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|Dates||1998 - 2000|
|Price||List US$1,000 Retail US$700|
16 (8 pitched, 8 unpitched), each with:|
- attenuation envelope
- frequency envelope
One common pitch envelope
|Filter||Resonant multimode filter with envelope generator|
|Effects||1 insert, 2 send|
The Yamaha FS1R is a sound synthesizer manufactured by the Yamaha Corporation from 1998 to 2000. Based on Formant synthesis, it also has FM synthesis capabilities similar to the DX range. Its editing involves 2,000+ parameters in any one 'performance', prompting the creation of a number of third party freeware programming applications. These applications fill the gap nicely, providing the tools needed to program the synth which were missing when it was in production by Yamaha. The synth was discontinued after 2 years, probably in part due to its complexity (particularly the formant sequencing), poor front-panel controls, brief manual and limited polyphony.
The FS1R synthesizer has an impressive set of new wave forms over the earlier DX line of FM synthesizers, which have since been incorporated into the new Montage line from Yamaha (with the exception of the Formant wave form). These wave forms include Sine, All1, All2, Odd1, Odd2, Res1, Res2, and Formant. The new wave forms are each constructed with a very LARGE number of inherent harmonics making FM synthesis far more efficient. Each one of these operator wave forms can replace an entire column of operators in a Yamaha DX7 synthesizer algorithm.
Formants are mainly associated with modeling the human voice, but have other uses as well. Formants are present in all instruments that use a resonating body, like the violin, viola, cello, bass viol, bassoon, saxophone, English horn, clarinet, oboe, acoustic guitar, etc. The fixed body of the instrument acts like a set of fixed frequency band pass filters, which is what a formant is. The resonating body instrument was previously very difficult to model using the DX7 family of FM synthesizers. There was an obvious lack of accurate real instrument patches in the factory presets for these synths and in the user produced patch libraries. Modeling this type of instrument is child's play using the FS1R using the formant wave form. This capability is largely unknown due to the path synthesizer development had taken, the sample-based synthesizers had just gained favor, which bypassed the need for combining formant synthesis with FM.
Sample-based synthesizers though, have a downside the FS1R, older FM synths, and the new Montage line now fill. Sample-based synths limit the user to a set of preset instrument patches, the user can't create his own instrument from scratch to create a custom new sound. The FM style of synthesizer has this capability and is drawing a new set of users to the older technology. Some of the most popular VST's today are based on the DX7 synthesizer. The new FM-X synth engine in the Yamaha Montage is based on the FS1R, with its expanded capability. The desire for custom FM voices is also driving up the price for the FS1R, which now can cost more than it did when it was new.
The FS1R uses the "formant sequence", this being a series (128 or 512) of "frames" that define the level and frequency of each of up to 8 'voiced' (pitched) and 8 'unvoiced' (un-pitched) formant generators over time. The number of frames limits the typical length of a sequence to a few seconds, though this length and pitch can be varied in real-time with few or no artefacts. Applying a formant sequence to a sound allows a complex, evolving sound to be programmed in a relatively short time. 90 formant sequences were supplied with the FS1R.
Problems and shortcomings
A 4-part synth with 32 voices was viewed as inadequate by 1998's standards [subjective] although the FS1R was designed not as an all-in-one workstation for producing entire songs but as a way to add original, complex tones that could not be produced by other synthesis methods.
Software developed by Yamaha to convert samples to formant sequences was well known but never released for general use. Eventually, a programmer (Wouter van Nifterick, see FS1R utilities below) produced a freeware alternative and users could finally access all the unit's power a number of years after its initial release. Since this time additional fseq editors have popped up, but all of them suffer from the same problem as the original Yamaha editor. The sounds they produce are very gravelly and barely resemble the sound of the original sample. Clearly a better algorithm to create the formant sequences is needed. Luckily, someone has tackled this task and written a more tonally accurate editor for the FS1R which you can download below as the Javelin fseq Editor.
Rumours abounded of an 'FS2R' successor, with a USB port to connect to a Windows PC/Macintosh equipped with suitable editing software, but no such machine was forthcoming. This is unfortunate, since midi bandwidth is so restrictive. A fast USB port is really needed to allow complete control of the synth, especially the formant parameters. Without better communications the formant wave forms in the synth can never be altered fast enough to mimic human speech, which may have been one of the original goals of the synthesizer's development.
- FS1R utilities, including a formant sequence editor. Also a short explanation of formant sequences.
- FS1R utilities, including a FS1R voice editor.
- Javelin fseq Editor and FM Programming Guide.
- FS1R mailing list at ampfea.org
- MIDI editor software for the FS1R.
- Simplified description of the FS1R architecture.
- iPad Editor for the FS1R.