Yamaha PSR-4500 Portatone Keyboard (1989)

WOLF retro DESIGN  REVIEW. 1st June 2022.

This retro keyboard wants to launch itself like a spaceship. The PSR-4500 may be over 30 years old but still holds a lot of bang in its design.

A retro review looks at products that are at least over ten years old from a present-day WOLF design perspective. While the technology and fashion of the period influence design, and are taken into consideration, great design ideas will transcend their eras to be timeless.

Interesting and factual information may be provided, but our review aims to deliver insight from the perspective of a designer’s mind and eyes.

Is it looking better with age?

Introduction

Product Focus

As with most reviews the focus is on the design and its evolution with the synthesizer. The functioning systems and sound quality are not necessarily considered.

Product description

Yamaha made big efforts to expand their range of amateur keyboards in the late 80s which upset the dominance of Casio keyboards. The PSR-4500 was the King of their PSR range and advertised as a semi-professional instrument having a large memory of quality sounds.

Price and Availability.

We reviewed the slightly younger brother (the PSR-4600) in Nov 2019, and since then they have become quite scarce.  The few that do show up do tend to have survived well. Be aware that while not heavy they are deceptively large at 1.2m in length, and might not be economical to ship or post. Out of the entire PSR range both this PSR4500 and its brother the PSR4600, are top of the line models and thus most collectible.

Additional information

The 4600 released on year later in 1990 was just an updated model to the 4500. They are identical except for a few changes in sounds and on-board rhythms. Apart from the label, the only other cosmetic difference of note are the graphics in the bottom right corner of the right-side speaker, and logo on the rear, which are white colour.The 4600 had gold print.

Review

First impression/ Delight

It was a keyboard to mark the end of the eighties with lots of bright coloured buttons that clutter the main panel for a gadget filled impression. It looks almost intense but in a playful way.

The most obvious feature of this unit are the speakers that extend out each side like wings. From various angles it looks like it’s ready to take flight.

Exterior Design Review

Further to the wing like speakers the PSR-4500 has a very unique roll bar located in front of the keyboard for pitch bend and modulation. It’s a very bold idea that looks interesting but its functionality is questionable. In terms of proportions, it does make the machine seem fat and bulkier than necessary.

The main control panel looks as though it can tilt or adjust but is in fact fixed in position. A digital display panel as opposed to just LED numbers would have been nice but we can appreciate this cost saving. The band of written information makes up for the limited display but does further clutter an already very busy front control panel.

Craftmanship.

As with most home keyboards there is a lot of plastic and while it’s of a high grade it does not presume to compare against professional synthesizers. Despite this, it is well assembled and feels sturdy. All buttons, sliders and the roll bar feel solid and well made.

The rubber buttons are soft and encourage tapping like its drum machines. The lettering on the rubber buttons do tend to ware over time depending on usage.

The plastic date strip across the top looks a little cheap and really defines this as an amateur home instrument.

FUNCTION- Experience.

As with all Portatone keyboards, the built-in speakers are handy, however these speakers extend out sideways to make this instrument longer than most conventional 61 key synths. It’s not practical to transport and there are no Yamaha hard cases for this instrument that we know of. It’s a home keyboard designed to stay home in the one spot.

It is an easy instrument to navigate with all the pre-set sounds printed neatly on a strip of dark metallic plastic film across the top. The Roller bar design is hard to get used to and Yamaha have never used this design again.

Desirability / Collectability and what to look for.

For what it is, what it can do, the PSR 4500 and 4600 are awesome instruments. They are not synthesizers and unlike some expensive home keyboards, they don’t pretend to be. The sounds by today’s standards are average but fun just to belt out a few happy tunes. You will however need to consider space and where to put it. It’s not a shy looking keyboard and demands attention. As a simple first keyboard this might not be the best choice due to its size and design.

As with all synths and keyboards the ends and corners ten to break, chip or crack from getting knocked about. Damage to the speaker end pieces would really upset that “Ready to lift off” look. We would also advise to look carefully at those rubber buttons which can have ware to the point where all the print is missing.

In regards to purchasing, they have disappeared over the last few years and at the time of this review we could only find one on the planet for sale at over $700 AUST.

WORD OF THE WOLF

From our perspective the design is busy but perhaps that makes it more engaging. Moving parts like a control panel that tilts or detachable speakers would have elevated its classic status to another level.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for an easy-to-use keyboard with some retro character this will certainly do. You will need some space for it’s size as it wants to be on display rather than stored in a cupboard. Being the King of keyboards in its day it has some provenance so if you find yourself a good example, there is potential for appreciation.

WOLF DESIGN EXCELLENCE SCORE = 5.8

In November 2019 we reviewed and scored the PSR-4600 at 5.7. Three years later the PSR-4500 which is near identical in looks as improved the score by 0.1 to 5.8. This increase is reflective of how brave the design was, and its increase in that retro 80s look and feel. They have also become rarer in recent times and this had an impact on collectability and desirability.

Disclaimer

The information in this review is intended for informational or educational purposes to provide readers an understanding of how something may be seen from a certain design perspective. In this case it is from the view point of WOLF DESIGNS. As design is subjective this review should only be considered as an independent opinion. Information further to being of an opinion is provided to the best of our knowledge based on our own research at the time of doing the review. We cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies or inconsistencies and reserve the right to change or update any content as appropriate.
The final responsibility of the design resides with the original manufacturer.