7 – Yamaha DX100

Years of production: 1985-86
Spec: 8-voice digital polysynth
Key features: 4-operator FM synthesis; Detroit techno classic
Current second-hand price: £75-150

We probably all know the story of the Yamaha DX7: its revolutionary FM synthesis approach; its futuristic (but ultimately frustrating) editing system; its total dominance of 80s pop records. One part of the story which is frequently overlooked is that Yamaha built dozens of variations on the basic DX concept: keyboards and rack-mount modules with DX architecture and subtly different specifications.

They’re all good in their own way, but the only one which can really be called a classic in the same way as the DX7 is the 4-operator DX100. With its lightweight plastic case, miniature keys and battery slot for portability, the DX100 might look like a bit of a toy, but its sound is a different matter altogether.

In addition to featuring the legendary Solid Bass preset, being the synth of choice for talkbox legend Roger Troutman and being responsible for perhaps the greatest TV synth advert of all time, the DX100 is a Detroit techno classic. Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson all used the synth extensively.

The DX100 specialises in similar sounds to its big brother: cold, digital chords; hard, aggressive basses; metallic stabs, plucks and bells. Yes, editing it’s a bit of a pain, but that’s true of all FM synths.

Many would argue that Native Instruments’ FM8 plugin makes the DX synths redundant. They’d be wrong. Test them side by side and you’ll hear that the lo-fi 80s DA conversion and analogue output stage of the hardware give it a unique character which nothing else can quite match. Every dance music producer should try a DX at some point. The 100 is a true classic at a bargain price.

19th September, 2012

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