Portable Keyboards: The Yamaha reface Solution for Producers

Inspiration can strike anywhere. Sometimes the commute to work can be the birthplace of a new melody or a late night of watching TV can create the need to jam out. Guitarists have the luxury of being able to play anywhere with their instrument, but what about the keyboardists? Keyboards are traditionally cumbersome units that probably will require an external power source and they take longer to setup than just pulling the keyboard from a case. Yamaha is a pioneer of electronic keyboards and synthesizers who wants to bring portability back to the keys with their new reface series.

Most pianos and keyboards are not very portable setups.

What Makes a Keyboard Different?

In hotel lobbies there’s often a piano ready for a maestro, but most people don’t have that luxury. Pianos take up a lot of space and are expensive to keep in working order. Digital synthesizers and electric keyboards were created to solve accessibility, but even these units can be a hassle – required power supplies, stands, and cables. It seems that the only portable units that don’t need an outlet are toy pianos made for budding musicians.

Jamming out seems to be only for the guitarist who carry around their instrument and a producer can only feel the same freedom when he is in the studio. Yamaha believes the solution lies in their new reface series which comes in four different styles that all offer built-in speakers, 37 keys with HQ-Mini action, and battery-powered portability for making music anywhere.

reface DX – The Electronic Jam Tool

This unit draws inspiration from the iconic DX7 which was released in 1983 and is commonly believed to be the most popular digital keyboard ever made. Phil Collins (“One More Night”), Toto (“Africa”), the Doobie Brothers (“What a Fool Believes”) and the theme from “Beverly Hills Cop” were all created with the original keyboard which is the epitome of that retro-80s sound.

The updated model is made to take the retro-80s tones and put them into cutting edge modern sounds for electronic musicians. A multi-touch interfaces allows producers to customize the sound using a frequency modulation synthesis engine with an included 8-note polyphony, 32 voice memories, and a backlit display. This is the unit made for electronic musicians with the idea of being able to bust out a melody anywhere or just have a jam session in a living room with some friends.

reface YC – The Little Organ

The reface YC is a remake of the YC Yamaha Combo organs which were introduced in the late 1960s and used by Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, and many others. This was when music was taking a turn with bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones becoming more popular thus causing a trend for organs to be put on stage rather than just being held in churches.

In this new model the YC offers similar expressions to the older organs with drawbars, rotary speakers, percussion and effects. It comes with five retro organ sounds which range from tonewheel to transistor to the original Yamaha Combo organ and 128-note polyphony.

reface CP – Backpack Piano

Yamaha debuted the Combo Piano in 1975 and it became ubiquitous on stages during that era. The stage pianos and analog synthesizers were used by Keane, U2, Genesis, Billy Joel, and more to enhance the sound of their music.

The new reface CP features six electric piano sounds including tine, reed, clav, toy, and CP80 plus direct control of six different effects that were created in the image of the 1970s. There is also an input for a sustain pedal with a half-damper response and 128-note polyphony. This unit is geared toward the musicians who are looking for the authentic 70s and 80s vibes that modernized music with synthesis and digital processing.

reface CS – The 80s Reborn

Electronic music and digital sounds were forever changed with the legacy of the CS-series Control Synthesizers that were created in the 70s and 80s. These analog synthesizers were played by Vangelis, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson to create ever lasting melodies. The UK’s Mark Shreeve, a pioneer of ambient, space music, swore by the sound of the CS series.

The newly designed reface CS is a small recreation of the older series that offers 8-note polyphony, virtual analog synth technology, and five flexible oscillator modules to create complex sounds from analog to digital. The goal here is to take those analog synthesizers that dominated studio space and condense it into a small, 37 key unit.

A Dream Come True or Overly Ambitious?

While many companies try to build a portable studio experience, there’s no solution that recreates the possibilities that come with a room full of gear. The reface series is aiming to combat that as they can be taken anywhere to play (as long as the batteries are full) and that is pretty cool since the sounds being created aren’t  coming from a child’s toy.

Then again, each keyboard has a heafty MSRP of $799. While a reface keyboard is portable and compact, an iPhone or Andriod app might be able to suffice for the guy who just wants to make some music really quick for fun. Each unit comes with MIDI capabilities and audio outputs making it versatile, but if a producer is just looking to jam out, she isn’t probably thinking about recording every single session. The keyboards are set to release in September 2015 – get more details on them here.

Are the reface keyboards the answer for producers looking for a way to jam anywhere or are they just specialty instruments?

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  • Teo Tormo

    In Europe the final street price will be 399€ for each model. And it’s confirmed.

  • Tim Maughan

    Weirdly surprised at the artists you picked. Phil Collins, Toto, The Doobie Brothers…really? Not Juan Atkins, Derrick May, LFO…? Guys! Let’s TRY and keep our music’s heritage alive, yeah?

  • ap0th1k4ry .

    I have to say when I first saw these announced, I was extremely excited. I know a lot of people are griping about the mini keys, but to me the main gripe is the price. I look at them as a set, and $800 a pop is more than a BIT much to truly be competitive. I get that they have high build quality and don’t get me wrong they sound absolutely awesome, but when I looked at them, I mentally thought “These will probably be $400 a piece”. Still the portability of them is cool, and the sound is not at all bad for a musician on the go, or for a bedroom producer with a small studio!

    • Dan White

      Let’s see what actual street price turns out to be – MSRP is often a lot higher than real MAP pricing. 🙂