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Yamaha Tenori-On music sequencer review: Yamaha Tenori-On music sequencer

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The Good The Yamaha Tenori-On music sequencer turns the otherwise tedious process of programming and performing electronic music into a fun and visually dazzling experience.

The Bad The Tenori-On is expensive, difficult to synchronize with other MIDI gear, and its built-in sounds wear thin after repeated listening.

The Bottom Line While the Tenori-On's breathtaking design and ease-of-use is hard to resist, only performing electronic musicians will be able to justify its high price and tap into the device's more advanced applications.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 10
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Designed as an easy-to-use and visually interesting solution to the struggles of composing and performing electronic music, the Yamaha Tenori-On music sequencer ($1,200) is a daring attempt to shake up the dull state of electronic music hardware.

The Tenori-On's deliberately lightweight and tactile design has the whimsical appeal of a toy--which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As an alternative to the complexities of programming a drum machine or modifying virtual instruments in ProTools, the playful quality of the Tenori-On is a large part of its appeal. After all, the Tenori-On's creator Toshio Iwai already has a reputation for disguising music-composing tools as games. If you have a problem dropping serious money on an instrument that treats songwriting like a game of Tetris, the Tenori-On is not for you.

The front of the Tenori-On includes a grid of 256 illuminated buttons that are used to enter notes or switch between sequences and sounds. Additional buttons around the edge of the Tenori-On are used to adjust musical attributes such as tempo and pitch, or select advanced features on the instrument's small screen.

Measuring 8 inches square and 1.25 inches deep, the Tenori-On's brushed-magnesium frame has the solid, graspable feel of a Formula One steering wheel. Fitting a 16x16 grid of 256 plastic buttons onto an 8-inch square seems a little cramped in theory, but in practice the Tenori-On's compact form allows your thumbs to manage the entire playing surface while holding the instrument with both hands.

If you have $1,200 burning a hole in your pocket, it wouldn't be hard to find a portable music sequencer with far more features than the Tenori-On (the Akai MPC1000 springs to mind). In fact, some omitted features (velocity control, swing timing, standard MIDI syncing) make the Tenori-On relatively crude by modern standards. In spite of its technical limitations, the Tenori-On's saving grace is its extraordinary capacity as a live performance tool for electronic musicians.

It's no mistake that the back of the Tenori-On is nearly indistinguishable from its front. The ability for audiences to view the Tenori-On's blinking music sequences on the back of the instrument underscores the device's emphasis on live performance.

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