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Classic Yamaha synths get a modern makeover (and an app, natch)

The Japanese instrument maker has made compact versions of iconic keyboards from decades past, though some have questioned the use of mini keys. Yamaha says, "Try them out."

The Reface DX (centre) is a revamped version of the popular DX7 keyboard from the 80s. Yamaha

Yamaha has given some of its vintage synth keyboards a modern lick of paint, downsizing four classic electronic instruments into compact versions, dubbed Reface.

The new line takes four of the company's most famous electric keyboards from decades past, and squashes them into compact, modernised and significantly cheaper revamps. Of the four models -- the Reface DX, CS, CP and YC -- the DX will arguably be the most familiar, a downsized edition of the Yamaha DX7. First appearing in 1983, its squidgy electronic sound featured on countless pop records through the 80s. These new versions, however, appear to be targeting enthusiastic amateurs.

Each new model takes some design cues from its pricey, retro predecessors, borrowing the look of various sliders and dials to keep a vintage feel -- even though these are keyboards that work with a forthcoming iOS app. That app, Yamaha's Reface Capture, can be used to store keyboard voices and send them directly to the instrument.

The company is giving these ultra-compact keyboards an airing at an event in London, following a formal announcement a few days ago -- one that prompted criticism from some onlookers, displeased with the company's choice to use mini keys, rather than full-size keys, for its new kit. "Many piano and organ players are likely to be decidedly unreceptive to the idea of playing a small scale keyboard," Music Radar writes.

"Try them out," said Chris Irvine, music production product manager for Yamaha UK, in response to the smattering of early criticism. "I was sceptical when I saw the spec on paper, but having lived with the product for two years now, having seen the prototypes in various stages and also seeing peoples' first impressions when they see them, it has a massive impact on your real perception of what the product is.

"We're not saying we're not going to make a bigger keyboard at a more professional price point further down the line," Irvine said.

Up close and personal, all four keyboards make an impression in terms of their very compact size. While I'll confess I'm no synth aficionado (unless you count a few years' worth of piano tuition), to me the keys had a substantial spring to them, and while they're a far cry from the weight of a more luxurious electric piano, they don't feel as rattly and plasticky as some low-end keyboards. The various controls meanwhile all seem to move very smoothly, and there's always joy to be found in shaking the pitch-shift knob.

The keyboards in the Reface series will be considerably more attainable than their better known namesakes. They'll sell at a recommended price of £347, which equates to roughly $540 or AU$725. All four models will hit shop shelves in September.