Hands-On Review:Yamaha QY100 Music Sequencer.
by Dominic Hilton
The humble drum machine has been the savior of many guitar players, tirelessly holding down a beat during lengthy woodshedding sessions, contributing a rhythm part to home demos and even standing in for a human version at show time. It’s a useful device for sure, until you meet the QY100. Along with its extensive rhythm capabilities, this new Yamaha sequencer offers multitrack accompaniment from a staggering menu of editable voices and phrases. It also has a 24-bit effects processor, talks to computers and comes with an analog-to-digital (A/D) input and a fine array of amp and mic simulations. With the QY100, you can even create backing tracks that can be transferred to a multitrack recorder. In short, the QY100 is not quite the humble drum machine we’re used to.
Crammed into a case not much larger than a paperback and powered by six AA batteries (optional DC adapter available), the QY100 is completely self-contained and portable. A large, character-packed LCD screen dominates the control panel, which interacts with the various cursors, edit and mode buttons situated around it. The basic sequencer controls are similar to the transport controls on a tape machine, with familiar buttons for play, record and so on. The lower part of the control surface is filled with a tiny, two-octave polyphonic micro keyboard, which allows the QY100 to be programmed without the need for an external MIDI controller (although one can be connected via the unit’s MIDI input).
A power switch and volume slider are tucked away on the side of the unit, and the rear panel is loaded with useful connectors, including MIDI In and Out, a Mic/Guitar Input with separate Gain control and a Line Out/Headphone mini jack. There’s also an eight-pin Host jack for PC connectivity and a switch to select MIDI, PC or Mac hosts for data transfer. A jack allows the optional footswitch to be assigned to a number of duties, such as song stop/start. Finally, there is a SmartMedia card bay for backing up and storing/restoring data.
Using the QY100 is similar to working with a rhythm machine, albeit one that is slightly more complex due to the unit’s wealth of functions. Like a rhythm machine, the QY100 features a selection of preset “styles” that can serve as the building blocks for backing tracks. Unlike a rhythm machine, the QY100’s styles include full accompaniment, including percussion and bass and, where appropriate, samples of keyboards, horns, strings and so on. A total of 128 preset styles is on offer and includes everything from Swing Reggae to Speed Metal. In addition, each style contains six variation patterns—Intro, A Section, B Section, A-B Fill, B-A Fill, and Ending—all of which can be configured into a song arrangement. If none of the styles hit the mark, you can make use of the unit’s 4,000-plus library of drum and instrument phrases to build up to 64 of your own six-pattern styles via the built-in eight-track sequencer.
Obviously, any instrument phrases will need to follow chord progressions, and the QY100 has a set of 99 preset chord progressions (plus numerous chord variations) that can be applied to your backing track. This feature allows bass notes and syncopated timing to be added to the progression. The QY100 also includes a full blown, 16-track linear sequencer that allows tracks to be built from the ground up. Using the built-in micro keyboard or an external MIDI controller, you can record up to 16 tracks with the QY100’s 547 voices and 22 drum kits.
For guitarists, one of the QY100’s most exciting features is its A/D converter, which allows you to plug your guitar directly into the QY100 and utilize its fully equipped amp simulator. The amp simulator has 18 presets that include blues, jazz, rock and lead tones, each of which can be edited to taste, as can the microphone presets. Along with the effects processor, which can be applied to the guitar/mic input or any of the sequencer tracks, these features make the QY100 both a mini-studio and a formidable backing band.
In use, the QY100 was nothing short of staggering. The onboard sounds are simply stunning—everything from realistic drums to lush keyboard tones—and the unit makes a fine sound module on its own, thanks to full GM compatibility and computer/MIDI connectivity. The intuitive screen and function button layout makes programming fast and easy, especially if you begin with the preset style library. For that matter, the 16-track linear sequencer is ideal for building complex backing tracks, and the choice of real-time or step programming offers the best of both worlds. Editing these tracks is another joy. Tasks like quantizing can be applied to whole tracks, while individual events can be pulled up for pin-sharp tweaking.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The QY100 is a powerful, guitarist-friendly tool that can happily multitask between the studio, stage and practice sessions. The guitar input, with its associated amp simulator, is a real boon for guitar players that allows the QY100 to be used like a personal studio while it offers some truly inspiring tones for practice sessions. With its built-in keyboard, effects and amp simulations, the QY100 is a self-contained production tool that offers the additional advantages of SmartMedia data storage and computer connectivity.