Every decade or so, a keyboard instrument comes out that not only is adopted by musicians, but also shapes the course of pop music. Debuting just months after the announcement of the MIDI spec and offering a new and varied palette of tonal textures, Yamaha’s DX7 was the right synth at the right time.
FM synthesis pioneer John Chowning
The magic behind the DX7’s FM synthesis engine was discovered in the early 1970s by Dr. John Chowning at Stanford University. In the mid-’70s, Yamaha licensed the technology and spent nearly a decade working on the project, both in Japan and with Chowning in California.
When the DX7 launched in 1983, users were amazed by its purity of tone and its ability to mimic certain instruments—particularly struck percussion, chimes, electric pianos, etc.—and its wealth of cool synthesizer sounds. During the instrument’s short tenure, Yamaha sold a then-unheard-of 200,000 DX7s. The DX7 also marked the beginnings of custom VLSI integration into musical instruments, making it affordable.