Casio MT400V Keyboard
Casio discover filters
Imagine somebody clouting you on the side of the head with a large mallet for a couple of hours, and then stopping. That's relief for you.
Perhaps a rather melodramatic way to describe the advent of the Casio MT400V, but it's about time that the heroes of the cheap polyphonic keyboard came up with something a little more professionally acceptable – and this may be it.
The MT400V gives Casio a great thrust into the future by introducing not FM, not computer interfacing, not MIDI – but a filter. Remember them? The good old analogue filter what does the wobbly noises on yer average cheap monophonic synth. What a turn-up!
The MT400V still uses the polyphonic Casio system combined with now familiar accompaniment and autochord sections, but it's amazing how much the single filter can add to this specification.
Let's look at the facilities on this enigmatic new product one at a time. As its MT-prefix suggests, it has miniature keys – four octaves of them – and has two small speakers, not built in but mounted on the back of the instrument, or free-standing. As ever, it's neatly finished with a plastic casing and reliable switches and sliders, and weighs in at 7lbs (plus speakers) including batteries.
Other than the filter section, the MT400V is similar to the MT68 and MT200, for instance. There are 20 eight-note polyphonic sounds selected by ten small pushbuttons and a bank selector, with the usual choice of tones – Organ, Flute, Clarinet, Harpsichord, Funny, Cosmic Tone and so on. The Harpsichord is quite chunky, the Mandolin very interesting with a built-in repeat, and the Cosmic Tone a useful lead synth sound.
Accompaniment is divided into three sections, Bass, Chords and Rhythm. The volumes of these are mixed by individual sliders on the upper part of the casing, and the patterns played are selected by four-position sliders (for bass and chords) and six pushbuttons plus a bank selector (for the rhythms). Each rhythm has a different set of bass and chord patterns assigned to it, and in fact different accompaniment sounds for each variation.
There's some quite funky stuff there, although, of course, the limitations of pre-programmed accompaniment soon become apparent to the serious muso. The accompaniment as a whole is typical of the more recent Casios.
There are several useful Effects modes, including Vibrato and Delayed Vibrato; there's also a Stereo Chorus, which thickens all the poly sounds, gives them a little movement and adds a lot when listening on headphones. The speed of the Chorus can be altered on a top panel slider from decently slow to a manic wobble, which is handy. In addition there's a Reverb mode, a clever alternative to the Sustain function which cuts the sustain to a very low level, giving the impression of a faint echo — much cheaper than buying a spring line unit.
Now for the interesting bit, the effect of putting all this home organ stuff through an honest-to-goodness synthesiser filter.
What happens is that the Casio starts to sound like the good old polyphonic ensembles of a bygone age, like the Crumar Performer or the ARP Solina, with a single overall sweep on all the notes held. There are five main settings on the Filter, each on a slider in the Roland style. These are cutoff, resonance (which stops short of oscillation), attack, decay and sustain. The maximum attack time is around two seconds, which is more generous than it sounds, and the same applies to the decay.
Assuming you've directed the poly sound through the filter and that you've also switched in the Chorus and Reverb, try selecting a slow attack and high resonance together with low cutoff and decay, and what do you get? A powerful chord which slowly swooshes open, wobbling as it goes, holds on a clear sound and collapses in on itself as you release the keys in a gentle mass of reverb.
But there's more to come. Switch in the Waw function and the filter comes under the control of the Chorus speed control for regular sweeping effects, from slow and sedate to manically fast. This can simulate everything from Leslie cabinets on the Organo settings to tremolo on the Pianos (à la Fender Rhodes) – undoubtedly a "Good Thing", even if it does share the Chorus speed setting and so limits itself a little.
The filter can in fact be used in four ways – on the poly tones as we've seen, or on the Bass and Chords, on the Rhythms, or on an additional white noise generator. The effect on the two accompaniment sections is very interesting – instant dub in fact.
On the Rhythms the filter has the effect of thinning out the drum sounds if desired (not very likely!) or of emphasising certain beats, while the white noise generator gives a burst on each bass drum beat which can be filtered for an electronic drum kit feel – hardly a budget Simmons but better than a poke in the eye.
The main application is in polyphonic playing, and here you'll get the inevitable effect of a single filter; playing another note when a chord is held will sweep the filter over all the previous notes as well as the new one. This re-triggering phenomenon used to be the curse of ensemble keyboards, but as we now know that it can be solved simply by spending around £800 (the Korg Poly 800 doesn't qualify – that's only got a single filter, too), its occurrence on the Casio doesn't seem too significant.
There are a few minor points to be made, of course. Now that each section can have its sound enhanced so much by the filter (which incidentally can brighten sounds when switched in as well as toning them down), it would be more sensible than ever to have individual outputs on the back panel for recording purposes. Also, now that Casio are entering the genuine synthesiser league (ten years after everybody else), it would be nice to see a pitchbend and vibrato depth control to add expression to the much-improved leadline possibilities.
Over the last couple of years Casio have lost a lot of the following initially gained among serious musicians through their steadfast insistence on improving the number of "gimmicks" rather than the basic sound of their keyboards. It looks like this trend is at last beginning to slow, and there's more to come. Hopefully we in the UK will be seeing the impressive CT-6000, a velocity-sensitive, touch-control, five-octave, MIDI-equipped beauty which will sell as an inexpensive keyboard controller if not as a pro keyboard in its own right. This is undoubtedly another step in the right direction, but won't necessarily put the MT400V in the shade. This little machine deserves to become the standard beginner's polysynth, and with the right sort of exposure should even make it into a few discerning but impecunious studios.
Casio MT400V keyboard: £255
Review by nk
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