Yamaha Tenori On review: Many good things, many bad

I've had the Yamaha Tenori On for about five days now, so these are first thoughts. Summary version: It's awesome that this thing exists, that Toshio Iwai got a chance to make it. It's intuitive (in the pic on the right, Alex isn't just jabbing buttons, he's holding down a function key and selecting sounds). Does that mean you'll want to spend £599 buying one for yourself? Well, I can think of better ways to spend the money. Epic list of pros and cons after the jump. I'd also recommend Sonic State's video review if you want something more in-depth and less opinionated.
The good things:
1. It's unique. Almost every part of it - the shape, the look, the interface, the sound - is unlike anything else I've ever seen.
2. It's fantastic that Yamaha used a tiny slice of their profits from selling electric pianos and workstations to let Toshio Iwai get his dream manufactured and into the shops. Even if it's only in a few record shops in Britain at the moment. It must have cost them a lot, and it's the kind of thing that's normally left to passionate enthusiasts.
3. It's a complicated, sophisticated little machine. It's self contained, with a real operating system, a detailed display and so on. I LOVE that it has batteries and speakers. It's slightly unfair to compare it with the sexier, cheaper Monome, which is essentially a bunch of switches and lights in a pretty box, with all the heavy lifting done by the computer.
4. 16x16 step sequencing is great - very fast, intuitive, fun way to enter beats and chords.
5. It uses a clever key/scale system, which makes it even easier to enter notes. You can really just doodle with your finger and make something which sounds roughly like music.
6. In the dark, it looks incredible. The lights on the back look ace. Play it in the evening near a window and watch the reflections.
7. Many of the sounds are great - there's a definite Toshio Iwai sound, if you liked Elektroplankton, you'll like these. Warm and organic and original.
8. It's great while running on batteries - very compact, quick to load, nice to sit on the sofa and fiddle. The weight of 6xAA batteries also makes it feel a bit more sturdy.
9. Choosing presets with one key for each sound = Very nice. (I can see where Art Lebedev is coming from)

And yet... the bad things:
1. No getting away from it. It looks and feels like a toy. The main buttons don't feel great, and they all rattle. It may be deliberate, so you can run your fingers across a row, but it feels cheap cheap cheap.
2. I think the main chassis is aluminum, but coated in so much plasticy varnish that it looks and feels like plastic.
3. Maybe a third of the 256 sounds are non-great General Midi sounds - piano, strings, bagpipes(?).
4. There's no touch sensitivity, and I haven't found any easy way to add any dynamics apart from track mixing - which can only be automated in the 'record song' system.
5. There's no hardware volume control. You have to fish in a menu to change it.
6. It's designed for people with four thumbs. If you're holding the thing in both hands, you can reach the 'shift' buttons, but then can't reach the main buttons, so you have to put it down.
7. It's absolutely not a synth. You can't modify any of the internal sounds in any way - no filters, envelopes etc. They're mostly very short one-shot samples (some loop, and a few evolve interestingly). There are no musical sequences or loops.
8. Every note is fixed length across the sequence. You can't have a long and a short note together in any sequence. You can't slide or tie notes together in any way, even in the real time 'draw' mode.
9. It feels a bit churlish to say it, but the effects are hopeless - a reverb and a chorus/flanger, both master effects on the mix - and both on by default.
10. The MIDI out works - it was quite fun hooking it up to four channels on the Nord G2 and triggering sounds. It sends MIDI clock, but doesn't seem receive it (The manual is ambiguous, says it recieves clock, but also says it only syncs to another Tenori - anyone experimented with this more?). I briefly connected it to the MPC, which would have been great, except the notes ouputted didn't play nicely with my programs, so... it would be a blah to make a workaround.
But most of all... It costs £599. That's $1,200. I can understand there are reasons for the price - a limited run, a more sophisticated machine than most boutique gear. But if they're selling this as an ultra-luxe treat for geeks, then it has to look and feel sexy and expensive. It doesn't. Yes, the comparison with the Monome is slightly unfair, but I suspect it would be a simple job to recreate all the Tenori functions on a Monome.
Many of my objections might be fixable with a software upgrade, but I suspect the Tenori is in a tricky place: I don't know if it's really lovable enough to be on every rich kid's Christmas list, and I'm pretty sure it's not geeky enough to be on mine. Which is a real shame. Most importantly, it's a really good lesson for geeks like me. It's easy to complain that big synth companies never do anything innovative or exciting. Then one comes along and does exactly that, and we're left saying 'not good enough'. Which is a real shame. But feeling sympathetic to Yamaha and Toshio Iwai wouldn't make me spend £599 on this.

Long story short:
Just buy a Monome!
re: mpc connection. make yourself a program with one sound chromatically assigned and you should be good to go with your midi connection. (found this out yesterday when trying to change note assignments the hard way).
Seems like a really nice experiment in interfacing. Doesn't really seem all that useful as is. But the controls seem like they would be great to draw inspiration from and use with other gear, such as programing a Monome to do the same stuff the Tenori-on does.
Other than that, yeah i think its definitely a toy.
Pretty much what I thought. Sounds like an amazing musical toy that I'd absolutely love to own but, like you say, anyone serious about music will have better things to spend £600 on.
I was really keen to get one of these at launch, but after phoning Yamaha and being told they are only available in record shops (WTF?????) mainly in London, it is unlikely that I will buy one. What idiot is responsible for that piece of marketing genius?

So after phoning a few of these shops I was informed by all of them that if I paid with my card over the phone I'd secure one of the next batch. Yeah right.

They should have sold them online as the website promised, now I'll probably wait until one of the DJ's who bought one tire of it and list it on ebay.

My enthusiasm for it has dropped considerably since finding out about more about it and because they made it so hard for me to buy one, so there is no way I will pay more than £400 for one now.
come on, monome is not the same at all, you couldn't pick one up and just play it, the markets are totally different. no-one would complain about the tenori if it was half the price... i bet what will happen is that the people who want one will get frustrated with the cack handed marketing and high price, yamaha will end up thinking it was a fun but failed experiment, stop production, and within a year they'll be fetching 2 grand on ebay and we all lose. personally i think it's really visionary. for my purposes, i am after a monome and will hopefully be getting one before too long.
there's already one on ebay for $ 1634.88. i could get a brand new monomachine and a sack of smoke for that money and you can keep all them purty lights.
"we're left saying 'not good enough'. Which is a real shame."

Should they be expected to create interesting and innovative products? They've got zero experience in that field.

I'll never forget my high school summer camp experience at CSSSA (at cal arts). A music tech course full of IDM dweebs, with a bunch of gear donated by yamaha: some S30s, an S80, and an "ooo can I touch it" Motif. One day a yamaha rep came down for a "lecture on MIDI" which turned into an indoctrination for mLAN. The punchline was 'we make pianos, guitars, AND JET SKIS. we are a 6 BILLION dollar corporation and can do whatever we like. now we would like to conquer the music technology field with mLan, and you kids are lucky to be hearing about this so early'. This really happened.

I can't imagine why they even bothered with the tenori on. many have shown that quality boutique products can be designed, manufactured, sold and delivered by quite small operations. How come such a wondrous device lacks COMMON SENSE in its design?
like many I was sucked in by the first glimpses of this, flashy lights, interesting interface, but I'm so disapointed to hear that that there's nothing of any substance under the bonnet. why didn't they put a good physical modelling synth in it instead of general midi sounds, yes it would have pushed the price up to maybe a £1000, I'd have been prepared to pay that, but as it stands it's just a £600 christmas tree decoration.
All style, no substance, what a waste.
The manual (PDF I downloaded from the official site) specifically says that you CAN transfer your own sounds to it using SD card...
This thing got me very horny when i first saw it.
Especially the Tenori_on homepage looked very promising. But thanks for the in-deep testing. I´ll better post some Monome-Pre-order.Or midify my "Simon". This "Alex"-guy, i assume, must be the main-reason this once majestic blog went down the drain. I loved this Blog and miss it very much. Thanks for many wonderful hours of scrolling and scrolling. I had a very good time. Keep up the good work and all the best. H.
What musician who owned a Lite Bright as a child wouldn't want one of these? I'm afraid the price maybe too high for it to get to a place where there will be 2.0, 3.0, etc..

I also think they are in a race with touch screens. Once you can do this on a Mac and software with a touch screen this product is dead.
someone wrote: Once you can do this on a Mac and software with a touch screen this product is dead.

Haven't people learned yet that software emulation of hardware instruments is a waste of time?

You can't emulate the single most important thing about hardware and that is specifically that it is not software!

You can pick it up, get tactile response from it etc etc etc. It's a completely different user experience and one that is very important to me.
I took the plunge and bought the Tenori-On a few days ago. Ok, it has some bad points. But, I have been unable to put it down. It is totally addictive and I love it! The fact that it takes batteries and it is portable is fantastic.
Also incorporating it into my studio set-up with no problems. Hooked it up to the Korg M3, Access Virus and Nord Rack 2X, using the Tenori-On to sequence them... Magic! I am sure there will be software updates to solve some or all of the problems mentioned in the review. I highly recommend buying one.
really interesting article/review. but it's not really putting me off! i keep wandering into the music shops in london and playing with this thing... and it's so addictive! i don't think it feels at all like a toy, although i suppose it may feel light without batteries. i just wish yamaha had sold these to the mass market - i'm sure they would sell and i really think they'd be excellent for music education. but 600 pounds... how can i justify spending that?!?

someone from yamaha told me they'd started marketing these things in uk record shops as a lot of new experimental music comes from here. and i guess also because we're used to paying stupid prices for most stuff. but if they can ship enough of these things, i'm told there's a good chance of a much cheaper mk 2. for now though - bring on the january sales!
A pity. Yamaha has done some amazing things in the past: modelling synths (Love my V70m), controllers (Love my WX5 and WX11), and who can forget FM (DX7 et al - still have mine!) and my QY100 inspired me to come up with 5 songs in styles I ordinarily do not dabble in. Really clever little box.

Perhaps this time Yamaha knew it wasn't really a musician's tool?

(...and what's with the spam? Captchas being read by character recognition software now days, damn.)
The problem I see with the monome is that 1)I have to plug it up to a pc.
2) the software is run by a guy in his basement. 3)After watching the vids and reading the webpage I am still lost on WTF this thing is and how to use it and the cheapest one is $500.

Now Tenori-on I can take it out of the box and use it and it has speakers. So which means I can sit on my couch and use it or sit on a plane and use it or sit anywhere and use it.

Also I don't have to be a programer, but that makes the Monome nice is that you can program it.
örgü modelleri

This thing ain't physical modelling, it ain't about 128 voice polyphony, it ain't about 12 gig sample banks, it ain't about a full-blown controller (the Lemur and the Dexter are, but at a price). The whole design of the interface, the way the OS has been conceived, the fact that it goes BEYOND the 16 step sequencer, as demonstrated by the random and bounce functionalities, tells it all. To all those who are complaining about "limited" sounds... have you ever enquired re. the price for a concert grade mandolin, fer chrissakes? Or even of a marimba or block flute, LOL?
I want one! Where sells it for £599? It's £750 all over the internet!
its a wonderful machine. it intuitive and playful.

if you start analysing it for what its missing then you have already lost the point.
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