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Yamaha SY77 music Synthesizer (1989)

WOLF retro DESIGN REVIEW. 6th January 2019

A retro review looks at products that are at least over ten years old from a present-day WOLF design perspective. While the technology and fashion of the period influence design, and are taken into consideration, great design ideas will transcend their eras to be timeless.

Interesting and factual information may be provided, but our review aims to deliver insight from the perspective of a designer’s mind and eyes.

The SY77 had a tall order as worthy successor to the legendary DX7line.

Introduction

Product Focus

As with most reviews the focus is on the design and its evolution with the synthesizer. The functioning systems and sound quality are not necessarily considered.

Product description

Yamaha followed up its highly successful but aging DX line with the SY series. Launched in 1989 as the flagship model was the SY77. Yamaha called it a music synthesizer because it had a built-in sequencer and effects processor. This was Yamaha’s first professional workstation and much needed in a time of serious competition from rival brands Roland and Korg.

Price and Availability.

These a regularly available on the second-hand market but are usually quite tired. They were not as solidly built as their DX predecessors and can look a little worn. Good example that have been stored in their original hard cases do pop up from  time to time and are reasonably priced.

Additional information

The SY77 came as bit of a surprise since Yamaha had eluded to a V-80FD model as successor to the DX7 Mk II. Prior to launching the SY77 Yamaha released the RX8 drum machine which had similar styling to the V-80FD prototype. They also launched the V-50 as a junior workstation synth so the V-80FD seemed set to go. Then all of a sudden we had the SY77 which begs the question of- “What ever happened to the V-80FD”?

Review

First impressions / Delight

Our first impression was that it looks big but minimalistic and in keeping with the dawn of the 90s. Yamaha tried to create a clean line and elegant looking machine, and we feel they were successful with this. The groove lines and heavily textured surfaces of the DX7 MK II have been replaced with large expanses of plain dark grey metal. While smooth, there is still a fine texture to the charcoal paint finish which gives a slightly matt look.

The buttons are smaller than usual and this creates more open spaces over the main front surface. In its day it looked quite cool and powerful.

Exterior Design Review

The new disk drive location is probably the only thing that upsets the relative symmetry of the layout. The paints texture is just enough to keep this synth from looking too bulky but the expansive smooth surfaces probably could have benefitted from some further lines or angles. It’s a big machine and Yamaha tried to make it look slenderer by giving the end panels some design attention by means of stepped layering. The designers also tried to make it look softer by removing as many sharp or right angles as possible. There are plenty of curved corners that add to the softer look.

Craftsmanship.

It feels a little plasticky because the plastic end panels are quite large. This is a shame since much of the unit is metal. Furthermore, the plastic end panels are painted and many machines show a lot of paint ware on these corners.

In general, the SY77 is well assembled with no visible screws.

Like the DX7 MKII, the SY77 retained similar bumper protection moldings at the rear of the end panels. 

FUNCTION- Experience.

The disk drive located on the front is more practical than its predecessor and even allows you to store a few disks in front of it. It’s a clever detail even though it breaks up the cleanliness of the front layout. A third control wheel was introduced and each wheel is now wider which we feel is an improvement.

The best view of this machine is from the front because the whole front is on a slope which is designed to make it feel slender but is also practical for screen visibility.

Our main criticism is with the new buttons which are slightly too small and don’t feel nice to push. As they age, they also tend to get stuck and need servicing. The SY77 also introduced Yamahas first alpha dial controller and perhaps that was why they paid less attention to the buttons.

The best angle, and hence it was used for the cover of their brochure.

Introduction of the alpha dial helped to make up for its sticky buttons.

Desirability / Collectability

These have yet to be highly sought after or collectable. Nevertheless, the SY77 still represents a significant milestone in the company’s history and deserves respect. The additional wheel, larger screen, alpha dial and on-board sequencer and effect processors made it competitive against rival brands.

It did not have a huge range of optional accessories and Yamaha even dropped the music stand which would have normally attached to the rear. There was only one factory case for example and that was a standard looking hard case. The textured panels and black tinted trimmings found on DX Mk II hard cases seemed to have been cut from the budget.

The original hard case- worth having!

The manual had a more durable semi-plastic cover which was more durable and came in 3 volumes, (each in a different language).

There were two demonstration disks for the SY77. That on the left is a very rare demo CD featuring 5 songs composed fully on the SY77. This we understand was exclusive to dealers to demo to customers and not meant for public resale. The floppy disk on the right was a standard demo disk that came standard with every SY77

A good range of sounds were released through Yamaha in their new thin RAM cartridges that were nicely packaged inside CD cases.

WORD OF THE WOLF

We like the SY77 for what it tried to achieve and for what it represents but it could not live up to the significance of the DX7 and maybe nothing ever will. It was then overshadowed by its younger but bigger brother the SY99 that was significantly better. Out of the entire SY range the SY77 and SY99 are the only one’s worth collecting in our opinion. They are both still very usable from a sound and functional perspective. We don’t recommend looking at any of the smaller SY models which seem very limited and even more plasticky.

The SY77 had a beautiful brochure that was significantly better than its predecessors.

In the days before Photoshop this photo remains one of Yamaha’s finest synthesizer photos.

A neat center fold out.

The WOLF SY77

The synthesizer in this review is from the Wolf private collection. It was purchased new from Tom Lee music in Hong Kong in early 1990. Many original songs were composed and performed by Taras Wolf with this Synthesizer. Together with original hard case it remains in excellent condition though it does have some slight signs or surface ware.

The mysterious V-80FD that never happened. Anyone know where we can find this original prototype and maybe buy it?

WOLF DESIGN EXCELLENCE SCORE = 6.5

Disclaimer

The information in this review is intended for informational or educational purposes to provide readers an understanding of how something may be seen from a certain design perspective. In this case it is from the view point of WOLF DESIGNS. As design is subjective this review should only be considered as an independent opinion. Information further to being of an opinion is provided to the best of our knowledge based on our own research at the time of doing the review. We cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies or inconsistencies and reserve the right to change or update any content as appropriate.
The final responsibility of the design resides with the original manufacturer.

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