Casio discover MIDI
Must be some kind of brainbomb going off at Casio this month. In the last issue we had the MT400V with filters, this time it's the CT6000 laying claim to a touch sensitive and second touch keyboard, built-in chorus unit, pitch bend wheel and MIDI outputs. The cosmetics are also a spring heeled step ahead – pressure activated membrane switches in green, brown, purple and grey. Someone seems to have sneaked a DX7 catalogue in through the back door.
Ear to speaker contact also proves Casio have put enormous effort into the voicings since the sounds are certainly more accurate than before.
But first the practicals. It measures 38in by 13in (4in deep), carries a five octave, plastic C to C keyboard and the base section of the instrument casing is a soft grey while the slanted control panel stays black.
Four inch speakers occupy either end of the panel under black grilles (the chorus unit is in stereo and does a good job swinging the signal back and forth).
Sliders control the main, accompaniment, melody and rhythm volumes, as well as the tempo for the ubiquitous drum machine – 20 rhythms here and the usual assortment of rock, disco, swing, bossa nova, etc. The sounds and rhythms past muster but can't qualify as the best in the world of compact keyboards. Cymbals, snare and handclaps all sound partially muffled, but they do make use of the stereo set up to give the spatial illusion of a real kit. Incidentally, plenty of volume available from the speakers and no distortion even at top wack, a reassuring sign.
Casio have taken the bottom 19 keys (C to F) and established them as the accompaniment section for the standard auto, fingered and free bass chords – you know, one side of a Black Lace album with two digits and a digestive biscuit.
The "super accompaniment" button will drop in chord vamps and bass lines as well but has a simpler menu, simpler than past models. For the likes of us, the more important detail is the choice of ten sounds in this section, so the 6000 can be used as a split keyboard, albeit that the bottom octave and a bit is a shade constrained. The noises handy here are piano/elec piano/guitar/harp/synth/synth waw/organ 1 and 2/chorus/strings. Organ and strings are probably best, you can play a max of four notes in this half (the remaining quartet is for the rest of the keyboard), but the sounds with a shaped envelope (rather than those just gated, like the organ) will usually retrigger the existing notes each time a new one is added to a chord.
Anyway, onto the good bits. First the sounds. Moving ever further from their original glass-like, digital selection, Casio have made worthwhile and versatile advances here. The piano is rounded, almost Roland like, while the honky tonk is nicely loose and out of tune, and doesn't just leave the effect to a chorus pedal. Highest marks go to the beautiful vibraphone with a lilting, metallic sustain plus the initial tap of hammer against keys. Also the synth bells, simply gorgeous, the most realistic I've heard on any keyboard of this type. They're rich with harmonics but playable as chords and lead lines. The overtones don't become so complex that you can't tell what you're up to.
Koto, funky clav and synth reed are there to represent Casio's spikey side, but the brass, string and symphonic ensembles are the big departures. So string machines have been making these sorts of bright backing noises for years, but previously you couldn't get them on a Casio which makes the 6000's range of voices perhaps the most comprehensive yet to be found on one of their models. To complete the selection there's elec piano/harpsichord/pipe organ/jazz organ/trumpet/ saxophone/flute/violin/elec guitar and chorus.
The attention given to the programming shows in the rasp on the saxophone and the whiff of raw breath on the flute, both of which come to prominence when you hit the keys harder.
Which leads us neatly, I think, to the touch sensitivity. Attractive prospect, isn't it, a MIDI-ed, dynamic keyboard that can send velocity and second touch information down the line? But it's worth remembering that only another dynamic equipped synth is likely to understand it, as well as the fact that there are sensitive keyboards and sensitive keyboards.
Depending on how much manufacturers can afford to spend on the construction of the keys, there are generally two types around... (a) those where you play normally but the harder you hit, the louder the note; the softer you hit, the quieter the note, (b) those where your normal, average finger pressure produces the maximum volume but lighter touches reduce the level. In other words, there's no extra room for you to belt the keys with heroic force and get MORE volume out of them. The 6000 is the latter.
It works, perhaps not as dramatically as you'd like, but it is extra expression. Probably the keyboard's more successful side is the second touch facility which fades up the volume as you press harder still – excellent for swelling in strings and, surprisingly, very effective on the bells, turning them into a powerful sustaining sound.
The 6000 is well kitted out for effects. There's ensemble and celeste (two strengths of stereo chorus, the first is a bit hissy), plus sustain, delayed vibrato and vibrato. Less predictably there's unison 1, 2 and 3 which do more, much more than the standard synth mono mode. They mix the oscillators together at different frequency intervals greatly enriching the harmonics. Unison 2 is the best sounding; really fat. Three gets a bit heavy but does a good imitation of a synth tuned to fifths.
Finally, the pitch wheel. Jolly good show, chaps. It single-handedly makes the 6000 the most solo-able keyboard Casio have manufactured. The wheel is sprung to jump back to centre, and has a 12 position click stop range control.
At 1 the full travel of the wheel will be a semitone, at 12 it will be 12 semitones (an octave to us plebs). A second switch converts the wheel to glissando, picking out each note on its climb, rather than sliding steplessly through them.
You can always moan... wouldn't it be really good if the MT400V's filters were here as well, or polyphonic portamento, or a brilliance control, or some degree of programmability. And you still come down to the poser of "if I had £600 to spend, would I want a simple second hand, programmable poly, or would I genuinely need the drum box, auto chord and chord memory facilities of the 6000?" However, the 6000 has still got a lot of things right.
Casio CT6000: £695
Review by Paul Colbert
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