Casiotone CT 7000
The latest product to be added to the Casio keyboard catalogue, which incidentally now stands at 16 instruments, is quite remarkable. If the recommended retail price is £575, then you will glean that it becomes the top-of-the-range item, and as such you would expect Casio to have come up with something special, and that they have.
The CT-7000 is a stereophonic keyboard with a memory system that operates in a similar fashion to a multi-track tape machine. Of course, there is no such item built into the instrument - I'm sure Casio have a hate for most mechanical devices and only tolerate the keyboard itself because there is no real electronic alternative. No, the multi-track system is fully digital - but it is more accurately considered as a polyphonic sequencer facility operating in an accessible tape machine format, rather than an actual digital recorder.
The control panel of the CT-7000 has remarkably clean lines to it, and is fairly simple to operate - just as well, because the unit that I had for review came complete without an operating manual. But after much discourse with the fine fellows from Staples Corner (Casio UK's residence), I think that I've discovered all the exciting options that the 7000 presents.
If you are familiar with the CT-1000P you will notice the similarities in presentation - the casework is predominantly wood with a dark matt grey acrylic finish, whilst the control panel is a formed metal stamping with a plasticised silver-grey finish. Two monitor speakers are set into the top of the panel, in such a way as to give both forward, and a little sideways projection of the sound. They also add to the futuristic appearance of the unit.
The tonal quality of the CT-7000's speakers is good, though perhaps a little more attention could be paid to perfecting the bass end response - the speakers aren't housed in any form of airtight enclosure (they're at either end of the hinged up panel) and as you can see there's enough room for a baffled enclosure to be fitted). However, as with most things it's obviously a matter of cost.
The controls themselves are set between the speakers, and again Casio have gone for a new type of switch. This time there are plastic momentaries with LEDs for selecting the preset voicings, and ordinary momentaries for the stereo effects, incremental tempo stepping, and for all the memory play features; and plastic latching switches for the rhythm unit - if Casio are using momentaries for the presets, why go for latches for the rhythms? Volume and a couple of pan controls are rotaries, and there are some nice slide switches utilised for the automatic chord facilities. Oh, and I almost forgot, a touch strip is set along the front edge of the instrument, below the keyboard, for bringing in the rhythm fills. The graphics being black on silver-grey are clearly visible, but the liquid crystal display, which is used to impart Tempo, Chord, and Memory utilisation, is less clear - but then this is a problem common to all LCD devices.
Casio have, in my book, got things right with their keyboards; for a non-touch sensitive model, the action is fast, not too light, yet quiet and smooth. I wonder if they make their own or use somebody else's? There are a full five octave-61 note (C to C), split 1½ octaves up in order to provide control keys for the automatics.
The twenty preset voicings are selected via the double entry momentaries situated in the middle of the keyboard. This double entry system is a little frustrating as two operations are required to change presets and it isn't instantly visible as to which preset has been selected - still, this is another acceptable cost cutting exercise.
The two levels do, however, correspond quite closely to one another with piano and electric piano on the same button; and similarly with pipe organ and electric organ.
There is no mistaking the Casio sound and the CT-7000 still utilises the same basic voice production circuitry that Casio employ in most of their other keyboards. There has been considerable debate over the past couple of years about Casio's single minded approach to voice production - i.e. the consonant-vowel system. To me it does seem strange that all the proverbial eggs are in one basket. I'm not knocking the quality of the basket on this or any other Casio keyboard, because their sounds are excellent, however an instrument's sound cannot be all things to all men, and a rock outfit has different demands on its keyboard section than does a cabaret band, or a solo performer. Casio's keyboards seem to cater more for the home keyboard player and for the musician who doesn't want a 'monster' sound, and whilst they have proved that this is what the public as a whole want, it would seem to me as they are committing so much effort to the keyboard market that they broaden their base slightly by coming up with a new timbral character.
The above is sparked off by the fact that the CT-7000's sound is still on the thin side, even with the stereo facilities - which we shall come to shortly. The voicings are extremely accurate in terms of imitation, but because there is no apparent phase variation to the sound, the overall effect is rather clinical. Nevertheless, the voicings are still streets ahead of most of the competition, in terms of value for money, and, as I say, for many people, the CT-7000 provides exactly the depth and richness that they desire. One can get too fat a sound, which can be most awkward, especially when multi-tracking.
The presets are certainly well observed. I particularly like the elec. organ and elec. piano, both rather delicate, but the organ has a lovely clean percussive attack, whilst the piano offers that nice digital harmonic quality that has come to be highly regarded. The acoustic counterparts of these presets weren't so impressive. Other voicings include harpsichord, flute, clarinet - all good imitative presets; trumpet, horn - not so good, the consonant/vowel system doesn't perform well with brass sounds; violin, cello - okay as solos, not so fine as polyphonics; accordion, vibraphone - quite nice well rounded voicings; synth. guitar, synth. flute, funny, cosmic tone - which are all usable as electronic as opposed to imitative presets; and elec, guitar and banjo - which if played in the correct fashion can sound most authentic.
Incidentally, Casio have put a noise gate on the output of the CT-7000 which is quite noticeable especially if you are wearing headphones.
The rhythms are again much as those you would find in any other Casio keyboard - there are 12 of them, all nicely voiced, and very well arranged. They too utilise the dual entry switching system and are: rock, pops, disco, 16-beat swing, Latin swing, bossa nova, samba, beguine, tango, waltz and slow rock. The tempo is set by incremental buttons, and the actual value of this parameter is shown in the LCD display. As one would hope, fills are introduced by means of a touch strip that is located along the front edge of the instrument.
The remaining automatics are also of a kind that we've seen before, only this time they are working in stereo. Chords can either be fingered or programmed automatically whence major, minor, seventh, or minor seventh can be utilised - again the chord played is displayed in the LCD. The selected chord can then be set to run continuously or pulsed from the rhythm unit.
Arpeggio and auto bass are programmed to follow the chord sequence - I'm particularly impressed with Casio's auto bass function, not only on this instrument, but on several of their earlier machines. They seemed to have gone to a lot of trouble to match the bass line to the rhythm, and have captured quite a nice degree of 'feel' in there.
Separate level controls are provided for the bass, chord, arpeggio and rhythm, though for some strange reason these are located away from the pan controls, which in turn aren't next to the master volume.
Well, those of you hoping to find that the CT 7000 has some kind of spatial effects generator on board will, I'm afraid, be a little disappointed. There are ten buttons located beneath the display, and these are used to position the sound in the audio spectrum. They range from hard left, left, light left, centre, etc. to hard right. And, for those of you who are fans of 'ping-ponging' there are three automatic panning options (differing speeds and depths) which can be used to good effect, i.e. sparingly, but if selected for just a single keyboard line, e.g. without rhythm and auto accompaniment, then the swirling effect is somewhat disturbing, especially if you've just had lunch. The automatics viz. bass and chords, have their own 'static' pan controls, whilst the arpeggiator is preset to flash back and forth between channels, and there's nothing you can do about it.
This is the biggy. Next to the right hand speaker can be found the controls for this section, which bare a resemblance to a PortaStudio, or the like. There are three musical channels - two for polyphonic melody lines (CH-1 and CH-2), one for chords (Chords), and two channels marked 'Tone-Effect-Stereo Control' for Channels 1 and 2. See Figure 1. The CT-7000 has 1800 steps of memory and, with each note requiring 1/2 step, there's a fair bit of memory to play with.
To operate this 'multi-track' section requires little technical skill, though to realise its full potential requires a fair bit of musical talent. Asa simple guide I'll give a quick run-through of its operation, at least how I found it was best to use it, because no manual was available.
Firstly, it is necessary to put a melody line (polyphonic if desired) into channel 1; then a contrasting passage into channel 2; you can proceed then to put an accompaniment into the Chord channel if you want. Effects channel 1 can then be programmed with voicing info for channel 1 along with stereo options and the rhythm fills. Effects channel 2 is also used for channel 2's voicing and positioning data - remember these can be changing throughout the course of the recording.
Now comes the nice bit. You can bounce down channel 1 and 2 into just channel 1 leaving channel 2 free for a new line. The only problem with this is that the combined channels both now take on effects channel 1's voicing data. This is a most useful section to find on a keyboard and I can see that it is just the start of things to come. There are some nice touches like the fast forward and rewind, with which you can actually hear your composition spooling back and forth for easy editing.
Once you've reached the peak of compositional excellence, you can utilise the 7000's cassette dump facility, which entails the connection of your machine to two sockets on the units rear. With the aid of the stereophonic positioning buttons, a file number can be assigned to each composition (1 to 99) so you can keep better track of your masterworks.
Internally, things are a bit sparse and there's really very little to see. Though I did notice that Casio are using the new ribbon cable, which has the ends pre-formed into gold plated contacts, that plug directly into the board mounted multiway socket - this must keep costs down a fair bit.
On the rear panel we have the customary input/output ports. Stereo/Mono jack audio outs, stereo headphone out, cassette interface sockets (mini jacks), foot volume, and sustain pedal sockets.
The CT-7000 is a superb instrument, and although some may prefer a slightly meatier sounding product, the control facilities that it offers are really second to none (none in this price region anyway). Keep an eye out in the shops for this one, because initial demand, I'm informed, is considerable, and they are bound to be snapped up as soon as they appear.