Zoë Blade's notebook

Yamaha TX81Z

TX81Z tech specs

Yamaha TX81Z
Yamaha TX81Z

  • Released: 1987
  • Initial price: £399[1][2]
  • Company: Yamaha
  • Type: FM synthesiser
  • Polyphony: 8 voices
  • Timbrality: Multitimbral
  • Operators: 4
  • Audio out: Stereo pair
  • Control: MIDI
  • CPU: 8-bit Hitachi HD63B03XP[3]
  • ROM: 64 KB[3]
  • Storage: Cassette tape, SysEx[4]
  • Display: 16×2 character LCD
  • Features: Different starting waveforms
  • User programs: 32
  • Preset programs: 128
  • Size: 1U

The TX81Z was a rackmount FM synthesiser made by Yamaha in 1987, followed the next year by a keyboard based version, the DX11.

Like the DX21 series before it, the TX81Z has only four operators for each of its eight voices. Indeed, it's very backwards compatible with the DX27 and DX100, having everything except the DX21's chorus effect. If you're so inclined, you can simply load, edit, and save DX27/DX100 programs and ignore its extra functionality entirely — good news if you already have such an editor, or collection of programs.

Should you want to get a bit more adventurous, however, the TX81Z is a bit more advanced. Most prominently, it can use eight different waveforms as starting points, not just sine waves.[4] This somewhat compensates for the reduced number of operators, in a way that's more intuitive to program, making it pretty good in its own right.

Other exclusive features include finer control over each operator's tuning,[4] and even the ability for them to not track the keyboard's pitch at all,[4] allowing the ratios and thus the timbre to change from one pitch to the next.

Sound design aside, the TX81Z's performance parameters are also surprisingly comprehensive. Allowing alternate tuning systems is a nice touch.

Even if you want to treat it simply as a rackmounted DX100, it's still higher quality, producing a cleaner signal than even the DX7.

Although it's multitimbral, I think only having eight voices makes it better suited to being an overpowered monotimbral synth than an underpowered multitimbral one.

As you'd expect with only 1U of rackspace to play with, its interface is even less comprehensive than a DX21's, consisting of a 16×2 character LCD (admittedly still more than the DX27 and DX100 got) and just a handful of buttons, so it's best used with an editor/librarian, such as 4-Op Deluxe.

Personally, I've had a good experience so far making simple custom pads and basses on it, then feeding the TX81Z's output through a clone of the Roland SDD-320 to thicken the pads up.

On a side note, it has two fun quirks: an informative piece of plastic that you can pull out, which sticks out like a tongue; and the friendly boot-up message <Good morning!!>.

DX11

The TX81Z was also released in keyboard form, as the DX11.

Quotes

TX81Z

I used to hate [the TX81Z] because it has those weird little bird harmonics on every single sound. But there are sounds on it that are just so great that you take them for granted, like the Alto Sax sound.

— Paul Robb, Information Society, 1988[5]

Sometimes I mix it with the Juno-106, and sometimes I use the Memorymoog. It just depends on what kind of blend I want. The Prophet-5 is a good unit for bass, too, 'cos it's real thick. The bass on "Faith" is from the TX81Z. "Till We Meet Again" came from the TX and the Prophet-5.

Kevin Saunderson, Inner City, 1992[6]

There's still some patches on the TX81Z from the old days that work really well.

Kevin Saunderson, 1995[7]

DX11

It was the main workhorse of my early µ-Ziq material.

— Mike Paradinas[8]

Tips

Although it has a headphone socket at the front, this doesn't have a separate volume control, so you'll likely need to substantially lower the global volume to safely use it. Naturally, this also lowers the volume on the line out sockets at the back, so remember to change it back to maximum again afterwards.

Notable users

TX81Z

DX11

See also

References

  1. "ABC Music" ABC Music (Vendor), Music Technology, Mar 1987
  2. "Music Village" Music Village (Vendor), Music Technology, Apr 1987
  3. "TX81Z service notes" Yamaha, 1987
  4. "TX81Z manual" Yamaha
  5. "Information Technology" Deborah Parisi, Music Technology, Dec 1988
  6. "Inner Space" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jun 1992
  7. "Mixing up the motor city" Rob Green, The Mix, Apr 1995
  8. "Mike Paradinas" Tim Noakes
  9. "Past, Present and Future" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Aug 1992
  10. "Future Talk" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jan 1994

Reviews

TX81Z

DX11

Retrospectives

Downloads

Documentation

TX81Z

DX11

FM synthesisers: Yamaha DX7 | Yamaha DX21 | Yamaha TX81Z