Hands-On Review:Yamaha PSR1500 and PSR3000 Arranger Workstations
Friendly and fun power tools for creative musicians
By Dean Shattner
The two newest Yamaha PSR arranger workstation keyboards—the PSR1500 and PSR3000—add a new dimension to the extensive PSR series with many of the features and functionality of the acclaimed Tyros keyboard and substantially lower prices. Both Yamaha keyboards are powerful music production tools with professional sound and capabilities. They can be used as standalone tools for creating arrangements or as the centerpiece of a home computer-based studio.
The little brother of the two, the PSR1500 is a very capable workstation that gives you a lot for its modest price. You have only to hit the demo button to see how impressively it performs. I was blown away. It started as a drum, bass, and piano groove with a great acoustic piano sound, killer drums, and funk bass. The demo began adding extra percussion and layer after layer of other voices—synths, solo saxophone, strings, horn sections—all combined into an arrangement that was dynamic, varied, quite dense at times, and sufficiently authentic in voice to earn an A+ score on all counts.
As a writing, arranging, and recording tool, the PSR1500 is well endowed. The Yamaha keyboard has nearly 800 XG and GM2 sounds, 16 drum kits, 96-note polyphony, a spacious multitrack sequencer, on-screen mixer, assignable multipads, jog and modulation wheels, a keyboard that can be split right and left, registration memory for preserving setups, loads of automated accompaniment styles, and various facilities for stashing your in-progress or finished compositions. These include an internal drive, a SmartMedia card slot, and two USB ports—one for linking to your computer and another "to device" port for connecting to external storage drives and such.
The PSR1500 can serve as a standalone studio and will seamlessly integrate with a computer-based recording setup. Every sound you need is in the house, and if you want more content, it can connect to the Internet to access additional styles and songs. It’s compatible with XG voices, DOC, SMF, KAR karaoke files, XF songs with lyrics and chords, and Yamaha Style Files.
Easy to drive
What I especially liked about the PSR1500 was how easy it was to operate. The screen is huge and well lit—easy to read, well organized, and full of information. The controls are standard for Yamaha. There are labeled dedicated buttons for every function and operation, grouped by function: a style section; voice selection group; automated rhythm track section with buttons for intros, variant main sections, and endings; and a set of recording controls. Select buttons on each side of the display are multifunctional, corresponding with whatever is on the screen. A panel of up/down buttons at the bottom of the screen are also screen determined.
Yamaha has incorporated lots of shortcuts such as Song Finder. With so many pre-loaded songs and Internet connectivity for downloading more, finding a particular song could require a lot of scrolling. Song Finder does the looking for you. Another shortcut is Direct Access, a button that takes you directly to a page you need with no moving through menus to get there. The Exit Button takes you back to the main page from any menu with one touch.
The PSR tradition is evident in the excellent on-screen help. Another PSR-type feature is Performance Assistant. This is an especially helpful feature for users who play other instruments and aren’t very adept as keyboardists. With it activated, any wrong notes you play are automatically corrected to fit with the key and particular chord.
All of the help, shortcuts, and accompaniment features make the PSR workstations perfect for capturing song ideas at the moment of inspiration. When you have an idea you want to preserve, just hit "Quick Record." Choose a style with the right kind of groove, hit the button to start the accompaniment, and play the chord changes.
Incorporating the same basic layout as the PSR1500, the PSR3000 includes serious upgrades—ones that take it much closer to the more costly Tyros. The most obvious is the Yamaha keyboard's full-color display. It’s the same large size as on the 1500, but the effect of color makes it easier and faster to read. The PSR3000 ups the polyphony from 96 to 128 voices. It has more voices than the 1500—829 in all—but most importantly, it incorporates Mega Voice technology developed for Tyros. The richness and realism of these voices are incredible.
It also comes with MEGAEnhancer computer software that does for MIDI sounds what Mega Voice does for the built-in presets. A fun and performance-enhancing feature found in the PSR3000 is a mic input and a built-in three-part harmonizer (four parts including your voice).
Both boards have built-in sound and the speakers are excellent, capable of handling the full range of sound the board produces with the precision to capture expressive nuances. For the serious work of writing, arranging, and recording your music, both the PSR1500 and PSR3000 are studio workhorses that will make it easy and deliver professional results.
Features & Specs:
- Internet capability
- Dual USB ports (to host and to device)
- 6" x 6" backlit LCD screen
- SmartMedia slot for data storage and retrieval
- 791 XG/GM2 sounds
- 16 drum kits
- 96-voice polyphony
- On-screen mixing board with rotary pots and sliders
- Registration memory for preserving setups
- Built-in styles or auto accompaniment (rock, Latin, country, jazz, dance)
- Spacious sequencer with quick record and multitrack modes
- Onboard high-quality speaker system
- MIDI jacks plus USB MIDI
All the features of the 1500 with the following upgrades and additions:
- Full-color LCD display
- Mic input and built-in harmonizer that adds 3 parts to lead part
- Video output for karaoke
- Built-in harmonizer
- Mega Voice technology from Tyros for rich, realistic voices
- 128-voice polyphony
- 829 voices