Yamaha SY22 Dynamic Vector Synthesizer – BALL of fun!

Yamaha SY22 Vector Synthesizer
Yamaha SY22 Vector Synthesizer

I found a neat little gem of a synth today called the Yamaha SY22 Dynamic Vector Synthesizer. What caught my eye was the track ball style controller in the upper left hand corner of the synth. I also noticed the “vector synthesizer” label written on it and started to wonder what that was all about. I plugged it in and gave it a test run. I was really impressed with the sound and the ball controller. Very cool so I picked it up along with a Rom sound card Proteus Impressions (Sound Source Unlimited, Inc.) all for $50 bucks.

The ball controller is basically split into 4 separate sections A,B,C, and D. When you move it up and down you can move between the A and B voices. Moving from left to right you get the D and C voices. The two main settings are level and detune. You can really get some terrific “motion” effects plus it’s really cool to easily fade between the four voices. It’s very unique to me and loads of fun. Using the detune you can get a chorus effect really well along with the built in reverbs, delay, and other effects.

Another thing I found to be very interesting with the SY22 is the panning effect. With the ball you can move the voices around giving you an easy way to pan the sounds around you head. It’s hard to explain but I noticed that when testing the synth the voices were like floating all around. It’s simply panning the voice right and left but on other synths you have to physically program that in whereas with the SY22 it’s easier to move things around.

Furthermore, you can record the ball controller motions for your patches. This is really cool and similar to the Roland JP-8000 which also allows you to record motion data. This really allows you to create some really dynamic and motion oriented soundscapes. Pads are awesome with SY22 and like all Yamahas with FM you can get some really gritty bass and synth sounds. Note that the SY22 is a low frequency synth so you get that DX7-ish gritty sound which I really like. Some people say the SY22 is a bit noisy but mine is super quiet. Any noise I do get it fits the patch well and actually am thankful for it.

The LCD is bright which is great and it’s very durable but light weight. It has 61 keys and you might say it’s quite portable. There is a Card Slot in the back and it takes the Yamaha MCD64 Ram cards. I actually recently bought a Sweet 16 Card that has 16 MCD64 cards all in one. That will be great for the SY22. The Sweet 16 Card allows me to store sounds for my V50, SY77, and SY22 all on one card. ( I just choose one of the 16 cards inside to save voices to ).

With regards to editing again some people say it’s tedious and difficult. Frankly I come from the Yamaha DX7 era so it’s definitely easier than that beast, so to me the SY22 is easier. It’s easy to hook up an editor via MIDI and tweak anything you like. Sure it’s harder than today’s synths, but manageable.

I really like the Yamaha SY22. It’s the unique vector control and recording that really makes this useful to me. You can definitely get some great sounds out of the SY22 and for live performance it’s pretty fun too working that ball controller. Once you get organized on how you want to set it up with your sounds it’s really cool. It takes layering your sounds to a whole new level.


Here is a pretty good demo found on Youtube of the Yamaha SY22 in action.


15 thoughts on “Yamaha SY22 Dynamic Vector Synthesizer – BALL of fun!

  1. Swen

    Yeah, you got some precious piece of gear again. I really love the sounds of Yamaha’s Vector synthesis, only the Korg Wavestation is soundig better. But I prefer Yamaha for its little Lo-Fi touch which comes from the FM-sound sources.
    Did you notice the hybrid character of this machine? FM and 16bit Samples.
    You can get great pads out of this one. I’m looking for the desktop version called TG33 at a bargain price for quite some time now, but in Europe prices for the SY22 and TG33 tend to rise in the last year, so I will try to get one quick in the next two months. Thats because my old SY22 broke on a tranport, rendering the keyboard unsuable.

    1. Hello Swen! Yeah the fun part about it is that I never know what I am going to find. I have four used music shops that I frequent during the time I am waiting for my two kids when they are at dance and music classes. I hit the store frequently and right now in Nagano, Japan prices are getting pretty low as deflation is rampant everywhere. Tokyo is a different story with vintage collectors all around. If I find stuff under $100 I tend to grab it. I was on the fence about the Yamaha SY22 but that vector synthesis deal and the ball controller peaked my interest. Plus when I plugged it in to give it a try I thought it sounded wonderful.

      The Yamaha TG33 you mentioned reminds me of the old Atari game console. My brother used to have one of those. Quite frankly I never new anything about the SY22 or the TG33 before today. I did know a little about the SY35 but didn’t know the SY22 was similar. It’s interesting. I did notice the hybrid quality of the FM and 16bit Samples. I can’t quite tell which is which just yet but I’m sure over time I’ll figure that out.

      What’s interesting also is that I can’t find any Yamaha SY22 synths on Ebay. Even completed transactions are missing some SY22 synths. Actually I just noticed there is one on there now just posted a few hours ago for $155. Japan Yahoo Auction has a few listed but they are all above $200. I think I also saw a few TG33 modules on Ebay but they all appear to be selling only in the States.

      The Yamaha SY22 is a fun synth. I’m anxious to get creative with it here shortly.

      Thanks for the comment Swen. Have a great weekend!

      – Jim

  2. Jared

    I got one of these back in the day. I had a V50 for sequencing, so the SY22 filled in a lot of my sonic space with it’s low bit samples. BTW you can use the x-y joystick to control a Wavestation SR. They work very well together.

    Where noise is concerned, the SY35 was presented to have cleaner samples. 16 bit vs 12 bit. Unfortunately they also removed some of my favorites from the 22 ROM. I know it’s cliched but I always liked the running water loops. Soothing. 😉

    It’s hard to recall, but I thought the sy22 had a template mode to quickly select basic envelopes when programming. I think why it missed in the market was the basic 4-op FM for 2 of the 4 osc, and no filters. It also was released right before the general midi standard. Like the wavestation it was really good for long sustained ethereal patches.

    1. Thanks Jared for the Wavestation SR tip. I just found and bought a Korg Wavestation SR off Ebay today. I plan to pair it up with the Yamaha SY-22. Your comment inspired me to try it out. Plus the demo vids on Youtube of the Wavestation were stunning. Take it easy! – Jim

  3. Greg Madison

    Man, another great find. I have it’s slightly bigger brother, the SY-35. I bought it from a friend back in 1996 for a hundred bucks so I could join his terribly avant garde, intensely interesting and extremely talented noise/industrial band. 😉 Still have the synth and the friend and Einsturzende Neubauten are still safely enshrined in the pantheon.

    It’s an awesome piece of kit and looking at the SY-22, I’m not sure it’s all that different, even down to the 1.1,1.2,1.3, etc, patch assignments. The joystick is incredibly powerful and versatile. Back in 1996, I hadn’t seen anything like it before. It has some incredible patches, like those water loops, but there is some musical dross there. Some found it hard to program, but it was all I knew how to do at that point, so I had no complaints. I basically ended up taking the dull bits and beefing them up, making them more interesting. I think I only have one or two of the patches I made left. The SY-35 figured prominently in the last band recordings I made, even after all this time it sounded interesting. My ’35 is noisy only because of age and a bit of incidental abuse. I’ve had to improvise a couple of noise reduction routines to account for it.

    As I recall, the SY-35 is a crazy hybrid AWM/FM synthesis machine. Does the SY-22 also have one foot in both worlds?

    I’m not sure if it’s proper to link from another man’s blog, but if anyone would like to hear the SY-35 singing out, give a listen to the track below. The string pads are actually stock, but I beefed up the vibes. The luscious string pads and the hammer-y, metallic vibraphone at the end are all SY-35, recorded in 2009-2010: http://www.last.fm/music/solar+temple+suicides/_/How+the+Sphere%2C+Having+in+Vain+Tried+Words%2C+Resorted+to+Deeds?autostart

  4. Hello!

    I’m not sure exactly, but if correct I think the Yamaha SY22 and SY35 are virtually the same except the SY35 has more sampled waveforms and the samples are higher-rez.

    Today I read the manual and played more around with the Yamaha SY-22. Some things that stood out are as follows:

    1. You can record the vector the “level” and/or “detune” of the ball controller into each voice.

    2. The Memory Card MCD64 can store 128 voices and 32 multi-play setups which is twice as much as the internal.

    3. Voice selections overlap so you can sustain notes of a certain voice and then switch to a new voice to play over the top.

    4. There is a random voice creation feature that aides in the development of new voice ideas. Voice creation works either for the 2 element voice mode or the 4 element voice mode.

    5. The Yamaha SY-22 effectively can have 8 voice layers or 8 splits with it’s 8 part multitimbral ability.

    6. Layers can be detuned for added phantness or harmony.

    7. There is a voice recall function that recalls that last voice or multi-play setup you were editing. If you lose your idea and want it back you can recall the last one.

    8. There are two element modes. The four element mode consists of A,B,C, and D elements. The dual element mode consists of A and B elements. Note that A and C elements are AWM samples while B and D elements are FM synthesis.

    9. The buttons on the Yamaha SY-22 are made of softt rubber which eliminate that plastic cheap button feel in newer some newer synths.

    10. Although the SY-22 has few sampled waveforms for creating voices, there are several ROM waveform cards available for expansion. I have the Rom sound card Proteus Impressions (Sound Source Unlimited, Inc.) which is pretty good.

    Overall, the Yamaha SY-22 has some very unique and fun features to work with.

    1. Greg Madison

      The recordable joystick position is one of the most diabolical, subtle features of the SY-22/35. Once you figure that out, there’s no stopping you.

      Oddly enough, in the 15 years that I’ve had the SY-35, I have never, ever seen a memory card on the loose. I’ve looked for them periodically, but I’ve never seen one in a second hand shop anywhere. They seem, on the Internet anyway, to be pretty expensive at US$115.00 and up. That’s more than I paid for the synth!

  5. This is the editor I’ve been trying out with the Yamaha SY-22 called SY EDIT.

    Allows these now ageing synthesisers to be programmed completely – options from the synth front panel are very limited, with this program you can edit all the FM parameters. This is version 2.2 and has improved TG33 support.

    Yamaha SY-22 Editor

    Yamaha SY-22 SY Editor V2

  6. The SY-22 is very rare to find on eBay and other auction sites in a day and age where you can routinely find much older and more expensive synths there.

    It has a pretty unique architecture so it’s quite an underrated synth I think and was designed by the legendary Dave Smith (the Prophet-5’s father) while he was working briefly at Yamaha.

    I have an SY-22 set of internals (all the boards) that I’ll be putting up for sale for parts or repair. These are extremely hard to find too nowadays but a must if you want to extend the lifespan of this rare synth.

  7. Alejandro Zambrano

    Hi! I have one SY22 Synth., but here in Venezuela. I am interested in sell it, but I don´t know how much does the shipment will cost… The Synth. has 2 keys displaced (the sound is OK but phisically the keys are not alligned correctly). I used to play the synth., but nowadays I am too busy and have no time for it.


  8. tim

    just got my second SY22 and TG33. going to pair them up for some vector mixing madness. should be fun! i plan on keeping these bad boys now. i had them each twice. but this time letting them stay..i seem to miss them after selling for other synths..

  9. Jim

    Hello, and thanks for your website!
    I also have the SY22 and have had it for about 10 years now. I bought it broken for about $20 here at a swap meet in Tucson, AZ USA.
    One thing these particular keyboards are prone to is broken white keys which don’t spring back, due to (IMO) bad design involving the plastic being too thin to support the spring steel underneath. I’ve had to fix just about ALL of the white keys over the years due to this flaw. If any of your keys are sunken with no spring back, then you have this problem. For the handy types, my fix is to take an Arrow staple (you know, the heavy duty staple gun for upholstery, etc.) straighten it out, heat it with a butane torch and melt it into the broken tab underneath the key. Then the straight metal spring will have an anchor post again and you’ll be good to go!
    This keyboard really does have some great sounds and is just suffering from a little bit of a cheap design flaw, in my opinion. The synth engine is really nice…

  10. Doug

    Jim – Any chance you could send me that Sy Edit file(s)? I cannot find it anywhere! I would really appreciate it. Loving my SY22, you helped me to research it.


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