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PSR-740 At a Glance
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|Dr Simon G K Williams (email@example.com) writes:|
Overview Back in January 2000 I decided it was time to trade up my faithful Yamaha PSR730 for the latest PSR740. I had already been reading about the 740 on the internet during my Xmas vacation in Brazil and had my appetite wetted. Yamaha had just released its flagship model, the PSR9000 to replace the PSR8000. Cost wise the 740 was the same as the model it replaced (the 730), when released some three years previous. The launch of the 740 though meant a drop of around 30% in the price of the 730. What appealed to me about the PSR740 over other models such as the PSR8000 and PSR9000 was its size and weight.
Feature wise, the PSR740 is quite similar to the previous flagship model the 8000, but in a more portable form. Identical in size to the psr730 (and 630/640) and weighing just a fraction over 10kg, the psr740 is a couple of kilos heavier. For those of you interested in the figures, the keyboard is 973mm by 399mm and 161mm high (without the music rest). There is a standard size 61 note (5 octave) velocity sensitive keyboard (although no aftertouch unlike its big brothers). The 740 is also the only PSR keyboard besides the PSR8000 and 9000 to feature a modulation wheel.
Inside the rather plain brown oversized box we find a chunky 2cm+ thick manual (the same manual is used for both the 640 and 740 with certain features highlighted as exclusive to the 740) in 4 languages. There's also a plastic music rest which slots in the top of the keyboard and a floppy disk. The latter contains sample songs and extra styles, plus pc software for supporting the "to host" connector. The host connector allows control of the keyboard via a personal computer without midi interface, using a serial cable (not provided).
As is common with portable keyboards, the 740 is supplied with an external dc power supply. This itself is quite a heavy unit as it delivers a continuous 12V at 2A. The unit appears to be of very high quality and should take a fair knocking. In use I found no problems playing the keyboard at full volume, with the supply only getting slightly warm after many hours of continuous use. The power supply connects to the keyboard using a standard miniature coaxial power plug. What did surprise me with the 740 is there is no provision to use batteries. Instead the usual space for the battery compartment is filled in with a plastic molding. Perhaps the stated 24W power consumption would be rather high for battery usage. Even so the PSR740 retains its memory (styles and registrations) for a considerable time when external power is removed. I have left the keyboard disconnected for a week without memory loss.
The Controls My first impression was that the contrasting brushed light gold and black is much clearer to read in low light than my previous black 730. Around a third of the centre console is occupied by the information display panel. There are now two separate liquid crystal displays on the psr740. The lower display being similar to the 730 is a custom one whilst above this is a slightly smaller full dot matrix screen (similar to a palmtop computer). Both displays are backlit, the upper display glows a yellow green whilst the lower panel a very bright bluish white. Personally I would like to see some form of contrast and brightness controls for the displays, although having used the keyboard for over 6 months in a variety of conditions, I haven't found any problem reading the displays. The bottom display shows chord symbol (for auto accompaniment), overall transpose value (-12 to +12 semitones), tempo, measure and beat indicator. Below this are 16 vertical bar graph indicators and track mute indicators (as per 730). These show channel activity and volume level of each of the 16 midi channels for song and style performance. Directly below the display is a row of 16 buttons. These function as track or part select in recording mode, track mutes in song playback, part mute during style playback and organ drawbar (flutes) select in organ flutes mode. Left of these are two buttons for accessing voice parameters and volume mixer settings.
The upper display uses a high resolution dot matrix to convey an almost window-like graphical interface. This is a huge improvement over the single line 32 character text display on the PSR730. Several lines of text, graphics and symbols can be displayed making a very user friendly interface. Navigating the menus is achieved using a pair of chunky silver buttons to the left of the display marked BACK and NEXT. An EXIT button right of the display allows you to close any page or menu displayed. Many of the functions consist of several layers or pages of options, these are well displayed graphically as a record card index with the current page in use at the front and other pages behind. Card "tabs" are displayed above each with a smaller font size showing page titles behind. Values are changed either using the data dial, +/- keys or entering a numerical value on the keypad and are displayed both numerically and graphically.
Top left of the front panel are printed the categories for styles or accompaniments. There are 160 preset styles plus 3 user programmable on the PSR740. The styles are organised as follows (numbers in brackets indicate number of styles in that category) :
8 beat (9), 16 beat (13), 8 beat ballad (9), 16 beat ballad (9), Rock (12), Dance floor (11), Disco (7), Swing and Jazz (14), R&B (7), Country (10), Latin (14), Ballroom (10), Traditional (9), Waltz (9) and Pianist (17).
I was very disappointed that Yamaha chose to reduce the number of user programmable styles to 3 (there were 4 on the 730). A big improvement though is that each style now has 4 variations plus 4 fills, 2 intros (standard or count) and 2 endings (standard or simple). The count intro introduces the style with a series of taps on every beat, whilst the simple ending does exactly that! One feature I do enjoy is the Ritardando ending. By pressing the ending button again when the ending starts to play, the ending gradually and quite naturally slows down in tempo. I found the style control section quite flexible. It is possible to begin a style using the ending instead or play an intro in the middle of a song. As well as sync start (starts the style as soon as you play a chord with your left hand) the PSR740 features sync stop. This stops the accompaniment when you take your left hand off the keyboard (accompaniment section).
Below the style categories there is a small knob used to adjust input level for microphone or line input. A switchable attenuator is provided for line level signals. The microphone/line input is used in conjunction with the vocal harmoniser feature which I will come on to later. A pair of LED indicators show signal level and clipping, if the signal is too high. Alongside is a record button for the sequencer and user style recording and demonstration/ language selector. The language used in the upper lcd display window for menus and options can be chosen from English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish or Italian. There are a number of short demonstration tunes which highlight particular instruments.
The onboard signal processing effects of the 740 are stunning! The PSR740 has 4 separate onboard digital signal processors (DSP) for adding up to 102 adjustable effects such as echo, reverb, chorus, distortion, flanging and phasing. One of these is dedicated to the vocal harmoniser. The other 3 can be configured in a variety of ways, by default they are individually allocated separately to voices L, R1 and R2, the main keyboard parts. They may be used in combination if required. In addition to the 4 DSP's there are separate reverb, chorus and overall eq processors featuring 24 types of reverb, 20 types of chorus effect , 5 master equaliser types and 22 types of Harmony and echo effect! There are 3 pairs of buttons and indicators below the demo button to turn off/on, access parameters and apply variation to DSP's 1-3. Alongside more buttons and indicators for access to the 5 band graphic equaliser for controlling overall tone, harmony/echo effects, touch sensitivity and sustain on/off. Controls are well designed and have a nice positive tactile "click" feel, with different size buttons and grouping making it easy to quickly find what you are looking for. A HELP/Direct access key displays help information for the options takes you immediately to the menus and options for any function by holding it down simultaneously and pressing the corresponding function button. Although I like the idea of the direct access feature, it is annoying to have to keep it held down whilst pressing another function button as this usually requires both hands.
The remaining controls to the left of the dsp controls are the main power switch (this is a mechanical push to lock switch) and volume dial. What struck me about the volume control is that it only varies the internal speaker or headphone level and not the auxiliary outputs. The latter have a fixed output level. Although I find this annoying when using an external amplifier during performance, for home studio use it makes setting levels much easier. It also removes the need for leaving a dummy jack plug in the headphone socket to mute the speakers when using an external amplifier. Incidentally an expression pedal can be used to vary the overall volume (aux outputs also) or the headphone jack can be used as an auxiliary output instead.
Before I comment on the sounds and styles of the 740, let me complete this section by running through the remaining controls. To the right of the main display are a pair of keypads. The first keypad has a row of 4 options along the top, with another 3 rows of 3 buttons below. The top row (from left to right) are organ flutes, groove, multi effect and vocal harmony. Each access the parameters for these psr740 specific features (not found on the 640). The organ flutes feature allows the creation of a user organ voice from a set of eight digital drawbars, together with adjustable attack, response, vibrato and waveforms. Some real tasty "Hammond" classic sounds are possible with this feature, although only one custom voice can be stored at any one time. Groove parameters enable a variation in the feel of any style (preset or custom) by altering timing, velocity and the gate time of accompaniment notes during playback. For instance it is possible to turn a rock into a swing feel, or add a shuffle feel to a straight 8 beat! Multi effect enables combining DSP1-3 in a variety of ways producing more powerful effect processing of the left and both right voices.
Vocal harmony deserves a special mention. This exciting new real-time feature (taken from the PSR8000) for vocalists provides you with a complete harmony vocal backup, derived from your own voice! As you sing into a microphone connected to the keyboard, a digital signal processor not only shifts the pitch of your voice, but alters its character or timbre to either male, female or both. According to the type of harmony effect chosen, these processed "voices" are then mixed with your own to produce a chorus of singers! The pitch shifting of each processed "voice" is done according to the chords played in the auto accompaniment section, and is based on harmony patterns according to the type of harmony you choose. The harmoniser can also be triggered from one of the tracks on the sequencer, so with a midi song playback it is possible to store the correct chords for producing harmony as you sing along. There is also a keyboard play mode which plays a note on the keyboard according to the pitch of your voice! A separate vocal harmoniser unit with similar facilities would set you back at least half the cost of a new PSR740!
The next row of buttons access the left, right 1 and right 2 voices (or instruments) for the keyboard. Below these are buttons for function, style and song access. The function button calls up a menu of miscellaneous features, including midi, digital effects, voice parameter edit (part volume, panning left or right, reverb depth, chorus depth and dsp depth), utility (various other functions including tuning, scale tuning, split point, metronome) and registration memory. The final row of buttons access tempo, transpose and accompaniment or song volume. The tempo button if tapped several times (with the accompaniment stopped) will adjust the tempo according to the "tap" rhythm and begin accompaniment playback on the 4th tap. Although this is a very useful feature, it produces an annoying "tap" sound on each press of the button which cannot be disabled and plays through the keyboard.
The remaining keypad serves for entry of numerical values and consists of keys 1-9,0 and +/- . Below the keypad, a data dial provides a more conventional alternative to varying parameters or values. The remaining space alongside the data dial is occupied by 3 buttons for floppy disk access, plus a very useful indicator which shows disk activity.
There are two more rows of function keys and respective indicator LED's above and running the length of the keyboard. Directly above the keyboard are the accompaniment style controls (see earlier), registration memories and multi-pads. Above these are further accompaniment options (sync start/stop, fingering mode, groove on/off), vocal harmony and voice parts on/off. The registration memories are arranged as 32 banks of 4 buttons, providing 128 user registration memories to store such settings as voices, styles, voice settings, effect settings, tempo settings and style settings. For each of the preset styles there is an option to use 4 factory preset registrations. Most of these are very good and demonstrate some excellent combinations of the internal voices and effects.
The Sounds You can preview some of the sounds (both voices and styles) as mp3 samples at my website (http://www.svpworld.com/740sounds.htm).
Ok, here's the bit you have probably been waiting for, how does it sound? Well first of all, let me tell you that the internal speaker system on the PSR740 has been vastly improved over the 730. The two-way bass reflex design is hidden beneath steel mesh grilles and produces a very punchy bright and fat sound. The bass response of this keyboard is exceptional, and probably would put many portable music systems to shame. You can feel the effect of the bass notes moving your stomach, thanks to the specially designed bass ports at the front of the keyboard. One of my criticisms with the PSR730 was that it lacked in sparkle, even with the onboard equaliser boosting the highest frequencies. The separate tweeters of the 740 help to produce a crisp and sparkling top end, giving even better realism to the excellent onboard sounds without external amplification. The 5 band digital equaliser also helps to adjust the sound to your preference. I prefer to reduce the mid bass and slightly boost the top end to give it a cleaner sound.
The voices or instruments of the PSR740, and there are 760 of them to choose from, comprise 280 Panel voices and 480 XG voices. The Panel voices are the main performance sounds and so we will look at these. The XG voices are often very similar across all keyboards in this category and indeed sound very similar to those on the 730. There are some improvements though with the new waveforms of the PSR740, especially in the acoustic guitar department. Choosing any of the Panel voices also chooses appropriate settings for the digital effects and voices R2 and L (if turned on), although this doesn't apply to the XG voices.
The first voice that greets you when turning on the 740 is the Grand piano. Personally I always tend to choose keyboards according to the quality of the pianos, as they are most often or not the most used sounds. The PSR740 certainly did not disappoint! From its rich and air moving bass notes through to its clean and percussive top end, you would be hard to find such a good piano voice on any keyboard in this price range. Unlike quite a few synthesiser and sampler keyboards I have played, the pianos on the psr740 are seamless right across the whole range with no noticeable changes in sound at all. Play the keyboard softly and the sound reacts so, hit the keys hard and there's bags of dynamic swing. For me there is just the right amount of release on the notes, and sustain with the optional footswitch depressed. Perhaps slightly too much reverb though for some tastes, but that can be easily adjusted if required. Overall the piano is warm and dynamic but full of bite when struck hard. The 64 note polyphony of the PSR740 means that even with a full accompaniment playing, there is rarely ever a cut off note heard. You can also hear the Grand piano voice featured on my latest CD "Gentle Rainstorm".
Next up is Bright piano, a more hard percussive struck piano and excellent for rock or pop. Still a nice deep bass without any of the muddiness sometimes present on this sound. In comparison to my Roland SC88, the 740 pianos are much more dynamic, percussive and bright, yet still delicate and soft when played so. The Honky tonk piano is authentic, not over modulated with vibrato as so often is the case, and with a rich lower end. Next the Rock Piano, demonstrating the superb dynamics of XG technology. Play it light and you get that warm retro electric piano feel, strike it harder and the percussive bell-like rhodes sound adds a crisp attack and bite to the voice. This is further noticeable in the electric pianos, of which there are 15 to choose from. What strikes you with this keyboard are the distinctiveness of each voice. My favourites in this group are the Galaxy E.Piano with its dynamic filtered and warm attack, the dreamy SuperDX (more like a DX7 than a.... ), and the sustained Hyper and New Tines. For a real treat add voice R2 and experience some wonderful warm and rich piano pad combinations.
The 22 organ voices range from some very authentic Hammond classics to clicky Jazz organs and floor shaking majestic pipe organs. For example the Rotor Organ, a superb progressive rock classic sound with a slight dirty edge, Glass Jazz Organ - very Hammond-like with an incredibly realistic click attack and Leslie effect, gritty Rock Organ 1 and 2 complete with slight distortion and 60's organ, a clean early "transistorised" organ sound with sharp click. The Chapel Organs are very natural, there are 3 of these ranging from a puffy flute combo to a couple of broadly spaced footages. The depth and body to these voices is exceptional.
Next up are Accordion voices and this is another area where there are noticeable improvements from the psr730. The musette accordion is so full and rich you can almost smell the vineyards! For a more solo sound, the small accordion almost stands by itself.. think of "Last of the summer wine" or "Sing something simple with the Cliff Adams Singers". There are 10 accordion voices, including a stunning rich blues harmonica and modern harmonica complete with authentic fluttering wah wah !
I previously found the acoustic guitar voices on Yamaha psr keyboards rather disappointing. I was happy to hear that the 27 guitar sounds on the 740 were greatly improved. The selection of acoustics include Spanish, classical guitar, folk, smooth nylon and 12 string. If I had to criticise any of these voices I would probably say that the factory preset reverb settings are a little too strong, the nylon guitars a little too woody and the folk guitar too bright and electronic sounding. In a mix though the sounds are realistic and clean. I especially like the 12 string and smooth nylon voices. On the electric front, there is an excellent variety of clean, funky and classic sounds complete with digital effects. For example listen to the Solid guitar and 60's clean guitar. Listen to some of the styles and you will see that with the right programming, some of these can sound very realistic. The DSP settings can also influence the type of guitar sound produced by many of these voices. To get the best from these sounds, I recommend experimenting with a variety of digital effect settings and combinations.
The 18 bass voices cover mostly synth sounds, along with a handful of acoustic and electrics. All are useable as opposed to outstanding, though generally these don't get used much in performance. One area that Yamaha have greatly improved over the years in their portable keyboards are the string sounds. The 35 voices cover just about everything from classical and orchestral to chamber and synth strings. The standard "String Ensemble" sounds a little synthy, but there is lots of warmth and depth down below. For better realism try the Classical or Symphonic strings. I particularly like the solo violin (you can hear the same voice on the psr730 on my CD "Visit to St Petersburg").
Yamaha have added the impressive "Hah" choir voice from the psr8000 to the choir section. Otherwise there isn't much change from the 730 sounds here. My favourite is the dreamy "Gothic Voice", best described as a blend of boy girl choir with slow attack. The trumpets include the unmistakable "Sweet Trumpet", so realistic you can hear the spit dribbling through the mouthpiece! Infact the Brass sounds on this keyboard are some of the best I have ever heard, especially the Big Band sections! Bright, powerful and excitingly dynamic! As I run through the 13 trumpet voices and 19 Brass ensemble voices, I am suddenly stopped by more "sweet" voices. Dribbling tenor sax (it's not actually called that but like the sweet trumpet, you might need to dry your lips after playing it!). The saxophone section features a great growl saxophone, hit it hard and it fills with growling overtones! The sweet clarinet is very Gershwin, woody and full bodied yet with a sweet top end. The sax combo sections are also very much improved over the 730 in realism. I was a little disappointed with the rather weak oboe though.
If you have ever listened to the PSR8000, it is quite likely you were blown over (pun intended) by the wonderful sweet flute voice. When I found it had been included on the PSR740, I knew I had to get this keyboard! Played lightly, the flute flutters with "breath like" realism yet hit it hard and it hits high overtones with an almost panpipe behaviour! The attack is clearly defined so much you can feel the initial impact of the players breath. Impossible to describe but delightful to play! Well my first thought after finding the sweet flute was that this was to be my favourite voice on the 740. That was until I reached voice 192, the Classical Flute! With a softer attack yet still retaining definition, the classical flute is James Galway under your fingertips! This is one of the most beautiful flute voices I have played for a long time and very realistic. Well done Yamaha !
Having only scratched the surface of the 19 Saxophone and 11 flute voices, the remaining 51 panel voices cover synth lead and synth pads. Lead sounds include an assortment of classic analogue favourites, including fire wire (buzzy and rich), , square lead and adrenaline (cutty and hard). If you are into the X files try "Hi Bias", whilst "Synchronize" and "Clockwork" feature syncopated rhythmical filtering and waveform changes. Generally the pad sounds are rich, full of interesting textures and often feature multiple sounds within them. For example "Insomnia" features a rich synth string pad with a delicate attacking "chiff" of white noise. Golden age features glistening bells and rich stringy pads whilst Krypton is a velocity sensitive filtered sawtooth pad with release. Convolving textures are a strong feature of XG technology, thanks to its dynamic filters. Wave 2001 is a fat swirling rich pad with a slow filter sweep whilst Skydiver blends "Hah" choir with spacey tuning noises and rich polysynth. By themselves these sounds are incredibly full and rich, yet add the second R2 voice for some awesome textures and soundscapes. You can hear many of the more darker pads such as "Area 51" and "Dunes" on my album "Gentle Rainstorm". Take a listen to Krypton, Stargate, Template and Millennium voices also.
Finishing off the awesome palette of panel voices are a varied collection of percussion instruments and drum kits. The 740 has no less than 13 drum kits and sound effect kits including "Hit Kit", "Analogue", "Dance" and "Brush" kits. As you would expect all these sounds are crisp, dynamic and exceptionally realistic. If anything, I am spoilt for choice! The remaining 480 XG voices cover the standardised XG voice set and are similar in sound to those on the 730. If like me you haven't yet explored these voices , I strongly suggest trying some of the sparkling acoustic guitars and synth patches amongst them.
The 160 preset styles of the PSR740 cover some 15 genres, listed earlier in this article. As always with Yamaha, quality of these is superb with excellent voicing and sophisticated arrangements. Whilst I won't attempt to describe these in detail, those which I particularly enjoy are the 16 beat ballads including some tasty new titles such as "Cool Night" and "Analog Pop", Rock Shuffle (great guitar sound), Gospel Shuffle (very progressive) and Orchestral Waltz (relaxing and simply beautiful orchestration!). Each style is composed of 8 tracks or sections, namely two drum parts (rhythm sub and main), bass, chord 1 and 2, pad and phrase 1 and 2. If the style sounds too fussy it is easy to mute some of the parts using the row of 16 buttons underneath the lower display. As the accompaniment plays, the part activity is displayed on the display bargraphs. Again I found the preset reverb settings to be a little high on the accompaniment. The drum levels are also high and need to "sit back" more in the style. These can be changed relatively easily using the graphical on screen mixer panel and saved in a user registration. The PSR740 features 17 new pianist styles. With these you get professional sounding piano only backing, from Ragtime to Classical. I particularly enjoyed the finger snaps on the swing style!
The PSR740 features various harmony effects which affect the right hand voices as chords are played in the auto accompaniment section. These can vary from adding simple duet and chord notes to the right hand, to adding strumming and echo effects.
Bugs or problems found
So far I have not come across any serious bugs with the keyboard, unlike my previous PSR730. I have noticed however that the central processor used in the 740 can sometimes "run out of steam", especially during fast style playback and heavy right hand playing. There is sometimes a noticeable momentary change in the tempo of the accompaniment if I play several keys with my right hand. It's not serious though and usually only happens at fast tempos (160 or higher) and complex styles. I did experience one problem with the internal amplifiers. After placing the keyboard on a pair of hifi speakers, also used as my p.a., I noticed a regular low frequency thumping coming from the internal speakers. I assumed it was feedback caused by the close proximity of the external speaker system and sensitive electronics in the keyboard base. After repositioning the keyboard the problem was still present, even without any external amplification connected. I left the keyboard disconnected overnight and the following day, the problem has gone! There are also one or two spelling mistakes in the menus, but nothing serious! In the event that the keyboard should appear to do strange things, it is possible to reset the unit (clearing the internal memory). To do this, with the keyboard switched off hold the rightmost 3 keys down on the keyboard and then turn on the power.
Conclusions Summing up I would say that the PSR740 is perhaps more of a condensed PSR8000, rather than a new keyboard. It maintains the strengths of the successful PSR '30 range, namely a portable lightweight keyboard packed with workstation features. As a master keyboard and sound source, it would form the basis of a very respectable home studio setup. With high quality General Midi and XG sounds, bags of flexible digital onboard effects and 64 note polyphony, the 740 provides you with a top quality midi sound module. Add the touch sensitive 5 octave keyboard with pitch and modulation, two foot switch inputs, high quality drum machine, 16 track disk based sequencer, digital vocal harmoniser with its own programmable DSP and reverb, a top quality stereo sampled grand piano sound taken from the leading Clavinova range and you have a complete home studio. What's more its portable!
My main criticism with this new keyboard has to be the user style memories, or lack of them. With memory prices tumbling as they have, I am sure the PSR740 could have benefited from a few extra KB if not MB of memory. This extends to the internal sequencer, something I will come on to later which relies heavily on the floppy drive during recording and playback. Despite this shortcoming however, it is the sound of the 740 that really matters and in this area I find it hard to criticise this keyboard. The piano sounds are as good as you would expect from a clavinova costing twice the price. The instrument sounds generally are excellent, in particular the flute, trumpet, saxophones and accordion sounds. String sounds are warm and rich, synthesiser sounds are both varied and interesting. There are plenty of percussion sounds included and the styles on offer are very professional without going overboard on phrases. The operating system is a breeze to use, thanks to the improved graphical displays and clear panel layout. You may be forgiven into thinking that the PSR is not a professional musicians instrument at first sight. Listen to it through a good sound system and your opinion will change, believe me!
Reviewed by Simon Williams SVPworld www.svpworld.com
Comments About the Sounds:
Stunning variety of crips and usable sounds. Beautiful grand piano voice (Clavinova quality), DX quality electric pianos, retro ep's, excellent electric guitars,
Links for the Yamaha PSR-740
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