The S80 is a weighty instrument in every sense of the word. This serious synth offers an expandable palette of tone colours, initially based on Yamaha’s AWM2 technology; full onboard sound programming with visually satisfying editing software; and a wealth of controller capabilities that are beautifully thought out. Kin to Yamaha’s dance-oriented CS6x/6R, the S80 uses the same sound engine as the CS but is oriented toward pianists, offering more piano sounds, a weighted action, and a more conservative look. On the other hand, the S80 lacks the CS’s sample-loading Phrase Clip feature-not to mention its techno attitude.
The S80 is all about control. With its 88-note weighted keyboard action, this is not an instrument for one-finger sample-stabbers. It’s a grown-up’s synthesizer, meant for someone who can actually play-preferably piano-and who won’t be intimidated by weight under the fingers. It’s also a synth for someone who can afford a roadie-or at the very least a decent flight case.
As noted earlier, there’s nothing radical about the synth’s appearance. The S80 is big and black, with a smallish (40 by 2-character) backlit display. A pod of buttons to the right of the display accesses the modes of operation: Voice for single patches and Performance for multitimbral patches, plus Utility, Card, Edit, and Job. Flanked by sundry inc/dec, exit and enter, yes/no, and play/stop buttons, it’s all perfectly plain and simple to see and operate.
Farther to the right comes a larger pod of buttons that access the sound-memory banks and items therein. These are labeled Piano, Organ, Strings, and so on-labels that always concern the pro player because they scream preset! But fear not. The ROM sounds here are of a higher standard than most will ever program in a lifetime, and there’s plenty of space for user patches.
Beneath the screen are seven rotary knobs: two gray, click-stopped Page and Data controls and five assignable knobs for real-time entry and control over the on-screen parameters. Just to the left are four assignable sliders and a master volume slider, and way over on the top left-hand side of the control panel are a center-detented pitch wheel and a mod wheel.
At the rear you’ll find just the main L/R outputs and two individual audio outs, a configuration that I feel is a little mean for this substantial sound generator. (However, the S80 accepts Yamaha’s new mLAN card, which gives you eight channels of digital I/O via IEEE 1394, or FireWire.) But you’ll find plenty of control-device inputs-breath, footswitch, sustain, volume-a To Host computer terminal, and an A/D input with gain control, the benefits of which I’ll deal with later. You also get, of course, the standard MIDI ports, as well as a card slot for SmartMedia removable storage.