AF’s Weblog

January 26, 2009

Test: Yamaha Tenori-On Review

Filed under: Sequencers — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:38 am
Unidentified Musical Object
Yamaha Tenori-On: The Test

In the world of electronic instruments, when you think innovation, the name Yamaha rarely comes to mind! Yet this Japanese company was the creator of the first FM synthesizer, the DX7. So just to show you that that they can still innovate, Yamaha has created the Tenori-On, a sort of UMO (Unidentified Musical Object) halfway between a musical instrument and a portable game console.


At first glance, it’s tempting to compare the Tenori-On with devices that look similar like certain MIDI controllers (Monome for example). Although its 16×16 button grid might make you think this, the Tenori-On offers much more than just a MIDI controller. It’s a tone generator, a sequencer with multiple modes, and a sample reader all in one. The Tenori-On therefore has much more to it than just what the buttons might lead you to think…

A bit of its back history and philosophy

Originally, the Tenori-On concept was developed by a member of Yamaha’s R&D department (its motorcycle section!) in his free time … Once the basics were well established, Toshio Iwai (the illustrious creator of ElectroPlancton for Nintendo DS) finalized the instrument. Though he’s adept at audio and visual experiences, Toshio Iwai is not really a musician. That’s why one of the basic axioms of the Tenori-On is that it is not designed specifically for musicians, but also geared towards visual performances as well as audio. Therefore, as we’ll see, the instrument is missing some features that can be found almost everywhere else. This does not stop it however from offering innovative performance modes and work flow.

Now let’s take a closer look…



The Tenori-On really stands out from the rest, both with it’s very limited features in some aspects, and its completely innovative ones in others. What destabilizes the average musician is that they soon realize that it isn’t made primarily for musicians. There are large functional gaps that are obvious to aficionados of electronic instruments: it’s impossible to edit sounds, basic management of samples, etc.. You must therefore change your way of thinking and let yourself be guided by the instrument, approaching it visually as well as sonically. The different performance modes open up new perspectives and fortunately MIDI capability expands the possibilities of the device. But innovation and originality have a price. At $1200 MSRP, even if the manufacturing quality is very good, its limitations will start to be felt by your wallet. But it has a “endearing” quality to it that’s non negligible, and has been adopted by many artists, including Bjork. So a final verdict is very much based on subjectivity. Either you’ll enter fully into the strange world of Tenori-On, accepting its limitations, or you’ll fall back on something a bit more classic. I have chosen: I’m a fan! and you?

Lots of fun
An unusual and original instrument
Innovative performance modes
Easy learning curve
A real “sound and light show” when used live

A lot of limitations and functional gaps
Sample player is a bit basic
Sounds: Either you love them or hate them
Pricey despite a very nice look and its manufacturing quality

To read the full, detailed article see:   Yamaha Tenori-On Review

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