Yamaha RX5

Digital rhythm programmer

Yamaha RX5 1980s digital drum machine RX11
Check prices on Reverb

1986 (Dec.)
Initially sold for ¥147,000

State-of-the-art 80s drum machine: powerful and flexible, it's worth to be considered among the top class of hardware together with Roland's 909 and 808.

24 internal voices, expandable using ROM cartridges made both by Yamaha and third parties. Volume, envelope and pitch for each voice can be edited, not only system-wide but also per note event in each pattern. While it does miss more live-oriented controls as found on Roland machines, the amount of detailing that can be done through pattern building is impressive.

Some editing functions are easily accessible via direct buttons, other requires exploring sub-menu systems Yamaha calls jobs. Thankfully a summary of all the hidden settings is available below the LCD. Input for these is done either through +1/-1 buttons or through a data slider, a very small and not so precise one: a wheel as found on the QX5fd would have been perfect for the job.

It also features separate outputs and volume sliders for each couple of voice stack. Plus you get two accent levels and the ability to quickly reverse a voice.

The keys are precise, with a satisfying click and an optimal travel distance that make playing live and editing setings a pleasure for the fingers. It's all plastic, but the different textures used are much better compared to the early RX11/RX15 models.

The demo below showcases an interesting technique of glitching sounds that can be achieved by linking and swapping sounds using external cartridges. Thanks to custom made cartridges, today it's also possible to sample your own sounds to use them on the RX5. All for a fraction of the cost of a Roland.

Yamaha RX5 on Sound On Sound, April 1987
Yamaha RX5 on Sound On Sound, April 1987
How not to play a drum machine
How not to play a drum machine
Yamaha RX5 on Music Technology, April 1987
Yamaha RX5 on Music Technology, April 1987


Sound source

Cartridge: 12bit, 28 voices
Internal: 12bit, 24 voices
RAM: 12bit, 12 voices

Memory capacity

100 patterns (99 measures)
20 songs (999 maximum parts)
3 chains (999 maximum steps)

Connection terminals and interfaces

Output L, Output R, Output Phones
12 instrument outputs
Cassette/Tape sync IN, OUT
External clock IN, OUT
Foot switch
Cartridge port x2

Dimensions and weight

439w x 88h x 340d (mm)