Yamaha CS-5 – a perfect live synth

By | April 4, 2021


The Yamaha CS-5, which came out in 1979, was my first analog synthesizer, and it has left deep traces in my music creation. It was also Martin Gore’s first synthesizer and was widely used in Depeche Mode in the early 80’s. It has no hidden agendas or menus or anything that can be confusing, but has everything needed to work out your own synth sounds: a vco oscillator, a vcf filter and a vca amplifier.

The oscillator is volt-controlled and has two different waveforms – square and sawtooth. The square can be pulse width modulated, ie you can modulate / shift how big the square itself on the scale is. With the help of it, you can create a little fatter sound, especially if you simultaneously modulate vco with lfo.

The Vco is stable, not once have I had it happen because it has changed or otherwise let me down during a gig or recording. The sound has a lovely, clean sound. The panel includes Tune, Feet (octave selector), PWM and LFO depth.

The oscillator produces square and sawtooth at the same time – how much you want of each is decided in the mixer. There you can also add white noise, which is very effective in, for example, drum sound programming.

The CS-5 has a very good-sounding volt-controlled filter that adds or removes frequencies. It mostly removes frequencies, but with the Resonance knob you can amplify a frequency. The frequency that is amplified is the one that the Cut off-frequency knob points to.

Suitable for low passes
With a switch you can choose between low-pass filter (12 dB / oct), band-pass filter (6 dB / oct) and high-pass filter (12 dB / oct). This synth sounds best in low-pass mode, I think. Here you can also set LFO depth, but also EG depth (EG stands for envelope generator, also called ENV / ADSR). The resonance on the synthesizer is very good, it adds and fills in a pleasant way.

The Lfo is also an oscillator, but a low-frequency one. The advantage of it is that it can go all the way up in the audible area, which means that you can use it as a simple but still, an extra sound oscillator, which is not controlled by the keyboard. You can choose between sine, sawtooth or b / w. B / w is sometimes called random and randomly generates voltages. Modulating the vco with b / w is a very effective way to produce live sound – just have a little modulation. It does not sound like a Moog, but it will be nice and skewed.

External in is a very useful feature. If you have a drum beat, a string sound or why not your own voice that you want to modulate and filter, just plug it into External in. Then the sound goes via the mixer to the filter and then to vca, and it is free for fine filter sweeps and hard tremolo on any sound. It is also very good in live situations.

Nice wraps
Vca is a volt-controlled amplifier that has three knobs, Initial Level (hold level), EG depth (volume) and LFO depth. One of my favorite sounds is to have high pitch on vco and maximum LFO depth (sawtooth) on vco and vca. You start at the highest LFO speed and then swipe down. In a delay, there will be nice seagulls. Another favorite is to run voices through External in and have maximum LFO depth on vca and adjust LFO speed to max.

It sounds broken and fun. The keyboard is CC, 37 keys. There is a pitchbend next to it, which is not resilient but can more be seen as a tuning lever with a larger range. Yamaha CS-5 is cheap, has a great variety of sounds and is small and robust – a perfect live vision!

Yamaha CS-5

Type: monophonic analogue.
Tvillain: Yamaha (yamaha.se).
Memory: No.
Filter: vcf, lpf / bpf / hpf.
Keyboard: 37 keys, CC.
Midi: No.

The article was previously published in Studio 1-2011