From a promotional brochure:

Enhanced Expressive Power In A Wide Range Of Musical Styles
You play music because it makes you feel good. It's even better if you're backed up by great-sounding accompaniment. The Yamaha PSR-6700 makes playing music a truly enjoyable experience with outstanding voices and stunning sound quality, plus a newly developed Yamaha automatic accompaniment system. Interactive Accompaniment - "IA" for short - provides eminemently natural, musical accompaniment by responding to what you play on the keyboard.

Features:

  • Interactive Accompaniment section with 36 preset styles, each with four variations, four fill-in patterns, four intros, four endings and a solo mode for each variation, intro and ending
  • Auto Bass/Chord accompaniment, with Fingered or Single Finger modes and manual bassline override
  • 76-key velocity-sensitive keyboard with 40-note polyphony
  • 8-track sequencer and Custom Accompaniment programmer
  • Built-in 3.5" floppy disk drive with Yamaha Disk Orchestra support
  • Internal stereo amplifier and speaker system, with stereo auxiliary in/out and headphone socket
  • 100 editable voice (instrument) presets, with single/dual/split mode, automatic harmony generator and Custom Voice Editor
  • 74-piece drum/percussion kit playable via the keyboard, or via the eight velocity-sensitive percussion pads
  • Full memory backup of all settings, with the option to back up to floppy disk
  • MIDI In/Out/Thru connectors

The PSR-6700 was released by Yamaha in 1991, at a retail price of over £2000. It was marketed as a "prosumer" keyboard - designed for home use, but incorporating features that would normally be found on more professional synthesizers. It features a 76-key keyboard with full-size, velocity-sensitive (but un-weighted) keys, modulation and pitch bend wheels and eight small velocity-sensitive drum pads.

The PSR-6700's sound is based on an early incarnation of AWM - Advanced Wave Memory. The keyboard has two banks of samples - A and B. A contains 103 samples, most of which are similar to real instruments (Violin Ensemble, Trumpet Body, Piano etc) plus around twenty plain waveforms. B contains 255 samples, most of which are simple waveforms unlike bank A's full samples.

Each instrument on the 6700 is made out of a maximum of two samples from each bank. Each sample has its own individual ADSR envelope (with eleven envelope presets, as well as a twelfth "Preset" setting which is used for factory-set custom envelopes) as well as gain and detune controls. The overall ADSR envelope for the instrument can be adjusted by the user, although the individual sample envelopes are not editable.

A few other settings can be adjusted for each instrument: pitch bend range (none, 1 semi, 2 semis), touch sensitivity (off, low, med, high), transposition up or down an octave, tune curve (piano 1, piano 2 or equal temperament) and modulation depth/speed.

Although the 6700 features twin effects processors ("Reverb" with eleven types of reverb, tempo-sync, ping-pong and plain vanilla delay, as well as distortion, 'tunnel' and two stereo localiser presets; and "Effect" with tremolo, chorus, flange and symphony effects) it has one very important feature missing: filters.

No filters, you cry? Surely not. But yes - despite its complexity and size (not to mention weight: the keyboard has a heavy steel base rather than the usual home-keyboard plastic) the PSR-6700 is just a home keyboard at heart. The speakers give that away, as does the 'Interactive Accompaniment' section (more on that later) and the gimmicky, but rather cool, Solo/Demo/Disk Orchestra functionality. The PSR-6700 seems to be designed for the home musician who has dabbled in keyboard playing for a while, and wants to move up to a higher level, but is intimidated by the world of professional hardware. It has enough features, menus and customisation options to keep the budding synth-user happy, while still retaining the user-friendliness of your average consumer keyboard. Filters (not to mention FM, ring modulation, LFOs, or any of the myriad other features that professional synths have) are scary, scary things for the home musician only just poking their head out of the fluffy warm shell of consumer-level equipment.

To make up for the 6700's lack of filtery goodness, Yamaha threw in a sequencer. Well, to be precise, it threw in one and a quarter sequencers. The 6700 has one eight-track sequencer (seven tracks for instruments, and one to record everything that you do with the accompaniment section) and a 'Custom Accompaniment Programmer', which allows you to program in your very own rhythm, bassline and chords to be used with the automatic accompaniment.

Unfortunately, the Custom Accompaniment Programmer is so weedy as to be almost useless - although each accompaniment preset features sixteen different patterns (each up to eight bars long) plus a solo mode for every pattern, the CA programmer only allows you to program one fixed-length pattern. The resulting Custom Accompaniment inherits one intro and ending pair from the pattern you had selected when you entered the editor.

The sequencer itself is fun, although it's very inflexible - there's no option to turn off the accompaniment section and just play drums yourself, for instance, although you can turn down the accompaniment volume if drums are unneccessary. You can record up to three tracks at once (accomp, voice 1 and voice 2) and the sequencer can perform basic editing functions - inserting and removing bars, quantisation of note timing, punch-in recording and so on. Sequencer tracks can be saved to disk and loaded at a later date to wow your friends and family with your rendition of the Knight Rider theme for badly-sampled electric guitar and violin, plus rooster noises (yes, the drumkit includes rooster noises, as well as laughing, applause (great for pretending that you're playing to an audience that actually appreciates you,) train whistles and gurgling noises, amongst the more usual drum sounds.)

Okay, enough of the bad points. What about the Interactive Accompaniment that Yamaha touts so enthusiastically in the copy of their brochure? Sorry to disappoint, but it's not really all that. Essentially, the keyboard looks at what you're playing, and if you exceed a certain number of key-hits per second, or if the average velocity of your hits goes above a certain level, it will shift from one variation from another accordingly. If it's pumping out the Verse 1 variation and you start pounding the keyboard like a madman (or woman), it'll switch to Verse 2, then back to 1 when you calm down a bit. Same goes for the Chorus 1/Chorus 2 variation pair. If you don't play at all for a few bars, it'll kick into Solo mode and play through a preset sequence of improvisations and chord changes.

Solo mode is actually rather good - I used to punch up the 'Shuffle' accompaniment, hit Solo and just sit and listen as it proceeded through the variations - about 32 bars of music, obviously programmed by a skilled keyboardist. However, since IA only pays attention to what you're playing with your right hand, if you've cut everything back and launched into a bass solo using your left hand, you may find Solo mode randomly kicking in in the middle of it. For that reason, I usually left IA off whenever I was actually playing, as opposed to just messing around.

Like most other home keyboards of its era, almost all the 6700's accompaniment presets are somewhat lame, if well-intentioned. Although there are a few good presets, they make up a minority of the presets available to the user. Preset The preset bank contains classics such as "Party Pop", "Bounce Rock", three types of waltz, Polka and 'New Age'. Admittedly some of the ballad presets are okay, and the solos are almost universally well-programmed, but most of the presets are simply not very useful.

The disk drive, as well as the MIDI, were the reasons why I bought this keyboard in the first place. The PSR-6700 posesses the ability to dump the entire contents of its memory to disk (in fact, the 'save to disk' function will not allow you to select individual settings to save - the entire memory must be dumped every time.) Each file takes up a minimum of 74 Kb, up to around 200Kb for a file with a five-minute, eight-track sequencer song included. The disk drive uses double density (713 Kb) disks as opposed to regular high density 1.44Mb ones, but they're readable by a standard PC floppy drive, allowing files to be passed around via the Internet.

The keyboard also comes with a demo disk, with six additional demo songs to supplement the two built into the keyboard, plus several extra accompaniment patterns (two of which can be loaded at any one time) and a demonstration sequencer track.

The keyboard's MIDI features do not exactly make up the "comprehensive MIDI implementation" that the brochure boasts - for one, there is no General MIDI patch bank. The keyboard has two MIDI modes: Remote Control, which allows all the keyboard's features to be controlled by a combination of standard MIDI messages (for playing notes, pitch bend, modulation and channel 1 volume) and SysEx messages (for keyboard-specific controls - pretty much everything else); and "PK Standard Voice" mode, which substitutes a different patch bank of 100 instruments, and turns off all the keyboard's advanced features. The PK mode appears to be intended to allow the keyboard to be used as a master keyboard for controlling other keyboards, but since Remote Control mode will send out normal MIDI messages anyway, it seems a little pointless.


I outgrew my 6700 a few years ago, when I started messing around with recording music on the computer, and needed a synth that would give me amazing sounds, rather than the 6700's somewhat staid orchestral soundbank. However, in the years since I first got it (second-hand, in about 1997, when I was twelve or so) it's taught me a lot - when I accidentally played a wrong note in the middle of a chord, and realised it sounded rather good, its two-line green LCD showed me what the chord was called (I learnt about minor major sevenths, ninths, diminished fifths and other chords during my years with this keyboard, and it gave me my first taste of sequencing and arranging. Without it, I doubt I would be doing the stuff I'm doing today, music-wise. I even used it (and samples from it) in most of my songs up until a year or so ago. It has the capability to sound pretty good, using heavily-customised instrument patches, a guitar FX pedal and some studio trickery. Now, unfortunately, it's been relegated to a MIDI controller, ever since I discovered the magic of soft synths.

If I sound as if I'm putting this keyboard down, forgive me. It's good for its age - when it was released, it would have been pretty near the top of the range for a consumer keyboard - but it pales in comparison to today's products. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, the PSR-6700 is a home keyboard at heart, and no amount of wishing on my part is going to transform it into anything else.

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