Casio SZ1 MIDI Sequencer
Casio get further into the pro market, Chris Jenkins gets into their newie
It must have occurred to some fiendish mind at Casio that the basic design of the electric guitar hasn't changed for around 30 years. Goodness knows what they'll come up with when the Casio design technicians sit down to redesign the instrument from scratch.
Meanwhile — probably to the relief of guitar manufacturers — the inscrutable Orientals are concentrating on portable keyboards and synthesizers. Casio are largely responsible for dragging keyboards out of the hands of the Wakemans and Emersons of this world. Attitudes to keyboards have changed beyond all recognition — no longer will a musician say "I can't afford it, and even if I could, I couldn't understand it." These days, the question isn't "have you got a Casio?" but "How many Casios have you got?".
Starting from the pocket VL-1 with its maddening in-built Hungarian folk tune, to the CT full-size keyboards, the MT and PT mini keyboards, and now the CZ synthesizers, Casio have single-mindedly dragged the keyboard market kicking and screaming into the 80's with cheap equipment and increasingly professional sounds. Some musicians are even using them on stage without sticking tape over the legend CASIO.
I suppose it was inevitable that Casio would turn to more esoteric devices such as sequencers once the more advanced synths, such as the CZ-101 and CZ-5000, were established.
The CZ synths are, as most of you will know, wonderful devices using the Yamaha-DX-like Phase Distortion sound production method. Fully MIDI compatible, and with a modern range of options such as cartridge sound storage, internal patch editing, and tone mix, they offer digital/analogue sounds at affordable prices — and, in the case of the CZ-101, maximum portability. Just about the only thing they won't do is play themselves — and someone at Casio obviously spent long nights worrying about this. Fortunately the worry is now over.
One of the major differences between Casio's CZ-101 and its big brother, the CZ-5000, (apart from the larger keyboard and eight extra voices of the 5000) is the 5000's on-board sequencer. In their infinite wisdom, a cut-down stand-alone version of this sequencer has now been made available in the form of the SZ-1.
The SZ-1 is a four-note polyphonic MIDI sequencer, the cheapest to emerge so far. Though it does make some compromises on facilities compared to, say, Roland's MSQ-700 or the PolyMIDI-1, it should offer an easy entry to MIDI sequencing to many synth owners.
Roland's MSQ-700 costs around £700, and the Micro Performance PolyMIDI One around £499, so the delights of MIDI sequencing have been denied to many poor but honest punters. At £245 the SZ-1 doesn't leave you with much excuse — now anyone with a MIDI keyboard and no MIDI sequencer can justifiably be scorned and insulted in the streets.
The unit can't be said to be impressive visually; a grey plastic box 325x64x220 millimetres, styled to match the CZ synth series, weighing 11 gg, and featuring grey and blue touch switches.
To the top left of the front panel is the LCD display which gives most of the necessary status indications. It's very difficult to read in low light, but that's a fault shared by many instruments including the revered Yamaha DX7. So what can the SZ-1 do that can't be done with your fingers?
As usual the best way to find out is to look at the numerous knobs and sockets.
On the back of the unit are a cartridge port, 7.5 volt DC power socket, start footswitch socket, a tape dump DIN socket, two MIDI outs and one MIDI in. The two MIDI outs are necessary because the CZ synths (among others) aren't supplied with MIDI THROUGH sockets. Unless you own a through box, this would make life difficult for multikeyboard owners were it not for the dual sockets on the SZ.
The SZ can also be powered by five 1.5 volt batteries, making it an ideal match for the portable CZ-101. The prospect of flat batteries on stage is a fairly grim one, so I wouldn't rely on them overmuch; however, you'll need to leave batteries in the SZ1 to preserve its volatile memory.
The tape dump facility is a back-up for the cartridge storage system which most users will probably find preferable. Complete sequences can be dumped and reloaded instantly using the optional RA5 memory cartridges. There's no indication yet as to how much these cartridges might cost, though, and tape is cheap. The tape dump facility has Load, Save and Verify functions, but again it would be a brave man who would rely on tape loading in an on-going performance situation. A full memory set can be loaded from tape in around a minute, but wouldn't it be nice to have an option to dump information to, say, a Commodore 1541 disk drive? This may be a possibility soon, since Passport Software has already developed a CZ-101 patch dump program, and an SZ-1 data dump package should present few problems. Alternatively,you could just rely on the chunky cartridges; storage modes are selected using the Cartridge/MT switch on the top right of the main control area.
Review by Chris Jenkins
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