You’ve probably heard of Yamaha’s flagship Tyros arranger keyboards, first reviewed in the Aug. ’03 issue by Ed Alstrom and called “the gold standard” by Stephen Fortner in his Jan. ’06 review of the Tyros2. Meant for solo entertainers and advanced hobbyists, they now take an evolutionary step forward with the Tyros3. Arguably still the most advanced keyboard of its kind, the Tyros3 (T3) keeps its popular FSX action, smooths out the stealthfighter panel angles of the Tyros 2 (T2), and adds welcome new styles and features. Though the new features are not quite as dramatic a step above the T2 as the T2 was above the original, and (for those who have invested hours loading their T2 with treasured settings) moving to a new keyboard can be scary, rest assured that the T3 is unlike anything you’ve played before. If you’re a first-time Tyros explorer, or a skeptical pro wondering what all the fuss is about, read on.
- Tilting color screen is large and brilliant, and plenty of side buttons and sliders make up for it not being a touchscreen.
- Color-changing backlit style and Multi Pad buttons give wide range of accompaniment options.
- New Super Articulation 2 buttons add expressive options to lead sounds.
- Mic section controls independent vocal effects.
- Music Finder selects complete performance settings by specific song title or genres.
- Internet button turns the Tyros3 into a browser for direct downloading of Voices and Styles.
- Hard Disk captures a stereo mix of everything — your playing, the keyboard’s playing, vocal effects, you name it — to the internal hard drive, which can also store your WAV backing tracks.
- Registration Memory and One-Touch Settings instantly recall panel configurations.
I unboxed the Tyros3 amidst a whirlwind of Christmas gigs, with only a week to prep. Fortunately, I own two PSR-9000 Pros, Yamaha’s flagship arranger prior to the Tyros. The layout of the T3 is not much different from the PSR series both old and new, so I was up and running quickly — and considering that playing a T3 is a little like playing a Motif XS and the button-based Tenori-On (reviewed Nov. ’08) at the same time, that’s saying a lot.
The T3’s large, tilting color screen and plethora of backlit buttons make you wonder why Yamaha’s Motif workstations aren’t this easy to use in the dark. Only the Littlelite sockets of the PSR-9000 Pro offer more illumination. New sliders below the display default to volume faders for sounds and accompaniment, and become drawbars in the “Organ Flutes” mode (see Figure 1 below), which we’ll discuss below.
The layout of the T3 follows previous models: Style (accompaniment) buttons turn your left hand into a bandleader. In a style, you trigger various arrangement sections: three intros, four main sections, a fill, and three outros — all ranging from simple to complex. Also, the four Multi Pads now trigger a range of sounds, from one-note strikes and simple riffs (e.g., sleigh bells for the “Christmas Swing” Style) to rhythmic patterns that tempo-sync and follow your chording. When the One-Touch Settings link button is lit, switching sections within a Style also switches Voices (sounds) selected to work best with that section. You can override the factory choices here by holding the Memory button while pressing any of the four One-Touch buttons.
Above the Styles are the full-featured Mic settings with effects ranging from EQ, reverb, and chorus to a very effective vocal harmonizer that knows what chords you play. There’s even a thoughtful Talk button, which removes vocal effects so you can speak to the audience.
Next is the Song area, which goes beyond simple MIDI sequencer functions to include markers, looping, and cueing. You can record Styles and Multi Pads into song tracks, and during playback, you can loop portions of the song (which you’d do if you want to keep a song going for a few more choruses to please the crowd), or cue up the next song for immediate start. It’s features like these that make the Tyros3 a true entertainer’s keyboard.
To the right of the display are controls for Voice creation, hard disk recording (and audio file playback), and the “Voice effects,” which have been increased to five banks and now include compression, which gives the T3 more sonic punch than its predecessors. These are different from vocal effects — they do things that enhance your right-hand melody.
All the previous groundbreaking sounds from the T1 and T2 are here, including the velocity-switching MegaVoices. The T3 advances the field with very playable new Super Articulation 2 voices, which are all wind instruments. Articulations (slurs, grace notes, etc.) are triggered not just by timing and velocity, but also by relation to the previous note played. Hold a note, for example, then play the same note an octave higher or lower, and you get a Benny Goodman-like scale run. The new ART 1 and 2 buttons (next to the pitch and mod wheels) manually force certain articulations such as a slur on a clarinet. I love the new sax and clarinet sounds, and couldn’t resist the occasional Chris Botti-style trumpet lead. All of the SA2 sounds cut through the mix well and make soloing a pleasure.
The upgraded piano sounds are great, but they get a little lost in the mix when played with denser Styles. The T3 features plenty of DX7-ish electric pianos but only a few classic EPs, and these tend towards clean rather than crunchy.
Special merit goes to the T3’s Organ Flutes mode. It calls up a clonewheel organ in the display, complete with rotating speaker. It’s a decent replica, and in no time, I created modestly good representations of my favorite drawbar settings. But I found the virtual slow/fast switch located mid-screen to be a little awkward to use live. Fortunately, the Direct Access button (by the lower left corner of the display) makes controller assignments a breeze — press it, work the intended controller (say, a connected footswitch for rotary speed), and a screen of possible things for that controller to do comes up.
You can roll your own Voices, via the Voice Creator function or included editor software (see Figure 2 below). You can also buy premium Voices from Yamaha’s dedicated Tyros website, music-Tyros.com. Last but not least, while the T3 isn’t a sampler, it can import audio files (WAV or AIFF) like one. You can assign these waves to “elements” (layers) of Voices. You can install up to two 512MB sticks of optional DIMM memory for wave storage, and also store your favorite programs and other data to an attached USB drive.
AT THE GIGS
Playing the T3 isn’t like playing a typical ROMpler — you select in advance the way the accompaniment Styles respond to your playing, sometimes for each song. The ways the T3 interprets chords range from single-finger (for beginners) to the “AI Full Keyboard” setting, for which I found that the keyboard split point is crucial to accuracy. Then there’s the mic settings, Styles, Voices for each hand, song start options, Multi Pad assignments, and more. Point being, even experienced arranger-keyboard players may find all this a little overwhelming in a live setting.
Fortunately, you don’t have to push all these buttons for each song! The Music Finder (called “Music Database” on some PSR-series arrangers) ties it all together. Music Finder stores all settings — Voice setups, Styles, mic effects, you name it — for instant recall by song names (called “records”). For a big sing-along where I took requests just before each song began, Music Finder proved invaluable. It comes thoughtfully preloaded with over a thousand “records,” and more can be downloaded from music-Tyros.com .
For jazzy piano-over-backing-track tunes, I created piano-only setups using the One-Touch Settings, and the hard disk’s iPod-like playlist functions gave me a break from directing the arranger functions in real time — note that your stereo backing tracks need to be WAV, not MP3. If you install a hard drive in the T3 that was previously used on the Tyros/Tyros2, then you can view/play Song files from the hard drive. However to properly use your stored Style, Multi Pad, and Registration files, you’ll need the File Converter software — a free download from Yamaha.
Fig. 1. In Organ Flutes mode, the Tyros3’s sliders become virtual drawbars, and you get a two-speed rotary simulation. The Volume/Attack tab is where you control the all-important harmonic percussion.
IN THE HOME AND STUDIO
What I wouldn’t have given for a T3 in my jingle-writing days. The Tyros3 is a songwriter’s dream, allowing instant gratification and near-finished results at the same time. I discovered the “Movie & Show” Style category, which easily summoned Broadway and old-Hollywood glory, and even styles like “Ethereal Movie,” which has no percussion track and defies tempo restrictions. While sample libraries and sequencers are often used for score production, the intuitiveness of the T3 lets your creativity flow freely. It’s not just for soundtracks — plenty of pop, hip-hop, alternative, grunge, techno, R&B, and country Styles will keep any songwriter’s juices flowing. I nearly fell out of my chair when I discovered T3 presets that perfectly emulate Jean Michel Jarre’s classic “Oxygene IV.”
Fig. 2. Think of arrangers as just preset machines? The Tyros3 is also a fully editable synthesizer, with eight “elements” (think oscillators) per Voice. You can even import samples to use as the basis for elements in your own custom Voices.
If that’s not enough, new Styles can be created by sequencing, step editing, or pasting together portions of existing Styles. You can expand or compress the MIDI velocities of the Styles and alter their dynamics, alleviating the repetition that keeps some people from embracing arrangers.
The T3’s hard disk recorder is clearly meant for the one-man-band demo, but where you had to install a drive in the T2, the T3’s 80GB drive is included. It’s not multitrack, but there is unlimited overdubbing, so for example, you could get your Style arrangement and section changes worked out perfectly, record this, then do another pass to record your vocal.
The “Karao-Key” feature lets non-keyboardists trigger note-by-note playback of songs by pressing any key, and video outputs let you display lyrics for sing-alongs, and/or a music score complete with “follow the bouncing ball,” making the T3 a recroom centerpiece not unlike the home console organs some of us grew up with. That reminds me, new downloads from Yamaha provide samples from classic Lowrey and Wersi home organs. So your Aunt Gracey won’t miss her old “fun machine” at all when you talk her into a T3 for the living room — add a pair of headphones, and only you need know you’re recording Marilyn Manson tribute songs. All joking aside, it’s just as good at that as it is at show tunes or Billy Joel sing-alongs.
Yamaha has again raised the bar with the Tyros3. It’s entertaining and fun to play, yet powerful enough to cover any gig from a retirement home tea to a Cirque du Soleil show. I found myself writing music on it the minute I plugged it in, and had no problems integrating it into my solo gigs, although I recommend the optional Yamaha MFC-10 pedal to make changing Style sections easier, plus an expression pedal for the organ voices. My wish list includes digital outputs, a 76-note keyboard, and a combo XLR mic input. Still, it’s hard to argue with success, and as it is, the Tyros continues its reign as the benchmark of stage arrangers.
PROS Sounds are among the best available in any keyboard. Yamaha’s Styles for live solo performing are the best in the business. Mic section includes effects and vocal harmony. Large interface can display menus ranging from sound/style settings to lyrics/sheet music.
CONS Comes in 61 keys only. Mic input is 1/4", not XLR. No digital outputs. Definite learning curve to get the most out of it. Pricey.
INFO $5,499 list/approx. $4,599 street, music-Tyros.com
NEED TO KNOW
Who is the Tyros3 for? Solo entertainers, home enthusiasts, keyboardists who accompany live theatre, and songwriters.
What does the Tyros3 have that the Tyros2 didn’t? Sliders for drawbar/fader control, more Styles (450), enhanced effects, Ethernet port for Internet connection, USB2.0, synchronized Multi Pads, Super Articulation 2 Voices and buttons, and included hard drive.
Why would I get this instead of a “pro” workstation like a Motif? The Tyros3 includes many workstation features, but goes further with sound and live performance features not found anywhere else. It’s one of the most sophisticated auto-accompaniment keyboards made.
What’s the Internet connection for? Downloading Styles and sounds directly from Yamaha.
Does it do audio recording? Yes: stereo 16-bit/44.1kHz to the internal hard drive or a USB device. There’s no multitracking, but there is unlimited overdubbing.
Visit review author and one-man-band keyboardist Jim Eshleman at www.hiltonheadmusic.com.