Casio CT310 Electronic Keyboard
A larger model from Casio, the small keyboard people, reviewed by Dan Goldstein.
A full-sized example of Casio's 1984 line-up sampled by Dan Goldstein.
When giant calculator-makers Casio first ventured into the world of electronic musical instruments, their output was as inspired as it was unpredictable. What other manufacturer could have come up with a keyboard as brilliantly versatile as the CT202, as well-conceived as the 1000P, or as mould-breaking as the original VL1?
Nowadays, however, Casio's marketing naïvété has given way to a more streamlined approach, with most of their keyboards being designed for a dual market consisting of domestic 'family' players and pro musicians needing a portable practice instrument.
It was with the latter function in mind that I approached the CT310, a fairly recent arrival to these shores and of more than just a passing interest to pro or 'serious' musicians because it features a full-size keyboard, 12 highly serviceable polyphonic preset voices and a choice of AC, DC or car battery power source. And all for a surprisingly modest £275.
As well as being of sensible size (miniature keyboards may be portable and good conversation pieces but they don't do much for your playing technique), the 310's keyboard spans four octaves (C-to-C) and has a light, pleasant action not far removed from earlier Casio endeavours of the same type. All the preset voices are eight-note polyphonic, which is not less than an instrument of this genre needs to have, and the 12 are selected via a familiar arrangement of six dual-function push-switches and a seventh select button. As is so often the case with instruments of this type, the voices that stand up best to being put through external amplification (as opposed to the 310's built-in 12cm speaker) are those with percussive envelopes like electric piano, vibraphone, cosmic tone (think of it as being a bit like a synthesised Clavinet D6) and harpsichord. Organ tones are reproduced less successfully but still quite presentably, while the brass effects could pass for a fairly dry polysynth approximation.
All voices can be routed through a choice of four different effects - vibrato, delayed vibrato, sustain, and (something novel for Casio, this) reverb. These are selected by the use of two selector switches, meaning (unfortunately) that it's only possible to select two of the effects at any one time. This is a pity, since a combination of vibrato, sustain and reverb would have been quite something - however, since the last two are essentially products of the same circuity, it's not altogether surprising that their sonic union is an impossibility.
Should you wish to give your 310's output a little more vitality without having to play particularly fast or connect up awkward auxiliary equipment, Casio's penchant for auto-accompaniment features provides this particular model with an almost mind-boggling quotient of typical functions.
To begin at the beginning, a drum machine incorporating 12 factory preset rhythms is located to the left of the voice selection switches, and is activated in much the same manner as the latter. The rhythm patterns themselves are nothing special, while of the drum sounds, only the bass drum stands out forcibly enough to really cut it, but you can't write this section off quite so easily.
It's when you add some form of tuned accompaniment to the rhythms that things start to get interesting. On the CT310, this accompaniment comes in the form of an arpeggiator, an auto bass line and a 'Casio Chord' instant-triad section, all of which have four variations selectable via slider-switches near the instrument's top lefthand corner. Ordinarily this arrangement would give a reasonable number of possible accompaniment combinations, but since each effect and variation is different for each separate rhythm pattern, the total number of possible arrangements is a staggering 768, which should keep most autoplay freaks happy.
That's the paper specification.
What's less encouraging is the way these accompaniments work in practice. Don't get me wrong: as auto-functions go, those on the CT310 are amongst the best, but without any form of sequence recording and playback, the section rules out any real creative input on the part of the musician, which is quite a serious flaw, in my opinion.
Bearing its low purchase price in mind, this new Casio continues the company's tradition of designing and building keyboards that offer consistently good value for money. Its facilities work well, its sounds are perfectly acceptable (if a mite lacking in imagination) and its control layout is logical and functional That said, however, the feeling remains that the 310's designers have given adventure the thumbs down and plumped instead for the safety of a largely domestically-orientated product. I think that's a shame. There's no doubt in my mind that Casio have the skill, technology and production know-how necessary to manufacture first-class high-tech musical instruments that would grace the equipment lists of many a household name. Whether or not they have the inclination to do so is an entirely different matter, of course.
The CT310 is an instrument that accomplishes what it sets out to do very competently - it's just a pity that the market area for which it is principally intended is such a limited one.
The Casio CT310 carries an RRP of £275 including VAT, and further information is available from Casio at (Contact Details).
Review by Dan Goldstein
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