Launched in 1986 for $1195, the Yamaha RX5 Digital Rhythm Programmer was Yamaha’s flagship drum machine and possibly the ultimate in 80s drum machine technology. While it doesn’t have the classic status of Roland’s TR808 or TR909, the RX5 does deserve classic status due to its sound shaping features, great 80s drum sounds and sturdy build.


The RX5 has 24 16-bit samples, including Bass drum (x2), Snare (x2), Rimshot (x2), acoustic toms (x4), synth toms (x4), hit hat, cymbals, clap, tambourine, cowbell and shaker. There are also two Accent controls for each sound, plus reverse and damp functions. There were also three sound cartridges available to expand the sound set, which included Latin and other sound sets.


As well as being controlled via MIDI, you have 100 patterns and 20 songs made up from the 100 patterns. You can program them in real time or step mode. The step mode is not like the Roland system and takes a bit of getting used to.


There are individual outputs (12) and a mixer for each section. The RX5 comes from the same era as the DX7II and has similar styling with a matt black finish and a two-line LED display. The RX5 is built like a tank, very solid and heavy. My RX5 had some issues with a couple of buttons, but they now work after a bit of cleaning.

Sound editing

Where the RX5 offers something different for 1986 is that you can edit the pitch and envelopes of each sound. There is an ADSR envelope, bend range and pitch options for each sound. You can do it as a global setting or in pattern mode you can have each sound have a different pitch on each beat in the pattern, giving you lots of different options. Plus, you can edit the assignment of the sounds so you can place any sound on any pad. This is especially useful if you have the additional sound sets from the expansion cartridge. Most modern drum machines have this option, but back in 1986 this was not as common.

You can save your sound sets, patterns and songs to tape, MIDI or to a RAM cartridge.


As I said at the beginning of the post, the Yamaha RX5 is a classic 80s drum machine. In many ways, it was the peak of 80s drum machine technology with the features it offered. The sounds are not instantly recognizable like the TR909 or a Linn Drum, but it has been used on many artists in the 80s including Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Prince and Vangelis.

If you have an Uno Drum I have created a custom sound set of Yamaha RX5 sounds which you can download for free from this link. There is modern USB RX5 expansion which enable you load in custom samples.

Video of the Yamaha RX5 Digital Rhythm Programmer

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