In a corner of their large ballroom at the Hilton, Yamaha was displaying their new budget synth, the S03. Essentially, it is an S30 without the front panel realtime controls and with smaller PCM sample ROM internally. It also lacks the expansion capabilities of its big brothers, and does not have the Smart Media card slot. However, the S03 does have the optional S80 8 meg piano samples built in as standard, according to Yamaha. In addition, many of the sounds on the S03 are ported from the S30 and S80. There are less of them, however, as the sample ROM is smaller. Yamaha touts 16MB of sample waveform memory (equivalent to 25.2MB as some samples are stored compressed), but that is in its uncompressed 16 bit linear format. The actual sample memory in the box is compressed and smaller. Roland and others play this game too, and I wish they would advertise both numbers: the compressed and uncompressed memory values, along with the compression ratio.
The S03 is a 61 note, 64 voice polyphonic synth that uses Yamaha's AWM2 synthesis and is capable of 16 multitimbral parts. The onboard effects include reverb, chorus, delay and distortion among others. Each S03 comes with a CD-ROM containing Yamaha's Voice Editor software and XGworks lite 3.0A for Windows or Mac. The S03 has midi in/out/thru ports in its rear panel along with a "To Host" midi DIN connector, allowing computer editing of all internal paramters and sequencing with the XGworks software. The synth has stereo output, footswitch and foot controller inputs, as a pitch bend wheel and mod wheel.
According to the Yamaha rep, the list price of the S03 is going to be in the $629. With the expected lower street price, this synth would be a pretty good value, especially if you like the S80 piano sound. I wasn't able to directly A/B the S03 with the S30, but the piano sounded pretty good over the headphones. Considering that this is a budget keyboard, I thought the sounds were of a pretty high quality and appropriate for the target market of this synth, which is first time synth buyers. I think people who already have a bunch of synths and are more experienced would probably prefer the S30 or S80 given their larger soundsets and far more advanced front panel controls and expandability.
Incidentally, the XGworks software did crash and lock up the computer while I was at the demo booth. How embarrassing for them, but I think that requires a mention here.
One other thing I want to mention is something that really struck me as I was wandering around the Yamaha room at NAMM: these people make a TON of instruments! Everything from acoustics like wind instruments, drums/percussion, guitars, pianos of all shapes and sizes and all the way over to digital mixers, workstations, synths, samplers, etc. I think Yamaha has to be the most complete musical instrument maker on the planet, and the wide variety of their enterprise was impressive. Not that that makes them any better than anybody else, but most other manufacturers tend to be more specialized. Even biggies like Roland don't have anywhere near the variety available.
I totally missed the new Yamaha tabletop groove type synths, the DX200 and AN200. Just walked right by! There weren't crowds around them either, so perhaps this tabletop groove box trend is tapering off a bit. Likewise, the Korg MS2000 and 2000R had far less people checking them out than last year.