Buying a groove box used to involve a dilemma: should you go for a sample-based box such as the Akai MPC or opt for one built around a synth engine like the boxes in the Roland MC series? With the introduction of the RS7000, Yamaha says, “Why not both?” The RS7000 combines Yamaha's latest MOTIF synth/sampler technology with their RM1x Remix Sequencer — an already super-powerful hardware sequencer. Now it looks like you have one less decision to make.
When you bust the RS7000 out of the box you're sure to be blown away by this big silver slab covered with an impressive array of knobs and buttons. The RS7000 has the same big green LCD screen (I wish they had angled it a bit more for easier viewing) as the RM1x and 29 knobs just waiting for you to wrap your sweaty fingers around them in production frenzy. The four knobs and function buttons under the LCD screen select and control editing parameters displayed in the LCD. When a parameter is edited, an LED between the knob and its function button lights up. A two-octave mini keyboard is included for inputting notes. The gray and white keys do double duty for soloing and muting tracks, and the black keys allow you to select patterns. The keyboard is not velocity sensitive, but Yamaha has thoughtfully included two velocity-sensitive pads so you can add nuances when laying down parts.
Peep the back and you will find one MIDI In and two Outs. A 50-pin SCSI connector lets you connect a CD-ROM drive for importing samples from CD (the RS can read WAV, AIFF, Yamaha A3000/4000/5000, Yamaha SU700, and Akai S1000/3000 formats) as well as fixed or removable hard drives for storing samples. I hooked up a 2.2 GB ORB drive and had no problems saving and importing samples. The RS7000 comes stock with stereo analog inputs and outputs. There's also a slot for installing the optional AIEB2 Expansion Board, which pimps out your I/O scene with both optical and S/PDIF coaxial stereo digital inputs and outputs and features six additional analog outs so you can route selected tracks to individual mixer inputs for additional EQ and effects. Last, but certainly not least, the RS7000 has a standard removable AC power cable.
A 3.3v SmartMedia card slot in the front lets you load and save samples and system setups. I found a 64 MB card on the Internet for about $70, which seems like a good price until you realize how fast one of these cards can fill up when you start saving stereo loops. Yamaha does include an 8 MB SmartMedia card with the unit, but it's already filled with demos and other system functions, so you're going to have to shell out for one sooner rather than later. While you're at it, invest in a SmartMedia card reader for your computer. You'll need one to install operating system updates, and it provides a quick and easy way to transfer samples edited on a computer into the RS.
SOUNDS EVEN BETTER
The RS7000's internal processor is the same as Yamaha's new Motif synth/samplers, however the processing horsepower and voice architecture are utilized differently. On the Motif, the synth voices are composed of up to four wave elements, making for more complex sounds, while the RS7000's synth voices have a maximum of two. Where does the extra processor power go? To such niceties as real-time EQ and filters on each track.
The RS7000 sports a 62-voice tone generator based on Yamaha's Advanced Wave Memory 2 technology (samples augmented with synthesis) and features 1,054 synth sounds and 63 drum kits. All sounds are intelligently arranged in banks based on their type, so you don't have to scroll through thousands of sounds to find the one you want. Tons of analog-style sounds are included: basses, pads, and lead synths that are ideal for creating dance music tunes. A General MIDI (GM) bank is also included, as are band instruments, strings, horns, keyboards, and sound effects. The 63 drum kits cover everything from rock to house, and you can construct your own custom kits from individual hits in the internal kits.
The sounds are beefier than those in the RM1x, but it would have been cool if Yamaha included the ability to use their PLG plug-in expansion boards so you could take advantage of their analog modeling and FM technology. An editing mode lets you edit such parameters as pitch, filter cutoff, resonance, attack, decay, sustain, and release. The LFO is particularly sweet, featuring five waveforms, including a user-programmed waveform that lets you create some true sonic weirdness. Most of the parameters can be edited from the front panel knobs, and the edits are saved as part of the pattern — there is no internal memory for user created patches. You cannot build up a voice from scratch; you must begin with one of the internal voices and modify it. And just a reminder (so that super-phat bass sound you just created doesn't get lost), you must save all voice edits with a pattern to the card or SCSI disk. If you don't, once you power down the RS, all edits will be lost forever.
The sampler section is way nice, although it operates more like a phrase sampler than a traditional sampler. There are no provisions for multisampling or mapping a melodic sample across the keyboard. You can, however, assign single hits to a specified key.
Sampling is a piece of cake. Just connect a sound source or mic to the analog inputs, and set your input and trigger levels in the sample page. Choose a sampling type: Slice+Sequence, Kit, or Kit+Note. Slice chops up the sample à la ReCycle and assigns each slice a MIDI note so it can play back from the sequencer (see Fig. 1). The slice function can require up to three times as much RAM as the original sample. I got away with slicing a single two-bar loop, but when I went to sample a second loop, the stock 4 MB were full. Excessive memory considerations aside, the slice function is badass! Once a sample is sliced, the RS7000 treats it just like any other MIDI data, allowing you to use all the wonderful MIDI manipulation and tempo effects the RS has to offer. Slice also makes matching loops of different tempos a snap — just make sure your sample is properly looped, and the slice function takes care of the rest.
Once you have recorded a sample, you can edit it with the graphic waveform display (see Fig. 2). The display only shows the top half of the waveform, but I got used to it quickly. After all, half a waveform is better than none. A wide variety of editing functions is provided. You can Trim, Loop, Normalize, Reverse, Loop Remix, Slice, and Fade. Time Stretch lets you change the sample's duration and keep the original pitch, while Pitch Shift changes pitch while preserving the original length. Both of these editing functions work best on shorter samples. Longer samples can get kind of tweaked sounding, but who knows — you may like that sort of thing. Included with the RS7000 is an application for Mac and PC called Tiny Wave Editor, a very simple sample-editing/looping tool. It works fine for what it is, but its major drawback is that you must connect the RS to your computer via SCSI — a drag if you are using a newer Mac that doesn't have a SCSI port.
The real-time Loop Remix function deserves a special mention. It works on both synth and sample data and lets you rearrange the performance data in your track. You get 4 settings with 16 variations each: Reverse (only works on sampled material), Break, Pitch, and Roll. You really must experience the Loop Remix function to truly appreciate it. A break that everyone has heard a million times can be transformed into something completely new and original sounding.
A few words about memory: the factory standard 4 MB RAM can be expanded to 64 MB by adding two 32 MB SIMMS. Once installed, the original 4 MB is then ignored, and all memory functions are in expanded RAM. The manual gives stringent specs for expansion memory, so I took a trip to the local electronics superstore and badgered the clerk for the required SIMMS. After installing them, I expected to spend the night in loop-slice nirvana. Instead, when it came time to slice, all I got was a pop. The folks at Yamaha informed me the memory I bought was not kosher. They sent me some, I dropped it in, and all was well. The lesson here is get your expansion memory from Yamaha if you can or suffer trying to find compatible RAM on your own.
TWIST AND SHOUT
No self-respecting manufacturer would introduce a groove box without at least a few knobs to twist, and Yamaha doesn't disappoint. A group of three knobs is provided for controlling the Sequence Play FX, which manipulate MIDI data instead of audio. Sequence Play FX include Beat Stretch, which compresses or expands the length of measures, and MIDI Delay, which creates delay effects by duplicating MIDI events to produce results similar to a digital delay — the drawback is that it cuts into available polyphony. The Sequence Play FX knobs can also be assigned to transmit continuous controller messages.
Four Effects Send/Volume knobs control the send levels of the three internal effects processors for each track and track volume. There are also two knobs for the LFO and four knobs for the envelope generator (EG). The LFO and EG can interact with each other to control amplitude, filter modulation, and pitch. The RS7000's filters are nothing short of awesome. You can dial up your tracks as fat or thin as you like with the three lowpass (24, 18, and 12 dB), highpass, bandpass, and band eliminate settings.
Rounding out the real-time manipulation scene is the Master Effects section — an independent effects processor that affects the entire mix. Want to completely twist your mix? Just push the Master Effects on button and dial up one of the eight effects. Isolation cuts low, mid, and high frequencies. D-Filter throws an auto-wah vibe all over your mix. Ctrl Delay gives delay that is synced to master tempo. Multi Comp is a multiband compressor for the lows, mids, and highs — great for pumping up the mix. Ring Mod produces metallic, clanging madness. V-Dist bakes your track with distortion and amp models. Lo-Fi makes things sound, well, lo-fi. Slice is a gate effect with auto-pan. All this real-time control lets you quickly dial up killer sounds and variations.
LAYING IT DOWN
The RS7000's sequencer is incredibly powerful for a hardware-based unit, and learning its workings takes some time. Resist the urge to plunge right in and go through the tutorial instead. That will prevent you from spending a lot of time digging through the manual trying to find how things work. Once you wrap your head around its basic operation, you'll be bustin' beats like a pro.
The sequencer has 16 tracks and 2 basic modes: Pattern and Song. Pattern Mode lets you compose your work in sections and combine up to 10 patterns together into Styles. Yamaha calls the data on the 16 tracks “Phrases,” and a Phrase could be a drum track, a sample loop, or a melodic line (see Fig. 3). When you record a track in a pattern, it becomes a user phrase, and each pattern can have 256 user phrases. There are 5,980 preset phrases in the RS, and their programming is top-notch. Since they are individual tracks (such as basslines, kicks, and snares), you can use and tweak any of the preset phrases in your patterns without sounding like you ripped total presets.
You can link the patterns in real time using the Pattern Chain mode and the black keys, a feature that's great for live gigs. If you hold down the key, it will rapid-fire the first note of the pattern — very nice. Pattern chains can be converted into songs, and in Song Mode you can perform knob tweaks and overdubs for the entire song length.
There are plenty of editing and recording options for both Pattern and Song modes. Step Recording lets you enter notes one at a time at a set note value, and Grid Record gives you old school beatbox-style recording. Select a quantize value and use the bottom 16 keys to trigger notes. The LEDs below the keys light up to show that a note is on for the corresponding step. Unfortunately, you can only hear the track you are recording. Imagine trying to lay down a snare track when you can't hear the kick, and you get the picture. On the edit tip, you can Copy, Paste, Move, and add Groove Effects that alter the feel of a track with subtle changes to pitch, note timing, gate time, and velocity. There are also chord editing functions that can break up a chord into separate notes, add slight note delay to simulate a guitar strum, or split a drum track on one track into different drum notes on individual tracks.
The RS7000 is one wicked box. Once you learn its operations, you can fully appreciate just how powerful a production tool it is. Yamaha has attempted to give you all the functions you need to construct complete tracks: Sampling, sequencing, synths, editing and effects — the whole shebang. You can remix the preset phrases and patterns right out of the box, or make your own and create almost limitless variations. The Slice and Real Time Loop Remix functions allow you to transform mundane loops into real floor-stompers, and the expansion options and updateable OS mean the RS7000 can only get better. Other groove boxes can only aspire to compete.
PROS: Synth, sampler, and sequencer in one box. Sample wave editor. Expandable I/O and memory. Excellent effects and real time control. SCSI port. OS can be updated via SmartMemory card.
CONS: Real finicky with expansion RAM. Unsaved edits lost when power turned off. Grid record only plays track being recorded. You can't switch tracks in record mode.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4.5