Yamaha RY8 Drum Machine Review

I picked up this little Yamaha RY8 drum machine the other day for $30 hoping to have some fun circuit bending it, but it is full of surface mount components. That coupled with the face that everything mainly comes off one chip makes it a little of a non-starter for bending.

That doesn’t mean that I am out of luck, in fact the machine has some cool sounds, cheesy auto accompaniment and a guitar/ external in midi translator to trigger the internal synthesizer or send midi out. There are only 15 drum kits (4 are user programmable) and 250 patterns (50 are user programmable). It does offer a “pad bank” switch allowing you to access a second group of sounds for your kits, making it possible to use 24 different sounds per kit. With 28 note polyphony, you can create some complex beats, or stack sounds to get massive snares and such. One downside is that it only seems to do 1 bar patterns, so you need to chain variations together in song mode in order to get longer patterns which change over time. The main reason I got this unit though (besides for bending it) was to create sounds and beats I could sample into my Korg ESX. In this respect, it is pretty good, except the sounds are a bit dated. I would love some true analog drums and a DR-110 is on my future purchase list, but for now I do it with what I’ve got. This unit has some nice 808 and 909 style sounds, but they are lifeless. What I do to make them interesting and new is run them through my modified Boss ME-50 multi effects pedal. This only accepts a mono signal, but I use the Korg ESX to sample predominantly in mono.
I will post a short bit on the ME-50 later, but it has all sorts of effects plus a pretty nice compressor which works well on drums. So I squash the drums, run them through distortion, univibe, ring mod, whatever, then sample it to the ESX and tweak the sounds more. I have gotten some slamming’ kicks and garbled, glitchy loops. It is sweet. Even the cheesy accompaniment when run through fuzz, phaser, the whammy pedal and delay can sound interesting.
The RY8 has some swing options on it, but everything is quantized. You can record in real time or step sequence to enter a performance. The step sequencer only shows one “line” of the selected drum’s performance at a time, similar to x0x style sequencing, but it is an LCD and pretty small. The whole unit is only slightly larger than an old VHS cassette.
I was sold on this unit because of the analog to midi/synth option. You can plug in a guitar and play single notes and the RY8 will translate it to midi in order to trigger the internal sounds. You can also send the midi signal out to a better sounding synth. There are a few options to trigger single notes, octaves, harmonies and even full chords. I played with taking one output if the unit and plugging it into the external input in order to trigger some synth notes and it can create cool and glitchy sounds. Using the unit as a guitar to midi converter is acceptable, but the tracking is a little garbled when your playing is not precise. Still, it is a nice addition to the arsenal.
The unit has no onboard velocity sensitivity, but it allows you to add an accent sequence to accent certain beats. Within each drumset, each sound can be ascribed an accent level which dictates how much of a boost that sound gets when accented. For instance you can set all the sounds to have 0 accent except the hi-hats and then program an accent pattern to accent every downbeat. Then the hi-hats will not be static but the other sounds all stay at the same volume.
Overall, the unit was worth the $30 I paid. Any drum machine would allow me to mangle and distort the sound through my ME-50, but the chord accompaniment and guitar in make it nice. When I buy weird gear like this I always think of resale since I may not dig it, but for $30 you can’t go wrong.
Here is a short video with some sounds of the RY8 run through my ME-50 effect pedal.