The Baffling Yamaha FS1R

By Thor Zollinger, writer/musician/engineer at large.  2018

I’ve been fascinated with the Yamaha FM synthesizers for years, and I’ve read a wide variety of reviews on the Yamaha FS1R.  Most people try to compare it to the Yamaha DX7, but they miss the fundamental differences between the FS1R and all other FM synthesizers.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

Plusses (+)

First, let’s look at the Operators.  The FS1R has eight operators right?  Two more than the DX7?  Someone could put together a VST with eight Operators, but that would only match a small portion of what the FS1R has to offer.  The FS1R actually has sixteen Operators, and all sixteen are capable of sine waves like the DX7.  Eight are called voiced operators which can be used in algorithms just like the DX7, and eight are called unvoiced operators which are mainly for noise generation.  With a bit of tuning these eight can also output key-following sine waves for additive synthesis.  I use them for this all the time.  Their strength though, is in mimicking things like breath noises in wind instruments, transients in spoken words, snares for drums, and for percussion instrument sounds.  Standard DX7 FM can’t do any of that.  Six DX7 operators versus sixteen FS1R operators?  The DX7 stacks up as less than half of an FS1R on this one feature alone.

Second, let’s look at the Waveforms.  Most people don’t know how to use waveforms effectively on any of the FM instruments.  It takes a spectrum analyzer to really see what’s going on, and how many of you have actually done that?  (I only see a couple of hands going up…)  The DX7 and most FM VST instruments are limited to sine waves.  You can do a LOT with sine waves, but the FS1R also has a set of complex harmonic waveforms to add to that.  It has all of the Yamaha FM-X waveforms which include the All1, All2, Odd1, Odd2, Res1, and Res2 waveforms.  Just one FS1R operator using one of these waveforms can replace an entire stack of DX7 sine wave operators.  This is a huge advantage, it multiplies the usefulness of the voiced operators by a factor of four.

FM-X in the Yamaha Montage (first implemented on the FS1R) can be used to match the sound of just about any instrument.  You use FM-X components like a set of building blocks to match what you see on a spectrum analyzer.  Break the sound up into two parts.  There is the fundamental harmonic and the harmonics immediately around it, which need to be matched very closely (labeled as Blue & Green numbered peaks below). You use a couple of sine wave operators or FM pairs to hit these harmonics to get their relative levels set up correctly.  The rest of the sound is usually comprised of groups of higher frequency harmonics (Magenta numbered peaks).  The Res1 and Res2 operators can be adjusted to match these shapes nicely, matching these higher frequency groups of harmonics.  Together, these two portions of the sound make up the majority of any instrument sound.  Add to it a few Effects, like Resonance and Chorus and you’ve got it.  I’ve written a manual on how to do this, which can be downloaded here on my website, along with other useful FS1R utilities and information.


Third, the FS1R has Formants as a waveform choice in the voiced operators.  Formants are a special waveform for matching the sounds produced by instruments with resonating bodies, like an acoustic guitar, violin, or Bassoon.  The Formant waveform combines the All1 waveform with a narrow, adjustable bandpass filter.  The filter stays put while the harmonics move through it, following the keys you press.  Mix a couple of these together and you get the signature sound of a Cello or the human voice.  I’ve used these to model the lower voice register of Christina Aguilera, which you can hear on this MP3.  I’d like to see you try that on a DX7…

  FS1R Christina1 Voice Patch - Misty MP3 

Fourth, you need to add in Controllers to make your performance shine.  The FS1R has a matrix that allows you to map just about any midi controller to any setting or collection of settings, along with utilizing the four knobs on the front panel.  Bending and warping the sound in interesting ways adds a huge amount of depth to the sound, making your performances one of a kind.  Some VST’s allow for this, but not all of them.  These four characteristics make the FS1R really unique.  I have yet to find a sound I couldn’t duplicate on the FS1R, it’s that capable.

Minuses (-)

But what about the drawbacks?  The FS1R has one humongous drawback, it has a very tiny display and only a few control buttons.  Programming the synth using the front panel is a nightmare.  Luckily, a few daring programmers have corrected the problem by writing computer interfaces for the synth.  You can find these online through a simple Google search.  Here is the free editor.

The other drawback is the complexity of programming the FS1R.  FM (Frequency Modulation) synths are very difficult to program, just ask anyone who has tried.  It’s not for the feint of heart.  I’ve written a manual on how to do it, which you can download here off my website.

FM Programming Guide

The FM Programming manual will get you started by showing you exactly how to duplicate a sound you have a recording of.  It’s not an easy process, though.  It takes practice and patience which some people don’t have much of.  If you’re technically minded, you should have no trouble figuring it out.


I really like the synthesizer, the FS1R does things no other synthesizer can.  It provides you with more tools than just about any other piece of hardware.  But it’s complicated.  And you need a computer to program it, and a separate keyboard to play it.  If you can master it, you’ll never regret the journey.

  Factory Demo Songs

  My Demo Songs



Tone Generation System

Tone Generators   Formant Shaping / FM Synthesis

Multi-Timbres         4 Parts (16 MIDI Channel Multi-Timbre)

Polyphony             32 notes (DVA)

DEMO Songs  15

Number of Voices


Preset     384 (128 x 3 banks)

Internal   128


Preset     1408 (128 x 11 banks)

Internal   128 / 64 (Internal Fseq)

Fseq (Formant Sequence)

Preset     90

Internal   6 (max)



4 Parts (4 Voices)

Fseq (Formant Sequence)

Voice Controller (Source / Destination Assignable Matrix)


Reverb 16 types

Variation 28 types

Insertion 40 types



16 Operators (Voiced x 8, Unvoiced x 8)

88 Algorithms



Dynamic Filter

Pitch EG


POWER Switch

Main Volume x 1

Sound Control Knob x 4 (Absolute / Relative)



Knob Select x2 (ATTACK, RELEASE, FORMANT, FM / KN1-4 )


LCD (Backlit)

LED         Mode x6                 Green

Knob       Select x2                 Red


Front panel            Phones

Rear panel             Output L(MONO), R

Individual Out L, R


Dimensions     480(W) x 235(D) x 44(H) mm

Weight            2.6Kg

Power Consumption

USA         120V (60Hz) 12.0 Watts

Europe    240V (50Hz) 12.0 Watts

Included Accessories  Owner's Manual x 1

Data List x 1

AC Power Cord x 1