Eko EM12 Keyboard
A new personal keyboard with 'stereo symphonic' voices.
As a sort of 'turbocharged' version of the Eko EM10 reviewed in E&MM November 1983, the EM12 has a number of additional features to justify its higher price-tag, although in most respects the two instruments are very similar.
The most immediate difference is that whereas the EM10 had a dark brown finish, its bigger brother is painted silver to give it a more 'professional' look (it works) though the construction material is the same moulded plastic. The EM12 also has an extra octave on its keyboard, giving it 61 notes instead of 49, though the advantages of this are to some extent offset by the Eko's inability to reproduce very low and very high notes without some degree of distortion.
Most significantly of all, however, the EM12 has a stereo output as opposed to the 10's mono one, with twin four-ohm loudspeakers mounted at either extremity of the control panel. These are driven by a built-in power-amplifier specified as having a maximum output of eight watts per channel. Alternatively, if this output level is not sufficient, the instrument can be connected to separate mono or stereo amplification via two 'aux out' sockets on the rear panel which disconnect the EM12's internal powering as soon as a jack-plug is inserted.
In normal operation, the keyboard's output remains single-channel, although the EM12's rhythm unit is automatically panned across a stereo sound-stage, the location of the various percussion sounds depending on the rhythm selected. This latter is a little disconcerting at first, and I do wish Eko had provided some sort of 'mono' switch so that the rhythm machine's antics could be tamed for those users unaccustomed to drum sounds appearing from all over the place.
As for the main preset voices themselves, these only provide a stereo signal when what the manufacturers term the 'stereo symphonic' facility is in use. This isn't quite as glamorous as it sounds, since all it consists of is a three-position selector switch to the left of the control panel labelled Chorus, Tremelo, and Ensemble.
All these are variations on the modulation theme, and all of them spread the signal over two channels as they operate. Chorus is a slow-modulation effect of not inconsiderable amplitude, so that it acts in much the same way as a powerful flanger, though additional noise is noticeable by its absence. However, in practice the Chorus is of limited application since it renders the sustained-note voices (eg. Strings, Musette) rather synthetic. It works better on more percussive, shorter-delay sounds such as Piano and Vibes, giving them added depth and sparkle: switching out of Chorus mode with while playing either of these two results in the sound collapsing dramatically into a weak, one-dimensional monophonic blip.
The remaining two effects are rather less useful, Tremelo being a reasonable approximation of the rapid-modulation Leslie effect much beloved of home organists, and Ensemble a combination of the other two, though with a bias towards Chorus that results in the two effects being almost indistinguishable on some voices (notably Brass and Clarinet).
The stereo effects produced by all three types of modulation are not terribly well-preserved by the built-in speakers, primarily - I would guess - due to their difficult location. Connecting two separate combo amps as described above improves matters a great deal, but more rewarding still is listening through an accurate and efficient pair of stereo headphones via the socket provided on the rear panel. The EM12's output is really quite high, so unless you want to encourage an attack of premature deafness, it's advisable to set the overall volume slider fairly low when listening in this manner.
All the remaining functions (auto-accompaniment, one-finger chords, programmable chord memory, etc.) are identical to those on the EM10, with the exception, of course, that the range of these facilities is extended by the provision of the extra octave.
The potential usefulness of the stereo effects is not in question since its relative importance will inevitably depend on the types of uses envisaged for the EM12 by its buyer. What is in question however is whether or not the extra £100 charged for the 12 over the sum asked for its smaller brother could have been better spent. Certainly, from my own point of view, I would have liked to have seen a larger number of more versatile preset voices, several of which, as stated in the EM10 review, are simply octave variations of other sounds. Don't get me wrong, the EM12 is still an attractive instrument, but that can't stop me from feeling that its designers have missed some of the opportunities an extra few lira or so of development budget present. Perhaps we shall have to wait for the EM14.
The Eko EM12 carries an RRP of £399, and the importers, John Hornby Skewes Ltd., of (Contact Details) should be able to provide additional information.
Review by Dan Goldstein
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