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The Yamaha SY85 is a digital music workstation. Unlike other Yamaha synthesizers of the time (SY77 and the SY99) the SY85 does not use FM synthesis. Instead, its sounds are based on samples, which can be layered and modified to create new sounds.
The workstation features a 61-note velocity-sensitive keyboard with aftertouch, a double density 3.5" floppy drive, a two line, 40 character LCD display, and a nine-track MIDI sequencer. It is a multitimbral synthesizer with 30-note polyphonyand full MIDI capabilities. In addition to pitch and modulation wheels, the SY85 features eight continuous sliders that can be used to adjust various settings in real time. These sliders also function as faders when using the built-in sequencer. The SY85 features two independent effects units, which can be run in series or in parallel, each in turn providing either a single effect or two effects in parallel or cascade mode.
The SY85's internal voice memory holds 256 voices in four 64 slot banks. These can be played individually or layered, up to four at a time. The keyboard can be split to allow different voices or combinations of voices to be played only in particular regions. Up to 128 of these layered combinations can be stored in internal memory as 'performances' in two banks with also 64 slots each. The SY85 also features velocity switching, the ability to switch between two samples based on the speed with which a key is depressed. Voices can also be treated with a variety of filters, including a high-pass filter, low-pass filter, band-pass filter, and a band-elimination/band-stop filter.
The sequencer features eight standard tracks and a dedicated rhythm track. The tracks can be recorded in real or step time and quantized to 1/4, 1/6, 1/8, 1/12, 1/16, 1/24, and 1/32 values. The rhythm track is composed by combining any of 100 rhythm patterns, each of which can be edited independently. These patterns, however, are shared between songs. So changing a pattern will, for good or bad, change it in any song that uses it. The sequencer can store up to ten songs (20,000 notes, total) at a time.
Voice and sequencer data and samples can be loaded from or saved to 3.5" double-density floppy discs. Voices and performance combinations can also be loaded from or saved to Yamaha's proprietary MCD64 (64K RAM cards (one slot for such cards was provided, alongside one slot for a PCM 'waveform' ROM card). Yamaha and other manufacturers sold expansion sounds for the SY85 in both formats. The SY85 can also transmit and receive voice and sequencer data as MIDI sysex bulk dumps and load or send samples via the MIDI sample dump standard (SDS).
As standard, 0.5MB of volatile user waveform RAM is provided, whose contents are lost when the device is switched off. It is expandable with one or two 512KB non-volatile, proprietary SYEMB06 RAM modules and up to 2MB of extra volatile RAM through standard SIMM modules. Users have reported using up to 8MB of volatile RAM successfully.
yamaha SY-85 Workstation Specifications