Julian Colbeck clocks the new Casio...
They just keep coming out with them, don't they? If you too were impressed that Casio could prise open the gap into which they slotted the CZ-3000, then smiles of surprise will turn into wide-eyed grins of amazement when you see the CZ-1. This beastie is undoubtedly Casio's most pro-orientated instrument to date, and is, essentially, in the same (now classic) mould as all other Phase Distortion instruments. However, it still manages to sound and feel refreshingly new — and that's quite a feat.
So; what has it got to offer? The most obvious comparison is with the CZ-3000. The CZ1 can be 16-voice polyphonic, and its programmes can be split as well as Tone Mixed or soloed in the usual Casio way. But for the additional £300 you are getting a substantially uprated instrument as far as performance-power goes. For a start, the CZ-1 has a five octave, velocity and after-touch sensitive keyboard — a first for the CZ range. Although not weighted, it's pleasant to play and seems to exert a greater influence over the final sound than you'd imagine. I'm not too sure why, but the CZ-1 sounds far more substantial an instrument than either the CZ-5000 or CZ-3000 (whose prime programming facilities are otherwise identical) and, while still capable of true PD hardness and clarity, the CZ-1 seems equally at home with thicker, warmer, positively undigital sounds as well. The velocity and after-touch controls can exert their influence independently over a full complement of parameters such as volume, tone and pitch modulation. Possibly the next most notable improvement is Casio's inclusion of a performance memory, here dubbed the 'Operation Memory'. Not only are there 64 preset and 64 internal (plus a further 64 cartridge-based) memories, but also 64 locations in which performance data — Tone Mixes, split points, performance control settings and the like — can be stored and recalled.
All this adds up to an immeasurably more powerful instrument than Casio have produced so far. The 'pro looking for another new keyboard' will also be impressed by the sunken, backlit LCD on to which you can write up to 16 character programme names, and on which your programming and performance data can now be read under albeit the most tiresome of lighting conditions. And when it comes to programming sounds (assuming that anyone still does this!), Casio have included a natty little labour-saving device call 'Parameter Copy'. Here, instead of having to re-programme a succession of, say, DCW settings that you're quite fond of into another programme, you can simply 'copy' a bunch of settings and impose them on your new sound.
Additional gadgets include a MIDI on/off switch — surprisingly useful — as well as previous pieces of Casio helpfulness in the shape of edit/compare, initialize, ring modulator (still just on/off), noise, slider operated chorus control, and the all-important aspect of multi-timbralism when it comes to MIDI.
If there are any slight worries, they concern the CZ-1's physical construction. Whereas the CZ-101 and 1000 sported snug fitting buttons and switches, more recently-introduced models such as the CZ-5000, 3000, and now the CZ-1 all feature a number of moveable and somewhat wobbly controls. Sliders such as chorus depth and master volume and bound to be used frequently, and their construction and placement (distinctly proud of the main panel) would cause me some concern as an owner 'on the move'. Not that you should ever
stint on one, but here a flightcase is a must, I think.
Competition in the sub-£1000 polysynth market for the CZ-1 has eased off somewhat at the top end. There are numerous cost- and feature-saving instruments nestling around the £700 mark, but few new instruments that can boast the CZ-1's level of control and ease of operation for an extra £300. Should your income have increased sufficiently, this is an ideal instrument for the CZ-101 owner, already familiar (in principle at least!) with PD, to upgrade to.
RRP £945 inc. VAT
More info from Casio Electronics Ltd., (Contact Details).