Yellow Magic Orchestra's Favorite Drum Synth | Fess' Find

Meet the Ult-Sounds DS-4 by Toyo Gakki, an analog percussion synth made in Japan released in 1978 and most notably used by the late, great Takahashi Yukihiro of Yellow Magic Orchestra. It has a few similarities with other analog drum synths of the era like the Syndrum and the Simmons SDS-3, but with some unique quirks that make it still worth the investment today.

This is a Toyo Gakki ULT-SOUND DS-4.
Toyo Gakki's ULT-SOUND DS-4.

The DS-4 boasts four analog voltage-controlled oscillators separated into four distinct drum voices. Each oscillator can be tuned to a musical note with selectable pulse and sine waves plus individual drum sounds such as snare, two cymbals, and a noise generator. Each VCO has its own sustain/decay envelope as well as its own LFO that can be individually set with variable modulation levels. The LFO can double up as another oscillator or activate analog FM synthesis, which takes it beyond its basic percussion sounds. Every voice is armed with a filter and a fader for frequency sweep which is ideal for performance.

Unfortunately, this listing does not include the deluxe drum pads also made by Toyo Gakki, so to unlock the full potential of this DS-4, you will need to use analog triggers via its four 1/4" inputs to activate its oscillators. Its "cascade" triggering feature can be accessed by adjusting the channel sensitivity knobs and is compatible with signals from gate signals from sequencing controllers, synthesizers, and even from a DAW when used along with a compatible interface.

Set apart from other vintage percussion synths, this machine provides a broad selection of sounds spanning the sonic spectrum. From edgy noises and thumping kicks to classic disco go-go tones reminiscent of its era, it can do it all. It can seamlessly integrate into any recording studio environment, plus the slim black case makes it perfect for on-the-go—the blue and yellow colorway is an even rarer option if you are lucky enough to unearth it.

Check out this sound demo of Toyo Gakki Ult-Sound DS-4.
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