Sonic LAB: Yamaha Reface CS Virtual Analog

US A bit of a surprise      18/09/15
    MP4 20:18 mins    

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Yamaha's aim with the Reface range was to create a set of small, portable instruments which although seemingly are just a little toylike actually have decent, musical application.

In our Reface DX review we discovered that the little package did indeed deliver more than it would appear based on appearance. Next up, we're looking at  the Reface CS.

The Reface CS is the analog model of the range, featuring the VA synth engine based on the AN1x, it's been tweaked and refined to provide a range of waveforms, single LFO, 24dB four pole filter (modelled), ADSR envelope variable between filter and VCA and a single, four algorithm effect generator, and the phrase looper. it can work in mono mode (with portamento) or in 8-voice poly mode - I don't hear any difference in beefyness between these modes, it purely a playing style thing - mono is last note priority. it also has no on board memories, though with the Reface App, you can suck it's brains out and store and share patches (not available at time of review)

So hardware wise, it's very much in keeping with the rest of the range, solidly build, it does not feel cheap - which I guess it actually isn't. Same stereo speakers at each end, battery power (6AA), stereo output, 1/8th in jack in (passed through to output), sustain pedal and USB (MIDI Only).

Mini Keys - yes. See endless comment and hate on the subject, it's not hard to find. Same quality keyboard, but in the CS, there's no velocity which surprised me.  Also, we have the same pitch stick for bend, but no modulation which does seem strange for a synthesizer where expression is a key factor. However it does respond to modulation over MIDI.

At The Heart Of It Oscillator - this is the heart of the CS and provides a pretty wide range of source tone to sculpt. There are five, each wave has tone variation with Texture and Mod:

Saw - Texture adds Sub wave, Mod, detune to create a super saw type of thing.

Square - Texture tunes a second fixed amplitude wave, Mod - pulse width

Sync - Texture pitch and tone Osc 1, Mod the amount of sync depth

Ring - Texture depth of mod, Mod Tunes Osc 2

FM - Texture - depth of FM, Mod pitch of Osc 2

This little table seems quite insignificant at first glance, but I can confirm that it really offers a massive amount of tonal variation, from mellow to extreme, it's all there and is a pretty impressive bit of design. There are so many tonal possibilities available it really does provide a lot of inspiration.

The Filter also gives us plenty to choose from - as I said it's a 24dB ladder model, and has a brassy, CS-like quality to my ears, but the resonance seems to be carefully tuned to be extremely musical, even though it's got a mere 128 steps, and yes you can hear those, it's really quite rewarding to tweak.

LFO can be routed to Amp, VCF, Pitch and OSC - which modulates (generally) the MOD parameter of the Osc. This is a simple, fixed Triangle wave. What is surprising is that it goes pretty high up into the audio rates and can generate some additional ring and FM type tones.

ADSR - a single set of controls with a VCA/VCF fader allows you to dial in VCF depth separately. It's snappy too so you can do the percussion type resonant sounds should you wish. It's again, nicely tuned to be just - musical.

Effects are again fairly simple.

Four algorithms - Delay, Phaser, Chor/Flange and Distortion. two faders control subtle effects to really quite extreme edges of what each effect can offer. I'm a sucker for built -in FX and these just do the job, shame there's no reverb mind.

Phrase Looper - oh dear. On the DX the looper could easily be stopped, started with dedicated (albeit soft) buttons, making it possible to create a seamless loop. On the CS this is all on a slider which means it's much more difficult to do so. What can I say? Not ideal, perhaps you can use MIDI events to control it which would make it more useable.

But On the (re)face of it, the CS should be a kind of "Meh", indeed it seems like this is the initial impression one might get from seeing the marketing material and reading the specs. But I must say, this thing is Great! Lets just say it took me a long while to stop messing around with the CS and get on with the review, great sounds just fall out of this thing. Pads, odd ambient textures, basses, leads, lots of weird, harmonically rich sounds, they are all inside waiting to get out.

I was not initially impressed when I first saw this, but now I'm seriously considering owning one. Sure, it's got Mini keys, and it's a little more pricey than we have come to expect for downscaled  instruments, and the MIDI control means the filter steps. But... Yamaha have done a great job in making it musical and inspiring, not something I thought I would be saying but really, you should try one and see how tempted you are.

Available now at £289/$499


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