Yamaha A4000/A5000 Review


When its older brother Yamaha A3000 came out in the mid 90’s it was one of the more affordable samplers on the market that featured a full synthesis engine (sampler + synth). A lot of us lusted after one, since the big E-MUs and Akais were prohibitively expensive back then, this was the second best. Still they were not cheap. In fact by the time i could afford a Yamaha A series sampler it was already year of 2002. And by the time models A4000 and A5000 were released. So i purchased one – my first real hardware sampler. It was like living a dream “wow now i finally have a sampler!”. By that time i sold my beloved XP-50 (which was my only synth) and somehow missed it. What surprised me by Yamaha was that i could easy cover all of the sounds that i liked on the good old Super JV series. The filters were full and juicy, not thin like their earlier incarnations in SY series. The machine offered a lot of different filter types as well as all the modulation routings you would require for one serious “synth style” patch. As i’ve metioned, at that time i really missed my XP-50 so first thing to do was to dig into machine and go for the basic synth patches consisting of nothing more than a raw saw or square or sine wave. Coincidently most of the patches that i’ve made there were synth style and this is exactly what i will show on this page in a form of synth demos.

You will notice that the machine sounds quite nice, yet for some reason it is quite cheap on second hand market. Well better to clear some things right away!! Read this as a warning if you plan to purchase one of these devices. Unfortunately all of the A series Yamaha samplers suffer from the same problem, rotary encoders located below main display. After some time they start to produce weird results outputting wrong values or going into wrong direction – ie you scroll down, value goes up. I should point out that i bought my A4000 brand new from the store. And after one year in smoke free studio one encoder started acting. Quick browse to the web to find out other people have the same problem. On of the cause for this might be the fan in the back the sucks the air out of the unit, which means air will be sucked in from the front side – that is from the place where encoders are, and the dust will literally be pushed into the encoder. Even if you open it up, which isn’t an easy task to clean it up, the problem might return. You might want to google Yamaha A4000 encoders and see of the solutions that people came with. Or you can buy a new set of encoders. Unfortunately this might set you back around 50 EUR which is frustrating given the unit itself can be found for less than 100 EUR.

Second warning i have to give out to potential buyer. If you plan to use this as a live unit, simply forget it. The loading times on this unit are extremely slow. Even if you load it before the concert, if power shots down for some reason you have to go thru it all again and lose a lot of precious time. Not to mention the frustration if you have several different things to load, you would have to wait several minutes in between.

Back to the features. Although called a sampler, Yamaha A-4000 offers amazing synthesis capabilities and is maybe one of the most underrated samplers. when it comes to synthesis power. For start, it gives you: 2 LFO’s, 3 EG’s, 16 different filter types with complete control over the parameters. Single patch has no layering tone limit. Many samplers had layer tone limits of one patch to contain up to four tones (waveforms) such as Akais and some Rolands. Yamaha is not limited in that way. You can stack as many tones/waveforms as you want for a single patch (well as much as polyphony allows you to). This way you can create very rich and complex sounds.

It also has some unique synthesis functions like ”expand detune / dephase” and LFO with fully programmable waveforms. Once you create new sound, you can resample it to create even more complex one. There are also 96 onboard effects inside of three (six in case of A5000) independent effect blocks, which can be connected in series, parallel or individual. Combine this capability with the resampling function and you’ll have virtually endless effect processing power at your fingertips. You can even use the A4000/A5000 as a stand alone effects processor by assigning effects to the stereo analog inputs. Here are .mp3 sound examples of Yamaha A-4000 which will demonstrate it’s synthesis capabilities. In most examples, used sample will be the saw waveform. The size of this sample is only 0.7 kB or 712 bytes to be exact!

2osc_saw_lfo.mp3 (375kB) – First we will start with standard LFO modulated filter sweep. In this case used filter was 18 dB with medium resonance applied. Sound is made of two saw oscillators octave transposed and a touch of reverb.
2osc_saw_lfo-Note.mp3 (171 kB) – Same sound, single note.
AnalogRAW.mp3 (591kB) – Analog sound made of two saw waves and one square wave filtered through band pass filter (BPF) with max width. Each osc uses random pan, square uses expand detune function.
2saw_eg_lfo.mp3 (795kB) – Another LFO sweep with two oscillators, filtered one through LPF the other through HPF, both resonant. To demonstrate effects unit, a little bit of chorus and hall efx were added.
2saw_osc+dist+delay.mp3 (273kB) – Dual saw sound, processed through TWah+OD and T-XDly efx.
2sqr_lpf18(dephase)_hpf24.mp3 (478kB) – Introducing dephase function. This will make your sound extra wide without need for efx. Two oscillators were used – both square waves. One filtered through 18 dB low pass filter (LPF), the other one trough 24 dB high pass filter (HPF). I recommend headhones for this one.
AditiveRAW.mp3 (127kB) – Remember stacking as many tones as you want on a single patch? Well this feature gives you a chance to build a primitive, but functioning additive synthesizer. Following sound was created by only using sine waveform. There are totally 8 sine waves, each controlled by it’s own LFO, but all together inside a single patch (this makes overall controlling of the patch much easier). Each sine wave’s pitch is transposed so they make standard music harmonics (second harmonic is octave up, third harmonic is 7 notes above second, fourth is 5 notes above third, etc…).
AditiveChordRAW.mp3 (115kB) – Same sound as above but a chord.
AditiveSynthesis.mp3 (310kB) – Organic type of sound created by aditive synthesis.
sqr_lfo_port.mp3 (146kB) – A little bit of fun with square wave and LFO.
expand_detune+7_singleOSC.mp3 (555kB) – The cool ”expand detune” function. According to manual this feature sets up a tuning differential (discord) between left and right channels. However, when you put the (stereo) width to 0 you get this crazy sounding PWM type of effect. Believe or not this sound example is a single saw oscilator . That is one sample, one timbre, one poly, no efx, no tricks or anything, just single saw waveform + expand detune function.
SineWave+reverb.mp3 (72kB) – Using sine wave oscillator and LFO to create simple organ. Little bit of reverb was added. Note: To create a sine wave and other ”analog” waveforms like pulse, saw, square or white noise, there are many good programs available of which some are freeware.
sqr_detune.mp3 (185kB) – Single square wave with 18 dB filter, full resonance and expand detune function set to +3.
AnalogPad.mp3 (555kB) – Following pad was created using one pulse wave, two saw waves and one sine wave. That’s all – the rest is A-4000.
SawPad.mp3 (422kB) – Another pad, this time made of three saw waves.
Resample.mp3 (137kB) – This sound started as a sine wave. Using resample, efx and a lot of programming i turned into this organ sound.
Resample2.mp3 (67kB) – Another organ sound that started as sine wave, then resampled.
transwave-mult_timbr.mp3 (2152kB) – Testing multi timbral part of A-4000. Simple drum set and a ”transwave” type of sound that i programmed.

Comments (6)

  1. Wow, you truly show what these units are capable of synthezis-wise here. Personally, i have only “touched” the capabilities of using the generated waveforms (having owned loads of A3000 and a couple of A5000 in the past). Any plans to create a synth-only bank for the Yamahas Don? That would probably make me buy another one just to play your patches :)

    Stellar demos.

  2. Cool review, thanks for posting. I’d love to read your thoughts on other Yamaha synths. I have a soft spot for them the same way you seem to for Roland, probably because my first ‘real’ synth was a Yamaha back in the day.

  3. rba4k

    Started using my A4K again recently, bt having a few issues.

    When using cc data (e.g mod wheel to cut-off) it sometimes makes the a4k’s timing stutter…

    Not really sure what’s causing it tbh…

  4. Fred

    The encoder issues are mostly because of noise spikes. Adding capacitors to the terminals with negative side on common ground filters out the noise spikes and makes the encoders work flawlessly. No need to buy an expensive set of encoders or prying them open.

  5. using my a4000 today. after some testing the interpolation is exactly like kontakt in standard mode.

    vibewise it’s like all the 90s samplers rolled into one.

    i don’t see why people slate the interface..i think it’s totally straight forward.

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