Yamaha QY-70 by poserp
The QY-70 is a full-featured synthesizer, sequencer, and arranger. It can generally be found used on your favorite auction/local sales site for around $80 USD. Although it comes in a small box, it really can do all of those things, although I personally would rank them (from 1 - 5, with 5 being the best) as:
1.) Synthesizer (3) -- the synthesis functions are usable, if a bit limited. There is one low-pass filter with resonance per voice along with basic envelope controls. All of the sounds are ROM sample-based, so no true "VA" capabilities. A big plus is all of the parameters can be controlled via MIDI CCs, so the lack of LFOs isn't as big of a limit as it might seem. The extensive sequencer provides several methods for inputting CC data (including jobs for things like fading a CC in/out), and will faithfully record any knob tweaking from an external MIDI controller. In my experience entering CC information without an external keyboard is a lot less painful than the interface might suggest, thanks to the excellent Job list and event editor.
The ROM sounds themselves are nice, definitely with a bit of tweaking you can find many usable sounds for "modern" music. I personally gel well with the ROM sounds, especially the drums and synth/bass.
2.) Sequencer (5) -- this is one of the best sequencers I've used and, for me, the stand-out feature of the QY-70. I find the keyboard to be very usable, despite its size, for doing all of the stuff I need to do to make a track. You can read the manual to learn the specifics (manual can be found on the yamaha.com site linked with this review), so I'll focus on my experience. Basically, the coolest thing about the sequencer is I can always find a tool to do what I want to do. It feels like a complete product, not just a tacked-on feature, and it's nice to work with a sequencer with that level of forethought. The Job list is extensive and includes many things that make sense w.r.t. the controls physically available on the box itself. For instance, there aren't knobs but there are various ways to enter CC data -- you can fade pretty much any MIDI controller message in and out and select different curves. For instance, do a fade in/fade out, maybe tweak it a bit in the event editor, then copy/paste to do anything you'd like to do with an LFO. Is this ideal? No, but it works very well for a small portable box without knobs. And that, generally speaking, sums up the QY-70; someone must have spent a serious amount of quality time actually trying to make music with it. May the universe bless said person with good karma forever.
3.) Arranger (5) -- I have not used the arranger too much, although at some point I want to do some songwriting that might benefit from its features. The Arranger on the QY-70 doesn't just play styles, it allows you to define your own styles. The style voices don't take up sequencer tracks (i.e. the arranger has its own dedicated tracks), so using them doesn't restrict any other MIDI sequencing you might want to do. At some point I will program a bunch of song bits to string together, but so far I find the sequencer so immediate that I don't need pre-rolled bits. It's worth noting that the arranger tracks don't transmit MIDI. IF you really want, you can copy a Style to the sequencer tracks and the use those tracks to control external gear, assuming that you're willing to give up a few of the sequencer tracks.
Most of the time it only takes me 20 to 30 minutes to work up the basics of a track, and that's the main reason I really dig the QY-70. I can get ideas going fast, and all the sounds and functions I need are easy to access. It took a week or so of daily use to get into the flow, which is a relatively short amount of time for me to learn a piece of gear to the point where I can use it efficiently to make music.
The main thing that I'd like to see in a future version is any sort of support for samples. A QY-70 with sample importing would, to me, be mind-blowingly awesome. An assignable knob or two on the front would also be nice, but I wouldn't want that if I had to sacrifice portability. Other nice-to-haves would be a multi-mode filter and an LFO or two.
If making music is your goal, I think it's very well worth the short amount of time (and relatively small amount of money) to give the QY-70 a shot.