Introduced in 1983, the Yamaha DX7 was one of the best-selling synths of all time. Last week's announcement of the new addition to the Korg Volca series, the Korg Volca FM, is proof that people still love "that" DX sound.


What's So Special About The Yamaha DX7?

Everything... and nothing much, depending on how you look at it. It was, in many ways,one of the defining sounds of the Eighties. Manufactured during most of that decade, it was featured on some of the biggest and most enduring songs of the era, and probably even more forgettable ones! The sound of a FM synthesizer such as the DX7 can be sublime, and very cheesy. It always, of course, depends on how it's used. But the DX7 definitely had a lot of character and people really loved it, and still do. A list of hits that featured the DX7 include:
  • A-Ha, Take On Me (bass)
  • Harold Faltermeyer, Top Gun Theme (tubular bells)
  • Berlin, Take My Breath Away (fretless bass)
  • Madonna, Live To Tell (bass)
  • Dire Straits, Money For Nothing (intro)
  • U2, Where The Streets Have No Name, With Or Without You
U2, in fact, used the DX7 a lot of times, thanks to producer Brian Eno, who was very partial to the DX7 in the Eighties. But the list of DX7 users is so vast we could go on and on: The Cure, Elton John, Enya, Orbital, Talking Heads, Queen, Jean Michael Jarre, Depeche Mode... and so on! Good news and bad news: the bad news, is that Yamaha will probably never reissue their DX7 FM synthesizer.The good news, is that they don't need to! That synth was so popular in the Eighties, that affordable second-hand models are still very easy to find on sites like Ebay. And it's a testimony to their quality that they're usually still in perfect working order!

DX7 vs. New "DX-7 style" Synths

Of course, for some people only a DX7 will do... especially if you're into vintage synths! But there are disadvantages too: you wouldn't have the warranty of buying new gear, besides that fact that not everything was great about the DX7. Most of the hit songs which used the synth only used its presets, because it was very difficult to program. The DX7 wasn't necessarily a "great" synth - it just had some great sounds, and was used on so many classic songs! Newer synths that revive the DX7 sounds are much more tweakable and fun to play, such as the Yamaha Reface DX and the newly announced Korg Volca FM. Of course, both are mini synths, which some players don't like... but for price, portability and features, they are great options! As this video shows, the reface DX nails the DX7 sound really well:  
Therefore, for creative musicians who're not synth collectors so much as into creating new sounds, buying a modern counterpart to the DX7 is a much better idea!

Korg Volca FM... the best Volca yet?

Announced at NAMM Show 2016, with price and release dates still TBA, the new Korg Volca FM already sounds like set to become the best and most popular Volca series synth. And guess what - yes, it's pretty much down to the DX7 magic! As shown on our history of Korg synths article, Korg has a remarkable story of innovative synths (the most recent of which is the Minilogue) and also does "retro" very well, as the recent reissues of the MS20 and ARP Odyssey show. In between, sits the Volca series, which features retro sounds, but innovative designs. And the Volca FM is set to be its finest example so far: a three-voice polyphonic FM synthesizer, which is FULLY compatible with the old DX7 sounds, via SysEx, which means you can import old sound libraries from the DX7 into the new Volca.
The Volca FM features 32 slots to store your own sounds, bult-in Chorus, arpeggiator, MIDI, Sync In/Out and more! It's set for a May 2016 release, priced £129. For more info, visit the Korg Volca FM page.

Yamaha after the DX7

Like we said before, Yamaha is unlikely to ever do a reissue, Korg-style, of the DX7. The closest it got was the Reface DX, as mentioned before. But the DX7 DNA lives on on full-size Yamaha keyboards, too. The Yamaha MX49 is in a way a heir to the DX7. Retro-lovers may disagree, but the MX49 is pretty much a modern version of the DX7... not an attempt to re-create it, but an evolution, carrying on from the DX tradition. However, if you want DX7 sounds, you can still find them in the FM-synth sound libraries for the Motif series and the new Yamaha Montage, which will be compatible with DX7 voices. The DX7 may be gone, but it's definitely not forgotten!