An In-Depth Look At The Yamaha CS-80 Synthesizer

Here’s an in-depth look at the classic Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer – considered by many to be the greatest synthesizer ever created.

In the video, GForce Software’s Dave Spiers and CS-80 tech Kent Spong (along contributions from Ken Freeman and Matt Berry) take an in-depth look at one of the most exquisite and iconic polyphonic synthesizers ever made.

Watch for the demonstration of polyphonic aftertouch, which makes clear its importance to both the CS-80’s sound and its relevance for modern synths.

Topics covered:

Opening CS-80 Track: 00:03
History & Overview: 02:17
Mix Panel Controls: 08:02
Global Controls: 15:47
Ribbon Strip: 24:47
Ring Modulator: 27:56
Presets: 31:08
CS-80 Funk Interlude: 38:57
Performance & Effects Panel: 40:35
Summary: 44:20
Selected CS-80 Users: 47:22
Outro CS-80 Track: 50:01
Credits & Kent Spong CS-80 Track: 51:52

If you’ve used a Yamaha CS-80, leave a comment and share your thoughts on it!

18 thoughts on “An In-Depth Look At The Yamaha CS-80 Synthesizer

      1. When I was growing up, there was a gas station near by that reconditioned 1950’s thunderbirds for resale as a sideline. I saw so many of those cars back then. Now… one in the last 10 years maybe? Sad what doesn’t last.

  1. No doubt : the Yamaha cs-80 is the ultimate Emperor in the realm of synthesizers offered by all kinds of ”post’-basic sound design “micro evolving articulations/expressions sonic events” programmable and in this way given to the playing musicians near(est) their hand/finger distances or even more close under their fingers as a combination of Velocity and Aftertouch keys…

    And it let’s fluid the already very beautifull basical sound designs (as flesh around skeleton builded ’embodied soundscapes’) with even clothes ‘wapperende’ articulations/expressions in a way it feels as they wind is whispering in their vestimentary sonic ‘sounddesign’ and making all organic and ultimately human.

    This video is quite the best demonstration until now. Thanks a lot for this demonstration and overview of all parameters. This is Top! And the best in his kind.

  2. Ooooph.

    It does seem like the CS-80 was designed without economic restraints. It looks like an answer to the question: “How do we make the ultimate synthesizer than will be played by most discriminating players?”

    Very few modern synths go more deeply into real-time polyphonic control at this level. HydraSynth and Osmose seem to get close to the CS-80’s ambitious power in that regard.

    1. no, CS 80 was not ‘a synthesizer without any restraints’ – because it was one of the very first poly synthesizers at all; its engineers did not think about creating a perfect ‘synthesizer’, since this was not a category in those days. they wanted to build an organ with lots of possibilities. and, hell, they did. it is a shame that synth engineers after did only cook down this concept. these japanese engineers were way ahead.

  3. Yeah, that’s one hell of an organ, alright! If you’ve ever played a real CS, you know that it has a unique feel somewhere between piano, organ and a warm blanket. Its not about the voice design; its about the touch-sensitivity. With a little work (and expense), you can get there in several ways now. People don’t really want the synth itself as much as they want to press a key and feel the ancient aroma of “Blade Runner”-era Vangelis rising in the room. Get yourself a small Roli and work it out. You can have that big-glide effect in no time. Owning a real CS-80 is a money sink and won’t add a single inch to your (redacted).

    1. As a drummer, I think I would destroy a real CS-80 within 5 minutes. As keyboard player, I don’t have the chops want one. As a guitar player, I scoff at keyboards! 🙂 CS-80 V is enough for me.

    2. To me it’s early YMO. Some of the sound design back then was superb. Not the “evolving pads” we’ve had to endure from too many since

  4. Even if I could afford it, I wouldn’t want to spend YUGE dollars on a decades old, notoriously unreliable and expensive to repair vintage synth dinosaur.

    I’ll have to wait for the Behringer BS-80.

  5. As most of you know, the CS80 was based on the GX1. One of it’s manuals so to speak. The GX1 was programable, but via an odd system involving an external programmer unit and cartridges (which I recon was a an array of faders (resistors)). The CS80 however had these controls on its panel Which support it being called a synth. But both the GX1 and the CS80 can be called synths due to the very structure they offer on sound design. Then they both lend a lot from the organ. The organ which originally was an acoustic instrument have it’s controls aimed at both sound and playability. Large pipe organs may very well be regarded as acoustic synthesizers. The GX and the CS80 combine these philosophies like no other electronic instruments. And it’s actually sad that this philosophy stopped with the CS80. However – if you understand the structure of the GX1 you can of course emulate it within a host. Providing you have access to polyAT, ribbon, etc.. I have all that – including the Arturia-stuff, but then the GX1 and the CS80 beats my workaround on sheer ergonomics . Which is my last point on organ tech… It’s playability.

  6. Tried one in a room full of synths, many years ago. Simply fabulous. The most powerful sound from a polysynth. I own a Jupiter-8, and soundwise the CS-80 destroys it. The CS-80 is a player’s instrument, and it’s a joy to play it with an ultra-responsive polyphonic aftertouch keyboard and a marvelous, long ribbon controller. Its ring modulator is absolutely amazing. The machine is capable to create even alien voices. Immense sonic presence, very clear voices with a patrician, orchestral personality… pure royalty. A nearby Memorymoog sounded like pillows in front of the speakers in comparison. Only a Polymoog had a similar clarity in sound, quite probably because the CS-80 and the Polymoog are both fully discrete.

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