Yamaha PSS-110 (squarewave keyboard with rhythm, voice & animal samples)

This very rare Yamaha PortaSound toy keyboard from 1985 (embossed case date stamp) has only 4 simple blip rhythms and 4 preset sounds, but features a drum/ effect kit mode with 3 animal samples, a human voice sample (only 10 white keys) and a few interesting electronic percussion. Thus together with the VS-100 it was the earliest Yamaha keyboard with sampled sounds. The 4 normal main voice preset sounds are 4 note polyphonic squarewave.

main features:

SER. NO. 025999


The sounds of the Yamaha PSS-110 are selected in a sequence by pressing a single button multiple times. Rhythms are selected the same way; the rhythm select button also starts the rhythm. Also volume is selected by a single button, which step volume lower and then higher again. At highest volume the speaker distorts noticeably. The normal main voice sounds of this instrument sound much like the Letron MC-3 and similar squarewave keyboards based on YM2163 soundchips (4 note polyphonic), but unlike these high notes distort by noticeable DAC aliasing noise. The keys of the PSS-110 are held by a sheet metal frame with triangular metal leaf springs, which is quite unusual. According to an embossed stamp in the case it was made in the year 1985. Unusual is the lot of Japanese (or Chinese?) writing on the PCB. Unlike the similar looking Yamaha PSS-150, the PSS-110 is a technically quite simple single chip construction that reminds to the Casio SA-series, but was released earlier in 1985, and together with the monophonic sampler Yamaha VSS-100 it seemed to be the first small Yamaha keyboard using samples.

Initially I was misinformed by a collector that the PSS-110 would be technically identical with the Yamaha HandySound HS-400 (case like HS-200). Later he corrected me that both are very different; the HS-400 had no rhythms but a great chorus style human voice sample(?) that can be played on all keys despite this one was even made already in 1982(!).

The squarewave main voice sounds of the PSS-110 are made from squarewave with different pulse widths and the envelopes have audible zipper noise. The "banjo" has a fast mandolin ring (about 6Hz?). After power- on the keyboard starts with the special "human voice" preset sound, which is a combined keyboard drum- and effect kit mode with sung child voice "ah" on the middle 10 keys section. The leftmost and rightmost 4 white keys play the 4 percussion sounds (always only monophonic, not during rhythm). The leftmost and rightmost 3 black keys play animal voices {dog, cat cuckoo} and the white keys of the middle keyboard section play the "ah" voice, which is quite short (0.3s?) and seems to employ one sample per key instead of shifting the pitch of a single sample; apparently the sound generator was incapable to change their playback frequency (likely the reason for the very limited note range). In "human voice" mode generally only 2 simultaneous key presses are recognized, thus it plays samples maximum 2 note polyphonic. With samples also shorter notes can be played by releasing the key faster; with "cuckoo" the first part of the sound also resembles a high pitch dog bark. All samples sound similarly thin and noisy like with My Music Center.

The 3 squarewave blip drums resemble much the "xylophone" sound, but their pitch is between 2 keyboard notes; they seem to decay a little slower than the usual MC-3 drums but otherwise sound similar. Also the "cymbal" is similar. The "metronome" is a beat made from only the "conga" sound. The 3 other patterns are made from a "base" followed by 1, 2 or 3 "cymbal" sounds (like with Fix und Foxi Musik Band) and correspond to march, waltz and 4 beat. Due to the slightly distorted sound, the rhythms have a similar trashy appeal like the Creatoy keyboard, although the PSS-110 has no real multipulse timbres. The tempo can be set between very slow and only medium fast and controls the step speed instead of a pattern speed (thus the rhythm plays the slower, the more beats per bar it contains).

The demo melody (labelled "programmed music", started with the "tempo -" button with rhythm off) is a polyphonic "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" version that alternatingly uses a few preset sounds and has a short improvisation part. The demo ignores manual sound/ rhythm switch attempts and does not even respond on moving the tempo slider.

A similar looking black non- toy instrument was released as Yamaha PSS-150 (37 keys, nice realtime programmable rhythm, clearer squarewave sound but no samples).

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