Kawai K1 II
Kawai K1: the sequel - Kawai have added onboard effects and a new sound library to their popular K1 synth to produce the K1 II. Ian Waugh likes what he hears.
I'LL COME CLEAN - I really like Kawai's K1. It offers (to generalise) the sort of breathy sounds popularised by Roland's D synths and Korg's M1 but at more of a pocket-money price. There had to be a follow-up.
Rather than expand sideways into a variety of synths and expanders (as Roland did with their D range) and rather than pursue the professional wallet with super synths (as Korg have done), Kawai decided simply to add a couple of new features to a good synth. The curious need read no further - the K1 II is a K1 with added digital effects plus a separate drum section. Apart from the front panel which now sports a "K1 II" logo, the layout and operation of the two synths are identical.
K1 aficionados may be surprised when they first switch on, as the K1 II factory presets are new. I'd be hard pressed to say they're better - the K1 did an excellent job as ambassador of VM (Variable Memory) - but the hallmarks remain. There's a DIY Enya patch in IA-2 called, naturally enough, 'E.N.YA' - pizzicato with added percussive attack. Multi sound lB-1, 'Exotica', has voices scooping upward to an "ah" in the lower keyboard with a bottle/pan flute in the upper. And I must confess to being quietly impressed by 'Pianomulti' (IB-5).
But to the new bits.
There are eight reverb and eight delay effects. The reverbs are Hall, Plate, Loft (my loft doesn't sound like this) and Room plus some with early reflection and one with pre-delay. The time of delays varies from a slapback 4Oms to 500ms. One even has random delay.
There's only one effect parameter - depth (basically effect level) - but each effect can have its own depth setting. The 16 effects, however, are global to all the sounds, so you can't have different degrees of the same reverb with different sounds. But as the effects are there basically to enhance the sounds, I reckon this is perfectly acceptable.
The quality is clear and the net result is sufficient to add life to any sound, although it may be argued that VM sounds are less in need than those produced by other forms of digital synthesis.
The new drum section is completely independent of the Single and Multi patches. It can be played from the synth's keyboard when in Drum mode and it can be allocated its own MIDI channel - it defaults to ten like Roland's drum sections.
There are 32 drums, mostly standard kit sounds with a Conga, Bongo, Agogo, Castanet, Shaker and a couple of Jazz Brushes. The sounds are quite distinctive (idiosyncratic?) with Normal, Room and Electric Bass Drums; Normal, Power and Electric Toms; and Normal, Tight, Gated Reverb and Electric Snares.
Each drum can be assigned a different MIDI note number but only between notes C1 and C3. That's 25 notes between 32 drums, an odd limitation, as it means you can't actually hear all 32 drums without re-allocating some. Also, the drum number is shown during allocation rather than the name - a might light of friendly.
Each drum can be tuned over approximately a two-octave range and you can allocate two or more of the same sounds to different keys - tune your own - but the 25-key limitation restricts the usefulness of this feature. OK, you may only want half a dozen sounds on any one rhythm track but it would be nice to be able to play all the available sounds without reallocation while making your selection. But only 32 sounds? It's almost as if the K1 is determined not to compete with Roland's D series on the same level (these have 63 drums).
Globally, you can adjust the volume of the drum section relative to the patches while Velo Depth determines what effect key velocity has on volume and the sustain time. With a negative setting, volume decreases with velocity. Finally, the output of each drum can be sent to the left, right or both audio outputs.
There are sounds tagged 'Old Rhythm Box' which are definitely excellent imitations. Quite who would want to use them I'm not sure. One of the Jazz Brushes is heavily into white noise and I particularly missed a quijada (I love westerns) and a timbale (I'd settle for just one).
That said - and remember that the above are my own opinions - the selection is suitable for a wide variety of musical styles with the accent on modern. A quick latin demo I threw together sounded excellent.
The sounds of the K1 and K1 II are totally compatible. If you save Mk II sounds to RAM disk the drum and effects settings are saved too (and ignored, of course by the K1).
A rack-mount version of the K1 II (£TBA) is due early next year. It will have no built-in effects but four individual audio outs instead, which will arguably be more useful to users of rack-mount gear who, so the theory goes, are already likely to have outboard units.
The K1 II doesn't claim to be a new synth and it is being sold alongside the K1, which still has a RRP of £595. In a way it's a shame Kawai didn't take this opportunity to lower the price of the original K1 (it's almost 18 months old) and bring in the K1 II at the old price - although the K1 remains good value for money.
The K1 II simply gives you more choice. If you don't need onboard FX or drum sounds, the K1 is still an excellent choice. If you do, you know where to look without breaking the bank. Ian Waugh