One of the most popular digital synths ever was the DX7 from Yamaha, released in 1983. It featured a whole new type of synthesis called FM (Frequency Modulation). It certainly is not analog and it is difficult to program but can result in some excellent sounds! It is difficult because it is non-analog and thus, a whole new set of parameters are available for tweaking, many of which seemed counter-intuitive and unfamiliar. And programming had to be accomplished via membrane buttons, one data slider and a small LCD screen.
Still the sounds it shipped with and that many users did manage to create were more complex and unique than anything before it. Percussive and metallic but thick as analog at times, the DX7 was known for generating unique sounds still popular to this day. The DX7 was also a truly affordable programmable synth when it was first released. Almost every keyboardist bought one at the time making the DX7 one of the best-selling synths of all time! It also came with MIDI which was brand new at the time - Sequential had already released the first MIDI synth, the Prophet 600. Roland had just released the JX-3P with very basic MIDI implementation, and wouldn't get around to adding full MIDI for another year with the Juno-106, and it would be three years before Roland can counter the popularity of the DX7 with a digital synth of their own, the D-50.
The DX7 has been used by the Crystal Method, Kraftwerk, Underworld, Orbital, BT, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Tony Banks, Mike Lindup of Level 42, Jan Hammer, Roger Hodgson, Teddy Riley, Brian Eno, T Lavitz of the Dregs, Sir George Martin, Supertramp, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Daryl Hall, Steve Winwood, Scritti Politti, Babyface, Peter-John Vettese, Depeche Mode, D:Ream, Les Rhytmes Digital, Front 242, U2, A-Ha, Enya, The Cure, Astral Projection, Fluke, Kitaro, Vangelis, Elton John, James Horner, Toto, Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, Chick Corea, Level 42, Queen, Yes, Michael Boddicker, Julian Lennon, Jean-Michel Jarre, Sneaker Pimps, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Greg Phillanganes, Jerry Goldsmith, Jimmy Edgar, Beastie Boys, Stabbing Westward and Herbie Hancock. Pretty impressive for just a partial listing!
I just received my new SuperMax expansion board for the Yamaha DX-7 MKI and wow! It sure changes the Yamaha DX-7 for the better. I get 64 new sounds that are programmed to take advantage of the new characteristics of the SuperMax chips and I must say I am really impressed. My Yamaha DX-7 sounds much fatter with voices that now can be stacked. There are 512 memory locations which means I can reliably store a lot of voices without them crapping out with the Gray Matter E! board that I previously had installed. The delay and detune features are fantastic for acquiring natural effects such as chorus. I also love the sound creator which allows you to invent new sounds by automatically combining random parameters between voices.
The best thing of all is the arpeggiator. Wow! This arp is incredible to have on a Yamaha DX-7. I’ve had zero problems with it and it operates exactly as it should. I really like it. I have two Yamaha DX-7’s so I can use one to create rhythms that are quite complex using the arp and stacking. The other DX-7 can be used straight for playing my favorite lead or melodic sounds.
Are there any bad points about the SuperMax? Well, I’ve only used it for a couple of days and so far there is only one minor negative point. If correct that has to do with polyphony. The Yamaha DX-7 has 16 note polyphony so when you stack or split the voices this gets reduced rather quickly which results in clicks that can be heard. The clicks are common with any keyboard that is running out of polyphony as the same thing happens on my Korg M1 and T2. Indeed ghost notes happen when you completely step outside the 16 polyphony, but once you get the hang of your polyphony limitations, the SuperMax addition is golden and not a serious problem.
I can’t imagine EVER going back to a stock Yamaha DX-7 after adding the SuperMax expansion board. It totally adds everything I’ve ever wanted on the DX-7 plus more. Note that I also have the E! Gray Matter Expansion board on my second Yamaha DX-7 and I must say the SuperMax knocks it out of the ballpark. I can’t wait to convert the E! Grey Matter over to the SuperMax once I find another expansion board. It’s not that I don’t like the features on the E! Grey Matter board, rather the board itself is just too unreliable for me. Perhaps I have a faulty board, but whenever I power it off for a period of time and then turn on the DX-7 the voices are all messed up. ( Note my battery is fresh and works great! ) It then takes time to load the voices in again and change my settings. The SuperMax is much easier, more reliable thus far, and much more user-friendly. I just love it.
Finally, the SuperMax expansion board is super simple to install. No soldering is required. You just carefully pull out IC14, IC 20 and IC21 and then insert the SuperMAX in place of the missing chips. You can then save for original chips for when you either remove the SuperMax for selling or if you get another old DX-7 that needs chips. Don’t throw away or sell your old chips. You’ll never know when you might need them again.
Polyphony: 16 Voices
Oscillators: 16-bit Digital 6 operator FM.
# Instruments: (1) Monotimbral LFO - Sine/Square/Tri/SAW up/SAW Down/Random
VCA: 6 Envelope generators 8 parameters each
Keyboard: 61 keys (w/ velocity and aftertouch)
Memory: 32 Patches
Download SuperMAX Guide