Yamaha DX-7

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One of the most popular digital synths ever was the DX7 from Yamaha, released in 1983. It featured a whole new type of synthesis called FM (Frequency Modulation). It certainly is not analog and it is difficult to program but can result in some excellent sounds! It is difficult because it is non-analog and thus, a whole new set of parameters are available for tweaking, many of which seemed counter-intuitive and unfamiliar. And programming had to be accomplished via membrane buttons, one data slider and a small LCD screen.

Still the sounds it shipped with and that many users did manage to create were more complex and unique than anything before it. Percussive and metallic but thick as analog at times, the DX-7 was known for generating unique sounds still popular to this day. The DX-7 was also a truly affordable programmable synth when it was first released. Almost every keyboardist bought one at the time making the DX-7 one of the best selling synths of all time! It also came with MIDI which was brand new at the time - Sequential had already released the first MIDI synth, the Prophet 600. Roland had just released the JX-3P with very basic MIDI implementation, and wouldn't get around to adding full MIDI for another year with the Juno-106, and it would be three years before Roland can counter the popularity of the DX7 with a digital synth of their own, the D-50.

The DX-7 has been used by the Crystal Method, Kraftwerk, Underworld, Orbital, BT, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Tony Banks, Mike Lindup of Level 42, Jan Hammer, Roger Hodgson, Teddy Riley, Brian Eno, T Lavitz of the Dregs, Sir George Martin, Supertramp, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Daryl Hall, Steve Winwood, Scritti Politti, Babyface, Peter-John Vettese, Depeche Mode, D:Ream, Les Rhytmes Digital, Front 242, U2, A-Ha, Enya, The Cure, Astral Projection, Fluke, Kitaro, Vangelis, Elton John, James Horner, Toto, Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, Chick Corea, Level 42, Queen, Yes, Michael Boddicker, Julian Lennon, Jean-Michel Jarre, Sneaker Pimps, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Greg Phillanganes, Jerry Goldsmith, Jimmy Edgar, Beastie Boys, Stabbing Westward and Herbie Hancock. Pretty impressive for just a partial listing!

Following the monaural DX-7 came the stereo DX-7 mkII - just as popular and much more advanced. Its unique sounds are very popular for industrial techno type music as well as ambient and electro. The TX-7 is essentially a desktop module form of the DX-7 but is even harder to edit or program since it requires external editors or software. The monolithic DX-1 and DX-5 models which packed two DX-7 synth engines into one instrument were the epitome of the DX line of synths created by Yamaha. There have also been a few budget spin-offs like the DX-9, DX-100, DX-21 and DX-27. FM synthesis has also made its way into the TX-81Z & TX-802 and software synthesizers like Native Instruments FM7.

Still the DX-7 has remained the all around best and most popular DX synth due to its affordable price, professional features for studio and live performance and its excellent range of sonic possibilities and extensive programmability. In fact the reason the DX-7 is always so affordable (usually under $500 second-hand) is because there are so many of them out there, still being used and traded! And they are reliable, still functioning well over 20 years later unlike older analog gear.


August 4, 2011 @ 3:28 pm
You could have all the money in the world and never find a better e-piano these days. Every nuance is tweakable - but it may not be readily accessible(!). I find myself coming back to it again and again for keyboard sounds. If you want to hear every note in your chords, you -might- like the DX7.
August 2, 2011 @ 7:29 am
pedro guzman, the DX7 never touched the Thriller record! Thriller was out by '82! So it just could not have been :)

I can tell you though that the Chord sound on Billie Jean was made using a Yamaha CS80!

Now, the 'Bad' album...plenty FM synth action on that album!
July 31, 2011 @ 5:21 pm
I learned this synth just fine & can blow the presets out of the water these days. You can get sonic range out of these that exceeds the presets scope by miles & sounds like nothing else on earth . And for sub bass ( once you get the knack of it ) this devastates even real analogue synths ( which I also own) & you end up under pinning real analog synths with DX7 to fatten it up, now that was a surprise. it isn't straight forward programming but the rewards are immense. lacks the LFO that was present in the DX27 ( because it was designed earlier)
Pedro Guzman
July 31, 2011 @ 2:23 pm
Michael Jackson used the DX-7 in his Thriller album.
July 23, 2011 @ 8:08 pm
Just picked up beater DX-7 for $195 . Are you kidding me this thing is a beast. Nasty nasty beautiful sounds. Old skoool baby!
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Rated 4.11 (953 Votes)

  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - 16 Voices
  • Oscillators - 16 bit Digital 6 operator FM.
  • #Instruments - (1) Monotimbral
  • LFO - Sine/Square/Tri/SAW up/SAW Down/Random
  • VCA - 6 Envelope generators 8 parameters each
  • Keyboard - 61 keys (w/ velocity and aftertouch)
  • Memory - 32 Patches
  • Control - MIDI
  • Date Produced - 1983-87
  • Est. Value - $300
  • Resources & Credits
  • Images from a Yamaha brochure, submitted to us via email.

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