Yamaha Reface Keyboard Review Overview

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At the 2015 Summer NAMM Show, one of the most surprising introductions was the new Yamaha Reface line of mini keyboards.

While some were hoping for a new monster synth, what we got instead was four new mini keyboards – and mini keyboards that are designed with very different goals than minisynths like the Korg microKorg or Novation MiniNova.

The Reface keyboard line was inspired by the form factor of the Yamaha CS-01, a mini synth that featured a built-in speaker. The new keyboards use a similar form factor, but have sound engines designed to recall four different Yamaha keyboard lines.

Mini keyboard designs inherently involve making some compromises. In the case of the microKorg and the MiniNova, the compromise is taking a powerful synth engine and packing it into a tiny keyboard, with a minimum of hands-on controls. This tends to make these synths a lot more cumbersome to navigate than their full-size siblings.

The Reface Keyboards have been designed with different goals. They are very focused keyboards, with interfaces that are closely tailored to each keyboard’s specific purpose. As a result, they deliver much better tweakability than most mini keyboards, while still being really portable.

At the Summer NAMM Show, Yamaha’s Nate Tschetter showed his keyboard gig bag, an SKB-style case that he packs four keyboards, pedals and cords into. They only thing that doesn’t fit in the case is his keyboard stands:

Yamaha-Reface-case - 1

We think that there are three main situations where mini keyboards make sense:

  • When you want a mobile keyboard – if space is at a premium for you, mini keyboards can fit on a bookshelf or in a backpack.
  • When you need a starter keyboard – when full-size keyboards are out of your price range, a well-designed mini keyboard should offer a more affordable option, that’s musically useful and that offers enough depth that it gives you ‘room to grow’.
  • When you want a sound module – if you’ve already got a full-size keyboard, mini keyboards can give you a new keyboard, without taking up a bunch of space.

If you hate the idea of mini keyboards, the Reface keyboards probably aren’t going to change your mind.

But, if you do want a mobile keyboard, a starter keyboard that offers room to grow or a sound module that you can play with your existing control keyboard, the four Yamaha Reface keyboards are well-designed, tweakable options to consider.

Four Key Features of the Yamaha Reface Mini Keyboards:

  • yamaha-reface-seriesThey have very straightforward interfaces, generally with one knob/switch per function and no menus. The only one with menus is the Reface DX, which offers the deepest synthesis options.
  • The controls are specifically tailored to the function of each keyboard. The CS synth has knobs and sliders for every synth feature, while the YC organ has dedicated drawbar controls. The DX FM synth and the CP combo piano have a sustain-pedal input, while the YC organ has a volume pedal.
  • They sound really good. The Reface keyboards each do one thing, and what they do, they do well.
  • They can be battery powered. We continue to be puzzled by mini keyboards that can’t be battery powered. Support for battery power is a great feature, letting you pick up the keyboard and play it anywhere you like.

We spent some time with each of the new Reface synths, and you can find links below to our reviews of each:

Of the Reface line, the Reface CP combo piano, was our favorite. It has fantastic Fender Rhodes and Yamaha stage piano sounds, paired with very good effects, which bring to mind lots of great 70’s recordings.

Check out each of the reviews for details on what we liked and didn’t like about each keyboard. And, if you’ve tried any of the Reface keyboards, leave a comment and share your thoughts on them!

55 thoughts on “Yamaha Reface Keyboard Review Overview

  1. “If you hate the idea of mini keyboards, the Reface keyboards probably aren’t going to change your mind.”
    That’s why the new Roland “Boutique” synths win out.

      1. “Both companies should’ve put all of their synths in one box i think, then I’d consider.”

        You may be missing the entire point of both the Reface and Boutique lines – offering synths with dedicated hands-on user interfaces.

        The all-in-one throw-in-the-kitchen sink approach to synth design is readily available in keyboards from Roland, Yamaha & Korg and they are all a pain to program. Just look for keyboards that offer a patch editor.

  2. this really seems like an underhanded way of serving ads.
    review overview? ffs.

    @synthead: who is the trusted author of these reviews?
    i am sure some of us readers would like to know.

    1. Exactly.

      Any review which does not list an author is suspect.

      I can’t tell if these were written by staff for this site or for another site.

      The whole thing is really …..trashy.

  3. I think the control surface of each reface would fit perfectly in a 1U Rack format without the speakers.
    Adding more/ -memory and multitimbrality on the DX and CS synths, they would be be nice fit to any studio that needs to save space and needs to program sounds quickly.

      1. Why would anyone want a tx81z in this day and age, when FM software synths are readily available, easier to use and sound better?

        People keep asking for rack modules, but why would anyone want a rack-mounted digital synth anymore?

  4. I think these are useful reviews and don’t much mind whether synthhead was paid to post them, but I would appreciate being told if it’s independent or not. Besides that, the FTC regulations governing paid editorial content call for “disclosure of material connection” when it would influence the opinion of a “significant minority” of your audience. Just let us know either way.

    1. Matthew

      We have never done paid endorsements or paid editorial content on Synthtopia – so there’s nothing to disclose.

      Also – we know that, whenever we cover divisive subjects – like Apple products, virtual analog synths and mini keyboards – people will accuse us of being paid shills anyway. Constantly getting called a shlll or a hack is one of the perks of writing for the Web.

      With these Reface reviews, our goal is not to convince the people that hate mini keys that mini keys are awesome. And our goal is not to try to convince the conspiracy theorists that we’re not paid shills.

      Our goal is to provide a useful review to people that might actually be considering buying a mini keyboard. These people are:

      Users that want a mobile keyboard for portability or compactness;
      Users that need a starter keyboard; and
      Users that want a sound module.

      This is explicitly discussed in each review – along with our opinion on how well each of the Reface synths should work for those users.

      1. It is odd, don’t you see find pages of Yamaha sh*te coming out of nowhere as being odd? Everyone else does. As a testament to your word of no being a shill, would you be happy to remove the last five Yamaha posts that add nothing to the sub of humanity? Didn’t think so. ha, ha…

      2. It does seem odd that right in the midst of this major leak of new Roland products, a series of reviews that seem more like Yamaha press releases appear on products that have already been discussed at length on many forums and places online with a consensus rather different from the reviews here.

        Other sites make it very clear where the items review come from. Did you purchase all these? Are they loaners from Yamaha? This site seems to aggregate other reviews and doesn’t seem to do many of it’s own so you can understand why people want to know these things.

        I don’t think the issue here is the products themselves but the suspect timing and tone of the reviews.
        You are, of course, welcome to do what you want with your site, just as we are welcome to go somewhere else if we feel there is an ethical grey area you’ve entered.

        1. Strange Dr.

          You may have missed the fact that we put posting an article discussing what we know about the new Roland Boutique synths ahead of publishing the Reface reviews (http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2015/09/21/10-facts-about-the-3-new-roland-boutique-synthesizers-and-5-questions-to-be-answered/). The article is the only one that we’ve seen so far that offers an in-depth discussion of the new Boutique synths.

          Regarding accusations of us being liars, hacks and paid shills, see my response to Matthew above.

          1. Wait a minute. I never accused you of being anything but simply asked for full disclosure as to the nature of the relationship between you and Yamaha, which you have avoided answering. Sonicstate seems to have no problem with being open about their reviews, as do other sites I visit in other industries. Even blogs are expected to follow the basic tenets of journalistic ethics.

            The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.

            Journalists should:

            – Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

            – Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.

            – Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.

            – Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.

            – Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.

            1. Strange Dr.

              As noted earlier in this comment thread – “We have never done paid endorsements or paid editorial content on Synthtopia – so there’s nothing to disclose.”

              When there is nothing to disclose and you suggest that there is – suggesting that we are burying the Roland news, when we published a 1000+ word discussion about it or suggesting that our reviews are paid content, instead of reviews written for the people that might be considering the purchase of a mini keyboard – you are suggesting that we are liars, hacks and paid shills.

              We welcome critical or constructive feedback on the reviews – but suggesting that we are shills does not qualify as either.

              1. This is getting a bit weird now since you seem to be answering questions I haven’t asked.

                Can you simply answer the following question.

                1) Where did the Yamaha products that you reviewed come from? i.e Were they provided by Yamaha as review items to be returned back to them? Or, did you purchase them? If you did purchase them, was the purchase made through Yamaha or a regular retail outlet?

                These are simple questions in order those have some level of transparency.

                1. Dude, breathe. You’re not even concerned about the product, you’re accusing Synthtopia of being dishonest or hacks instead. Not really appropriate.

                  Anyway. Despite the size and mini key issue, I think the CS and DX sound great. Some limited features but they do have some very good sound architecture possibilities. The price point however is a little too much for what you get. Knock them down to $299 and ill be buying both the CS abd DX right away.

                  1. I’m breathing fine and, yes, this really has nothing to do with the synths in question. It speaks to the integrity of the reviewer and the site itself. I’m asking a simple question that the author of the reviews hasn’t answered. Instead I am being accused of accusations I have not made and you are doing the same.

                    Why can’t he answer the question I asked?

                    1. Strange Dr.

                      We addressed this earlier in the thread when we said “there’s nothing to disclose”.

                      Yamaha sent us synths to review and we sent them back when we were were done. We noted this in one of the reface reviews, but do not generally make mention of this because it is standard practice and required for doing reviews to be practical.

                      The common theme of your comments, though, has been to accuse us of impropriety – suggesting that we timed publishing these reviews around Roland’s leak, suggesting that the synths were provided in an improper way, suggesting that there’s something to improper to disclose about our relationship with vendors and suggesting that we might be doing something that would violate journalistic ethics.

                      We addressed these concerns in our first comment in this thread, and we’ve responded to your additional suggestions of impropriety in a professional and courteous way. As we have addressed your suggestions of impropriety already, multiple times, further accusations will be handled as site spam.

                      If you have critical or constructive feedback on the content of our reviews – the goal for the reviews (to provide a useful review to people that might be considering buying a mini keyboard), the assumptions we’ve made, factual errors, etc – we would welcome it.

                    2. Dr. Strange, it’s synthopia, not BBC. Even if they wanted to publish paid editorials, what difference does it make to you or anyone else? If the articles or website offend you, stop reading. It’s more constructive than trashing the creators/authors in a semantic argument.

                      I like this website. It’s entertaining. It’s free. Generally there are some fun and constructive users/comments. I don’t see how the site making friends with / making money from the companies that drive the synthesizer industry is a bad thing.

              2. Hi synthhead,

                Thanks for the review, im not crazy about mini keys but i’m interested in owning an FM synth and i feel that reface DX would be perfect for me.


                1. We’re not crazy about mini keys either – something that some readers failed to notice!

                  But our goal was not to rag on mini keys, but to provide a useful review to people actually considering buying a mini keyboard, and so we’re glad you found it useful.

                  I’ve got a DX-5, so I’ve already got a great FM synth. But I do appreciate the Reface DX’s patch programming interface and effects, which are a big improvement.

  5. There aren’t enough sound variants in any of these to attract me personally, but if there was a v.2 with just a few more controls and a smidge of memory where there is none, I’d see it in a better light. Piano is so basic for me that adding a couple of meaty acoustics would make the CP a new ballgame. That would be the point at which its grab-&-go module aspect would work for me. For the price, it needs a little more game. Roland IS bettering them by just one step: you *can* buy their new synths sans mini-keys. If you like going for hardware, de-key a Reface and suddenly, its more like a workhorse.

  6. I feel like I could be browsing Yamaha.com when I come here lately. Even though the tone of the comments on Reface have been overwhelmingly one-sided, Synthtopia can’t seem to stop pushing Reface articles – or even just retard the flow to a more reasonable level on par with reader interest. This article seems like damage control from a Yahama product team trying to find the right messaging angle having realized that they’ve completely missed the market. “Hey, let us tell you again why these products are different from what’s out there, and the use case they fill, why we think some of the most criticized features are really strengths, and where we think you might relate enough to consider buying some”. No really, Yamaha, we get it. We got it the first time. And the second time. And… what time are we up to now? I’ve lost count.

  7. I would like to know who all the haters are working for, why don’t they disclose who, what and where there from I suspect a few Roland employees !

  8. Advertorial- Yup
    Dull consumer based product – Yup
    Posting again and again at a nerdy synth site doing more harm than good for Yammy – Yup

    Lets get back to some cool synth music or eurorack modules 🙂

    1. “Lets get back to some cool synth music or eurorack module”

      You got to admit man this is the most responsive music site around: after your post they added eurorack module posts. Very cool.

      Hate em or love em, or why not both.

      1. It’s an interesting topic since in the Baroque era there was a color reversal, the big fat keys were black, and the tiny thin keys were white.

          1. Bill you have a lot of interesting observations!

            Yeah, yellow and brown organ pedal boards indeed. Of course they would probably just claim that they couldn’t find enough ivory tops that long.

  9. WOW! Everyone is FREAKIN OUT!

    I will not be purchasing any of these for my own reasons. It’s nice to hear the reviews though. I thought these reface keys deserved the reviews as they are 3 different, simple, OVERPRICED little keyboards.

    I thought it was interesting to see and hear the difference. As an example I appreciated all the reviews of the simple little Korg Monotron (at the time). YES! THAT’S RIGHT! THE MONOTRONS. So to me, all of this is interesting no matter the size or the “professionality” of the device. I LIKE SOUND… (say it with me if you believe…. “I LIKE SOUND”). This justifies the reviews. I cannot hear enough in one lifetime!

    And this website has had so much good quality information on it, they can post whatever they want. And folks, THIS IS THE INTERNET! THE WRITERS DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE JOURNALISTIC INTEGRITY. Hell, there IS no journalistic integrity (in America at least) for probably the past 30-40 years. Like Howard Stern says, “if you dont like it, tune out!”… The internet is a very big place.

    Quit beating up synthtopia. I really enjoy this site and made some very informed and redeeming purchases with good knowledge from this site. I’ve learned things on here I couldn’t even learn in a class. IT FEEDS MY HOBBY. So let’m do whatever they want DAMMIT!

    (and personally, i’d buy any or all of these if they come down well under $400… but the price on these?!! Consider what can be done with a usb controller and a freebee .VST file on a crappy windows machine!!! Screw you Yamaha. try again!….) but the reviews and hearing the differences was bitchin! KEEP IT UP SYNTHTOPIA. YOU CAN DO NO WRONG IN MY EYES! DONT STOP!

    1. cemego – thanks for the feedback.

      We do think it’s possible to do an Internet site about synths with integrity, to cover the things synthesists want to know about and to encourage people to consider new things. We’ve been doing it with Synthtopia for more than 10 years.

      There are several topics related to synthesis that are always very divisive, though – things like iOS apps, analog vs digital, mini keyboards, virtual analogs, etc. These topics are so polarized that, no matter what we write or how fairly we try do cover the subject, somebody will always be upset because we did not validate their preconceptions. We can handle the occasional flame-broiling that goes along with that.

      Thanks again for the support!

  10. Synthtopia rules. Can’t believe how much effort some people put into attacking what is the best source of synth news out there.

    Hint: skip articles that don’t interest you.

  11. mang, all these weirdo synth fetishist dudes who get mad about content are obnoxious as hell. Synthhead I want more reviews like this, listening to a bunch of modular elitists and boys who hate ‘toys’ is the least helpful thing to people who actually just wanna learn about new products, regardless of fanboy buttholes hating on shit that they already know they don’t like. I won’t buy and don’t need any of the Reface keyboards, but I’ve recommended them to some of my friends in shitty punk bands and psych bands who just want a small keyboard to add flavor and sound to their songs, and they really are digging on their portability and simplicity, especially since not everyone wants to sit forever tweaking and just want to play some melodies and bass and rock out. I don’t know why so many people think you gotta sit in a goddamned dark synth cave and ping a bunch of modules for hours to legit be into synths. Thats who I used to be as well, I wasn’t very into synths and now I can probably name mostly any vintage synth and have played countless ones, largely because of rabbit holes I’ve gone down because of this site. I’ve used Ipads, 90s drum machines, Korg Electribes, analog modules, Ableton, FL Studio, shitty and amazing vintage synths, new analog, old digital, crappy broken combo organs, and my personal fav. a broken Korg Lambda, plus a thousand other things to make music in the last 6 years as I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into sound generation and Synthtopia has always been a great resource and helped out tremendously. I’m not into synths for synths sake, I like any tool that can help me create my own sounds, and synths, samplers, effects, computers, old circuit bent toys, yabahars (spelled so wrong), all are great worlds to explore and I appreciate a place that collects the new and old of all of these technologies.

  12. I love Synthtopia and expect them to keep they’re standards high and present us with relevant developments from the synth world. I’m at my tipping point with these crap posts, and if they continue I wouldn’t doubt a large exodus from it’s readership.

  13. Keep up the good work Synthhead. Between this site and Nick Batt there is enough information given about most new synths to make a determination if one wants to purchase or take the next step and hands-on demo. That’s all it needs to be. I’ve noticed a definite down-turn in the attitude of comments over the past few months. It’s too bad.

  14. I’ve owned a reface CS for as long as they’ve been out (and yes, I paid $500 for it), and I’m very pleased with it’s sound and features. My only real gripe is not the mini keys, but that the reface CS is NOT velocity sensitive, even though it’s MIDI implementation chart says that it both transmits and receives velocity data. With all the press about “HQ Mini Keys”, it’d been nice if the CS could respond to the player’s touch (after all, the keys work that way on the DX and CP models). If all models share the same keybed (do they?), perhaps an OS update, if possible, could fix this issue. Such an update would be at the top of my CS wish list.

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