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:
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:
- They 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!