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Yamaha Tenori-On

The Yamaha Tenori-On is a futuristic music sequencer made for electronic musicians. It's hard not to covet the Tenori-On's bold design and blinking lights, but its high price and limited features make it a relatively niche music instrument.

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Donald Bell

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The Tenori-On's illuminated grid of 256 buttons is both functional and beautiful. The Tenori-On's buttons glow when pressed, and each glowing button represents a note of the music sequence. You can think of the glowing buttons like bumps on a music box or holes in a player piano paper roll.
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When powered off, the Tenori-On looks like medical-grade technology for recovering bubble wrap poppers. Composing music in the Tenori-On is infinitely more entertaining than air-injected packaging, and just as satisfying to squeeze. For electronic musicians who dread pointing and clicking their way through computer music software, the Tenori-On is a great way to make something as tedious as sequencing MIDI notes feel fun and tactile.
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The Tenori-On includes four built-in stereo speakers: two on the front; and two on the back. The included speakers are loud enough for casual jamming, but to really hear what the Tenori-On is capable of you need to plug into the instrument's 3.5mm headphone jack.


A Clear button located between the two speakers wipes the currently selected pattern from the Tenori-On's memory. The button is useful for making a clean start after a disappointing composition. Thankfully, the button is placed far enough out of the way to not be triggered accidentally.

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A surprising amount of the Tenori-On's functions can be controlled with the right combination of buttons and shift keys. Some of the deeper Tenori-On settings, however, can only be accessed using the small, illuminated LCD screen on the bottom edge of the instrument. An oversized scroll wheel to the left of the screen helps you navigate through menus, while OK and Cancel buttons to the right of the screen let you select or back out of menu options.
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Yamaha knows better than to ask electronic musicians to trade in their laptops for Tenori-Ons. Instead, musician's can use the Tenori-On's MIDI input and output jacks to sync up and interact with the rest of their gear. Using MIDI, users can also sync up multiple Tenori-Ons to run simultaneously.
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Using an SD memory card, you can load the Tenori-On with your own audio samples and also record and save performances. The software Yamaha requires for loading samples onto the Tenori-On is both Mac and PC compatible.
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The frame of the Tenori-On is constructed from brushed magnesium, making the instrument both durable and surprisingly lightweight. A series of five function keys are ergonomically placed on both the left and right sides of the Tenori-On's frame, falling naturally under your thumbs as you hold the instrument.
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On the bottom of the Tenori-On you'll find jacks for the power adapter, MIDI cable, and headphone output. You can also see the instrument's large menu scroll wheel and the small power switch recessed in the center.
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The back of the Yamaha Tenori-On looks much like the front. Battery compartments for 6 AA batteries on the left and right sides of the frame are the giveaway that you've got the instrument turned backwards. Also, while the back of the Tenori-On is just as pretty as its front, the buttons on the back are for show only and do not function when pressed.

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