Article from Making Music, November 1987
Not a bad idea to look over your shoulder and see how the home keyboard market's doing from time to time. Simple, pre-set keyboards are how loads of players start, and their manufacturers have learnt plenty from the high-tech end of the business... usually because they're the same people. Like Casio.
For example the HZ-600 is programmable. The 20 upper pre-sets and ten lower ones (it's a split keyboard) can be tinkered with via a large entry control and an LCD display showing the parameter values. The degree of control is basic, usually just 32 steps to each parameter, like early polyphonic synths, and it's a pity that the entry dial couldn't have been partnered by a couple of push buttons to step through the parameters one at a time. The control is coarse, and it's easy to overshoot the setting you want.
The most forceful changes come from selecting one of the 32 internal waveforms, from thin and clean to pseudo white noise. After that you're either brightening or softening it with the filter, or changing the attack and decay times.
Apart from the sounds themselves, you can edit, and memorise the bend range (there are standard pitch and mod wheels to the left of the keyboard) transpose the keys up or down, and speed up or slow down the chorus. These are all dubbed "Total Control" by Casio meaning they effect the whole instrument. If you pick a fast, wobbly chorus for the jazz organ on the right hand half of the split, it will also warble over the harpsichord you've selected for the bass notes. A slot at the rear takes a RAM card for another 120 sounds, and there's a handy headphone output at the front.
The 600 feels incredibly light, almost hollow, which could have something to do with the six D size batteries that ought to go in the back. We were using the external power supply that comes as part of the deal. Nothing tacky or weak about the keyboard itself, however, and good to have a full sized one for once (which will control, via MIDI, any midget synths you've got). High marks, also, to the manual that actually explains what all the parameters mean and do, instead of presuming that ADSR was the first word you spoke on appearing from the womb.
Since it doesn't have a built in drum machine — the most significant departure from the bulk of the Casio's home range — the HZ-600 falls in an unusual middle ground. It makes some steps towards synthy style programmability, but they're not vast ones. Yes, you can personalise sounds, and store them, but you'll never run too far from the essential homeyness — bright, pingy and honky noises, often very harpsichord like, with the occasional washy stuff for brass and strings. I don't think it's one of Casio's best collections, but it does make a full sized keyboard and some programmability available at a low price. If you're a first time keyboardist and are serious about playing rather than just fiddling with drum-boxes and one fingered accompaniments, then it's going to hold your interest longer than a pre-set job. But how much longer, I'm not sure.
CASIO HZ-600 PROGRAMMABLE/PRESET SYNTH £349
Casio UK, (Contact Details).
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