This video, via immanuelbrockhaus, captures sound designer Dave Bristow sharing the story of the creation of the original presets for the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer.
Bristow and Gary Leuenberger programmed the original DX7 factory patches – a task that quadrupled in size, shortly before the keyboard went into production.
29 thoughts on “The Story Of The Yamaha DX7 Presets”
He’s absolutely right. The DX-7 was capable of warm sounds. I programmed some nice ones myself.
That was a cool interview to hear how those were made. I never had a dx7 but had a tx81z that I loved to add to everything. it had so many cool sounds and complemented the D-50, poly800, and other synths I had back then. Now I tinker with dexed a vst of the dx, it has some nice sounds. A car wreck long ago curtailed my ability to function well so I have no big machines anymore but have found some of the vst style synths have things to offer a poorer synth enthusiast. I will have to listen to more brockhaus interviews.
Good stuff. Enjoyed it.
The DX7 was a thin sounding synth that was a joke to program. If you buy a used one, chances are that it still has the original sounds that it came with because most people didn’t/couldn’t readily create their own unique sounds with it.
I know it was a big seller, but I don’t understand why. I was never impressed with it. I played the DX7 several times back in the day and could never warm up to it.
When I hear the DX7 on albums, I never like it. I know that many would disagree with me, but I never thought the DX7 was anywhere near to the hype ascribed to it. I’m just sayin’.
Most people would agree that the DX7 is tough to program, but ‘thin sounding’?
The reason it was the biggest selling synth of all time was that it let people play warm, expressive polyphonic sounds, like the great EP sounds and pads.
You know what was thin sounding? The affordable analog synths of the 80s – like the Sequential Circuits Six Trak. They were unbelievably wimpy sounding, until you threw some effects on them. A lot of them couldn’t stay in tune, too, and they didn’t have any expressive capabilities. That’s why the DX7 completely annihilated them.
If you compare the DX7 to the best analogs of the day, yeah, the high-end analogs were better at making things like rich organic pad sounds. But the DX7 to this day is one of the most playable, expressive and well-built instruments ever made. It’s almost impossible to find a synth made today that’s got similar build quality.
Expressive is right. The way the DX7 responds to velocity is wonderful. It has a very nice keyboard as well. Also, I can think of a lot of other machines that are way more painful to program than a DX7. The knobless analog polys that rivaled it might be more conceptually comfortable to most but are a drag to operate. Even the D50 is a real snoozer though it did yield “lusher” results (primarily due to internal DSP). The DX7 is a very “dry” synth. Whenever anybody claims it’s impossible to program or that it sounds thin it leads me to believe they haven’t really spent any time with one and are just regurgitating the same nonsense they hear on forums.
Bought a DX7 and it has many custom patches. My favorite being “Analog 2” It sounds really warm and full.
Sounds like you suffered from a classic case of PEBCAK.
It was amazing how different it sounded when first released, touch sensitive, programmable and above all that sound.
Thank you Mr Bristow for showing a young kid what ‘FM’ synthesis was! I bought one of the first batch the next year and it started my professional career! Thanks
Great (albeit short) interview with David.. I had the honor and joy of working with Dave and Gary at that time, at Yamaha, first as product specialist and then as product manager. Great times with insanely creative people!
The only thing thin here is the sound of Dave’s voice!
A DX7 and variations (I use NI FM8 and Casio VZs) take some programming in comparison to an analogue synth but that is their nature. Make the effort and you will get the rewards. Have a think how often you start from a vanilla patch of any of your synths and you will see how many short cuts you already use.
I played in a band with a mate who had an early DX7 and I had an SH101 and Rogue. We played different parts, the mix was good.
One HUGE aspect which made the DX7 so successful is hardly if ever discussed.
The DX7 came out at a time when you needed a stack of keyboard instruments to produce different sounds. People were fed up lugging Rhodes pianos, Hammond Organs, String machines and big unreliable polysynths to gigs.
The DX7 liberated the gigging musician.
It convinsigly produced Electric pianos, Organ sounds and synth sounds.
On top of that it produced all these other amazing emulations of ethnic instruments that only a Fairlight could produce.
At that price, built quality with an amazing keybed, compact size and cool looks, it ws a no brainer.
Now that there’s a lot more on offer it’s easy to dismiss the DX7, but at the time it blew people’s minds.
exactly fm. its easy to be critical of the DX7’s sounds today but that criticism usually comes from people who were not there in the 80s making music to experience what a gamechanger the synth was for the time when it arrived.
People were creaming in their shorts. You have to take into consideration the timeframe.
It still amazes me how so many people, even after all these years, still underestimate and detract from the DX7 and related synths entirely because they don’t take the time to understand it and can’t make nice sounds.
I’m just going to say it. The DX7 is not hard to program. There.
We effectively have 6 oscillators here. There will be some programming but this video shows there isn’t too much.
FM is one of the major synth food groups, like it or not. Its loosely part of the additive & wavetable sound family now, so there’s a certain satisfying overlap to be had. I’m not interested in programming FM in depth, but I’d feel that something was missing without that weird sort of precision, especially when you want to brighten or sharpen up a layered sound. Great interview, too. Good engineers >deserve< to be seen as rock demigods.
L&R out of phase.
Making my head hurt…
They’re called “binaural beats” and are supposed to be good for your brain. 😉
I have owned dx7 mark I for one month and I thnk t is a great synth. Truly a keeper!
It’s hard to imagine today how the great analog synths of the 70s could be so swiftly abandoned in favor of digital and its menu interface, but stuff like patch memory, velocity sensitivity, MIDI — things we take for granted today — were like a dream come true when they appeared in the early 80s. Not to mention multimbrality and sequencing, which soon followed. Suddenly it was like having 8 synths and a multitrack recorder all in one!
In my band Men Without Hats every morning during rehearsals in 1988 there was a Prophet 5 in my rig. I would switch it for my DX7 each day. The next day the Prophet would be back, because “we’re an analog band”. Eventually I taped off the back of all my synths. The DX7 made it on tour. One day Ivan said, “now aren’t you glad you’re using the P5 instead of that digital crap?”
Its all in the programming.
You should leave that friend behind. Ivan can’t dance, so he’s, no friend of mine.
Thank you for the Men Without Hats anecdote! I got into synths just as the DX7 was released, and was able to buy cheap analogs as people dumped them in favor of the new digital machines. I always had a distaste for the DX7 because I associated it mostly with the Rhodes electric piano sounds, but I recently acquired a DX7 (now they are the cheap ones!) and I am really enjoying playing with it. I was ignorant of the wide variety of sounds it is capable of, and I was unfairly biased against them.
Brings back some neat memories, too.
Went to Cégep Saint-Laurent in 1989, where the DX-7 was the first part of our training in the electronic music lab (then called «Studio MIDI»). The first thing we had to learn was how to program it, and we did that by experimentation. Was quite a learning experience.
I drummed in an oldies band in the early 90s. The keyboard player programmed a DX7 to make the sound of a revving motorcycle for Leader Of The Pack. He used the breath controller and the mod wheel and it sounded like a motorcycle. I was very impressed by that.
However, I always hated that tinkley DX electric piano sound. The one that plagues the soundtrack of nearly every movie made in the 80s and early 90s.
I didn’t like the DX7 when it came out and still dislike the sound. They command far less of a price on eBay for good reason, they sound bad to most people. However, I love the story presented here of how he went about creating sounds back in the day.
I think dx7’s are cheap due to their sheer quantity in the marketplace. Original 7s and 7iis in good condition usually go for prices that are sightly less than lower end roland models from the same era.
Marketplace concerns aside the sonic range of FM synths are so wide, when I want to make a relaxing pad or completely ear shattering layer of noise I’m probably gonna reach for an fm.
Patching them is fun if you haven’t been imprinted on by a prophet 5 or something, it’s like tuning an alien radio.
Shorter and better sound than his MMTA talk.