I read in the Musictech feed that their editor thought that the Yamaha reface CS analogue synthesizer makes some of the most amazing sounds he had ever heard. The street price was not excessive (£255 from Absolute Music), so I put it on my wish list. Much to my surprise, a few days later one was delivered to Beyond The PC Towers – a gift from an anonymous donor. My, I am a lucky chap!
My previous experience of synthesizers has been almost universally documentation-free, unintelligible VST plugins for my various Digital Audio Workstation packages and a few on my iPad Pro. It is all very good boasting about the number of plugins you DAW has, but if you do not give people the first clue on how to use them they are rendered pretty useless.
Holding the physical object that is the Yamaha reface CS I felt I would do better with something tangible than a piece of virtual impenetrability. The keys are smaller than a piano keyboard, but perfectly large enough and feel fine. It can run from batteries and has two built in two watt speakers so you can play it on the go. Seemed very promising.
Then I looked at the row of controls and my heart fell; it was the virtual impenetrable again. As you can see in the picture below I could vary the proportion of AEG or FEG in the sounds I could make. I could also vary the degree of A, D, S and R in my sounds. Time to look at the manual.
Looking at the outside of the manual I was not encouraged. It is a slim tome that covers three other synthesizers in addition to the Yamaha reface CS and starts of with page after page of the cretinous warnings electronics manufacturers are obliged to laden their documentation with – does anyone not know that if they use a mains device in the bath they will fail to learn the warranty does neither cover water damage to the device nor electrocution of the user?
Joy of joys, the manual is incredibly useful, despite being short. The cryptic terms on the Yamaha reface CS control panel are all explained clearly as are their interactions with other controls. The Yamaha reface CS manual is a concise but full and useful description of how to use the synthesizer.
And the Musictech editor was right: the Yamaha reface CS does make brilliant sounds of wonderful quality. It sounds wonderful through the two watt speakers on the device and positively gorgeous when I have connected it up to my rather flash studio monitor speakers. The Yamaha reface CS is a wonderful addition to my studio – many thanks to my anonymous donor!
There are two things I would change about the Yamaha reface CS to make it perfect.
One is trivial. I would prefer it not to think I have headphones attached when I simply plug a 6.3mm to 3.5mm plug adapter into the headphone socket. I have never encountered this behaviour on an electronic device before – the converter does not allow current to pass through it unless there are headphones attached, so the Yamaha reface CS should not behave as if headphones are connected and switch its speakers off. This is wrong, see my comment below.
Secondly, it would be nice if a bit more space on the Yamaha reface CS were allocated to the slider controls so they had a bit more room for increased travel. This would make fine control of the synthesizer parameters easier. This is not a major issue – I suspect I will encounter more fundamental problems with my other new, more god-damned weird, acquisitions for the studio:
By the way, if any potential donors, anonymous or otherwise, happen to look at my wish list, you will notice at the top of it there is a sustain pedal for the Yamaha reface CS which would make my hardware synthesizer experience complete. I would love to have one!