Kawai K1 II
Recognising a hit when they make one, Kawai have added independent drum voices and a digital effects section to the popular K1 and called the result the K1 II. Kendall Wrightson plays spot the difference.
Over the past few years an increasing number of manufacturers have attempted to make an impact on the budget synthesizer market. Casio managed to cause a stir with their ultra-cheap Phase Distortion-based CZ range of keyboards, whilst Yamaha churned out all manner of FM-based synths. It was left to the Roland D10 to change the sub-£1000 market, by offering part-sampled, part-synthetic sounds, 16 voices, 8-part multitimbrality, independent drum voicings, and built-in effects - all for £850.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they say, and Kawai clearly admired Roland's D10 very much. Identifying that PCM samples and multitimbrality were the D10's most attractive assets, Kawai set about shaving £300 worth of features off the D10. That meant goodbye to the drum voicings and effects section, and the substitution of an external AC adaptor for the internal power supply. But at £595, the K1 really hit the spot - the No. 1 spot in fact, as it was voted 'best keyboard' by SOS readers.
Capitalising on the K1's success, Kawai recently released the K1 II, which offers those shorn features - independent drum voicings and built-in effects section - for an extra £100. But are the additional effects and drum sections worth the extra money?
Considering the cost of a separate drum machine and digital reverb device, and the significant advantage of having them both in one unit, the answer has got to be 'yes'. In conjunction with a sequencer, the K1 II provides a brilliant songwriting system, capable of very professional sounding demos.
It seems that the K1 II is aimed at the first-time buyer, since there are no plans for it to reincarnate in module or rack-mount forms, at least not in the UK.
The K1 II's internal stereo effects sound very good but are totally preset. The 16 effects on offer are split into eight various fixed rate stereo echo programs (Kawai call them 'Effect Modes') and eight reverb programs. The effects have only one variable control - Depth, and in common with the D10 are not stored as part of each patch but instead act globally across all sounds (though they can be switched remotely via MIDI).
The stereo reverb is good quality but has a rather unnatural decay, particularly noticeable on the Stereo Hall program, so it's best to keep the effect Depth (the level of the treated signal) to below 75%. A neat touch is that each of the K1 II's 32 drum voices can be individually switched in or out of the effects path.
For a whole year, the K1 has had no direct competition, and the K1 II would have consolidated Kawai's market lead. However, Roland recently repaid Kawai's compliment with the launch of the D5, their own 'cut-down'version of the D10. At £599, the D5 comes in around £100 cheaper than the K1 II. So how do they compare?
Sound-wise, the Roland D5 is capable of producing warmer, more analogue style tones than the K1 II (as well as bright digital and sampled ones). This is certainly due to its filter, which would have been a welcome addition to the K1 II. In fact, neither the K1, K1 II or the D5 provide dynamic filter envelopes, so no filter sweep type sounds are available from either. A shame, because this type of sound is particularly hip at the moment.
The K1 II's 32 new drum voices provide a sensible selection, but don't quite have the sonic punch of the D5 sounds. On the other hand, the K1's Multi Mode provides some quite breathtaking programs, and its standard strings sound is very good indeed.
In the feature wars, the K1 II and the D5 come out roughly even: the D5 has Chase, Chord, Harmony and Arpeggio functions instead of an effects section; the K1 II has fewer internal patch memories; the D5 has no data entry slider; and so forth...
The decision really comes down to the type of sounds you like and the style of music you want to play. So if you're considering either the K1/K1 II or the D5, I suggest you check out as many different sounds as possible. Make sure that you get to hear the K1 ROM cartridges, as most of the best K1 sounds live in them.
In any event, the budget end of the synthesizer market is now hotting up nicely, and competition between manufacturers can only mean good news for the end user.
£695 Inc VAT.
Kawai UK Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Kendall Wrightson