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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.

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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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