December 23rd, 2010

Yamaha AN200: Hints and Hidden Parameters

The Yamaha AN-200 and twin sister DX-200 are quite unusual sound modules. Originally marketed to the groovebox and DJ crowd, they combined powerful synth engines with many real time knobs and buttons, and rhythmically oriented sequencer functions. The AN  is an analogue modelling machine and the DX uses the well know FM synthesis its name suggests. The units share the same sequencer functions and have very similar voice manipulation functions, at least in terms of layout.  


 I like my synthesizers analogue style, with knobs,  buttons , and sliders. I was able to snatch an AN200 complete in the box of eBay some years ago and I actually did some recording with it, but on the whole I found it at the time to be a bit whiney, fiddly, and annoying, which I don’t like in a synthesizer (or a cat, ha ha ha). But I hung onto it because I felt some appeal there and planned to get back to it.

In an apparently unrelated development, I was impressed by the sound of the Yamaha An1x keyboard synth when I heard it. I was actively shopping for one when I discovered that the 2 machines were the same synth engine in different boxes (!!). This astonishing fact is known to the serious synth community but hidden in a cloud of techno-babble loaded with unknown acronyms and off-hand comments in technical newsgroups. However, here is a simple explanation and a warning:



As clearly explained by someone else: “The AN200 is a PLG150-AN card outfitted in a hardware enclosure that includes a selection of real time knobs and buttons for playback and recording. The major addition which distinguishes the AN200 from the AN1x is the 3 part multi-timbral AWM2 sound engine which provides 32 voices of polyphony. Three tracks are provided for you to build rhythm patterns using the 120 built-in drum, bass and percussive synth sounds."

Unless they specifically want the AN200 “dance oriented pattern sequencer” features, some folks prefer to  take out the PLG150-AN card that is inside the AN200 and drop it into a Motif or other compatible synthesizer. For this reason, you will occasionally find an “empty” AN200 case for sale…so watch for that if you are in the market for this synth. This happens partly because, oddly enough, the AN-200 usually sells used for less than the PLG card alone.

If this is an interest of yours, there is an abundance of technical discussion about these PLG and other related cards over here:,2,3,4,6,7&Board=Plugboard&Number=335895&page=14&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=&fpart=1e

Hidden Functions

So I recently resolved to try using the unit in a more serious way for another recording project. It was then that I was reminded of something else about this unit, as follows. If you are interested in editing and creating voices, the interface is a perverse and frustrating combination of obfuscation and oscuration. With all those knobs, it gives the impression of being comprehensive and intuitive, but it is far from it. Many high level features are hidden without labels under some other function. Several of the buttons hide a gold mine of powerful editing features beneath a non-descript label.

Now, these things are in the manual, but that’s another challenge. The manual is strangely organized as series of “tips” which,  like the interface and the features set, is aimed at the groove box/dance/dj enthusiast. Trying to use it while working with the machine is like plowing through heavy slush in leaky boots. It’s very annoying to be told which features are particularly “hip” and when to “watch the crowd go wild” when one can’t find a given function in the index.

The Cheat Sheet.

So I went through the manual carefully once and created for my own use  a cheat sheet of hidden and/or important functions that are not obvious and can’t possibly be remembered between sessions. If anyone is interested, here it is.

This is just for the voice editing functions. The pattern/song sequencer is another matter, and I have not got to it yet. Perhaps a similar reference card will be called for. Also, there are voice editing functions available only through computer interface and the editing program. I don’t like that kind of editing and I’m not even going to go there at this point. This is just for using the front panel controls.



Effects:                    Reverb   is hidden under Delay

                                  Chorus is hidden under Flanger

                                  (These affect all the tracks.)


Distortion:             Separate section and affects only the synth track.


Track mute:           According to manual Shift synth or rythmn track repeatedly      
         steps  through  8 track mute configurations, but I’ve never been able
         to make it work.


LFO Detail:           Lots of action hidden under this button!

        amplitude/filter/pitch vco1/pitch vco2/waveform (21 available)

                                Waveforms: 5 sine, 5 triangle, 3 square, 4 saw, and 4 S H.


FM:                        affects only VCO 1.

                               Data wheel can be used to set depth.


VCO waves.      Repeated button presses cycle through main waves but not all.

                             Hidden waves . Data wheel accesses all including 
                             “noise”  and  “inner2/3”.

                             Available waves vary according to sync setting (VCO 1 only).

                             VCO 2 has only 1 hidden wave, and menu is unaffected by sync      setting.


Key Setting       Hidden “Mono” setting . Use data wheel.


Synch                VCO 1 can be split into 2 VCOs which can be  
    separated and synched by selecting “VCO 1 M>S”.

Scenes             Any voice knobs may be used, but no buttons. 
                                 Octave cannot be changed between scenes. 

                          You must store scene 1 before  working on scene 2 or you 
                          will  lose your work. 
                          You must HOLD DOWN the store button while you do this.

Free EG          One track, one knob!

 Knobs moved will be assigned separate tracks automatically and 
 sequentially if more than one track is enabled.

 Length:  Set before you press RecordPlayback length adjusts the
 speed tweeks are applied to pattern.


Setup:          (shift- 16) Velocity /Metronome/Protect/Roll


           Power off. Simultaneously hold show value /pattern / exit. Power on.


Developeing this cheat sheet has really helped me enjoy this synth more.   i would comment that due to its virtual analogue modelling this synth has a distinctive sound.  It may not please everybody right out of the box,  but I have found that it responds well to tweeking, particularly the filter.  It does benefit from outboard EQ. I also like its portability in relation to its power, and its ample storage space for user voices.