Yamaha CS-80 Article Page

From SynthTrax


Date: 1977

Type: 8-note polyphonic (2 voices per note) / Subtractive / Analogue

Illustration of Yamaha CS-80
Yamaha CS-80 (1977)

One of the earliest of the true polyphonic analogue synthesizers and one of the most revered for both its sound and playability as a performance synthesizer. It's eight-note polyphonic, with two layers of voices per note and true polyphonic aftertouch. A rudimentary patch memory was included, but based on setting a 'mini' set of knobs and sliders, and not a true recallable memory such as that featured on the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 (1977).

It is also famously large and heavy - at over 100kg and costing the equivalent of £30,000, it was never going to be huge commercial success. However, artists like Vangelis have since given it a singular reputation.

Full Song table here: Yamaha CS-80 Song List

Archetypal Track

Vangelis, 'Blade Runner' Opening titles

Vangelis is probably the closest associated artist of the CS-80

Associated artists

There are several artists closely associated with the CS-80 or have used one to create prominent works


Rare clip of Vanglis demo'ing the CS-80:

Quotes by Vangelis on the CS-80:

"The most important synthesizer in my career — and for me the best analogue synthesizer design there has ever been. It was a brilliant instrument, though unfortunately not a very successful one. It needs a lot of practice if you want to be able to play it properly, but that’s because it’s the only synthesizer I could describe as being a real instrument, mainly because of the keyboard — the way it’s built and what you can do with it."

"Today (1984), the only thing that matters to synth makers and synth players is the supply of different sounds — nothing else. I think the manufacturers have a responsibility to fit synthesizers with better keyboards so that people get some encouragement to play better, because if all you do is use synths as a source of sounds, you’ll never be a complete performer. You’ll never be a player in the practical sense, you won’t acquire fast reactions."

"The DX7 is a nice, commercial little toy, at a reasonable price. But it’s a little bit noisy, and I think the main reason so many people have bought it is that it has such a clever library of sounds. I don’t want to criticise it too much — it’s good for studio work and nice to have around. It is to the synth world what the Renault 5 is to cars. The Renault 5 was a hit because it was very versatile and you could park it anywhere… What I really don’t like about it is that, for Yamaha, it’s a step back from the CS-80."

"When Yamaha created the CS-80, I expected them to refine it and improve it, make it lighter, put new sounds on it, but they didn’t."

"Nothing since the CS-80 that I’ve used can act as a natural extension of a player’s ability. Nothing can be as immediate. The situation is even worse now with the arrival of computers."

Electronics & Music Maker 1984

"With help from Yamaha‑Kemble's Dusty Miller, Vangelis eventually went on to buy another seven CS80s"

Sound On Sound 1997

"The CS80 was, and still is — until something new comes along — the instrument which allows you to play and to express yourself. It has the playability that I mentioned before."

"The CS80 wasn't very commercially successful, for three reasons. First, it is too heavy to be transported. (I don't consider this as a serious reason.) Second, it was for the time very expensive, compared to other synthesizers. And the third and most important reason is that this synthesizer, in order for it to be played correctly, you had to study seriously how to play it. Exactly like you had to do with any other acoustic instrument. Unfortunately, it was promoted to the wrong type of musicians, at a period when everybody was trying to find an easy and quick way to extract a sound and not to learn how to do that. So, it was inevitably not to be successful."

Sound On Sound 2020

BBC Radiophonic Workshop

The BBC Radiophonic workshop was set up in 1957 by Delia Derbyshire and others, and was an important music production workshop for BBC Productions for over fifty. Their budget was clearly large as they were able to acquire many magnificent electronic music machines, including the 12-oscillator EMS AKS 100, the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, and, of course, the Yamaha CS-80.

Here's Peter Howell demo'ing their CS-80 which he used for the Doctor Who theme (intro sting and bassline):

Table of a few notable CS-80 tracks

Full table here: Yamaha CS-80 Song List