Synth With PCM Drum Pads
You saw what PCM could do for Technics. Now, with a nought and a bit more knocked off the price, consider how it performs for Casio. The MT-500 doesn't make too many departures from Casio's home/fun crossover formula as far as the keyboard voicings go... auto accompaniment, single finger chords, preset drum patterns, etc. Where we do go boldly is in the four (reminiscently) hexagonal rubber pads up on the sloped, grey plastic, front panel. These you hit, and drum sounds they make, 12 altogether, selected on sliders (see spec) but only one each per pad at a time.
They're the same Pulse Code Modulation samples as used by the built-in drum machine, which might explain why, as soon as you hit one of the pads, the rhythm box stops. Pity that as playing your own fills on top of the Casio's basic patterns would have been a nifty trick.
The pads are incredibly light, a gnat on a bad landing would trigger the sounds, and this is perfect for producing the sort of feverish bass drum rolls which would fracture Phil Collins' pelvis. An external pair of large pads (5in across) is supplied, and they're tougher, to suit drum stick pressure. They connect to a mini-jack socket round the side.
The panel mounted pads are positioned ideally so you can play them as a mini 'kit' or reach up with your right hand in mid-keyboard solo to tap in a percussive crunch. The samples are brief, but not too abrupt - the ride cymbal comes in at around ¾ second, and the rest are all below that limit. What we get are two typically thwacking synth toms which blast through everything, a real bass drum skin with a touch of flap, adequate if not thrilling closed and open hi-hats, disappointingly artificial handclaps, but bright hi- and low-bongos and agogo to break up the rhythms. A solid snare (not dissimilar from that in Roland TR505, reviewed elsewhere) rounds off the collection. Good sounds.
The keyboard voices are sturdy if predictable Casio fare - a fairly straight division between reedy or rich organ voices, and spangly bells, harpsichords and clavs with artificial reverb (in truth, a long sustain at a low level). Apart from the solid jazz organ I, they'd be better at top line embellishments than backing track support.
I don't think you'd push back the boundaries of synthesis with the 500's keyboard voices, but the pads are good fun, offering a substantial improvement in sound on rhythm boxes of even a year ago. It also fights well as a team machine - there aren't many keyboards which two people could play at the same time, but if you're a serious 'composer', the 500's a springboard rather than a permanent solution.