I just picked up another oddity from eBay this week, the Yamaha RX120 Digital Rhythm Programmer. Unlike a traditional drum machine, the RX120 doesn't actually allow you to write or setup up drum patterns using its built-in sounds. Instead, the Yamaha RX120 provides you with a number of preset drum patterns, grouped into songs/genres (Rock 1, Rock 2, Funk, Ballad, Slow Jazz, etc.), that you can then program into sequences to build a complete song. Each song/genre has 8 patterns, so you're able to line up Intros, Fills, and Pattern Variations, to program a rhythm track for a song. Think of the RX120 less as a drum machine and more as a dedicated (and closed) loop player and you'll get a better understanding of how it works.
The design on this gadget is very strange. It doesn't provide a Midi Out, so you can't use it to trigger other devices, but it does have a Midi In allowing you to trigger its built-in sounds from an external keyboard. It's many buttons are used to select the rhythm patterns and their 8 variations, not individual sounds, but it does have buttons to trigger Cowbell and Claps, so you can manually play along to a pattern using these two samples. I get the impression that the RX120 was dreamed up by someone who wanted to create a drum machine for people who didn't know anything about how to program rhythms, so rather than give you sounds to mold into a song, it provides you with preset pieces to build up a song. This impression is reinforced by the fact that the RX120 doesn't provide any panning controls. Each sample is stereo and is panned across the soundstage in a predefined way, essentially laying out a set drum kit.
Having said all of that, the RX120 does contain some intriguing sounds inside its strange, little box. It's list of "38 percussive instruments" doesn't have anything that stands out as particularly intriguing, except maybe it's Electric Toms, FM Percussion, and China instruments, but what it does provide under the usual descriptors (Bass Drum, Rim Shot, etc) are pleasant to the ear, and like the RX11, RX15 and RX17 machines I already own, have a different character than the tried and true Roland machines everyone seems to be sampling.
Download the full RX120 sample set and a Combinator backdrop below:
If you find yourself with an extra forty or fifty bucks in your pocket and are looking for something from an earlier generation to experiment with, I don't know if I would recommend the RX120, unless you'll be using outboard gear to overcome its lack of pattern editing. I think the RX11 and RX17 are incredible values, given their going prices on eBay, and the RX17 is quickly becoming my favorite little piece of gear (outside of my laptop). The RX120 isn't going to be replacing either of those machines for me, but it's still a lot of fun and I found myself really enjoying the samples as I was recording them. While not necessarily "natural" it does sound more like real drums than a lot of drum machines out there.
Did you miss the drum hits I shared from my other Yamaha machines? Check out the previous posts: