Yamaha Reface Keyboard Performance Overview

At the 2015 Summer NAMM Show, keyboardist and songwriter Danny Mitchell was demoing the Yamaha Reface keyboards. 

In this video, Mitchell introduces demonstrates each of the new Reface keyboards and shares his perspective on performing with them.

Pricing and Availability

The reface YC, CP, CS and DX mobile mini keyboards will ship in September 2015, with an expected street price of US $500. See the YamahaSynth site for more info.

58 thoughts on “Yamaha Reface Keyboard Performance Overview

  1. At this stage I think it’s fair to say that the CS is an abomination!
    For me, it’s the one ReFace that would be undesirable at any price..

    I’ve heard more convincing VAs on iOS, and I really don’t say that lightly..

    1. Not sure how well you can judge that from a Youtube video….

      I tried these out on Saturday at the NAMM Show and was impressed, especially by the DX & CP keyboards, which have the best combination of sound and feel that I’ve ever seen in a mini-keyboard.

      That said, Yamaha made a design decision on the CS model that I find completely inexplicable – not having the synth respond to velocity, though the keyboard can transmit it via MIDI. I guess that’s to be faithful some early CS design, but it takes away from the keyboard’s playability and expressive potential.

      If all they did was map velocity to volume and filter cutoff, that alone would make it way more fun to play.

      PS: Suggesting that iOS virtual analogs somehow sound inferior to desktop ones or hardware ones is pretty uninformed. It’s software & digital audio…..

    2. At this point I think it’s fair to say “what can I sell to get all 4 of these.”

      All 4 reface keyboards sound pretty great to me. Sound quality was never controversial on these. Concept and form factor were controversial. Well, by some extremely vocal critics.

      I can’t wait to get the CS, crank the distortion, and jam that filter into outer space. Can’t wait to set to YC to Farfisa mode and go nuts.

      The subtle details of sound can only be judged over a nice pair of headphones or monitors plugged into the actual synth, not a floor-noise YouTube clip. And the people who have played them say they sound fantastic and lively.

          1. I was being sarcastic.

            I have nothing for sale, including my increasingly unpopular opinions. All my music is free to download on Soundcloud, where I have less than a hundred followers. My rig consists of:

            1. an old iMac (with half the screen dark from a backlight failure) running Live 8 with totally stock plugins

            2. A Novation Bass Station II

            3. Korg electribe 2

            4. A small pair of cheap powered monitors

            I’m sticking up for reface because I like it, plan to buy one or 2, and am tired of people all piling on with the same groupthink and “hot takes” about “toys” and what “real synths” are. I want and can’t afford a full size vintage combo organ. The YC should be good for me. I’d love a 1:1 control polysynth that I can take on the deck. The CS fills that desire.

            If I was a part of a campaign to talk these things up, I don’t think they’d like me arguing back and forth like this and annoying people. They’d just buy a few hundred screen names to post things like “Wow! Exciting! What a great deal!” and vanish into the guerrilla marketing night without a trace, so you’d think it was popular.

            But you spoofed my screen name, so that showed me! I’m on your side now!

      1. Seriously… For $1000USD you could get a pretty great full size synth which can do more than all four of these combined…. I’d have to sell my YC-25D, my Polysix and my Little Phatty to cover the cost of these….
        Or for the same money I could buy the JD-XA!

  2. IOS devices dont have powerful i7 CPUs let alone SHARC processors. Apps are made to be run on different iOS devices too so they don’t fully utilize the latest models CPUs. The best VA’s have much higher demands on your system – powerful as some IOS devices are they are not touching a powerful desktop or dedicated HW VA’s like DSI stuff.

              1. Lol, The Prophet 12 and Pro2 both use digital OSC’s (DSP not DCO’s) which, amongst other things, model analog waveforms – that is VA in a nutshell. To claim that running said digital OSC’s through an analogue filter or FX elevates it beyond VA status is a load of Buchla. If that is the case then it’s a simple case to transform any kind of VA into not VA anymore by running them through an external analogue filter! The misinformation posted was that all VA’s are equal simply because they are digital which is obviously not true.

                1. “To claim that running said digital OSC’s through an analogue filter or FX elevates it beyond VA status”

                  No – hybrid synths are not virtual analog synths or analog synths; that’s why they are called HYBRID synths.

                  And that’s also why they are better synths, for most users, than either straight analog synths or VA’s.

                  Dave Smith knows better than anyone where digital and analog technologies excel. And for most users, digital oscillators kick analog oscillators’ asses, because you gain the whole world of wavetable synthesis, while still being able to have the oscillators behave as ‘unstable’ as you want them to be.

                  And he’s got a synth for the analog purists, so only an asshat would still be bitching about his design decisions on the Prophet 12.

                  When it comes to effects – digital is the way to go for built-in effects. Most of the great synth albums have digital reverb all over them, so it’s more a question of whether the digital effects are integrated intelligently.

                  1. Nope – The Prophet 6 is a true hybrid in terms of bringing the digital and analogue together. It has VCO’s but the envelope contours, LFO’s and FX are digital! Obviously the term “hybrid” is extremely vague and could be applied to many types of synth which incorporate both types of tech but the PRO12 is VA in the sense that the most important sound generation stages are pure digital DSP. It has a digital heart – sure you can call it hybrid but it is really a VA synth. The Prohet 6 has an analogue heart but is still a hybrid.

                    1. Nope nope nope

                      The analog/digital split is traditionally determined by the audio path, not the control path.

                      So DCO = analog & the Pro One, with a digital sequencer, is still considered an analog synth.

                      The P12 is considered a hybrid because of its oscillators. It’s only a VA in the sense that people that don’t know what they’re talking about might confuse it with one.

                      In a VA synth, the signal is handled as numbers throughout the synthesis path and only converted to audio at output – very different than what you find in DSI’s synths.

                      Re: effects – they don’t have any bearing on whether a synth is considered analog or digital. They can be turned off and you’ve got an analog signal path.

                      PS: The P12 is a kick ass synth, whatever you call it.

  3. Arg, I can’t believe the only way to have patch storage is to either buy a separate iPhone for every instrument, or to be plugging USB cables in and out during performance just to change patches.

    A phone app patch librarian (iPhone and Android both) would be a nice extra to have. However, as the sole way to change patches at all during a performance, it is very inconvenient, and costly. Very very few performance sets only use one patch per instrument throughout the entire show, therefore we either need to have a bunch of iPhones or we need to be pluging cables in and out during performance, which I can assure you no one wants to deal with.

    Lest I be accused of criticizing without constructive criticism, the solution to this problem is first to have patch storage first of all so that these instruments work standalone during performance sets, and second for the iPhone app to work on Android AND to work via bluetooth or wifi rather than having to plug cables in and out constantly.

    1. you make a good point, but what idiot would pay $2900 for these instead of getting a Roland FA-06 or similar which has a much broader palette, more functionality, etc etc…. For less money!

      1. If they would only make a patch librarian for my iWatch then I could stop this wrist DJ thing and become a real musician!

    2. This is my biggest complaint as well. It’s ridiculous that you can’t save patches to the unit itself. Why patch it to something else? Makes zero sense. Really disappointed by the limited functionality in terms of being able to really edit patches as well. I’m holding out hope for more robust versions of these with deeper programmability, but I will not be investing in one of these. Honestly, though they aren’t much to look at, the microkorg xl & xl+ are far superior to these in terms of flexibility at around the same price (and probably cheaper right now to compete with these)

  4. The sound is undeniably great and despite its size the keyboard does seem to respond very good

    But besides that these devices are one big compromise. Limited or no patch memory in three of them, Apple app required to manage patches, compromised parameters in the CS.. (how dare they even remotely try to compare with a CS80). This would be all understandable if the price was $200, but at $500….. Totally lost interest.

    1. Where do you get 200 from?

      The cheapest synth keyboards that aren’t crap cost at least 400 bucks, and these are, at the very least, decent polyphonic keyboards.

      1. These devices are one trick ponies, and, besides very well sounding, not all that unique. Lots of very decent one trick ponies below the $500 price point that will be much better value for the $.

  5. I have to sniff myself hard for signs of hypocrisy in this, because as soon as I pontificate about the Reface series being underwhelming, some tiny girl will play one with each hand at a virtuoso level and own YouTube for 2 weeks. If I can’t make the leap from a full-sized keyboard to a mini one, that’s not the rest of the world’s problem. The CS deserves some memory and the DX needs at least 64 slots, but the base sound of the line delivers quite well. The form doesn’t wow me, but Yamaha will never hear my teensy complaint over the crowd’s din of SHUT UP AND TAKE OUR MONEY! Besides, its not a bad thing to perhaps encourage a few laptoppers and newbies to take on those well-represented organ and e-piano worlds. Having some time there made me a better synth player, so there’s another honest plus to consider.

    1. There is absolutely zero hypocrisy in being baffled on how much Yamaha has regressed, on the contrary. I just expect higher quality for $500 and demand that from Yamaha too. Yamaha is hopelessly late in this market, there are actual instruments already in this price range, toys are not enough anymore.

      I was waiting a new synth from them, but Yamaha’s R/D resources have been wasted into plastic happymeal waste, that are so much behind even their own 80’s products, that even if Yamaha did make something bigger out of these, it is not interesting to me. Something like Morif with that chlldrens first VA engine would make me laugh. Yamaha has let me down, but fortunately there are still other manufacturers, that make synths.

      If a little girl was making anything interesting with these toys, she woyld have made much better music with similarly priced but SO much better instrument(not that I would xall these refaces instruments).

      1. Ah, $500. The magical low-end price point for synths.

        There are a bunch of synths in this range. None of them have more than 3 octaves, and most are mini keys. If they’re full size, they’re probably 25 keys. If they’re analog, they’re monos. If they’re DSP, they are menudivers. The only exception was the discontinued M-Audio Venom, which wasn’t even fully editable from the top panel, and had the blank styling of a styrofoam cup.

        The reface series are not clones of the MicroKorg. They do things the other synths don’t do. They justify their price point by offering an experience other than flicking through presets while tapping middle C. And they sound brilliant.

        Streamlined and simple means everything is on the top panel. I’m tired of displays, screens, menus – I want an instrument that does not feel like sitting at an IT job.

        $500 is the literally the least amount of money you can hand someone and expect to get a new synth (that has keys and knobs) in return.

        1. Bull s**t. These are highly handicapped instruments with limited features.

          The micro brute, volcas, monotribe and many more are significantly below $500 with the more expensive analog technology, and really the widest range of features they could fit on the device.

          These are the price of a micro korg, handicapped to have a fraction of the ability of a micro korg, they ARE well designed, they Do sound good, but they are each very small and limited instruments at top price for their bracket and the invitation to buy multiples, literally multiplying their worst feature- price.

          1. Every instrument you listed as “non-handicapped” is actually a simple specialized bit of gear that does one thing, generally with lots of noise – and does it in a cheap plastic form factor with 25 keys – or in the Volca’s case – no keys at all.

            Analog circuits are not more expensive than a DSP system. What did the monotrons cost? $49? And they had real analog VCOs, VCFs, LFOs, etc. The cheapest Kaossilator was $100, right?

            $500 is the price real synths BEGIN at. And that generally buys you very little. Mini-keys and menu divers. So I don’t see the price as that bad. They would be nicer at $399, but we’ll get there soon enough.

            1. $500 got me akorg R3 a minikorg WITH FULL SIZE KEYS AND a lot of synth , that IS editable and storeable.
              also Yamaha i bought a CS 50, YC 30 AND a DX 5 fir $500 EACH a few years ago, and they ALL sound Soooooooo much better than the toys do!
              The YC even has a memory!

            2. I think the relevant challenge is actually ‘name a portable polysynth keyboard that runs on batteries’.

              Other than a few casios and the significantly more expensive OP1…?

              It took me a long time to figure that. If one works exclusively in a synth cave, it’s a complete blind spot.

              1. Micro korg is a real synth that runs on batteries and that novation thing.

                I think the real question is this crap “what is a real synth” y’all seem to be dis lauding a bunch of stuff very subjectively.

                And frankly this is so far off the actual topic, why compare “real synths” to this Reface bunch of overpriced, incredibly limited keyboards, when two of them are piano organ. Not synths!!!

          2. Your comment makes no sense at all unless you disregard the facts.

            A microKorg has 4 voices at best, two on relatively complex patches and the sound quality you’d expect from a 15-year old design vs something current. Great for its time, but really showing its age now.

            None of the micro brute, volcas, monotribe are true polyphonic synths. And having tried them all, none has the build quality of the Reface keybaords, which feel solid and not ‘plasticky’. So yes, they are cheaper, but a bicycle is cheaper than a motorcycle – what’s the point?

            Something that’s very clear when you use these Reface keyboards is that they are all basically one-knob-per-function synths. What you see is what you get and everything is immediately tweakable. There’s no menu-diving, and the controls that each keyboard has is tailored to its synth engine.

            So, they’re not going to appeal to people who want every bell and whistle. But they may if you want a keyboard that sounds really good and is extremely straightforward to use.

              1. You’d prefer the solitary slider of classic DX synths over per-operator touch controls?

                You’d prefer the data entry knob and menus of synths like the miniNova to dedicated knobs?

                Once you’ve actually tried these and compared them to available polysynths in the same price range, come back and give us some informed feedback.

                1. I didn’t comment on what I’d prefer, I truly stated that the DXface’s interface is the exact opposite of what people are thinking of when they say “knob per function”. Bringing up the original DX7 is an irrelevant straw man.
                  Don’t tell me it didn’t seem ridiculous and annoying to watch the dude in the video swipe swipe swipe on the tiny touchscreen to reach parameters. I’d rather just have a normal menu driven interface than that nonsense.

            1. Wow, really over selling, they sound good, they have good interface design, but they are incredibly limited. At least as limited as your criticisms of the microbrute and others.

              There’s a whole lot of snobbery in your comment, and nothing gets past the fact these items are WAY over priced for being so limited. You get a lot more flexibility in the micro korg, you’re trying to pick out flaws in it, but the reality is these Yamaha products are one trick ponies.

              I’ll wait to see their next line up which I’m sure will be far more practical.

              Yes I want flexibility for $500. If it’s handicapped and limited, its $300 or no sale.

        2. I suppose it depends on what you want out of it. If you want to work from minimal starting options (1 osc) to start your sounds, be my guest. Regardless of the size of a unit, I want to be able to get into the nuts and bolts of the sound and actually make something unique. These aren’t deep enough to even start that. Different strokes …

  6. Honey, I Shrunk the synths
    soon at the cinemas

    Directed by : Yamaha
    Produced by : Yamaha
    Starring : Little reface YC, CP, CS and DX mobile mini keyboards
    Music by : Yamahahahahaha!!!

  7. The more i see that price tag, the more i cringe. I think they sound great but not near enough features for half a grand.

  8. Gotta say they sound amazing and that iPhone saving is really cool.

    And I’m a fan of mini keys.

    But the price is HUGE. I’m sorry but, $500 U.S. In this day and age? They are limited function units, you’re going to want more than one, but then you’re talking $1000+ and you’re stuck with very limited keys on each one,

    The price is ALL WRONG.

    and by the time it gets to Australia it’s $700 each… Stores are going to be very wary about stocking them.

    Knock them down to $300us and $400 AUD and you could really move serious numbers and get your money back.

  9. These forums really are lame without down voting…haha you just looked for it on this comment – didn’t you? ????

  10. [5.09] “everything you would expect on the front panel of a synth…”…yeah right ok…so i expect to find buttons load and save presets. Where are they again? pffftt even my mini Casio toy keyboard i used as a kid had some preset buttons. Yamaha what were you thinking…

    plus you can buy a whole DX7II for like $150 bucks. Full size keyboard, 6 operators. Or this cut-down version for $500? Do you seriously expect to even sell one ?

  11. I thought the Yamahas sounded great, but being NAKA (Not A Keyboardists A***hole), I’m not the target market for performance biased instruments. That said – an App for patch memories? Seriously? That potentially gives these things a life span that lasts until the next iOS update.

    As Garak said above, these things will cost about $AU 700 each when they land in Australia. That’s the cost of 3 Korg Volcas and a couple of cartons of beer. The Yamahas don’t appear to be great value for the “technique challenged” such as me.

  12. Yamaha is following the current trend of making musical toys instead of real instruments. This trend has been annoying me for quite a long time.

  13. ‘-‘ for the limited patch functionality. A point the guy performing the demo is thst you can “disconnect all the cables… ” but you need another device to store/recall patches !!!

    Bang for buck – like others comment before, there’s more bang for buck in Korg – MicroKorg, or I say Novation – MiniNova, UltraNova….

  14. Bought the CS. It’s great fun. Back in the day I made patch charts for my analogue monosynth. Doing the same now is no big hardship though an Android version of the app would be good. It’s so nice to be able to just get in there and carve out a sound without pratting about with LCDs and menus. Instant gratification and great sounds. If you have a liking for ROMpler presets these keyboards are not for you. Personally there’s nothing much less musical than stepping through hundreds of crappy presets in the vain hope that there’s a sound that’s probably no better than “close” when I know I can sit down with one of these and get the sound I want in a moment or two.

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