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Casio CZ-1

Article from One Two Testing, October 1986

Clever keyboard clacked

John Foxx doesn't like it because "it makes it go all wobbly", a concert pianist friend of mine hates it because his beloved piano doesn't do it, when asked, a rival manufacturer whose new keyboard doesn't have it, said that it's too expensive to produce, so in that case, I applaud Casio because they have put it on their new synth, the CZ1. I refer, of course, to 'aftertouch,' that wonderful commodity that can be used to bring life to almost any sound. You see, Casio have wised up to the fact that although aftertouch is not everyone's cup of tea, if you go to the expense of providing it, it's relatively cheap to provide a button to turn it off, simple really.

On the CZ1, Casio have rectified all of the daft things that made their CZ3000 'not quite the business'. The new boy has velocity sensitivity and the afore-mentioned aftertouch, not forgetting all of the good points from the older CZ series. As you know, the CZ series from the Casio family derive the sound from a process known as Phase Distortion, called PD in hip circles. Not quite FM and not quite analog, but in my opinion, PD has the best of both worlds, and it must be said, can produce sounds that people can't believe are coming from a Casio. Traditionally, the past Casio synths have not been good enough to be used by the pro and semi-pro musician, and with good reason, they sounded thin and cheap, which they were. Now, the CZ series are taken seriously, simply because they sound great. Nile Rodgers' favourite synth combination is the Casio CZ101, roughly 200 dollars in the States, and the Synclavier, priced at over 100,000 dollars.

If it's good enough for Nile, then I want to see why he uses the Casio CZ series. It could be that the sounds that come with the CZ1 are nearly all useable, perhaps it's the price, under £1000.

Most people have heard a DX7 at some time, and is one of the most popular synths around. This in mind, I compared the CZ1 to the DX. The DX is big because the sound has so much attack, the velocity is good, as is the aftertouch, but many of the DX sounds get thinner rather than fatter when using velocity. Not so on the Casio. The CZ1 sounds so much better with velocity, so much more expressive and expensive sounding than anything they have produced before. But enough of this praise, lets get specific.

Noise, lots of it; take preset B3, named electric guitar. Plug in your favourite fuzz box, connect to CZ1, turn it up loud and we are talking heavy. We are talking Castle Donnington, we are talking screaming heavy solos. This particular sound goes into feedback when you apply aftertouch (pressure on the keys, which in this case brings in lots of wobble), and fooled lots of musicians when heard in a track. Pick preset A1, Brass patch: don't play brass riffs with it, play fretless bass licks and we are talking Pino Paladino and Japan (the group). Search for the Jazz Organ preset, and we can talk Patois, we can play at Bob Marley, in fact, this organ sound is the next best thing to carting about a bloody great hammond organ. If you do have a DX synth, connect the standard piano (number 9) to the 'bright Clavi' sound on the CZ1 and we have an incredible Grand piano sound, something discovered by accident. The clavi sound on the CZ1 has a great bottom end to it, but what's this tone mix thing then?

Tone mix allows you to layer two sounds together on the CZ, and can sound bigger than your average King size tandoori chicken. One of the annoying things about the past CZ series, was that you couldn't save tone mix settings, you had to select the sounds each time they were needed. The CZ1 cures this, and you have 64 operation memories in which to store combinations of sounds from the tone mix mode, and also saves the split combinations. Yes, you can split the CZ1 at any point on the five octave keyboard. Selecting a split point doesn't involve pushing fifty different buttons, you simply tell it which sounds you want in the split, and where you want the split to start. A bonus point is that you can tell it to have one of the split sounds to be quieter than the other; very nice for a smarmy quiet brass sound on the left hand and a stonking heavy guitar sound that's really loud on the right hand. Being able to store these split and tone mix settings points toward being a handy synth for those who like to play live, a whole gig's settings can easily be accommodated.

Another pointer to the serious market is the impressive MIDI specification, making the DX7's MIDI look very primitive indeed. For those who have a sequencer, how does the thought of eight different sounds at once grab you? It grabbed me. Casio have seen fit to include the MIDI Mono mode. This allows the user to address different sounds on the CZ1 over different MIDI channels. For example, you could have a bass sound on channel one, a lead line on channel two, a choral sound on another channel and so on until the eight note polyphony is used up. The CZ1 can be sixteen note polyphonic when used on its own, whilst using it in MONO mode (midi that is), you can address 8 sounds at once, or any combination of sounds, providing the eight note maximum isn't exceeded. Just like the Fairlight series II actually. Equally sensibly, MIDI in, out and thru are too be seen lurking on the back, making it score more points in the versatility stakes.

So what's wrong with the bleeder then? Very little actually, the only criticism I can think of is the colour and the keyboard to some extent. Colour-wise, the push buttons do look a little tacky, but they work in a positive fashion, and feel like thay are built to last. The keyboard feels just a bit too light compared to the DX7, but that's personal preference, and is really just a matter of getting used to, which didn't take long. Another possible drawback is the sound generation system itself. Phase Distortion isn't immediately obvious to edit, in that there are a lot of parameters to deal with, but the display helps a great deal here as related parameters are shown at the same time, unlike the DX7.

An essential and intelligent addition is the ability to give your own sounds a name, very nice, as is the overall layout of the synth, clear and easily readable. Different rates and amounts of vibrato/modulation and also aftertouch rates can be stored for each sound which again is a sensible inclusion, as is the detachable mains lead which is of the standard Euro variety.

The CZ1 is the result of good market research, and incorporates all the best features of the past Casio CZ series and thankfully omits the silly ones. I find this very hard to fault, which is a rare occurence these days, as the price is right (rumoured to come down even more), the sounds are useable and not too gimmicky, some of them being quite frightening in the aggressive stakes which has to be a good thing. The MIDI implementation is one of the best, which together with the inclusion of velocity and aftertouch, makes the CZ1 a strong contender in the master keyboard category. The advantages far outweigh the small drawbacks, and this reviewer was not pleased at all when it had to go back to the manufacturer after being used on about four tracks in as many days. Trying not to sound like a complete prat, I would suggest that you should try it before you think of buying a synth from anybody else in the price range.

CASIO CZ-1 £999

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Browse category: Synthesizer > Casio

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Jesus Of Cool

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Ordinary People

Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Oct 1986

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer > Casio > CZ-1

Gear Tags:

Digital Synth
Phase Distortion

Review by Peter Gleadall

Previous article in this issue:

> Jesus Of Cool

Next article in this issue:

> Ordinary People

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