Vintage virtual orchestration on a budget: Part 2

Yamaha S-YXG50

Yamaha S-YXG50

Yamaha’s S-YXG50 is something as unusual as a software synth from the late nineties. Originally released as a MIDI driver for Windows 98, it came bundled with various Yamaha sound cards and had a fixed latency of 90 ms which made it useless for live playing but worked great for playing MIDI files (or for downmixing compositions made with your Yamaha sound card in higher quality — at least that’s what I used it for back in the day). A zero-latency VSTi version was released as a paid product some years later but it was never available outside Japan. Nonetheless, the VSTi has been floating around on the internet for a long time now and while technically still property of Yamaha, it has been discontinued for well over a decade and it seems pretty safe to regard it as abandonware.

The S-YXG50 is a 16 channel multitimbral XG instrument (XG being Yamaha’s own souped-up version of the GM/GS standard) with 480 melodic voices and 9 drum kits using the same 4MB wave ROM as the MU50 Tone Generator. It has a selection of built-in effects that all sound very good, especially the reverbs. Which is fortunate as the S-YXG50 has only a single stereo output and there is no way of processing individual tracks without using a separate VSTi instance for each instrument.

Yamaha MU50

Out of the three instruments listed here, the S-YXG50 is by far the most “synthy”-sounding — which should come as no surprise since that is what it is. All samples are tiny (remember, there are 480 instruments and 9 drum kits squeezed into those 4MB) and consist of no more than an attack portion and, in all but a handful of cases, a looped single-cycle sustain phase. Without the magic of envelopes, filters, modulation, effects and layering of voice elements the S-YXG50 would probably sound like complete garbage. So yeah, it’s a synth. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

 

As it stands however, the S-YXG50 sounds remarkably good even to this day. It has a warm, rich sound to it and while it isn’t going to fool anyone into thinking that these are real instruments, most patches do their job and there is quite a few to choose from. On top of that, all instruments (even individual drum kit voices) have volume/pitch envelopes, cutoff/resonance, three separate effects sends, panning, mono/poly, portamento and more, so if there’s some preset that you would like to tweak in some way, it is certainly possible. It’s really a whole bunch of advanced features in a very unassuming package.

And therein lies the S-YXG50’s weakest point: you can’t reach any of these functions from the GUI. You can’t even change presets! To get it to play anything at all beyond the default grand piano sound, you will need to use bank and program changes from within your DAW, and CC messages for panning, cutoff, effects, etc. But even that is not enough to unlock the full power of XG — in order to adjust effetcts settings and other parameters that fall outside the standard MIDI implementation you will need to feed SysEx messages to the S-YXG50, which isn’t something you want to do manually. So I really recommend getting an editor like XGEdit. It will make your life with XG a whole lot easier.

It should also be mentioned that the S-YXG50 is a 32-bit plugin and may not play nicely bridged in 64-bit hosts. At least I get lots of stuck notes when running it under REAPER x64, though whether this happens in other x64 hosts I have no idea. It does run without a hitch in REAPER x86, however.

In short, the S-YXG50 is a good choice for when you want that “1990’s adventure game MIDI soundtrack” sort of feel, while still having a lot more options for shaping the mix than with plain ol’ GM. Also, a lot of XG’s synth sounds are still highly useable, so the S-YXG50 might come in handy for other tasks as well.

Next: Part 3. Sonic Charge Cyclone
Previous: Part 1. Overview

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