The Yamaha W5/W7 Music Synthesizers
The W5 (76 keys)
The W7 (61 keys)
LAST UPDATE: Aug. 31, 2001
Although discontinued in the USA in the Spring of 1998, the Yamaha W-series synthesizers are nonetheless state-of-the-art keyboards that offer the amateur and professional musician a more-than-adequate palette to create sound and music. Yamaha called the keyboard a "Professional Music Workstation" and when the keyboard was introduced in the early 1990's, Yamaha decided they'd like to try staying with this keyboard series for a long while. This meant incorporating the capacity to be expanded and upgraded by the user. In other words, instead of building a new keyboard to keep up with changing technology, they'd just do like NASA does: burn new chips and write new software!!! This was great for us W-series owners: the keyboard would not become obsolete so quickly!!! Once Yamaha saw the keyboard was a success, they offered what they called the "Version 2" upgrade for all models made before 1996. These kits are still available as "Dealer Items" and although very hard to find, anyone interested should call their local Yamaha keyboard dealer and inquire on this part number: W5_Version_2 or W7_Version_2. Good luck!
The keyboard series that has essentially replace the W-series workstations is Yamaha's brand new EX5 & EX7 (kinda familiar nomenclature, huh?). So....if you own a W-series synth...you are not "mainstream" in Yamaha's eyes anymore...however I must say that Yamaha has always worked with me very well on any questions, advice and problems.
So...how do you know if your synth was made since Version 2 and if not made since then, how can you determine if it has been upgraded? Answer: you will have voice banks P1, P2 and P3 instead of only a P1 bank (each bank holding 128 voices).
I provide plenty of links below and now....welcome to my website....
WHAT IS IT & WHAT CAN IT DO?
Basically, when you get your hands on this workstation, you get a keyboard/synthesizer with: 32-note polyphony, 16-part multi-timbral capacity, a 100,000-note capacity 16-track sequencer (yeah!!!), pitch and modulation wheels and an assignable slider control (you pick what you want to control with this slider!) and everything interfacing with the outside world via 3.5" built-in floppy drive. Quick lesson on what this thing can do:
OK...turn it on...check out that display...a mini computer screen...your customized greeting comes up (mine says "Touch me, David")...access track (1) of the sequencer, assign one of the 100's of voices to it, go down the line until you have assigned each voice you need (including drum voices) for your song onto it's own sequencer track (you have 16 tracks, my friend). You are building what Yamaha calls a song multi (remember this!). Oh, I almost forgot...you need an idea for a song. What? There is no song in your head? Well, if you must, just go on the Net and find yourself a neat midi file (.mid) and load it in. Press RUN and listen to it. You can change anything you want...the voices, the tempo...whatever.
Oh, you just thought of something neat to build from scratch? (Are you sure it's your own idea?) :-)
OK, go into RECORD mode with the sequencer and set the parms for your song (you know, tempo, beat, measure, blah, blah, blah). Hit RECORD/RUN and you'll hear the metronome kick in. Better start laying down some bass or percussion - just access the appropriate track! Got something complex to record? Slow the sequencer down in RECORD mode and play the notes slowly and carefully...you can readjust the tempo during playback! Finished? Hit STOP. Now press PLAY and hear the playback. Perfect? Good! Not perfect? Punch in and edit it. Go to the next track which contains the next voice you need. Violin? Better know what you are doing! Man, you can hear the bow scraping those strings, can't ya? Digitally sampled! Yessir. OK, next track. Electric guitar....here comes the break...GO! Hey, you need some practice using that pitch wheel on your guitar solo! OK, next track ... aaaahhhh... finally...lead synth! You go ahead on!!!!!! Love that delay!!! Hey, look at me, I'm Keith Emerson! Yikes! No portamento (can you believe it??? Huh???? Did you hear me??? No portamento). OK...last couple of tracks for some finishing touches...hi-hat cymbal rhythm...OK....crash cymbal here, tom-tom roll there. Final track is a bit of piano accompaniment. OK done! Check it out...you only used 8 tracks on the sequencer!!! Now, go into the sequencer's mixing board...pan the cymbal to the left, the tom-toms to the right...same with the guitar and piano...bring the volume down on the snare drum and up on the piano...hmmmm...sounds good on playback.
Yep, Yamaha did great with this design...you get a digital image of a 16-track mixing board on the LCD screen! All they forgot to engineer into this was a mouse and mousepad! OK, grab up a floppy disk and save the sucker. You just wrote, performed and archived your first song. On the floppy disk, all song multi info is stored, including pitch bends, effects, after touch, keyed velocity and the mix from the mixing board (the data is only playable by the synth, but you can archive the file on your PC or save it as a .mid file and play it on other GM compatible synths). Now, invite some friends over and when they ask "Wow..do you play that thing over there?" You say, "Sure!!! Turn on the synth, quickly and discreetly load up the saved song but don't let them see the synth from your angle. Smile broadly and make them think you are playing the entire composition in real-time!!!! Then, just before the song ends but while it's still playing...smile & walk away to freshen-up your drink....hey, what the heck, surely that weren't that stupid to think you were really playing all of that at once! (Or are they?).
W5 or W7? WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
W7: Introduced in December of 1994, this 61-key workstation uses Yamaha's standard quality non-weighted key action.
W5: Unveiled during the 1995 Winter NAMM, this 76-key workstation uses Yamaha's highest quality non-weighted key action.
Keyboard Specs: Velocity-sensitive with after-touch.
Tone Generator (Voice System):
32 note polyphony and 16 part multi-timbral. Up to 6 effects can be assigned to a voice. Examples of effects are: chorus, delay, reverb, phaser,"rotary speaker", wah, flanger, and Yamaha's own "Aural Exciter". The unit comes with 8MB of AWM2 tone generated wave memory. The voices are made with up to 4 digitally sampled elements where Yamaha also incorporated high-quality DSP stereo effects processors. During the Winter NAMM of 1996, Yamaha introduced an IC chip & software upgrade to the W-series workstations. The upgrade provided for more voices (especially for modern dance music), drum sounds (hip-hop) and more powerful and user-friendly sequencer features. You get: (2) additional preset voice banks, 128 new voices, multi-track loop recording, more powerful remix ability and such. Of course, all W5's & W7's manufactured since then come already equipped with these expansion.
Here's what you end up with as far as voice mapping is concerned:
Bank (G): - 128 ROM GM voices. Read Only.
Bank (P1): - 128 factory presets. Read Only.
Bank (P2): - 128 factory presets (formerly Bank (I) of "version 1"). Read Only.
Bank (P3): - 128 factory presets. Read Only.
Bank (I): - 128 user presets. Can be overwritten!
Bank (S): - Song banks. Your custom "temporary" voice sets for song multis. Lost when power goes down. Source is floppy disk. Can hold a total of 128 voices per song...16 songs. WOW.
Bank (GD): - 8 drum voices.
Bank (PD): - 4 factory preset drum voices.
Bank (ID): - 2 internal drum voices (can be overwritten).
Bank (SD): - 2 drum voices per song.
Now...you tell me...are these enough voices???? :-)
Bank (E): Expansion cards are after-market "extras" that usually have about 20 or so specialized voices (Piano Card is an example). The card installs in the panel underneath the synth. I don't highly recommend the cards because for the money (some over $100) you really don't get the voice potential that you cannot somehow emulate with the voices that are already in the unit's ROM. Most cards come with less than 20 voices. I have the piano card...it is nice, but just not worth the trouble to buy and install (in my opinion).
All voices in the "W" are ROM, except the internal voices (I) where you are able to "import" new voices and/or save the ones you have modified or created. All voices can be modified , but any "created" voice must be saved in the internal voice bank (I). Voices are not created or modified by the user directly accessing and tweaking the oscillators and filters, instead the user accesses basic synth templates provided by Yamaha. Now when a person first hears this, they usually scowl. It's true (I repeat): Yamaha does not allow you to actually tweak the LFO's, pitch envelopes, amplitudes, and filters directly, but rather only through the use of several pre-set templates. This, according to Yamaha, makes the synth easier to use and subsequently, you don't have to be a "computer programmer" to be able to create your own sounds. However, if you are really good at creating voices thru experience with the old synths of the 70's and 80's, then you might feel a bit "confined"...however, Yamaha understands, so they provide tons of templates: 39 amplitude types, 59 filter settings, 40 pitch envelope settings, 33 low freq. oscillator (LFO) settings and the combinations are therefore, mind-boggling. To bring it all into a nutshell: It is all you need to create great music and sound. The only drawback I have found in the synth is the portamento effect being totally absent. This really sucks. I have to have portamento. Which is why I still have my Korg DS-8!.
The sequencer is great. 100,000 notes!!! WOW. 16 tracks - wow again. The sequencer collects & holds the voices you want and all of the tweaks and settings you choose for your song multi. A total of 16 song multis can be stored in the so-called Song Bank (S) memory at any given time. These can be full orchestrations as long as they don't exceed the 100K-note capacity. When you power the unit down, all song bank (S) information is lost - except the original voices brought in from the songs. Therefore, the floppy disk drive is an essential component - it is used primarily to store your song multis and provide you with unlimited access to completed songs during a performance. The voice line-up, the array of settings, the song itself are all saved on a floppy disk as the so-called song multi. Therefore, the song multi, the sequencer and the flopy drive all combine as the cornerstone of how this keyboard performs as a workstation.
Even if you have no plans to record a song on the sequencer, you still use it to bank your chosen "realtime" voice, especially if you have any plans to tweak, layer, split or combine with another voice on the keyboard...or if you want to "mix" the voice (pan, effect, etc), you perform this from the sequencer's desktop which is very thoughtfully arranged on the LCD screen. Finally, you can load your favorite voices into the sequencer's 16-tracks simply to "gather", "archive" or "group" them for convenience and to keep from searching for them in the numerous banks. A fringe-benefit is that this allows for immediate access of your "chosen" voices in the middle of the performance if necessary. Now think: 16 tracks per song multi and the ability to have 16 song multis loaded and ready to go during any performance!
To solo along with a recorded performance (sequencer playback), you simply hit the track containing the voice you need and it's there! But again, you don't have to have a song recorded to use this sequencer - it is great to use to just for access your favorite voices quickly!
Yamaha gives you full control, and it can be easy or it can get complex very quickly - it depends on what you are after in you playing. I am not a perfectionist, and my music is for my own enjoyment...so I keep the process simple for "maximum immediate gratification", doing most of my sequencing in real-time mode.
Recording in real-time mode is just like using a multi-track recorder (click here to see my treatise on multi-tracking!)...but you better have confidence! The reason you have to be good at this is because you perform the song one track at a time. Human error lurks at every corner during your recording performance - but don't worry, you can punch in and clear out any mistakes! When you are done, you can "quantize" the completed project track-by-track or en masse to correct any timing or tempo errors. Be conservative with quantizing...it can quickly remove the human element and render your masterpiece having the "swing"
of a midi file!!!! .
If you choose step record mode, the machine will auto-quantizes your key strokes note-for-note. Each note will appear as written music on the screen. This mode has it's own compexities since you write the music instead of performing it. The advantage is you can produce music that is quite complex or impossible to perform it real-time! Since each note appears as written music on the screen, the truly trained musician has the power to create perfect compositions.
All in all...the sequencer gives you the power you need.
In the song editing and song job modes, you can copy, cut or paste sections or even individual measures of the song. This is how you can create loops! A favorite trick of mine is to create a single chorus and refrain of just the foundation of my song (percussion, bass lines and general accompaniments). Then I copy the entire sequence and multiply it x4 and throw it all into a new song multi. Poof, the entire song background is laid down.
During playback or record of your song multi, you can mute or solo any existing track or tracks if you need to hear your song without a particular voice that you had added or to only hear THAT voice alone. The sequencer in the W5/W7 is pretty cool and yes, it's quite user-friendly...but believe me, you must have the manual to occassionally walk you through the sticky parts - especially at first! By the way, the manual is online and can be found at Joe Hoyle's website (see below).
Within the sequencer is the mixer. The mixer is absolutely fantastic. They get this entire mixing board to show up on the LCD screen and you can use the spring loaded JOG/Shuttle wheel to blow through the parm settings like lightning. The mixer has "virtual" LCD sliders and knobs that you can tweak and hear the effect in headphones or keyboard amp (stereo amplifier a must!) Note: In "song" mode, if you tweak the mixer, you must "store" the info or it will be lost if you go into "voice" mode for that track. I hate it when that happens!
Anyways...the features of the sequencer and mixer help make the W-series synth truly a workstation. A machine giving you the power whether you are recording in the basement or performing in front of an audience.
OK...how do you get one of these synths? Well, I guess your nearest Yamaha Music dealer might be the best first shot. Since the units are now discontinued, you can probably find good deals on used units. Originally, the W5 listed for $2499 the W7: $1999. Me? I bought mine through the internet from a used gear by mail type business (they are no longer in business). I wheeled & dealed and got them to sell it to me and ship it to me for an even $1000. Then, I got the Version 2 upgrade for...well, I can't tell ya....let's say, practically for free. Used prices are between $650 and $850 for a W7 and $800 to $1000 for a W5...this is assuming they are "full version". If they aren't full version, knock off an extra $100 to $150. Good luck. I would be more than happy to give you any advice....as I am fairly experienced with used gear and I usually know where good deals on used synths, including W5's and W7's, are.
Yes, these keyboards are not without their flaws. I personally have never had a problem with
the three units that I have owned, but I know of many situations involving "bugs"....so here
is a list:
DISK DRIVE: Apparently, Yamaha got a bad batch of disk drives and installed them unknowingly.
Believe me, they know about it now because dozens of owners have contacted them about this
problem. The drive gives error messages, will not read, will not write during a session but
during another session, it behaves OK. It's a weird and also terrible problem. I have heard
of one unit where the drive never worked during the first 10 minutes, but after that, it worked
fine until the next time. The drive is about $120 and you will have to pay the labor to install
it....or live with the problem with your old drive. I recommend you contact Yamaha either way.
A very detailed odyssey into getting one of these disk drives replaced is explained on
Al's W5/W7 Info Page. See also a link below which details step-by-step
instructions for the "do-it-yourselfer".
NEWS BRIEF: YAMAHA'S WINDOWS EDITOR WEDIT WAS CANCELLED BY YAMAHA...another sign of the times that the EX series rules!!!
Yamaha's Synth Service Page
- Specs and even the owner's manual are listed here. Great reference site.
Yamaha W5/W7 Owner's Manual
- Online owner's manual in PDF format.
Sonicstate's a great synth site!
- on the W5/W7. Best resource place! Includes the MSDOS editor "Gig-Master" for the W-series and also "Yamaha's "The Best of" patches/voices (this is Yamaha's patch set for the Version 2 Upgrade).
Dane Cotar's W7 Page
Personal page on the W7 by Dane Cotar of Slovenia. Nice page with lots of specs.
Yamaha W5/W7 Artists' Site
Fantastic website by Joe Hoyle - the best site on the Net thus far. Complete user manual downloads. Librarian software, etc...you name it, it' here.
Disk Drive Fix
The W-series synths are known for problematic diskdrives, this site addresses solutions.
W-series Mailing List
Subscribe to the W5/W7 mailing list or view past postings, site by Joe Hoyle.
W5/W7 File Library Page.
Vintage Synth Explorer
- great synth site I just recently discovered...pics of the great synths out there with some downloadable ".ra" sound files ...definitely worth the visit.
Dirt on your contacts?
Nutrol Control Cleaner - this stuff may help clean non-reponsive contacts on the W-series synths.
IF YOU'D LIKE TO POST A SONG YOU HAVE DONE ONTO THIS SITE, LET ME KNOW. I WILL TAKE COMPOSITIONS IN "SONG w/ VOICE" (.A1S FORMAT) OR "SONG" (.A1Q). HAPPY COMPOSING!!!!!!!!
HERE ARE SOME: (note: If you don't have Version 2...many of these songs may not play with the correct voices)
DO I HAVE TO MENTION ANYTHING ABOUT COPYRIGHTS??? PLEASE DO NOT USE ANY OF THESE SONGS WITHOUT PERMISSION FOR ANY REASON OTHER THAN FOR YOUR PERSONAL LISTENING PLEASURE - OK?
Some of my songs: (Note: if the songs don't sound right, it may be because either you have not upgraded to Version 2 or that you don't have the particular expansion card.voices in your RAM and ROM):
Flight Thru Space
Songs submitted to this site by others:
Overture - Super-cool compilation by Kevin Wiley of Ontario, Canada.
Book Of Days - One of Enya's great songs beautifully done by Tony Escueta of San Antonio, Texas.
Electra - by Dane Cotar of Maribor, Slovenia (Europe). Another one by Dane is
Click on the picture above to check out my webpage on my space-rock/ambient album entitled, "Archaeopteryx: Flight in Space". I used the W5 in quite a bit of this project. The songs of mine listed above are on the album. To really like it, you'd have to be into space-rock and/or ambience. Ever hear of the UK band, Hawkwind ? Well, a lot of songs on my album tend toward the same direction.
Home- Go to my homepage.