Small, digital and reviewed by Curtis Schwartz
There are essentially two kinds of musical instrument manufacturers: those such as Roland or Sequential Circuits which concentrate their efforts on musical instruments alone, and consequently produce specific instruments for specific requirements; and those such as Yamaha and Casio which have products ranging from motorbikes and tennis rackets, to calculators and watches. Both Yamaha and Casio have been producing home keyboards for the mass market for many years, Yamaha having successfully broken into the professional market relatively recently, and Casio now aspiring to do the samething with their new range of 'professional' keyboards — of which the first to appear is the CZ101.
The CZ101 is of the 'overshoulder-boulder-holder', four octave, mini keyboard variety, using a unique system of tone generation which they call Phase Distortion to give sophisticated user-programmable, polyphonic, digital sound.
To briefly run through its specifications, the CZ101 is eight note polyphonic in the single DCO per voice mode, and four note polyphonic in the dual DCO per voice mode. It has 32 voice memories (16 preset and 16 programmable), 33 waveforms, three envelope generators, two keyboard followers, octave shift, pitch bend wheel, programmable portamento, solo mode, MIDI... all for under £400.
The CZ101 has 16 factory preset voices, the usual stuff — piano, strings, organ, racing cars, etc; as well as 16 internal memory locations that you can load your own patches into. A further 16 voices can be stored onto a RAM cartridge, and then you've got one more memory location for creating your sounds in without having to erase any other sounds already in memory.
There are eight fundamental waveforms (SawTooth, Square, Pulse, Double Sine, Saw Pulse and Resonance I, II and III) and a further 25 waveforms can be created with its two waveform capability combining any of the first five fundamental waveforms, making a grand total of 33.
Then we come upon three eight-stage envelope generators assignable to pitch, amplitude and 'wave'. They are eight stage EGs in the sense that they have eight rate and eight level settings each, so in fact they could even be called 16 stage! This is fairly self explanatory as far as pitch and amplitude are concerned, though Casio's meaning of a 'wave' EG might be a little unusual. What this amounts to is something similar to the analogue equivalent of filter EG — whereby level settings approaching full will emphasise the waveform's higher harmonics, and lower settings will emphasise its lower harmonics.
If you find three eight/16 stage EGs a little complex at first, then you can reduce its resolution to a point where you are more 'comfortable'.
A glance over the CZ101's front panel will reveal a deceptively simple looking keyboard; however, it is of the digital access variety, and consequently hiding its control still accessed on the LCD display.
Moving from left to right, we have a very friendly pitch bend wheel, below which is the volume slider. Then four switches in the Effect box will switch portamento on/off and control its time and switch vibrato on and off with control over its time as well. Then in the Programmer section is the switching relating to voice select (either preset, internal or cartridge select), a row of eight switches relating to memory selection and a red switch for Compare/Recall. Below these are two switches relating to the instrument's mono mode, which select solo triggering and 'tone mix'. The latter makes it possible to mix voices in the solo voices — excellent! Then we come to key transpose, MIDI channel select, and one more red switch for writing into memory the patch that you have been creating in the 'working memory' location.
Under the LCD display are eight boxes with eight waveshape diagrams, under which are the data entry controls for value up/down, cursor left/right, and memory save/load.
Then to the right of the display is the section for parameter selection — envelope step up/down, two switches for determining the complexity of the envelopes, voice initialise, and then 12 switches relating to EG programming for DCO — pitch, DCW — wave (filter), and DCA — amplitude. These are then duplicated below for the second DCO (if selected), and then there is vibrato and octave switching that relates to both.
A red button to the right of the first row then selects detuning between the two oscillators (if you are in the dual oscillator mode), and then the remaining switches give you modulation (ring or noise), master tuning up/down, and power on/off.
Unfortunately, it is not unknown for a manufacturer to bring out a product which, on paper, looks like having everything going for it, yet the end result does not live up to its expectations — to have a price tag under four hundred pounds, theory says that Casio must have had to have cut some corners somewhere, but for the life of me I can't tell you where those corners are...
If you listen to the sounds the CZ101 is capable of, it is rather unbelievable that such sounds can emanate from such an unsuspecting little keyboard — rich brass and strings, delicate electric pianos, vicious metallic sounds, lilting flutes and harps. The special effects such as explosions and Simmons drums have enough depth to them to put instruments four times the price of the 101 to shame.
By February, Casio promise to have a full size keyboard version of the CZ101 in the shops — perhaps with a touch sensitive keyboard, and even if it has nothing more than what is found on the CZ101, it will still be an exceptionally powerful instrument — definitely a strong contender for the professional market.
All I can say is that Casio have finally done what they have threatened to do for the past few years; do to the professional keyboard market what they did to the calculator and watch markets — conquer.
Review by Curtis Schwartz
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