Yamaha SY77

Yamaha SY77: Unveiling the Synthesizer’s Timeless Features

The Yamaha SY77 is a renowned synthesizer that gained popularity among musicians and producers for its innovative and versatile sound sculpting capabilities. Launched in 1989, this impressive instrument combined elements of FM synthesis, ROM-based samples, and Realtime Convolution and Modulation Synthesis (RCM) to create a 16 voice multitimbral music workstation keyboard. Its architecture and advanced synthesis methods have made it a highly sought-after tool for artists across various genres, helping them to develop unique and captivating sounds.

Artists such as 808 State, Skinny Puppy, Brian Eno, Europe, Toto, Vangelis, Chick Corea, and Front 242 have all utilized the Yamaha SY77 in their musical creations. With its 6-operator FM engine—similar to the one found in the famed Yamaha DX7—coupled with more algorithms and flexible feedback routing, the SY77 offers unparalleled control over sound design. Furthermore, the addition of the RCM technology allowed for a seamless blend of FM and sample-based synthesis, giving musicians even greater creative possibilities.

Thanks to its built-in sequencer and effects processor, the Yamaha SY77 was labeled as a “music synthesizer” by its creators, setting it apart from its predecessors in the DX line. This powerful instrument has continued to influence music production and electronic sound design even decades after its initial release, attesting to its enduring legacy.

Yamaha SY77 Overview

History and Release Year

The Yamaha SY77 is a music synthesizer that gained popularity among professional musicians after its release in 1989. Produced in Japan, the SY77 was Yamaha’s new flagship synthesizer at the time, and was praised for its innovative synthesis capabilities and expressive sounds.

Keyboard and Design

The SY77 features a 61-key keyboard with velocity and aftertouch, a pitch wheel, and two modulation wheels – a relatively rare feature among keyboards. It also has a large backlit LCD display, expansion slots, and a floppy-drive, as well as a 16,000-note sequencer, providing a wealth of capabilities for musicians to explore and create.

The SY77’s robust design is characterized by its black finish, giving it a timeless and professional appearance.

Comparison with Other Synths

The Yamaha SY77 synthesizer stands out among other synths from the late 1980s, particularly when compared to competitors such as Roland and Korg. Its synthesizer section employs a 6-operator AFM synth engine, which is similar to, if not better than, the original DX7mkII. The SY77 also features a digital filter that can mimic the behavior of an analog synthesizer, providing musicians with the flexibility to create both digital and analog-like sounds.

Additionally, the SY77 incorporates two built-in digital tone generators (AWM and FM), further expanding its versatility. The synthesizer also has a built-in sequencer and effects processor, making it a powerful workstation for creating and editing professional music. Overall, the Yamaha SY77 stands as an impressive contender among other synths of its era.

SY77 Synthesis Technologies

Advanced Frequency Modulation (AFM)

The Yamaha SY77 employs a 6-operator AFM (Advanced Frequency Modulation) synth engine, an evolution of the original FM synthesis found in the DX series. AFM allows for more complex and expressive sounds through the use of different algorithms, providing various modulation and carrier configurations. This synthesis method enables the creation of a wide range of timbres, from classic FM sounds to unconventional and complex textures.

Advanced Wave Memory (AWM2)

In addition to AFM, the SY77 utilizes AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory 2) technology for sample-based synthesis. AWM2 allows the user to access a library of high-quality, ROM-borne instrument samples and manipulate them through various parameters such as pitch, envelope, and filtering. This integrated sample-based synthesis expands the sonic palette of the SY77, combining the expressiveness of the digital filter with the realism of high-quality samples.

Realtime Convolution and Modulation (RCM)

The Yamaha SY77 also harnesses the power of RCM (Realtime Convolution and Modulation) synthesis, which combines both AFM and AWM2 technologies. RCM enables the blending of the unique characteristics of both synthesis methods, creating an even larger array of timbres and textures. This innovative approach to synthesis offers musicians a versatile tool for crafting complex and expressive sounds, suitable for various music genres and applications.

By bringing together AFM, AWM2, and RCM synthesis, the Yamaha SY77 achieves a high level of sonic flexibility and expressiveness. This combination ensures that the synthesizer remains a popular choice among professional musicians and sound designers, offering an extensive range of synthesis possibilities to explore and create with.

SY77 Features and Functions

Sequencer and Workstation

The Yamaha SY77 is a powerful multitimbral music workstation, featuring a 16,000 note sequencer that allows musicians to create complex compositions and arrangements. The sequencer offers 16 tracks, enabling users to layer multiple sounds and patterns to produce intricate and dynamic music. The workstation also includes an extensive MIDI implementation, making it easy to integrate the SY77 with other hardware or software instruments. With its advanced sequencing capabilities and MIDI functionality, the SY77 is an invaluable tool for professional composers and producers.

Polyphony and Voice Allocation

The Yamaha SY77 offers a combination of digital tone generators: AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory 2) and AFM (Advanced Frequency Modulation). The AWM2 and AFM tone generators provide the SY77 with its powerful and expressive sound capabilities. The SY77 boasts 64-note polyphony, meaning it can produce up to 64 individual voices simultaneously. This highly flexible voice allocation system allows musicians to create rich and dynamic sounds, and has been used by notable artists such as 808 State, Skinny Puppy, Brian Eno, Europe, Toto, Vangelis, Chick Corea, and Front 242.

Expandability and Connectivity

The Yamaha SY77 is designed to be a versatile and adaptable instrument for musicians and producers. It features expansion slots that allow users to increase its memory or add new waveforms. The SY77 also offers a wealth of connectivity options, such as MIDI In/Out/Thru ports, which enable it to communicate with a wide range of external devices, including computers, synths, drum machines, and effects units. The built-in floppy-drive provides an additional means to transfer data to and from the instrument, ensuring it remains a valuable and expandable creative tool for music production.

SY77 Sounds and Programming

Patches and Waveforms

The Yamaha SY77 synthesizer features an impressive sound architecture that combines AFM (Advanced Frequency Modulation) synthesis and AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory 2) for ROM-borne sample-based synthesis. The combination of these two synthesis methods is called Realtime Convolution and Modulation Synthesis (RCM) source. With its wide range of patches, the SY77 offers a versatile sound palette, giving composers and sound designers more flexibility in creating new and interesting patches. The SY77 is capable of generating waveforms similar to the iconic Yamaha DX7, with additional AWM2 samples that can be layered and manipulated with powerful modulation options.

Filter and Envelopes

The Yamaha SY77 includes powerful filters and envelopes that allow for complex sound shaping. The filter section offers a variety of filter types, including low-pass, high-pass, and band-pass filters with adjustable slopes. One of the key features of the SY77 is its ability to affect the tone of sampled waveforms and AFM operators via its filters. In addition to the filters, the Yamaha SY77 also sports multiple ADSR envelope generators, which can be assigned to filter cutoff, amplitude, and more. These parameter-specific envelopes provide a high level of control over the evolving timbre and dynamics of the sounds the synth produces.

Modulation and Control

The SY77 supports various modulation sources, such as velocity, aftertouch, modulation wheels, and more, which provide expressive control over different aspects of the sound. Modulation matrix of SY77 allows users to define custom routings between numerous modulators and sound parameters, giving a significant degree of customization and flexibility. Furthermore, sine wave-based LFOs offer versatile modulation options for panning, pitch, and filter modulation.

The Yamaha SY77 also supports SY99 and TG77 patches, which broadens its sound possibilities even further. By taking advantage of the powerful modulation capabilities, combined with the advanced synthesis methods, users can create unique and dynamic sounds on the Yamaha SY77.

Notable Users and Influence

Artists and Bands

The Yamaha SY77 has been used by many notable artists and bands throughout its history. Some of these artists include Brian Eno, known for his ambient music and production work with U2 and Talking Heads, and Vangelis, famous for his award-winning film scores such as the soundtrack for “Blade Runner.” Additionally, the British electronic band 808 State made extensive use of the SY77 in their music, helping to shape the sound of early 90s rave and techno.

Skinny Puppy, an influential Canadian electro-industrial group, also utilized the Yamaha SY77 extensively in their productions. Meanwhile, popular rock bands like Europe and Toto have been known to incorporate the SY77’s unique sounds into their music, showcasing the synthesizer’s versatility across various music genres.

Genres and Styles

The Yamaha SY77 has played a significant role in the development and progression of various music genres. In the world of jazz, virtuoso keyboardist Chick Corea has used the SY77, taking advantage of its diverse sound capabilities and advanced synthesis engine. It has also left a lasting impact on electronic music, with bands like Front 242 pioneering the EBM (Electronic Body Music) genre while using the SY77 for their signature sounds.

From ambient to techno, jazz to rock, the Yamaha SY77 has undeniably influenced a wide range of artists and styles, solidifying its place as an essential tool for music creation.

SY77 in the Market

Price and Availability

The Yamaha SY77, a powerful digital hybrid synthesizer, can be found in both new and used condition. Its prices vary depending on the condition and availability. Typically, used Yamaha SY77 synthesizers can be found on online marketplaces like Reverb or eBay, where they are often sold at competitive prices. It is worth noting that the availability of new units may be limited, as the product has been on the market for several years.

The SY77 comes with a large memory capacity, incorporating both FM synthesis and ROM based samples. Its 16-voice multitimbral music workstation keyboard adds to the device’s capabilities and value. Due to its unique features and capabilities, the SY77 remains a popular option in the market.

Reviews and Opinions

In terms of reviews and opinions, the Yamaha SY77 has received positive feedback from users and experts alike. According to Vintage Synth Explorer, the SY77 is “like having a super-sized sample-memory workstation with the added synthesis and sounds of a DX7mkII.” Its combination of AFM (Advanced Frequency Modulation) synthesis and AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory 2) ROM-borne sample-based synthesis, along with Realtime Convolution and Modulation Synthesis (RCM), makes it a powerful and versatile instrument.

Users often praise the SY77 for its advanced features and sound quality in various media. Most notably, musicians acknowledge the device’s unmatched sample playback quality and the dramatic boost in FM sound quality and programming versatility.

Given its reputation for high-quality sound and advanced features, the Yamaha SY77 remains a sought-after instrument in the synthesizer market.

Key differences between the SY77 and the Yamaha TG77 which is the rack version

The Yamaha SY77 and TG77 are both powerful synthesizers with a lot of similarities, but they also have some key differences.

  1. Form Factor: The most obvious difference is the form factor. The SY77 is a keyboard synthesizer, while the TG77 is a rack-mount module. This means the SY77 comes with a keyboard for playing, while the TG77 is designed to be controlled by an external MIDI controller.
  2. Sequencer and Disk Drive: The SY77 has an on-board sequencer section for creating songs right on the device. It’s got 16 tracks, and the sequencer can hold up to 16,000 notes, 99 patterns, and 1 song. The SY77 also has a 3.5″ disk drive. These features are not present in the TG77.
  3. Synthesis Engine: Both the SY77 and TG77 use a 6 operator AFM (Advanced Frequency Modulation) synth engine, which is similar to, if not better than, the original DX’s. They also both use the AWM2 (Advanced Wave Memory 2) for sampled sounds. These sounds can be mixed to create entirely new sounds.
  4. Polyphony: Both the SY77 and TG77 feature 16 voices of polyphony for the AFM section, and another 16 voices for the sampled sounds, totaling 32 voices.
  5. Effects: Both the SY77 and TG77 have 4 independent digital multi-effects which include reverb, delay, chorus, panning, and more.
  6. Individual Outputs: A unique feature of the TG77 is its 8 individual outputs. This allows for more flexibility when routing the audio signal, making it a great choice for complex studio setups.

In summary, the main differences between the SY77 and TG77 are the form factor, the presence of a sequencer and disk drive in the SY77, and the TG77’s 8 individual outputs. The synthesis engine, polyphony, and effects are the same in both models.

Additional Information

Specifications and Detailed Features

The Yamaha SY77 is a 61-key music synthesizer that comes with velocity and aftertouch, making it an ideal choice for musicians looking for versatile and high-quality digital synthesizers. This gear features a pitch wheel and two modulation wheels, which are rare to find in keyboards in general1.

In terms of its synth engine, the SY77 employs a 6-operator AFM (Advanced Frequency Modulation) synthesis, making it comparable, if not superior, to Yamaha’s earlier DX series2. One of the most significant features of this synthesizer is its 16,000 note sequencer, providing users with ample space to create and edit their compositions3.

Another essential aspect of the Yamaha SY77 is its digital filter, allowing for precise control over the sound and timbre of your music. The synthesizer also comes with an easy-to-read backlit LCD screen, making it straightforward to navigate through different settings and configurations1.

When kept in excellent condition, the Yamaha SY77 remains a highly sought-after piece of gear among musicians and synth enthusiasts.

Resources and Further Reading

To learn more about the Yamaha SY77:


  1. Yamaha SY77 – Wikipedia 2
  2. Yamaha SY77 | Vintage Synth Explorer
  3. Yamaha SY77 music Synthesizer (1989) | Wolf Review

Frequently Asked Questions

How to repair SY77?

If your Yamaha SY77 requires repair, it is recommended to consult with a qualified technician or reach out to Yamaha’s customer support. Minor issues may be solved by following guidelines provided in the official Yamaha SY77 Operating Manual.

SY77 vs SY99 differences?

The Yamaha SY77 and SY99 are both powerful synthesizers, but they have some differences. The SY99 has a larger waveform memory, more waveforms, and additional filter types compared to the SY77. The SY99 also features a larger display, a built-in sequencer, and an improved user interface. Additionally, the SY99 has a 76-note weighted keyboard, while the SY77 has a 61-note keyboard.

Expanding SY77 memory?

Expanding the memory on the Yamaha SY77 can be accomplished by installing additional memory cards. The SY77 features two slots for waveform memory cards and a slot for a data card. Installing the cards can provide more storage for custom sounds and patterns, enhancing the synthesizer’s capabilities.

Compatible sound libraries?

Yamaha SY77 can load sounds designed for Yamaha SY/TG series synthesizers. Aside from its built-in sounds, users can find compatible sound libraries produced by various vendors or access user-generated patches from online communities, such as the YamahaMusicians forum.

Upgrading SY77 firmware?

Updating the firmware on your Yamaha SY77 synthesizer can bring improvements and bug fixes. The process requires a specific firmware update package, which may be found online or through Yamaha’s customer support. Always follow the firmware update instructions carefully to avoid any issues.

MIDI capabilities of SY77?

The Yamaha SY77 is equipped with a versatile MIDI implementation that supports bi-directional communication with computers and other MIDI devices. The synthesizer’s MIDI data format allows it to transmit and receive a wide range of MIDI events, including note data, controller data, and System Exclusive messages. This flexibility makes the SY77 suitable for use in a variety of music production and performance setups.

What is the best editor for the SY77 to create your own sounds?

From my personal experience, the Yamaha SY77 Editor and Librarian from Coffeeshopped’s Patch Base is the best tool available for editing and organizing patches on the SY77. The real-time editing feature is incredibly useful, allowing me to tweak parameters on the fly and hear the results instantly. The interface is intuitive and makes it easy to visualize and edit each element of the SY77’s voices, which can have up to 4 separate elements using AFM (FM) or AWM (sample-based) synthesis. The multi editor is another standout feature, showing the entire multi in one place for easy editing of sound selection, mixing levels, effects, MIDI channels, and more. The ability to create custom 61-sound drum kits with the Drum section of the editor is a game-changer. The Patch Librarian is also a lifesaver, enabling me to save my patches and banks as files on my iPad or Mac, and organize them into folders. The iCloud integration is a nice touch, making my patch files accessible on any iCloud-connected device and automatically syncing files between Patch Base on Mac and iPad. Overall, this tool has significantly streamlined my workflow and enhanced my creativity when working with the Yamaha SY77.