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Casio SK-200 sampling keyboard


Obviously, it's not a professional-class sampler like the Rolands or Akais. The maximum sampling rate of just over 10k deals a poor hand of cards to your top frequencies. And working on the usual sampling sums, you can expect the upper frequency limit to be 5k — enough for fair reproduction though not sparkling fidelity.

Still, that's not the real point. The SK-200 and its associates are broad steps ahead of the original SK-1 mini-sampler, several piles of cash cheaper than the big boys, and anyway do a quite different job.

It would be easier to say what the SK-200 doesn't have. There's a built in stereo amp, speakers and chorus, a programmable, sampled drum machine (you can write and store two of your own 32 beat patterns), a sequencer that will remember two monophonic melody lines plus a chord pattern (though based on the Casio's own one-fingered chord system), and the sampler, with several more facilities than you'd expect.

The sampling's three note polyphonic. The Casio will let you press down and sound the fourth note of a chord, stealing back one of the others in the process, but the fifth and further key depresses will be ignored. The SK-200 will store four samples (all the appropriate membrane switches in a fetching pink) and keep them when the power is switched off. There's a mike built-in to the right hand corner of the keyboard for speedy recording of the rude words everyone dictates to a machine on first encounter. When you progress beyond that stage there are jack and mini-jack sockets at the side for separate mike and line inputs. There's also a fine tuner for the sample's overall pitch. Smart addition.

The keyboard itself is split, the samples replaying over the top two thirds and the bottom third has its own pre-set synth sounds. For one shot sample replays there are further pink buttons, numbered 1-4, that trigger their samples each time they're pressed — mini drum pads, in a way.

From our glowing technicolour picture you can see the SK-200's front panel is wreathed in switches. The bottom two green rows handle the drum machine's pre-set rhythms. The next line of blues are the 10 sound selectors for the lower section of the keyboard, then the four pink sample switches, roofed over by the 12 blue buttons that call up the onboard sounds for the upper keys. The very top row is the business stuff.

Press "Sampling" and the Casio waits until it hears a sound loud enough to trigger its recording system, then records it. The job's done when the drum machine's cymbal makes a happy ping. "Sampling long" doubles the recording time, but halves the frequency response. "Effect Select" is where the facilities begin to creep in. The last seven white keyboard keys also double as switches. One will loop the sample, another will reverse it. (The loop repeats everything within the recording time, so without the ability to trim the sample back and front, most sounds will have slight hiccups as the join comes round). The remaining five keys superimpose new envelopes on the sample, but this is one area where Casio could have been a shade more adventurous in their choice — just a few minor changes to attack and release time.

Back on the top row of buttons we move along to the pattern programming section, and though you can assemble your own bass lines and chord sequences, they are tied to the Casio's own way of thinking. You start off with one of the factory 'vamping' accompaniments, and spin off from there. It's not a device for funky, synthed bass lines. More successful is the drum programming section. This is a big advance, as mini-keyboards have had entirely presentable drum sounds in them for some time, but have always been lumbered with oriental interpretations of 'Pops' and 'Swing'. Who can forget the fabulous 'Disco I'? When recording a new rhythm pattern, the bottom seven white notes again act as switches, each playing a drum sound — bass drum for bottom C, snare for bottom D, etc. You set the rhythm section playing to supply a timekeeping pulse, then tap the drum key you want, though this doesn't enter a sound. It merely tells the Casio which drum sample you want to program, and the actual delivery of the 'beat' is achieved using one of the pink sample pads — one for entries, the other for deletions. You work your way through the sounds, building up the pattern you want. They are real drum samples, though not lengthy ones, and I thought the bass drum a mite gutless. But they're eminently usable, and equal what you would have been paying £200 for alone not so many years ago.

As the sample we reviewed was one of the first in the country, and was travelling alone (ie without a manual), discoveries came at odd moments. For example, the SK-200 has four permanently stored samples — timpani, grand piano, vibes and a sort of harmonium (the middle two are factory produced, and better than you or I could manage. The piano has a three second sustain, for example).


Having spent the last few hundred words saying how much is onboard the SK-200, the final judgement has to begin with the one important thing missing — MIDI. That sampling power — not ungenerous for a keyboard this price — is cut-off from the outside world of full sized keyboards, sequencers and drum machines.

Though perhaps that doesn't worry the Casio designers who doubtless have professional spec MIDI-ed samplers on the way. The SK-200 succeeds because it's a self contained, one-man band, borrowing a slice from every part of the present digital business — a bit of sequencing, a bit of drum programming and a fair chunk of sampling. A writing more than a recording tool, and an introduction rather than an advanced course. But you'd have to be greedy to expect much more for your £250.


PRICE £249
KEYBOARD 49 mini keys
DRUM SAMPLES bass drum/snare/rim shot/hi-hat dosed/hi-hat open/ride cymbal/handclap
POLYPHONY eight note for pre-set synth sounds/three note for samples
SAMPLE TIME 0.81 seconds (normal)/1.62 seconds (long)
SEQUENCER one monophonic melody of 2024 steps/second melody of 1024 steps/chord memory of 159 changes
SAMPLER FACILITIES looping/reverse/five envelopes/fine tune
BUILT-IN sampling mike/stereo amp and speaker

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Roland RPS-10 pitch shifter

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Chord of the Month

Making Music - Copyright: Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.


Making Music - Feb 1987

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Keyboard - Home/Personal > Casio > SK-200

Review by Paul Colbert

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