed …

  18. I got two TG-77s for $250 total, which is incredible for all that power. I want to fiddle around with microtuning and interleave their output so it sounds twice as juicy. Kind of like connecting a Korg MS-2000B with an MS-2000BR for 8 polyphony (which I also have.) Sound is such an interesting thing to experiment with, because it is so complex and doesn't leave a mess.

  19. Still the Ultimate Synth. I believe it was reverse engineered from the Roswell crashes!
    If you own this, and the Roland Fantom, you have God at your command!

    P.S. I'm only a Guitar player!

  20. I bought my SY-77 when it hit the music stores back in 1989 and still use it today for live performances and programing. Of course the disk drive doesn’t work but I just use a computer to sequence.

  21. I”m on my second SY77, I had one of the first and lost alot of brain cells learning FM synthesis on it, it was developed by a Stanford professor and it shows! That was 20 years ago and I still just switch algorithms to see what happens! Have all the original disks including an amazing B-3 collection. I killed my first on gigs and am keeping my second carefully preserved. There is a blue backlight custom mod for these, after having replaced one years ago, am afraid to do another-it does require taking out several boards just to get to it, ow! not easy as this is packed, part of its heaviness and the metal case. I created an arrangement which I call Chernobyl and did as a random type of keyboard improv using some of the most complex sounds in the SY-I still can’t believe what i hear coming out of this thing-it does sound like a nuclear meltdown followed by aliens landing and coming out of their spacecraft, (I’ll have to post this on Youtube or something) still the most astounding sounds I’ve heard out of anything, keyboard or otherwise. For a nice demo, the original “Law & Order” theme was created on this including clarinet, EP, bass with I think only the guitar was added, I remember reading this in Keyboard magazine. I agree effects are weak and drums weren’t too good either, but as far as rocket-science programming and sound possibilities (and I’ve downloaded and previewed 1000s of sounds for it from somewhere or other and my ears are bigger now) I don’t think it can get any deeper than this, period.

  22. Hi! I just found one SY77 in a thrift store, seems to be in good shape but can’t be used because of the lack of the AC converter, the guy is selling it for 260 USD. This could be my first synth!! Any suggestions?

  23. To the last post… I just bought a TG-77 with two card sets (Brass and Strings) for around 170€ here in Sweden. I have some other seriously complex synth engines (Korg Z1 for instance) and I am not scared of getting my hands dirty.. but this beast… well, its in another league. I haven’t managed to change the release of a sound yet! Envelopes are so complex it is just mind bending.

    Soundwise is phenomenal. Some of the pads i have tested are huge. And the filters are very nice indeed! It feels like a very professional machine, a serious synth, not a tiny sample playback toy. This is serious business. BUT, it maybe is too complex as a first synth. For a bit more you can get yourself a Korg Z1 which is a monster of a synth at a bargain price (although they are increasing fast!), with 13 different synth types (traditional analogue emulation, some sort of FM, virtual acoustic, virtual organ emulation, electric piano, cross modulation, etc. It is endless…. and has quite a few rotary knobs so you should have fun from the first moment.

    I feel with the TG77 the fun (REAL fun) is hidden somewhere in but it is so complex that it will take ages for me to reach the results I want and will detract time from making actual music. So no, this is not a beginners synth by any stretch of imagination. It is a professional synth with great sound and a lot to play with if you are into sound design.

  24. Thank you Tim! I’m not afraid of this beast, I’m taking it as a challenge indeed!!!
    The SY77 is still in the store, luckily the guy there doesn’t even know what is he selling… I’ve done some research and the Korg Z1 is 300% more expensive than this “sale”. I just walk over there the other day and the guy told me he could make a better offer, because he wants to sell it! He told me that if I’m interested he could take $180 USD or even less…

    It would be nice to exchange some info Tim, I’ll let you know if I decided to grab the synth, and thank you for the nice answer!

  25. Great synth, great keys. A bit on the heavy side though. If the sequencer were able to read .MID files, I’d be like a pig in, er, mud. (It only uses a proprietary sequencer format that no one has cracked yet.)

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