Digital Multi-Track Sequencer
It's easy to forget when reviewing electronic musical instruments that price is a very important factor. Obviously, in such a competitive market, the price tag will usually reflect the difference between products - not necessarily in quality, but almost always in terms of what functions the machine is capable of performing. The Casio SZ1 Digital Multi-Track Sequencer is a perfect example. Pricewise it's pitched well below its competitors, and for anybody who can't afford the luxury of an MSQ or QX series sequencer but needs something which is not merely a toy, it could well be a good buy. In fact the SZ1 does have several features which aren't available on more expensive machines; but it also has its limitations. All I can do is report the facts (and state the price!), leaving you, the reader, to make up your own mind.
Initially, the most interesting feature of the SZ1 is its ability to record polyphonically in 'Real Time', or monophonically in 'Manual' (step time), on any of 4 user assignable tracks. I'll deal with Real Time recording first, because it's so easy to do on the Casio; in fact, it's almost exactly like using a tape recorder.
Just connect a MIDI keyboard to it, switch the machine on (important, that!), select a track and press Real Time/Record. The SZ1 will give you a 4-beat countdown, after which it starts recording; and, just like a tape recorder, it catches everything, fluffs as well! There is no auto-correct facility, so you have to play in time, but if you do make a mistake just press Rewind and 'spool' back to a position before the error. The machine will now play back the track you've already recorded in a sort of 'record ready' mode. When you reach the mistake, play it again (but this time play it right!) and the SZ1 will drop into Record the instant you touch the keyboard. It's a handy feature, with only one drawback - it's not possible to drop out again, so if your mistake is in the middle of a track, you lose everything after the drop-in! I found it was best to repair mistakes as they occurred, thus saving a great deal of work.
'Real Time' recording on the SZ1 can be done with or without key velocity being recorded (there is an enable/disable switch on the back). Of course, if your synth is touch-sensitive it is nice to record it, but watch out as memory space is limited! The SZ1 will also record programme changes and modulation, but this also takes up extra memory space and, to be honest, there isn't very much available. 1800 events in Real Time mode is all you've got, and it's shared between four tracks. This is further reduced if you want key velocity - to give you a practical yardstick by which to gauge this, I completely filled the memory by playing a two-handed piano part on a DX7 (recording key velocity), for approximately 2 1/2 minutes at a tempo of 120. There was no memory left to record anything on the other three tracks.
As far as editing is concerned, there's nothing more you can do with a real time track once it's successfully recorded. Recording in Manual mode, however, gives a number of options. In this mode, notes are input one at a time from the keyboard, after setting each note value from the sequencer. A comprehensive selection of values is available, including rests, and from this point of view Casio have done a good job, catering for almost every kind of rhythmic combination. In addition, programming in Manual gives a much larger memory capacity (3,600 events), although you can't enter dynamics and each track has to be monophonic (i.e., no chords). It is possible to copy a section of music from a given point to the end of a track, but it is not possible to 'lift' a section out of a track and copy that. Since the SZ1 doesn't notate measures (bars), only events (notes or rests), you have to know the exact note at which to copy. Similarly, it will insert or delete individual notes, but not sections of music. This can be very confusing, especially in a rhythmically complex track, and although it's possible to build almost any sequence on the SZ1, it's time-consuming!
Once you have the required information on the four tracks, it's easy to select any or all of them for playback (incidentally, while you were 'overdubbing' it was possible to monitor tracks already recorded). Each of the tracks can be assigned to a separate MIDI channel, which means that your different synths could be hooked up with a different sound on each. Using MIDI, the SZ1 can drive or be driven from a drum box or anything else with MIDI sync. Other features include variable tempo, a Repeat button, and a very insistent metronome which can be turned on or off. Power is from a 7.5 volt DC mains adaptor (supplied) or from 5 large batteries. My advice is definitely to avoid using the batteries - this machines eats Duracells at the rate of about 5 every three to four hours!
Finally, you can store your programmes by dumping on to tape, or loading a Casio RAM cartridge - tape is cheaper, but RAM is quicker.
And talking of expense, at an RRP of £299 (and probably less in the shops), this sequencer with its limitations is, I think, fairly priced. Well done, Casio - definitely a step in the right direction; but without track merge facilities, and without the necessary memory to really make use of the 4-track facility, the SZ1 just misses the mark, I feel.
RRP £299 Inc. VAT
More details from Casio Electronics Co. Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Nick Graham
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!