Few names in the world of audio and music equipment are as well-known as Yamaha. As a long-established company, they are well-experienced in the field of musical instrument manufacturing, and they have acquired a reputation for achieving consistently high quality in their products. They have also gained a good reputation in the field of digital music technology, and their latest offerings of sound modules continue Yamaha's tradition of quality and innovation. Yamaha sound modules are a popular item with musicians who want a wide range of professional, electronically-generated sounds for live performance, studio, and home-studio recording work. The typically high-quality sound modules that Yamaha produce can make a very valuable addition to any performer's, composer's, or home-studio enthusiast's collection of music and audio equipment.
About Sound Modules
Sound modules are electronic musical instruments that, in rack-mounted form, are played by connecting a digital controller to them. The controller can be a digital MIDI keyboard or any musical instrument or device with a MIDI output, such as a MIDI-enabled guitar, MIDI wind controller or a computer-based MIDI sequencer. Once a MIDI controller is connected, a wide range of fully-controllable polyphonic sounds becomes available from the sound module, including rhythms, styles, arpeggios, percussion patterns, and a large collection of highly-varied tones or voices. Note that MIDI, meaning 'Musical Instrument Digital Interface', is a universal standard that was developed to allow electronic musical instruments, sequencers, controllers and sound modules to connect with each other. This means that any MIDI-enabled device, whether it was manufactured by Yamaha or by any other company, will be able to connect with Yamaha's sound modules.
MIDI Keyboard Controllers
External MIDI keyboard controllers are by far the most commonly-used controllers for rack-mounted sound modules. A MIDI keyboard controller is simply a bank of switches in the form of music keyboard keys. Each key when pressed sends a specific MIDI signal to the sound module. Depending on which key is pressed (and for how long), the signal being sent contains information that instructs the sound module to play a note at a specific pitch, a specific volume and for a specific duration. The sound of the note depends purely on the settings of the sound module and not the MIDI keyboard controller. MIDI keyboard controllers are relatively inexpensive and will connect digitally to any rack mounted sound module via a digital connection such as USB or dedicated MIDI connector. Always check when buying a MIDI keyboard controller for any sound module, how it will connect to the module. Yamaha electronic music keyboards, (and those of many other manufacturers), which are complete musical instruments, also have a MIDI in/out facility and can also be used as MIDI controllers to operate a Yamaha sound module.
About Yamaha Sound Modules
Wherever digital technology and music are combined, Yamaha can always be expected to take their place among the leading manufacturers. This is equally true of their sound modules. Note that Yamaha refer to (and advertise) their sound modules under the less commonly-used alternative name, tone generator. This should be kept in mind when enquiring about Yamaha's range of sound modules or when performing any online searches for them. In addition to their rack-mounted sound modules, Yamaha also offer a range of MIDI keyboard instruments with on-board tone generation as part of their XS synthesizer workstation series. Depending on the model, the number of keys included varies from 61 keys, which is typical of portable keyboards, up to the full grand piano complement of 88 keys.
Percussion-Pad Sound Modules
Another type of sound module that Yamaha also produce and that has its own means of producing sound is the percussion-pad sound module. Touch-sensitive percussion pads can trigger a wide range of pre-sampled drum sounds and pre-set patterns. The tempo and other characteristics of the various drum and percussion patterns can be manually set by using the included tempo-tap feature. Tapping on the pad at any required tempo sets the tempo for the percussion pattern. New percussion loops can easily be created from scratch by recording the patterns manually or, depending on the model, also digitally on a computer via an included software package. Drumming or even finger-tapping on the pads produces percussion tracks with rich, varied and realistic-sounding drum and percussion sounds. Many of these drum sounds are sampled from Yamaha's own expensive and high-quality acoustic drum sets.
Software Control of Yamaha Sound Modules
Although MIDI keyboards are the most common means of controlling Yamaha sound modules while performing music, computer-based digital audio workstations can control them in completely different ways. Digital audio workstations are software applications with audio editing and processing capabilities. All modern Yamaha sound modules are designed to make it easy to connect digitally from any PC-based software editing application and carry out editing of many of their module's sound parameters. Connecting to a digital audio workstation provides the ability to directly modify voices, rhythms, arpeggios, drum patterns, and much more. Sequencer software applications are also able to connect easily to Yamaha sound modules. Large-scale, multi-track compositions can be fed from a PC-based sequencer application or a dedicated sequencer unit and access Yamaha's fully polyphonic, professional-quality voices and many other features. These capabilities make Yamaha sound modules as much a composer's instrument as a performer's.
Buying a Yamaha Sound Module
Unless buying from an online source, buying a new Yamaha sound module usually involves locating a musical instruments shop or an audio equipment centre that has a Yamaha dealership. Yamaha tend to offer only a few new models at any time, and not every model is released in every country. Some models have been aimed at the US market and have not been released in the UK, although they may be available as imported models. Older models become discontinued and replaced with newer ones that take advantage of more recent advances in digital music technology. If considering buying a Yamaha sound module online, make sure that it's from a reputable source. Buying from a UK-based source has definite advantages in terms of delivery costs, speed, safe transit, and communication. If buying an imported model, make sure its supplied power adapter conforms to British electrical standards and can take 230 volts AC mains input. This won't be an issue if buying an imported model from any UK-based dealer as they'll ensure that it's correct for the UK market, but it may be an issue if buying privately or from a dealer abroad, so it's certainly worth checking.
Finding a Yamaha Sound Module on eBay
To find Yamaha sound modules on eBay, enter the search term "Yamaha sound module" into the search box on eBay UK's homepage. This will return a partially-sorted list of Yamaha sound modules and related items. On the left side of the page, the categories in which the sound modules are listed will be displayed. Click the Pro Audio Equipment category. The search results will be updated with a more relevant list as most of the items that aren't actually Yamaha sound modules but are simply sound module-related items, such as accessories, will be excluded. Within the Pro Audio Equipment category, the Synthesisers & Sound Modules subcategory will be shown. This subcategory is where most Yamaha sound modules will be found listed for sale or auction. The list may also contain Yamaha synthesisers with integrated sound module or tone generation capability. To exclude these and see only Yamaha rack-mounted sound modules, select the check-box filter called Type and click Sound Module.
Sound modules are highly-complex electronic devices, and those manufactured by Yamaha are as complex as any. After having acquired one, it will require a significant amount of time to unlock its full sound-creation potential. The reward will be well worth the effort, however, and the effort will be considerably lessened if the supplied operating manual is referred to constantly.