YAMAHAPortaSound PSS-31  (sample based keyboard with nice demos)

This sample based stereo keyboard from 1992 is nothing really great and behaves unpleasantly stubborn and unflexible, but it has many nice demo musics and clear sounds.

Although it has in total 100 preset sounds, many of these are simply variations of other with additional echo or sustain or key split sound combinations. All sounds are medium resolution samples of mainly acoustic instruments those sound very establishment and contain nothing avantgardistic or tekkno- like. The 50 preset rhythms have an accompaniment that accepts only standard chords. Despite there are 4 drumpads those can be switched between 4 drum sets, it has no programmable rhythm and even their select buttons (and all others) make a disturbing noise that prevents reasonable live play on them. Beside the normal rhythms there are 20 so- called "jam tracks" (like demos without melody voice), those play pre- programmed chord sequences and automatically switch the main voice sound all few patterns.

main features:



Very annoying is that Yamaha divided the preset sounds into groups with or without sustain, echo, key split etc. with only quite few sounds per group. Why didn't they instead add separate OBS effect buttons (or at least effect function numbers or similar) to let the user decide to add such effects to any preset you want (and not just offering 5 fixed preset sounds with sustain)?! (The same nonsense exists on Yamaha PSS-16.) In early 1980th it was a matter of course to combine any preset sounds with any given effects. (Where hardware restrictions prevent it, the effect selection should be simply ignored.) All button presses and even turning the "music mode selector" knob play a high or low bongo noise, which disturbs live play. Sound and hardware of this instrument have many similarities with the small Yamaha PSS-6. (I haven't examined the hardware closer yet.)

The main voice sounds of this instrument are based on medium resolution samples those sound clean, quite cold and static, but not noisy or lo-fi. Unfortunately they are strictly focussed on natural instrument samples those sound very establishment and just like expected. The only exception are the 2 "brass ens.", those sound rather like a harsh and hollow human "ah" voice (or "vox humana" pipe organ rank?). There are no remotely extreme synth or dedicated tekkno sounds. Nice for tekkno may be only the "tenor sax" sample, which wind noise of the attack phase turns into a low hissing noise, followed by the sonorous woody bass tone. Also the "orchestra hit" is a famous early 1990th tekkno effect (turns very grainy when pitches down). The "fantasy 1" sounds like a vibraphone layered with a delayed flute, while "fantasy 2" resembles a woodwind/  flute ensemble timbre with decay envelope and sustain. There is also a drum kit mode (with and without echo), that mainly consists of acoustic drums, but also features a knocking tekkno base and 3 synth toms. The preset sounds of the "harmony voice" group play a fixed duet, trio or other chord, they are nice for soft pad timbres but can be only played monophonic; at least they recognize in which key you play in single finger chord mode.

(The full sound & rhythm list can be found in the manual of this instrument, downloadable on the Yamaha Manual Library site.)

The accompaniments sound good and employ a lot of different sounds, but they behave very static. Unusual is that it recognizes fingered and single finger chords simultaneously, but only standard establishment chords can be played, and unlike e.g. the great Yamaha PSS-390, there are neither fill- ins nor intro/ ending features (the rhythms end with a loud crash cymbal) and nothing is programmable. The rhythm preset 49 "bass chord hold" is no rhythm but the manual chord mode (plays a string chord with e-bass on the first held note). Like with most modern Yamaha keyboards, the style bank is mainly centered on the jazz, funk, fusion and soul environment.

The rhythms use medium resolution samples of acoustic percussion. The rhythm tempo can be set quite low but only medium high. To select a rhythm, turn the "music mode selector" knob on "style" and enter its number, which also always selects a default preset sound corresponding to it. If you want to play with accompaniment, just press a key in the accompaniment section to start it (behaves like synchro start). If you instead want to play without, press "start/ stop" to start the rhythm and set the knob back to "voice" to switch the left keyboard section back to melody play. When the accompaniment is already running, the turn of the knob won't stop it (otherwise you would be incapable to select a preset sound with accompaniment on), thus you have to press "start/ stop" 2 times to stop and restart the rhythm without accompaniment, which is quite confusing.
I don't know what Yamaha intended with this stupid user interface, but intuitive is something different. At least you can step through sounds and rhythms with +/- buttons, but this instrument gives absolutely no visual feedback (not a single LED). The shape of the cipher button field with its black knob reminds to an early electronic safe lock, and almost feels as cryptic as opening a safe by stethoscope, which is certainly nothing you want to do during live play. (Remember, each button or knob operation plays here a bongo noise.) Annoying is also that there are no separate rhythm and accompaniment volume controls.

There are 20 additional special accompaniments called "jam tracks", those play a pre- programmed chord sequence (like a demo without melody voice) and also automatically select and switch the main voice preset sound so far the knob stays set to "song"; setting it to "voice" disables this behaviour and permits manual preset sound selection.

The instrument has a song bank of 20 wonderful orchestrated polyphonic demo melodies:

  1. Original Song 1 [great funk tune]
  2. Original Song 2 [latin fusion]
  3. Original Song 3 [slow latin fusion]
  4. House of the Rising Sun
  5. The Last Rose of Summer
  6. Sur Le Pont d'Avignon
  7. Waltz of the Flowers
  8. Air on the G String
  9. Beautiful Dreamer
  10. Londonderry Air
  11. Symphony No. 40
  12. Deck the Halls
  13. Auld Lang Syne
  14. Silent Night
  15. Tannenbaum
  16. La Cucaracha
  17. Oh! Susanna
  18. Song of Joy
  19. O. Vrenelli
When a selected demo is started with "start/ stop" or any key instead of the "demo" button, the main voice is muted, thus the player can improvise to the demos. All demos are quite long and complex arranged. The 3 "Original Song" pieces are jazzy funk/ fusion musics; these are different from Yamaha PSS-6. Particularly "Original Song 1" is a nice groovy funk tune. "Deck the Halls", "Londonderry Air", "Symphony #40" are in a dreamy blues/ jazz style that sounds very mellow and muzak- like. Apparently Japanese like such stuff, because I also found it in Japanese videogame highscore musics and Anime movies.

Shorter variants of the PSS-31 are the Yamaha PSS-21 (stereo, 37 midsize keys) and Yamaha PSS-11 (mono, 32 midsize keys, no drumpads); both have only 25 rhythms, 15 demos and 15 jam tracks and accept no fingered chords (explained in the manual). I don't know if they have a different ROM or if the missing PSS-31 features on these instruments can be enabled by a key matrix diode eastereggs. Also the cheapest actual Yamaha fullsize keyboard (PSR series with neither MIDI nor velocity sensitivity, seen in a shopping center in december 1993) is still based on the same sound set like the PSS-31.

 removal of these screws voids warranty...    
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