Featured Yamaha Reface CP by joe_04_04
- Products: Yamaha Reface Series (CS, CP, YC, DX)
- Manufacturer: Yamaha
- Price: 799 USD MSRP (Per Unit)
- Website: Yamaha
The Scope: Yamaha has built an affordable set of retro keyboards for keyboard enthusiasts across the board. The Reface series contains an analog modeled synth (CS), an electric piano synth (CP), an organ synth (YC), and an FM synth (DX).
Preface: After much deliberation, I’ve decided that that best way to review this entire series of Reface units is by doing a global review of the whole bundle, instead of four separate mini reviews. I will do my best to roll all the similarities up into one section, to reduce repetition. I will then briefly introduce each model, in order of my most favorite to my least favorite*, elaborating on what they each are trying to do and include some audio samples and videos on a few of my favorites. Lastly, I will go into the overall global review of the bunch.
*I would just like to clarify that I don’t dislike any of the models, but one inevitably has to be at the end of the list, so it becomes my ‘least favorite,’ not one I dislike.
Similar Attributes Across the Entire Line:
- Price: 799 USD MSRP per unit. The ‘street value’ of these units seem to be around 499 USD based off of my findings on the web.
- Build Quality: One of the first things I noticed as I picked up all four units after delivery was their weight. All of the units are built out of a solid, durable plastic, each having a reassuring heftiness to them. The knobs, sliders, and keys all feel fairly durable, like they could take a little bit of abuse (on the off-chance that your musical endeavors cause you to forget that you are jamming a little too heavy on the boards).
- Dimensions/Weight: All four units share the exact same dimensions and weight. Dimensions for each unit is: Width 20-7/8", Height 2-3/8", Depth-6 7/8". Each unit weighs 4 lbs and 3 oz. These units are just about the perfect size for both table-top and lap use.
- Pitch Bend (Excluding CP): Changes pitch of note accordingly (customizable ranges).
- Volume Slider: Each unit has variable volume control, which is totally necessary as the patches you create will all have varying volumes.
- Octave Slider: You are given 5 full octaves (+/- 2 from the starting octave).
- Keys/Key Response: All of the units have thirty-seven keys with the exact same responses. The keys seem to be snappy and return nicely after each stroke. Yamaha lists these as their “HQ Mini Keys,” which are “Based on the FS action found on [their] flagship Motif XF [keyboard].” The keys are also velocity-sensitive, so softer strokes result in quieter notes and harder strokes result in louder notes. These units are very dynamic, as you will notice in my audio clips, which results in a very musical and intimate response.
- Speakers: Each unit has a small stereo pair of speakers, so you can play with the keyboards on-the-go when you are not connected to a sound system. These can get impressively loud for their size.
-All professional photos courtesy of Yamaha
-Backside connectivity (Even though this is the CP model, they all share the exact same back panel) (Features from left to right)
- Wall Charger/Battery Option: All units use the exact same wall charger, which is a PA-130. I found this particularly satisfying because I was able to test all four units without breaking out multiple power supplies. As an added bonus, each unit can also run off of six AA batteries, so you can play the units “cord-less” when you are at a gig or just don’t feel like being tied to a wall.
- Power Button
- Sustain Pedal Port
- 1/4 Inch Unbalanced Line Out (L/R)
- Stereo Headphone Port (6.3 mm)
- Aux input (3.5 mm)
- Midi Cable Port
- Midi Breakout Cable
- USB Cable Port
The Yamaha CS is an analog modeled synth featuring 5 different oscillator types. The keyboard features an LFO section that can be assigned to multiple parameters and a filter section. You have control over the attack, decay, sustain and release. The board also includes a series of effects such as distortion, chorus, delay, and others. Out of all four keyboards, this one has become my absolute favorite. It is extremely entertaining to create patches for hours on end and build your own sounds. Because of its simple design layout, it is super easy to tweak. Though it has a simple design, it is extremely flexible and one can make thousands of different patches of sounds. The keyboard can function in both monophonic and polyphonic modes and is capable of creating everything from classic synth leads, to dark and ominous pads, to growling bass patches. There is a ton of fun to be had tweaking this unit. As an added bonus, you have a looper section where you can record loops of audio to play to in real time, which can be useful for jotting down ideas you may have while creating a patch. This was my favorite board out of the bunch that I tested out, so my review might be a little bit tailored more towards this unit.
I recreated one of my favorite movie themes to help demonstrate how flexible the CS is. I have a bass patch, a pad patch, a lead patch for an arpeggio, and another lead patch for the melody and harmony. With some of the patches, I included a photograph of the settings to help recall them. Below, you will find photos of the settings, audio samples of the individual patches entirely raw and untouched (straight out of the keyboard), and then a final 2-track that I roughly mixed (equalization, compression, and some reverb too). Also, I transposed the song to a different key.
Saw pad patch
Arpeggio patch (looped)
-Note: The CS unit does not have a built in arpeggiator
Lead Audio Sample (No settings photo)
Harmony Audio Sample (No settings photo)
Truman Sleeps Reproduction Sample
-Original track “Truman Sleeps” written by Philip Glass for the motion picture The Truman Show
-MP3 (.WAV file exceeds maximum upload size)
If you are interested in seeing the session and what plugins I used on this quick mix, take a look here:
The next board in the line is the Yamaha CP, which reminds me more of an extremely retro set of electric pianos. You get six different sounds, including a string clavinet, a toy piano, a few tine electric pianos, and others. After that, you can dial in a variety of effects. You are offered drive, tremolo, chorus, reverb, multiple delay types, and more. I believe out of the four, this board is the most simple, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing. You’ll find yourself picking a preset for your electric piano type, adding some effects and playing in no time. The onboard effects are extremely fun to play with. As a bonus, the analog delay sort of reminds me of a tape delay, when you adjust the timing of it with sounds caught in the loop buffer, the sounds are either stretched or compressed in real time, resulting in pitched artifacts. If you can play a melody with one hand and keep another hand on the delay time knob, you can get some pretty trippy effects as you shift the time to shorter or longer times.
I created a few audio samples of some of the patches I created with the CP.
-At the end of this patch, I tweaked some of the delay settings live so you could hear the effect. Note that I was using digital delay. Analog delay has a different sound and reacts differently to changing the speed while audio is caught in the loop.
The Yamaha YC is an essential keyboard for anyone who’s looking for organ tones. The board contains a handful of organ types, each with their own unique characteristics. You are also given parameters to control rotary speaker speeds as well as parameters that will affect the overall harmonic content of the organ (organ stops). While it might seem that this keyboard is a bit limited, in actuality, the range of tones you can achieve by experimenting with these sliders under the “footage” section is pretty vast. You can either fairly isolate a tone down to its fundamental note or you can blend in harmonics and create deep and complex overtones. You also can take advantage of some onboard effects, such as reverb and distortion, which help add some vibe different organ types. This keyboard has an extremely simple design and the workflow is intuitive and quick to learn.
The Yamaha DX is the monster powerhouse of the the four. The DX is an FM (frequency modulation) additive synthesizer with absolutely massive amounts of tweakability. Just about every parameter is tweakable, from changing the frequencies of any of the four operators, to feedback, to the signal path and routing, to LFO rates, etcetera. For convenience, the DX features digital sliders that allow you to tweak parameters of a patch by either sliding your finger up or down the screen or by tapping on it. If you need to change a parameter by a large amount, slide up/down, if you need to get precise and move in one unit increments, tap up/down. You are also offered 32 memory banks that you can store your digital patches in for easy recall. This comes with a handful of preset sounds that you can play with right off the bat or tweak and change to make your own. Instead of creating a patch from scratch, I preferred taking the existing patches and tweaking them to create new ones, as this seemed to be a bit easier for me.
Sound Quality - 5/5: All four of these units produce excellent sounds in their own category. The entire line of Reface keyboards cover a vast range of tones and sounds that are only limited by your creativity and imagination. Overall, each keyboard has a bit of a vintage feel and vibe to them, but I believe that that is the underlying concept with all of the Reface units, so this is to be expected. Despite the keyboards all being relatively small and compact, they produce huge, gorgeous, and detailed sounds. They sound excellent and definitely hold their own against larger, more expensive synths. One thing I noted, the low frequency oscillator and filter sections of the Yamaha CS sounded extremely good. Sweeping the filter around resulted in a very smooth reduction of high. If you dial in the resonance control a bit and get the filter in the right zone, you can get some interesting “growls” out of patches. With the CP, what I really enjoyed were the onboard effects (I.E. delay/reverb). They are extremely simple, but very fun to experiment with in real time while playing patches. The onboard speakers are fairly decent too. While they aren’t putting out studio monitor quality sound (this is to be expected), they are sufficient for dialing up a patch and jamming out. You’ll begin to really notice how well these units sound if you end up plugging in a pair of high fidelity headphones or recording them directly into your DAW. Overall, I’m very impressed with these little units. If you are looking for a classic, vintage, throwback synth tone, I’m sure these units will be more than sufficient for your needs.
Ease of Use - 4/5: When it comes down to ease of use, each unit is a bit on its own, as each unit has its own workflow when creating patches. I think all units, but the DX are extremely easy to use, tweak, and have fun with. The DX is a little bit more of a challenge as there is much more to dig into with the digital submenus, but none-the-less, is still extremely entertaining. I will make mention that I have a little trouble playing these keyboards with their smaller key sizes, as I have larger hands, but I also am not a seasoned keyboard player, so that is definitely a factor I am keeping in mind. I’m sure there are many people who are familiar with this key size, it’s just a tad bit outside of my comfort zone. However, over two weeks that I had to test them, I did grow used to their smaller size. Though I have a little trouble with the smaller key size, I will say that it does make it easier to reach larger intervals when playing, which is good for doing octave jumps on maybe a bass patch. Excluding key size, I have no other issues with ease of use.
Features - 5/5: I’ve described and listed most of the features in both the common attributes section and in the brief introductions section, so I’ll keep this section short to refrain from repetition. Overall, the feature sets are quite large on all units, some having more than others, but all being flexible in their own unique way. Originally, my only complaint with the features on these keyboards were that, at first glance, they didn’t seem to have a way to turn off the volume to the built-in speakers and send audio down the 1/4 inch outputs, but upon further investigating the extensive Yamaha Reface series manual, I have found out that you can actually turn off the built-in speakers (a vital lesson in checking the manual before writing a feature off is learned again). To disable the audio to the built-in speakers, hold the D2 key down while powering up the keyboard. I do wish the implementation of this feature was a little different though. In my eyes, the only reason why you’d want to turn the built-in speakers on and off would be in a recording situation where you wouldn’t want the audio of the speakers bleeding into a vocal mic while you ran the signal out of the keyboard via 1/4 inch outputs in the back. I think it would have been better to keep the audio outputs on the back separate and independent from the volume slider on the board. Users could then quickly turn off the speaker’s by sliding the volume slider down and still have audio coming out of the 1/4 inch outputs on the back and quickly bring the speakers back on if need be without having to turn the unit off. As it is, turning down the slider to off actually turns off the audio going out of the 1/4 inch outputs, as the audio is mirrored there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely happy to see that the option to turn them off was included, I just wish for a faster and simpler workflow. Out of everything feature wise, this was my only small complaint. All of the other features on the keyboards were comprehensive and covered all of my needs for that particular unit.
Bang for Buck - 4/5: Each unit is priced at 799 USD MSRP, which is a fairly decent price for the power these little guys have. Luckily, all MSRP prices for most products are higher than their actual retail value. I think these will be available more around the price of $499 USD retail, which is a bit more accessible for small-time musicians. Overall, you will have to do your research on each unit. Some units are more complex and offer more flexibility, where others are more simple and straight-forward. This makes the pricing a bit harder to evaluate. For example, the DX has tons of flexibility and tweakability with digital sliders and a screen, so the price seems more acceptable here, while other more simple units, such as the YC, seem a bit overpriced due to their limited useability. None-the-less, all keyboards sound phenomenal and rich, so this will come down to the user deciding which one is worth their money and which one is not.
Verdict: I’ve fully enjoyed getting to play with all of these keyboards. Normally, I’m hugely into midi, mostly because I’m not a pianist and I can edit all of my takes, but there’s something satisfying about recording real sounds out of your keyboard and into your DAW and having to get the take right. It’s more difficult, but definitely rewarding in the end. When it comes to the units, each one has inspired me to play a totally different genre of music, which has been an awesome byproduct of the vast diversity of these units. My personal favorite by far is the Yamaha CS. I spent hours upon hours just fiddling with the different parameters and creating huge pads, piercing leads, and fat and wooly bass tones. This is just entirely my opinion and I know that everyone who tries these out will have their own favorite. I’d recommend getting to a place where you can demo all four units and give them a solid test. I think most of the die-hard keyboard synth users will love the depth and flexibility of the DX, while users who want quick and instant results will enjoy one of the other three boards. In the end, no matter what your preference of keyboard might be, I’m sure you’ll find one you like amongst these four units.