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Origins of the DX9

The DX9 is a strange beast, released as the 'little brother' of the all-conquering DX7 but with design decisions that meant its subsequent commercial failure was almost guaranteed.

It was very obviously a crippled DX7. It had the same FM chipset and casing but less powerful firmware, a stripped down interface and reduced functionality.

The lifespan of the DX9 was notoriously short, released in 1983 it was out of production by mid-1985 and with the gift of hindsight, this was all but inevitable.

To really understand what happen with the DX9, let's go back to 1986 and look at how Howard Massey described it in his seminal book

"The Complete DX7"

The Complete DX7 – Chapter 16: Other Digital FM Instruments
By Howard Massey

Yamaha DX9  (written in June 1986)

As new as digital FM technology is, this is an instrument which is already out of production by Yamaha and has been so since mid-1985. The primary reason for this is the original list price: nearly $1400. In other words, for only $600 more than the price of the very limited DX9, you could buy a full DX7. It was this disparity, more than anything, that contributed to the commercial downfall of this instrument. Nonetheless, it uses the same digital FM system as the DX7, but with far fewer features, and it boasts the same robust construction as is found on all Yamaha instruments.


There are still many DX9s in circulation but most seem to have been bought by people in frustration at the time they spent on the waiting list for a DX7. Once DX7s became readily available, the demand for DX9s virtually disappeared overnight! One can only speculate that this instrument might have done so much better if it had carried a lower list price.

Defining the DX9

The trouble was that the DX9 couldn't be described in terms of what it offered; it was defined by what it lacked compared to the DX7.  It had no unique features compared to other DXs and buying one only made sense if you couldn't afford or get hold of a DX7.  The DX9 then hit another snag, Yamaha had produced a difficult to program digital synthesizer with a limited run and small user base, something that almost guaranteed no third party support.

The DX7 had a host of third party companies programming sounds, producing cartridges and creating improved or extended firmware, something that simply made no financial sense for the DX9. With no support and limited sales, the DX9 disappeared quickly once Yamaha could produce enough DX7s to meet demand. Unfortunately the DX9's initial history has gone on to (unfairly) define it ever since, something I want to explore in "Worst FM Synth Ever"

However, before we get into that let's start with an accurate list of what the DX9 is really missing, in terms of functionality, compared to the DX7.

DX9's Missing Functionality

Here is the complete list of DX9 missing functionality compared to the DX7   
  • 1. Velocity Sensitivity

    The DX9 keyboard is not velocity sensitive and it does not respond to velocity over MIDI. 

  • 2. Patch Names

    The DX9 lacks the ability to store names with its 20 patches

  • 3. Fixed Frequency Mode

    There is no ability to set Operators to a fixed frequency rather than a ratio

  • 4. Pitch Envelope

    The DX9 lacks a pitch envelope which would allow for acyclic pitch variantions

  • 5. Two Less Operators

    The DX9 has 4 rather than 6 operators and 8 rather than 32 algorithms

  • 6. Aftertouch

    Both keyboard and MIDI do not respond to aftertouch

  • 7. Twelve Less Patches

    The DX9 has 20 patches compared to the DX7s 32

  • 8. Scaling Curves / Breakpoint

    The keyboard scaling lacks the DX7's curves and break points and has simpler Rate and Scaling parameters.

  • 9. RAM/ROM Ports

    The DX9 has a tape interface and no RAM/ROM slot

  • 10. LFO Sync

    Slightly odd one this - the LFO has no Sync setting. There seems no good reason for this as it's all implemented in software. Perhaps Yamaha couldn't figure how to fit the parameter into the 20 buttons

  • 11. Pitch Bend Step

    The DX9 has a pitch bend range but no pitch bend step

The above is an accurate list of what a DX9 can't do compared to a DX7. However the DX9 is nonetheless one of the most powerful 4 Operator FM synths Yamaha has ever produced


The Story of the DX9

Where it came from and why it failed

Worst FM Synth Ever

Is it really that bad?

How it got that label and why we believe it

Patch Conversion

From the new to the old

Applications for generating DX9 patches

The Library

The fun stuff

Collection of original and converted DX9 patches

The 4Op Algorithms

There can be only 8

The how and the why of those algorithms

Data Tape 2

The Missing Patches

Why the initial DX9 data tape patches didn't match their descriptions

Patch Manager

Creating your own DX9 library

Application for managing and converting DX9 patches

Servicing 101

Getting your DX9 up and running

Fixing the most common issues with a DX9