Review: Yamaha reface CS

Is the new virtual analog engine powered Yamaha reface CS synth as small, fast, portable, and excellent sounding a synth as Yamaha hope it will be? Matt Vanacoro finds out in this video review.

The Yamaha reface series is a unique concept for the modern keyboardist to wrap their head around. Take a quality sound engine, put it in an extremely portable form factor, give it battery power, add built-in speakers, and you’ve got the ultimate mobile music making machine. The CS is the analog-style synth of the bunch. I’m going to warn you right now, I loved every single one of the reface keyboards, and I’m pretty excited about them all. I’ll try to reign in the exclamation points but… wow!!! (see, that was only 3 and I wanted to put 5.)

Watch this video overview of the Yamaha Reface CS here:

The Sound

The reface CS sports an 8-note polyphonic virtual analog engine. There are no presets to be found here. All of the sound-generating parameters are ‘what you see is what you get’. It’s a wonderful nod to the analog synths of old, and I still can’t quite believe the huge sound you can get out of this small package. 

Perfect for those moments you want to relax and make music. 

With a variety of oscillator types, including saw, pulse, sync’d, ring mod, and FM, you’ve got quite the tonal palette to start with. Add a filter section that is surprisingly well designed for the amount of space Yamaha gave themselves to work with and you can really shape your sound. I found the effects to be decent, but really the part that stands out here is the oscillator/filter section. You really can craft everything from a powerful, soaring lead to a lush pad rather quickly. In fact, I found this keyboard to be the perfect tool for sketching out sound ideas as well as for teaching about synthesis.

The Hardware

One of the things I was really impressed with on all of the reface keyboards is the attention to detail with the hardware. Each synth feels physically completely different, and they all do quite a good job of evoking the time period of the keyboard they model. The CS is a glossy white, and the metal pitch stick as well as the retro-looking sliders truly evoke analog synths of old.

Rear side angle of the Yamaha Reface CS 

There is a phrase looper included on the CS, although I wasn’t too keen on the choice of activating it with a slider/fader. It took a little getting used to. The speakers are obviously meant for portability, but they have quite the range and can absolutely be relied upon for sound design. I found that when I designed a patch using the speakers, I didn’t have to tweak much when transferring that patch to my keyboard amp. Although I should warn you, you likely will be tweaking quite a bit. This keyboard just BEGS to be played with.

Finally, I truly appreciated the battery powered option. I found I got the advertised 5 hours easily out of the CS, and in fact with powerful Eneloop Pro rechargeable batteries I got quite a bit more.

Check it Out

The CS is only one of 4 great keyboards by Yamaha (spoiler alert for the next few reviews… I really REALLY liked them all). It’s portable, it sounds great, and I would take this on the road with me to practice with, warm up with, and do some quick recording with in a heartbeat. The tiny keys are not really made for precision live playing, and I’ve seen some folks ding Yamaha a bit for that. I, however, went into this expecting a truly portable synth and that’s what I got. I was incredibly happy to get my hands on the CS. Check out our video review for some sound samples and a more in-depth look!

The back of the Yamaha Reface CS synth


Price : $499

Pros : Extremely portable, big sound, speakers are more powerful than they look, battery power, USB and standard MIDI compatible, beautiful aesthetic design.

Cons : Using the looper can be tricky due to the fader design

Website :

(Stay tuned to Ask.Audio for more Yamaha Reface video reviews over the coming week) 

Synthesis 101
The Filter
by Bob Moog Foundation

"Matt Vanacoro is one of New York's premier musicans. Matt has collaborated as a keyboardist in studio and on stage with artists such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel Band), Aaron Carter, Amy Regan, Jay Azzolina, Marcus Ratzenboeck (Tantric), KeKe Palmer, C-Note, Jordan Knig..." Read More


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