The Tenori-On, the grid-based musical instrument with whimsical sequenced lights created by Toshio Iwai, has been gradually becoming more affordable. The original model, complete with its rounded metal case, has already been cut to US$999 here in North America. Now, Yamaha announces that it is making an “Orange” version which also slices costs. A plastic case stands in for the metal one, the lights are orange instead of white, and lights appear only on one side. Yamaha says this is for “home use” — that is, you don’t need the device lighting up on the other side if no one’s watching you. Unfortunately, by removing this novelty and eliminating the Tenori-On’s fantastic battery power option, I suspect Yamaha may also be slicing out some of the appeal of the device.

In the UK, MusicRadar reports the device will ship at £649. Here in the US, I’ve confirmed with distributor Keyfax that the price will be $699. Now, unlike other recent grid rivals (Launchpad, APC40, Ohm64) and the monome, the Tenori-On is capable of making sound. But I’d be inclined to either spend the extra $400 and make it light up on both sides and use it in bed sans wires or skip the idea altogether. I’m curious to know if others feel the same way.

MusicRadar also gets the scoop from Yamaha in the UK that a firmware upgrade is due for the Tenori-On fixing its somewhat problematic MIDI sync:

We’re told that this will address a number of areas, including syncing of the Tenori-on to DAWs and also the MIDI sync implementation.

Yamaha announces ‘more affordable’ Tenori-on Orange [MusicRadar]
Tenori-On product page [Yamaha worldwide]
Tenori-On USA [Keyfax]

It’s worth poking around the store if you do own a Tenori-On. Those brave early adopters can now make the instrument a pretty practical addition to a live set, with a nice case, stand, and (finally) stand mic stand adapter to feature it in your sets. And in another nod to the design, the Tenori-On recently entered the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In the meantime, I’m still curious to see if someone mashes up a synth engine and monome to make a computer-less monome.

  • bitmap

    could dropping battery power really have been that cost saving?

    it seems like keeping it onboard would have been a good move. a portable hand held device w/ a power cord on it seems a little silly to me.

  • as much as i like saving a buck. I'm gonna have to say i'd rather spend the $ to have one that lights up on both sides

  • Joe

    I guarantee people will just make DIY battery packs and use these for performance. The lack of battery power also makes it less kid friendly, kids and plugs don't mix.

  • I'd go for this one if it were half price… but for $700 it still feels like a really expensive, if sophisticated toy.

    Lights on both sides or being wireless aren't that much of an issue for me.

  • Mike

    Yamaha needs to put USB MIDI In/Out on this thing and make it actually usable to the people who are most likely to buy it. Accurate DAW sync capability could make this a very powerful tool with its alternative sequencing options. Sadly, it remains an overpriced toy with little practical use. For $100 more than the budget model and $200 less than the "premier" version, the monome 128 smashes the Tenori-On to cheaply made pieces!

  • What I'd be interested in: A version at $400 with, battery powered and 2-sided lights but without the on-board sound.

  • Mckenic

    As a recent Arduinome builder this appeals to me very little. I had been lusting after its bigger brother for years so I hope they will still be produced!

    For me, this does very little I cant get out of Arduinome and the Korg vsts. Battery and 2 sided lights make it an excellent choice for live/portable playing. As an alternative sequencer I'd like people to see what Im doing.

    And when, oh when will the big companies realise $699 is not equal to £649 – its £420… BIG difference!

  • RCUS

    I was actually #1 on Keyfax's list when I bought the original TO almost a year and a half ago. What a let down. I sold it within 6 months for $1000. The midi timing on the device was terrible initially and the sound set and lack of storage for samples was just lame. Not sure how/if it's improved since then, but for a control surface there are so many other options out right now with better DAW integration. I'd say that the TO leans towards being an instrument, but the playability really pigeon holes you into certain genres IMO. I can rock out on my APC40 to alot of different genres, but the TO's rockability is severly lacking. I see it onstage for nichey radioheadesque underambient sounds while your guitarist looks way cooler.

  • With all my sincere respect to everybody:

    Sometimes some people into electronic music seem to care more about lights and looks than real needs. I mean, what does the TO offer you? It is a good control surface with a strong community around it, like the monome? It is the perfect integration tool, like the APC40?

    Or is it because some guy from Radiohead looked cool messing around with it for 5 minutes in some concert?

    I mean, yes, that kind of "game of life" light show effect is neat but, would you buy a guitar with LED matrix if is announced tomorrow?.

    I'm sure some people will create great stuff with the TO, no doubt. However, 600 $ in lights makes me ask if we're all suffering some "I need a new control surface" fever. Please let's not fall into gear porn.

  • Wulliamz

    For the fact it’s so expensive, they are idiots to not target the hack-it-yourself grid+lights brigade. Lose the onboard sound, just have a USB port, and have a d.i.y. mode so everyone can run all the Monome and similar apps.

  • lack of battery is not so good for me… don’t really care about the missing set of lights. I was gunna spring for a $999 version, idk, maybe spend the extra $300 on a cheap guitar.

  • newmiracle

    It’s really interesting trying to figure out the logic behind the prices to certain electronics. I’m really curious as to what the cost of production for this is, and what the costliest parts are.

    It astounds me that electronics makers still haven’t learned from the “eeePC effect”. $300 and under is a magical, magical price point. A place where people will put up with certain shortcomings and deficiencies. What would Yamaha have to hack off in order to achieve a $300, or hell, even $350 Tenori? It doesn’t seem unfeasible to me to have a functional budget Tenori, ESPECIALLY considering that Yamaha is a big corporation with the ability to buy in bulk, etc etc etc.

    Side note: does no battery really bother that many people? Aren’t you going to be plugging into a sound system? I feel like that the good ol’ 3.5mm is gonna be chaining me to something anyways. For me, that’d be a good move on their part.

  • salamanderanagram

    if they would just make their leds addressable by midi…

  • NightEater

    ive wanted one of these for a long time but ive been waiting for the system update. ive heard the midi sync on it is terrible. now we have an update and the cheaper version. sadly, the white and orange looks like just that, cheap! at the price of $700, im still going to buy the original. the back lights, the battery and the METAL casing. i cant live without.

  • lucien

    ive wanted one of these for a long time but ive been waiting for the system update. ive heard the midi sync on it is terrible. now we have an update and the cheaper version. sadly, the white and orange looks like just that, cheap! at the price of $700, im still going to buy the original. the back lights, the battery and the METAL casing. i cant live without. and strangely……i like the sounds that come with it. would be a great addition to my set up.

  • lucien

    whoa, it used both my names. weird freak out!

  • why dont you just say its overpriced?

  • I had one of the first few in the UK and did do (i think) some interesting things with it – even Toshio commented to me that had i been a bigger artist on a label i would have had some kind of featuring. But tbh i lost big faith in the device when trying to sync it to other gear. Standalone i did a few shows but i needed it to be integrated more – and the sync was terrible. That and the sound being very poor (im sure its based on the yamaha basic soundbank like 01 or something but please correct me) and no option to wipe the soundbank and use the memory for more user banks. lots of other useful software/firmware features were debated and if they are going to be implemented now then maybe that will be some solace to those who stuck with theirs. As i already had a monome i decided to sell mine and use the money on other things. I figured i didnt need flashing lights to show off myself as a performer. I loved playing with it at home etc and its an amazing machine but for fullon daw studio tool and performance tool its let down. The new orange one seems to take away the point of it – playing it live so people can see – and that it was a wellmade (metal) piece of equipment. I dont think anyone has fully made a software replication of the sequencing however several monome apps for example can mimic. Its just my opinion having had one – loved it – then moved on.

  • avant

    What a rip off!!!!!

    I was one of the people that was part of the market testing for Tenori-On and the main question every one was asking was what will be the price.

    They told us Tenori-On would cost $350 – $400.

    Yamaha should be a shame to try an sale a product that is really nothing special and a load of crap, I told

    Yamaha then and I an saying it again now.

    My review as a tester was nice idea but no way in hell would a real artist use this product, I told Yamaha that it would make a great kid toy and nothing more!

    BOOO Yamaha. STOP the BULL$H*T

    and if Yammahhha is reading this go F*CK Yourself for LYING and make a better product.

  • avant

    I forgot I signed a contract in 2005 that I would not say bad things about Tenori-On and Yamaha.


  • ElPat0

    Look at http://blipbox.org/blipbox.html
    U must built it, but calcule the difference!!

  • iirr you can set leds and get button-press-coordinates from the tenori-on via sysex. though i have never heard

    of anyone using it this way as a monome-replacement.

    if this realy works, it would be a cheaper and at

    least available alternative to a monome-256.

    but maybe al these button-matrix-controllers will become obsolete anyway when affoardable

    multi-touch-screens are available…

  • sarmoung

    Avant says:

    "I told Yamaha that it would make a great kid toy and nothing more!"

    Isn't that enough? I don't quite understand your distinction of "real artist" either. How do I distinguish one of these fabled creatures?

    I'll readily admit the Tenori-On is quite flawed in some areas and overly restrictive in others and I'm certainly eager to see what the firmware update improves. Given the price of the thing, those of us who bought it on release might have appreciated seeing an update far sooner.

    Not to mention actual support of some description! There was were various websites, launch parties, this, that and the other, but Yamaha were more or less silent after the release on what they proposed to do concerning various issues such as midi sync and so on. Less than satisfactory.

    I bought it because of Toshio Iwai's involvement as I've long been interested in his work. The price of the Tenori-On is excessive and the only way I justified it to myself was that I was buying something akin to a limited edition print.

    The best fun (if we are allowed to have fun and not just glare into laptops with stern or set grimaces) I have had with the instrument is introducing it to friends and letting them play around with it. Compared to a Monome or similar, it doesn't require any expert knowledge to help you interface it with the sound. That might be simple to some, it's highly confusing to many and certainly gets in the way of the immediacy of creating music. Possibly quite ephemeral music!

    Sometimes we'll play a sort of pass-the-parcel game where we add layers, modify sounds and so on in turn as it goes around the table. An hour or so passes, you turn it off and conversation turns to something else.

    Generally it lives in the bathroom next to the toilet.

  • Jim

    I feel like while price is relevant to me personally, it's sort of independent of the product. I guess we talk about price relative to other products, but in the end, everyone can spend different amounts.

    The Tenori-On seems cool to me, and perfectly capable of making awesome music, but I agree with Peter that this version loses a lot of the device's appeal.

  • James Husted

    I have a metal TO and love it. It is just FUN to play and if you keep it in that perspective it was worth it to me. The battery option is important to me. I often sit outside on the porch and play the thing at night and have written things on the plane etc. The savings in removing it are pretty good. The machining of the chassis is much easier without those openings on the back and separate molding of the doors etc. can cut the cost- it is more than the electronics for sure. I must admit that the very J-pop sound set can get tiring but in my studio I have a spare laptop running Reason slaved to it and it works great. It is a 16-track sequencer after all. If you turn on the "advanced" mode you can re-map the playing modes and make it much more useful (kill the bouncing ball modes for me). I hope the new operating system still has that feature. And for the WOW factor I must admit that when I pull the TO out most people have never seen one before and it always garners interest.

  • I love the Tenori-On. There are just some issues with it:

    – MIDI port is poor build quality. Broke after a few unintentional tugs.

    – MIDI sync is pretty limited. What about basic remote play and stop support for a starter?

    – I'm ok with 3 user banks.. but they must LOAD FASTER. It takes several MINUTES to load a new user bank with tiny samples. It's so slow it's strange.

    – The sudden out of sync (sometimes) when shifting pattern must be improved.

    – "One finger mode". Sometimes on live gigs I'd like to use it as just a pattern player. I'd like to have an option to make the R and L buttons "sticky" for one hand performance.

    – Would be great to be able to build custom sounds. I actually like the plastic synthesis and the sounds in the Tenori-On. Want full access to the sound engine.

  • bliss

    I'm just trying to figure out why Yamaha chose to make it look like an old beige PC. Are they hoping to attract Zune owners? The space-age/Jetsons look of the original should have had a stronger influence on the design of the cheaper version. I lost interest in buying just looking at the JPEG.

    Maybe Yamaha should hook up with Dunkin Donuts. The new device has the coffee, cream, and sugar look down. And the orange matches the Dunkin' logo. So that might help to build mainstream interest.

  • J. Phoenix

    I've never been completely clear on why the Tenori-On's cost so much with or without battery, whatever color lights they have or whether or not they can be seen.

    What does surprise me is how much of an apparent draw those lights on the other side are. It makes me question whether the draw to the Tenori-On really is to alternative interfaces, grids, or just how it doesn't look like anything else.

    Next up, monomes with acrylic bottoms so the audience can watch the LED's go off.

  • nick kent

    Just a guess but the batteries decision on the new version might have had something to do with the UK recall of specific numbered units a while back. While as far as I know the recall got that issue fixed I could guess in light of that maybe that played into their decision making.

    It always think it was a bit ironic on the original version that after they apparently spent a lot of money manufacturing the metal casing that they would put the battery covers right where you feel they are plastic

  • I had bought the original one when it first came out. My biggest gripe was the lack of a capable midi sync. The sounds onboard were minimalistic, but that really was the intent. The feel of the device was great and the cool see through effect was great for Live performance. I kind of feel they are missing out a little by taking a way the two sided lights. I am curious to see how the new OS is. I basically got rid of mine because they were still worth a lot of money and i did not think they would ever update the OS. I am very glad to heat they did.

  • rondema

    I get great use from a Tenori-On working with special needs youngsters.. it's tactile, tangible, immediate and motivating. The onboard sounds, while too quiet, are fine but I'd love too see the user sample banks expanded.

    I see it now costs nearly £200 more than we paid for it on release, a cost I couldn't justify for my own use.. in fact I'd struggle at a third of that price.

    The onboard speakers are essentially a waste of time. I always amplify our Tenori-On.. I can cope with one lead hanging from it, but find having it also hooked into the mains too restrictive.

    I think Yamaha have failed with this lite version, especially when the price seems so heavy.. at £650 that's £50 more than we paid for the original. I had also hoped we would have seen OS updates and improvements before now.

  • Greg

    Jorge from Madrid: gearporn! Awesome term! Will use it with your kind permission:D

  • Aaron

    gearporn thought of as a new term? now ive heard everything!

  • Edward

    I just don't get it … while cool, the ratio of features to price seem to be way off to me; I can't shake the feeling that the Tenori-On (the orignal even) should not cost more then $150-$199. Yamaha has the technology to put a lot more guts into this thing while keeping the price down, yet they seem to want to take advantage of the novelty of the inventor to obscure the actual lack of innovation. I guess marketing is cheaper the then engineering …

  • Ben There

    Would love to have one but way too much money still.

    Don't want or need onboard sounds. I imagine they are less than impressive anyways.

    Would rather have the battery power.

    Don't care about LEDs on the back.

  • nick kent

    About the price point, while no groundbreaking bargain I think a lot of people see the Tenori-on's 16×16 grid in a similar size of say a monome or launchpad's 8×8 grid and think they are seeing the same number of buttons when it's 400% as many.