Casio CZ1 Polyphonic Synthesiser
Following in the footsteps of their successful budget CZ models, Casio add touch-sensitivity for the professional user. Simon Trask evaluates the results.
Phase Distortion. Not a very catchy phrase, it has to be said, but the concept it embraces has certainly caught on. Casio's CZ series of synthesisers - the first machines to use PD - have been a huge success story worldwide, with all kinds of musicians playing all kinds of music on them, and programming all kinds of sounds into them.
Thus far, though, all the CZs have lacked a touch-sensitive keyboard. That obviously hasn't bothered buyers of the budget CZ101 and 1000 too much, but since those machines were released, some rival synths, even if they've not had touch-sensitive keyboards, have been given the ability to respond to touch via MIDI. Meanwhile, Casio's updates on the basic CZ idea (the CZ5000, 3000 and 230S) have remained steadfastly non-sensitive.
With the new CZ1, all that has changed. In appearance and facilities the CZ1 is similar to the CZ5000 and 3000. That means all its facilities are readily accessible from the front panel, and included are both split and dual performance facilities (the former with floating split point). But in addition to touch-sensitivity, there are a number of other new features lurking behind the CZ1's helpful exterior.
The five-octave CZ1 is sensitive to both attack velocity and channel aftertouch, with amounts programmable independently for each program. Velocity can be set to affect amplitude, timbre and pitch, while aftertouch can be set to affect modulation and amplitude; not only are these settings independent for each patch, they're also independent for each of the two DCOs, two DCWs and two DCAs that can make up a CZ sound.
And those familiar Phase Distortion voices respond to the CZ1's onslaught of performance sensitivity very effectively.
Not content to rest on their laurels, Casio have also given each of the two lines' (DCO-DCW-DCA combinations) its own level setting, which the velocity and aftertouch settings operate within.
The number of programs has been increased over the CZ1's predecessors, with 64 preset and 64 programmable memories (initially set to the same sounds) onboard, together with a further 64 on cartridge. Also included are a healthy 64 Operation memories (you may know them as performance memories) which allow you to store front-panel key split, tone mix, portamento, glide, bend, modulation and solo settings. So you can instantly move from, say, a key split combination of slap bass and electric piano, to a tone mix combination of bells and motorcycle.
Key split and tone mix modes have also been given added features. In addition to the ability to program volume levels for each sound, you can now turn chorus on and off independently for each patch in a key split and tone mix, turn sustain on and off, select octave shifts independently for each patch in a key split, and detune patches in a tone mix.
You can also edit and then store individual sounds from within the key split and tone mix modes, making it easier to tailor certain sounds within the context you intend to use them for.
If you've ever had trouble organising your sounds in a CZ machine's memory, you'll be glad to know Casio have included an Exchange facility (similar to that found in CZ editing software for computers) which allows you to swap the positions of any pair of sounds in memory (internal and cartridge). And when you're in the white heat of sound creation, you can now copy sound parameters from one line to another - particularly useful when setting up the CZ's eight-stage envelopes.
Casio have also paid a lot of attention to the CZ1's MIDI implementation. Most notable is a development of MIDI Mode 4 (Mono Mode), which Casio call Multimode. With it, you can select any channels up to a maximum of eight for MIDI reception, and then choose any one of these as the basic channel - meaning that certain information (such as main volume, pitch-bend, and local on/off) can be allocated to a particular part.
You can allocate any number of the CZ's voices to each channel specified in Multimode, as long as the total doesn't exceed eight voices - so you're no longer limited to monophonic parts. Usefully, you can also specify a volume level for the voices on each channel, and sustain on/off can be specified separately for each channel.
All in all, the CZ1 is a very responsive instrument that's benefited not only from touch-sensitivity, but from a number of other new facilities, the inclusion of which is a heartening indication that instrument manufacturers are listening to what musicians have to say.
Price £999 including VAT
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Review by Simon Trask